Tag Archives: Big Bang Theory

Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since reading Graeme Simsion’s  best-selling novel, The Rosie Project and its sequel: The Rosie Effect.

Both books were written in the first person through the voice of Don Tillman, a quirky scientist who developed a questionnaire to find a wife.  This voice is perfectly maintained throughout, giving the book a strong autobiographical feel as though there is no author. Indeed, Simsion has climbed so deeply inside Don Tillman’s skin, that I had to ask…Is he Don Tillman? They’re seemingly one and the same.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, Don Tillman, reminds me of Sheldon from the hit TV series Big Bang Theory. Yet, although they’re birds of a feather, Don is very much his own man. Well, he would be his own man if I wasn’t questioning how much of the author went into the supposed character. I also have a tough time separating Sheldon the character  from actor Jim Parsons. They also seem so seamlessly the same.

However, while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jim Parsons in real life, last Thursday night I had dinner with Graeme Simsion and my antennae were out. Was he Don Tillman? Or, as his creator, was he an exceptionally good impersonator?

So who is Don Tillman?

Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics. He has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and when it comes to reading social situations,  he’s absolutely clueless. The crux of the book is that he’s looking for a wife. Having failed dismally at conventional dating, he’s now taking a purely logical approach and has devised a questionnaire to screen for potential wife candidates. He hypothesizes that the questionnaire will speed the process up by quickly eliminating unsuitable prospects and ultimately yielding the perfect wife.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

No doubt, Simsion has been asked many times if he’s Don Tillman, and came prepared. The answer is no. Apparently, the character of Don was inspired by a jogging buddy and the book, including the infamous yellow jacket incident, is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he does admit to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, that’s the books’ appeal. That we’re not laughing at Don, but with him. We’ve been in his shoes at least once in our lifetimes, and know that dreadful, crushing all-consuming embarrassment when we make a mistake and all the dreadful, ensuing complications.

However, there are also those of us who have a bit more Don than most. Perhaps, that’s us. Or, perhaps it’s someone we love. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they’ve also laughed through the book and missed seeing themselves in the mirror.

Apparently, that even includes Bill Gates. At the dinner, Simsion mentioned that Melinda Gates had given Bill the book:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about these books? Why are they so special?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into a bun and wearing vintage clothing. I have also know quite a few Don’s in my time, and taken them clothes shopping and given them dating advice.

However, as I was swept along by the story, I didn’t twig that I’d only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes. However, in The Rosie Effect, there are just a couple of lines of dialogue between the members of her study group, which revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the Autism Spectrum as well.

Before I head off, I just wanted to emphasize that neither of these books judge or ridicule people on the Autism Spectrum. If anything, they lift the lid on the Autistic mind and help us better understand some its quirks and some of the ways it beats to a different drum. There’s perhaps an implicit hope that through this greater understanding, that we could become more inclusive as a community. Less judgemental. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a more diverse, eclectic and inclusive community where there is no prescription to belong? You simply come as you are and you’re in.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books? If so, I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.

Sticking Labels Where They Don’t Fit…

When it comes to sticking diagnostic labels on people, I’ve always been in favour of diagnosis and treatment but I’m starting to change my mind.

Instead, I’m thinking that we need to be more cautious about where we start sticking labels, especially when those labels might have consequences down the track.

The American Psychiatric Association will be releasing the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May 2013.

Part of the changes to the new diagnostic criterion is the reclassification of Aspergers into the broader umbrella term “autism spectrum disorder,” which will now apply for all children and adults with some form of autism. This means that people with a sprinkling of traits (ie the equivalent to a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands on a serving of ice cream) will be in the same camp as those with severe autism. This involves a huge shift in how people currently defined as “Asbergers” will be placed or “categorised”. I also suggest that people who might have accepted or even celebrated being “aspy”, might prefer things just the way they are. They are and always have been , their own people.

This new classification fails to address society’s understanding of what it means to be “autistic” and how individuals or parents might feel when someone who is “a bit different” is labelled “autistic”, when quite clearly they are not. It is also a huge leap, especially in terms of social stigma, for someone who might be somewhat asbergersish and something of a  Sheldon from Big Bang Theory or perhaps an IT geek or scientist. With any diagnosis there is grief and there is no need to compound that grief by sticking on highly emotive labels which simply don’t fit.

It seems to me that this new umbrella terms is really going to make an already confusing mess, only more confusing and will turn people away from a diagnosis and in the process, away from possible help and understanding.

Labels are good when it enables people to get the help they need but I don’t believe that can happen with a one-size fits all diagnosis. It ends up becoming meaningless. It either waters down the serious difficulties some individuals experience or paints a fairly sociable kid as a loner.

It doesn’t work.

After being misdiagnosed myself with osteo-arthritis myself which has a totally different line of treatment to my auto-immune disease, I know that you have to be very careful when you apply labels and try to make them stick.

Just ask my dog!

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What do you think?

Best wishes,

Rowena