Monday, June 25, 2018

Finding Neurodiversity in... Nonfiction: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

This is a little trickier than my usual posts, because it's about a memoir. I don't want to create an autistic headcanon for Amy Krouse Rosenthal --

(and let me take a moment to mourn the deletion of feminist aspie's blog and her wonderful post "A Headcanon Called Autism." I hope she is well.)

-- but I do think this book has... let's call it an autistic sensibility. Rosenthal, who sadly died fairly young, had a passion for wordplay and interesting patterns. This is apparent in the very form of this book, which is written as a series of alphabetic entries -- they start with "Amy" and end with "You." It's also apparent in what the entries are about... random feelings about life, odd memorable coincidences, observations. Reading the book is like briefly living inside someone's special interest.

A moment of personal sadness about this book:

"1989 Reads The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey. Writes author and receives letter back."
That's a real gut-puncher for me, because I read that book sometime in the 90s and also was also inspired to write to the author... but never mailed it. 

Rosenthal had a policy of always answering letters and she created numerous situations in which readers of her books could be inspired to contact her and participate in something with her. (For example, one reader got to propose a tattoo design, which they both got together.) So that also makes it a bit of a sad read, since she is no longer here to respond. The entire last chapter is a plea to "You" -- me, the reader-- to recognize her ordinary life:
"I picked at a scab. I wished I was older. I wished I was younger. I loved my children. I loved mayonnaise. I sucked my thumb. I chewed on a blade of grass.
I was here, you see. I was."
I can't read that without crying.

But most of the book made me smile in recognition... of the fun of wordplay (She tried to get her client Kraft to do a show called the Krafterschool Special,) of those embarrassing memories you can't forget, of just being a person in the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

People Are Exhausting... And Yet

I finally made it to London, a few months ago, solving the problem by taking all my family with me.  It was hard and wonderful and exhausting and awesome. London is probably not my soul's city as I thought it might be, which was a little sad to realize, but better to know, right?

One of the things I've been pondering since the trip is how strange it was to be around such... distant people. Unfriendly isn't the right term, because I could always ask someone for help if I needed to, but people generally ignored each other in public.

I don't remember noticing this in New York. I'm not sure if it's because I felt familiar with the pace there, having lived there when I was young, or because we were always in such busy areas it wasn't obvious. Probably the later. Walking around a residential neighborhood in London, the lack of acknowledging nods/smiles was really obvious.

And if you'd asked me how I'd feel about that, I probably would have said it would be great! Because having to put on friendly normalcy can be really hard at times. And yet, I really found it weird, and lonely.

This came up for me today, because I bought shirts for me and my son that say, "People are Exhausting."   And I almost wore mine today and then I realized, it might stop people from making casual chit-chat with me. And though I hate obligatory "how are you"s, I like a bit of chit-chat. I've gotten good enough at it that it's a pretty small outlay of energy, as long as I'm in an okay frame of mind, and in return I get to feel some harmony with the people around me. It makes the world feel more comfortable.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

oops

I just discovered that a bunch of comment notifications were going to an email address I no longer use, and I had no idea they were awaiting moderation. My apologies for not publishing or replying!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

More Sadness

CW: Death of a Child



I've brushed my teeth, made the bed, and written the hardest sympathy note I've ever had to write. Honestly, I didn't even try to say much... I mean, what's the point? When an old person dies, you can maybe offer a little comfort with sweet memories. There's no comfort here. So I basically just said I know and I care and I'm here if you need me.

I have to try to get some normalcy going, for my own mental health and my son's. This is so hard on him: he feels our sadness acutely, and it's happening at school as well.

~~

I've been remembering when I read The World According to Garp, some time in my twenties. I was struck by how much Garp and his wife missed their dead child. I missed my mom intensely when we were apart, but even though we were very close, I never thought about her missing me. I'm not sure if that's because it was her parenting philosophy not to share such feelings -- very likely; I should ask -- or if I just didn't think children were interesting enough to miss, or if it was because I was painfully aware of how much she valued her time alone.

(One of the worst parenting mistakes I ever made, incidentally, was joking about getting away from my son where he could overhear. That cut him so deep. I shower him with affection, but I don't think he can ever truly believe in it.)

I also value time alone, sometimes desperately need it (and that's always the day that childcare falls through...) but I miss my son with every fibre of my being. The week my husband and I spent in New York was one of the best times of my life, except for how much I missed him. He's an indispensable part of me. Maybe someday he'll live his own life apart from us and I'll have to learn to make do with phone calls and emails. That's good, if it happens that way. I can be happy with that.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

CW: Death of a child, suicide

My husband is reading the last Harry Potter book aloud to me and our son. (We were in the middle of it during the election, then put it away because it was too scary. It's still pretty on the nose but... life goes on.)

So he read the scene in which the death of Harry's parents is depicted. And it was like a blow. Harry's mom giving up her life for Harry... that's not a stretch. Many parents would do it, if they could. They're our hearts walking around outside our bodies, and we put so much into raising them and protecting them and desperately praying, please outlive me. And sometimes they take that life and throw it away.

(I'm aware this is not a kind or sensitive way to talk about suicide. I'm grieved and angry and I have to get those feelings out. Accept it or don't.)

When my son was little, one of the mamas I hung out with had a second baby. She was given a flower name, like her older sister. All the mamas organized and brought them food, and we couldn't wait for our turn to see the baby help out. She was beautiful and miraculous, as newborns are, and her head smelled like cinnamon buns. My husband and I freaked my friend out a bit, by how enthusiastically we smelled her head.

I lost touch with the group of moms but I still ran into my friend and her girls sometimes. I saw the girls performing in a teen improv show about a year ago. It was a lot of fun; they seemed confident and happy. I last saw my friend at open house day for my son's school, beacuse her younger daughter was transferring there. It's small and intimate, a good place for kids who are different and having a hard time.

But not always good enough. I have no knowledge of what this young girl was going through. My son doesn't connect with people in high school and he didn't remember playing with her as a kid, or make any attempt to get to know her again. All I know is either her mother (or God forbid, her sister) had to find her. That it was too late to help her. That everyone in my son's intimate school is reeling. That someone I care about is going through my worst nightmare.

Lin-Manual Miranda very appropriately called it the unimaginable. And yet I can't stop imagining it. How my friend breastfed, and homeschooled her daughters for years. How she spent so many years trying to do what's best for them. How she gave them names that go together, and she'll forever feel what's missing when she says her older daughter's name.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Finding Neurodiversity in Fiction: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Maria McLemore

This isn't canon, or even headcanon -- that is, I'm not claiming any of the characters in this book should be read as neurodiverse. But it did strike me as containing a wonderful metaphor, and one wide open for neurodiverse people to embrace, if we want to.

(With one caveat... part of the metaphor is so viscerally unappealing to me, I almost stopped reading the book.)

When the Moon Was Ours is a work of magic realism, a story about claiming one's identity, and a tender romance. It's probably most aptly targeted at a YA audience, but adults will love it too. The plot is so fantastical it's probably simplest not to try to explain it, but here is the relevant part: Miel, a teenaged girl, comes from a family of "brujos and brujas," who have helpful gifts like being able to heal broken bones. But Miel's strange gift is considered a curse: she --

-- ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh! --

-- grows roses from her wrist, beautiful fragrant roses that express her innermost feelings. Miel's father believes that anyone who grows roses from their body -- ugh! -- will ultimately turn on their family, and Miel underwent genuine torture from her family's efforts to cure or exorcise her.

You see.

Here are some sections that particularly stuck with me (all emphases are mine):

"'She loved you,' Aracely said. 'But she got lost thinking that your roses were something outside of you... ' [spoilers deleted] 'She never wanted to hurt you.'

'You really believe that?' Miel asked, and she heard in her own voice both skepticism and forgiveness. A suspicion both that her mother had been trying to hurt her and that she had been justified in doing it. 

'Yes,' Aracely said. 'I've always believed that. But just because she loved you doesn't mean you deserved what she did. Or what he did.'

It takes Miel some time to accept that Aracely is right: that her roses aren't a curse, that her mother was wrong, but that she did act from love.

"Her mother hadn't hated her. She knew that. She'd feared for her. She'd loved Miel, seen her a daughter she could lose to petals and thorns. She'd been a young mother little older than Aracely, panicked and desperate to hold on to the children she'd made.

What mother could resist a hundred tales of roses that had stolen the souls of sons and daughters? What mother could stand against her husband's insistence that their daughter was sick and needed to be cured?"
I hope this doesn't come off as sounding like an apologist for curebie parents, but part of Miel's journey towards accepting herself is believing in her mother's love for her. It helps lift the shame that keeps her from protecting herself against those that threaten her.

There's also a wonderful, complex self-acceptance journey for Miel's beloved friend and new lover Samir, which adds to the richness of the story. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring and Fall to a Middle-Aged Woman

me: "Oh boy! Today I get to change from our cold weather pillowcases to our warm weather pillowcases!"

(At times like this, I wish I could find a gif from the Simpson's vacation episode, where Lisa says, "Yeah, it's going to be really fun for you changing a different set of sheets" and Marge replies, "You're joking -- but it is!")

Most of my childhood, during which we were both very poor and moved around a lot, was pretty minimalist. I literally had no idea of what a mattress pad was until I met my husband when I was 21. We didn't even have changes of sheets, much less seasonal ones.

Something I've learned slowly over the last 10-15 years is how to adjust my environment. In the place we lived before our current home, my husband would sometimes come home to find me almost passed out from the heat. I had no idea how to deal on hot days.

Our current home is much, much hotter. After a lifetime spent living in virtual caves, I wanted a lot of sunlight, and I got it. But I've learned what to do. At certain times of day, you open this window or close that one. You open and close curtains. You change clothes. You turn on a fan or take a cool shower.

I think it's partially that this is the longest time I've ever lived in one place -- our previous home together being the second longest -- and so I've gotten a sense of continuity that I never had before. "This is what happens in Spring. This is what happens in Fall." And I have money to buy things now -- jackets for when it's cool, jackets for when it's cold, flannel sheets -- and places to store them.

But I think it's also that I'm easier with transitions. Not just the more obvious ones like seasons of the year, but the times of day. I take the time now to think about the weather. It doesn't bother me any more to change clothes or add or subtract them.

I might not even notice all this stuff if it weren't for my resident mini-me. (Who is now more like a maxi-me.) I hope he'll get here someday too.