Like many writers, I start to write by collecting ideas, snippets, experiences, images and so on. It’s hard to imagine how a clean desk kind of person can be a writer; I need clutter around me, all the little artifacts from my life, as a source.
In this ephemera, I look for connecting threads, ways that the bits and bobs interact in interesting ways. Do they show the same view from different angles? Are they both effects of the same forces? Do they compliment or contradict each other?
It’s really, really important for me that everything I write be grounded in real experience, mine or the experience of others, and I rejoice not only when these experiences show similarities, but also when they show differences, because those differences are what eliminate simplistic assessments and demand deeper understanding. It’s easy to throw out challenges to our beliefs as being baseless, without credibility or standing, being wrong, but when we do that, our own assessments are without a firm base, lose credibility and standing, and stand a very good chance of being wrong.
I go back through all the fragmented thoughts and I work to find a through-line, a way to hang a set of them together in a way that is engaging and enlightening. I want people to be able to follow my process. I used to write kind of the one page essays for trans newsletters that are collected on my old site, and one friend told me that she rarely understood them the first time she read them, but on second reading they became “of course” documents. She needed to know where she was going before she could follow the throughline.
I have been unable to unpack my experience in caring for my parents in their last year and a half. This has been both hard and baffling to me. I usually can make art quickly, taking the baubles of story and threading them together quickly and effectively.
ShamanGal has really been enjoying her last month out as a new working girl, one of the women in a technical workplace. It’s been so good that she wonders why she never did it earlier, why she kept beating herself up for so many years. Why didn’t someone tell her that this kind of joy was possible?
Of course, it wasn’t possible until it was possible. She had to be ready to have her perception shift, to let go of the past, to see the world as new.
My lifemyth, as I have said here many times before, is that I am too hip for the room, that people won’t understand me, that no one will get the joke.
Like any lifemyth, this is true and untrue at the same time. It certainly has elements of truth in my life. I have certainly scared and challenged people, certainly been too much of whatever for many.
The untruth of lifemyths, though, is how they become self-perpetuating. We see what we are sensitized to see, we experience what we are habituated to experience, we believe what we have learned to believe. This is what makes them constraining and limiting, a prison we carry with us, one grounded in truth but grown in expectation.
The last few days, though, have been tough for me. It was that film from PBS POV, the documentary NeuroTypical, where people on the Autism Spectrum (AS) talk about their lives that started me off.
The story of The Ugly Duckling was about a swan trapped in a family of ducks.
My story is about a child trapped in a family of AS people. Of course no one ever understood me, of course no one ever got the joke; I was loving people who couldn’t understand emotions and didn’t get the nuance behind most jokes.
How could I ever learn techniques to effectively communicate myself to the world when I always felt obligated to be understandable to people with AS? How could I ever loosen up, be fun and emotional, connecting with people, if I always had to mimic AS to be heard in my family?
From my snippets: A beauty pageant coach, Michelle Strom, told a contestant that “Answers don’t win, personality wins.”
I knew she was right when I heard her say it, but it felt so very wrong to me. Why? Why did that simple line make me so twitchy, so uncomfortable?
Because in the neurotypical world, she’s right. People respond to personality. But in the AS world I was trained to operate in, personality is nothing, and only answers count. Everything gets processed through the brain, and that squeezes the personality out of it.
The throughline of my experience with my family has become clear to me. It is the experience of being forced to be the bridge between AS people and the rest of the world.
And it makes the roots of my lifemyth clear.
Like ShamanGal, I wonder why I couldn’t get this before I destroyed myself in taking care of my parents to the end. Why does everything, especially my feet, have to hurt so much?
But then I communicate with my sister and I know why. She still needs me to enter her world and could no more enter mine than a camel can enter the eye of a needle.
Women aren’t very useful unless we have someone to love, even if we also hate them. And the people I loved were my parents.
And I did my duty in that relationship, a duty that so many friends over the years could never comprehend, that so many thought I was a fool for doing.
My story is the story of someone who loved their AS parents, to many faults. That explains my experience in the hospital with them, explains my own crocks and blindness.
Could I have understood this before all the damage?
But I wouldn’t have been who I am then, either.