I make no secret of this. I read other people’s online journals. I read them a lot at times. Not because I want to research “the competition” or because the “everything online” crowd says that is what I have to do. No. The main reason is because in spite of how difficult certain neurological quirks that have never been investigated make it, I like to read. I have learned more, especially as a child, by reading well-written writings than from thousands of hours of teacher effort. But the primary reason I read online journals is pretty funny: they are my primary source of news concerning the struggle to make the world at large understand that we, the autistic, are people, too.
So, as I do from time to time, I stopped by Lydia Brown‘s journal. And what I saw there set off every voice of sadness and dismay that I have within my consciousness. This post on her journal is a message to an individual who found said journal when they put the search terms “feel like i’m a burden aspergers:” into Google (or Googoo as I like to call it).
This post on Eightball Magazine is not about autism, but it is one of the best writings I have ever read about a vital component of what it means to be autistic in this day and age. And this is what I want to impress upon you, the audience, about life on the autistic spectrum.
Every day, we go around with images being shown to us. Many are plastered on the sides of buildings. Some are directed into our homes by various means. Others are placed in publications, and by that I do not necessarily mean that they are photographs. You see, no matter where you go, people are always trying to tell you something. When it is people you meet whilst going about your business, it is usually harmless, mundane stuff, such as where they are going, what they plan to do when they get there, and so on.
Not coincidentally, I was visiting one of my favourite places in the world recently. In this context, favourite place in the world means any branch of the “specialise in everything audio-visual” chain store known as JB Hi-Fi. If you ever want a good example of how messages and images are sent out to us without us even soliciting them, that is a good place to look. But during my visit there, I discovered something that made me erupt in both delight and a certain sense of “it is about bloody time!”. That something was the Blu-ray Disc release of a film released in 2000 that goes by the name of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a satire set during the Great Depression, loosely using an epic Homer poem known in English as The Odyssey as a framework. The salient point here is that the town in which the heroes find themselves is central to the political campaign to determine who will serve as governor of Mississipi for the next term. The incumbent is a man going by the name of Pappy O’Daniel (Charles Durning in a sublime performance). Whilst there is still plenty of beating the street and shaking hands with the unwashed public, a central facet of Pappy’s campaign involves broadcasting messages over the radio, a medium that was to most folk in the 1930s what television was to most folk during the 1980s.
Pappy has an opponent who goes by the name of Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall). As was common in the Great Depression, Stokes campaigns on a message of reform and making things better for the “little man”. You see, Pappy is the incumbent. So Stokes goes around the circuit with a midget, musicians, a message about clearing away the corruption, and all of that. Of course, it is a testament to how infant-like Western civilisation was at that point that nobody at that time knew the real secret to reversing the surge of unemployment and diminishing of rural disposable income. But that part is irrelevant. The midget I just mentioned is part of Stokes’ gambit about claiming to represent the “little” man in Mississipi. Little man being the common term for people making less than whatever would equate to 1985’s $100,000 in those days. (It is an adjusting for inflation thing. In 1930, if you made $100,000, you could buy most of Mississipi with what you had left over after covering your living expenses for a year.)
This is a time-honoured tactic not only in politics, but in just about every form of message-sending you can possibly imagine. What Stokes is doing is creating a metaphorical representation of the constituents he hopes to represent, and making himself a metaphor for how he claims he will represent them. They are the little men, he is telling them. He is the great big man that will save them from the bully he is painting his opponent as. But the key point as it relates to what I am saying in this writing is that Stokes is effectively telling his audience what they are, and how they should look at themselves, especially in relation to him.
But Dean, I hear you cry, this is 2012, we do not fall for such simple tricks as being equated to midgets. Well, I am here to tell you that we do. The parameters of the trick may have changed, but I can assure you that politicians and political scientists of all stripes have got this down to more than just science. It is an art form to them. Now, if you have read the document I linked in which Kruma Steward explains why Richard Pryor decided he was not going to use the word “nigger” or variations thereof anymore during his trip to Africa, then you know where I am going with this. You see, certain people in the business of social sciences worked out a long time ago that how we define ourselves governs what we expect not only from ourselves but how we expect others to treat us for being us. And how we define ourselves is almost always the product of how others behave toward us. Not just when we are children, but at every single stage of our lives. Even when we are elderly, on our death beds, and wondering if the spirits have forgotten us, how others treat us and how they respond to us helps to shape how we think about ourselves. If we have grown senile, the fact that we cannot remember the most basic of things such as who people who love us and mourn our increasing frailty are plays a big part in defining ourselves to ourselves.
That is the reason why doom metal, and to a lesser extent black metal, is such a major and powerful part of how I see not only myself but the world around me. Partly because it tells no lies about the world around me, making harmony about how a rich elite are laughing it up at the expense of myself and everyone in similar situations to me. But also for the same reason that the music of Frank Zappa plays such a heavy part in how I define myself to myself. Because both Frank Zappa and doom metal have sent me a message that has brought me much comfort and strength in my life. Specifically, that those assholes who try to put you down and abuse you for thinking for yourself (I am referring to a certain doctor or fifty here), they, not you, are the ones with the problem. It is also to a much smaller extent, why I listen so much to the music of Julie Christmas. Because Julie‘s music is very good at creating the illusion of being the voice of a person who is hurting just as badly as a result of abuse and mistreatment. When Everything Is Green…
(The above statement; they, not you, are the ones with the problem, might sound wrong at first. That is a classic example of what I am talking about here. People who actually desire to lord it over others, especially ones who are weaker than or disadvantaged compared to them, have to engage in a lot of complex rationalisations to justify their behaviour not only to others, but also themselves. The trick, when you are the one they are trying to lord it over, is to not fall for the rationalisations that they are constantly making to others. As a seven to eight year old boy, I met a classic example of this. All I can say retroactively to him is may Odin be with you, because if the thirty year old me had witnessed how he behaved to the eight year old me and those around same, he would be learning the hard way that it is physically possible to knock a person’s head off.)
So this is the plain-English version of what I want to say to the person commenting on Lydia‘s journal. Whether you are a burden to anyone other than yourself is unimportant, irrelevant, even totally a who cares non-event. If you are burdensome to yourself, then that is a problem. But if you are feeling this way simply because you perceive yourself as a burden to others, then smarten yourself up a bit. If there is one thing I have learned in the aftermath of when I had been taught to think of myself as bad, lazy, and unwanting to fit in with the rest, it is this: no person becomes a burden or grievance to others without having been driven there by others (not necessarily the same “others”). I mean nobody. The difference between what the normies call a “fine, upstanding citizen” and what they call a “no good bum” is generally just a push. Different persons require more of a push than others, and there are different categories of either kind, as well as different degrees of each. But the point I am trying to impress here is that we have to be pushed. Whilst I never met my paternal grandfather, I have it on good authority that he was a drinker, to the point of not being able to pay his bills at times. He also served in the second World War, from what I hear. I do not doubt that he was therefore somehow pushed, and probably even harder than I have been to date, which is saying something.
Given how little that the person I am addressing has shared concerning the circumstances that they are in, whether on Lydia‘s journal or in response to my comments on same, I am going to have to cover all bases here. There are a number of possible things to address with this individual, all of them equally likely. So when I say “you” from this point until… actually, I will just put in some markers in order to make it easier for readers. Between these markers, when I say “you”, I mean the anonymous person that Lydia tried to address in her journal. (In all other instances, it is a weird thing that, much like a lot of words in Latin, has a different meaning depending on context.)
!BEGIN ADDRESSING STRANGER
You are under no obligation to think this way about yourself. You have done nothing that necessitates it. You may have done something that you believe makes you deserve it or are obligated to do it. Just between you and me (and by unfortunate necessity the entire rest of the Internet, admittedly), I can understand that. I myself have done many, many things that I wish every day that I could take back. By “wish every day”, I mean that I sit down, hold my head in my hands, weep, and wish that I had not done them. Especially when those things are far back enough in time that I find it hard to remember the context they occurred in. Some of those things are in a reversion form, as in I wish that I could take back not hitting some asshole over the head with a bat. But when I start to wish that I could take back these things, I think of something equally important: I think of how I wish I could go back in time and take back whatever drove certain people to drive me to say and do those things. You can see a clear example of this in my recently-shared short story, The Peculiar Visitor.
We all have things in our lives, some of them big, some of them little, that we deeply regret. Were this not the case, there would not be thriving industries focused upon helping (or pretending to help in some cases) the affected people, and believe me there are many of those, cope with these things. But the thing is, you clearly have a view of yourself that you have not knowingly consented to. It has clearly been defined for you by someone who is not you, and that someone does not have goals in terms of you that match yours. If you have followed one of the links I have already put into this writing (you know the one I mean, I am sure), then you have read about how some people try to make other people accept a definition of themselves that does not serve them in any fashion, and may in fact be destructive to them. I believe… no, wait, let me put this the right way… I know that such is the case with you.
What I am trying to say to you, directly, out in the open like this here, is that you do not need to accept this definition of yourself. You have absolutely no reason to accept this definition of yourself, other than inertia. Even the excuse that you do not know there is anything else out there cannot wash in this case, because now you have two authors of entirely different viewpoints in life telling you that there is something else out there, and it is beautiful. Unlike the black slaves in America who accepted a destructive definition of themselves in order to survive, the amount of force that the destructive people in your world can presently bring to bear against you as an inducement to accept their definition of you is rather limited. They cannot murder you without legal consequences if you refuse strongly enough to internalise their definition of you. Whilst they can make it very difficult for you to leave them and forget about them if they refuse to stop behaving in this destructive manner, they have no legal means by which they can make you stay.
You may have to do things that feel immensely difficult in order to get rid of these people, but you can cut them out. You can cut them out like a cancer is cut out of the skin, brain, lungs, et cetera. Even though I still have not totally unlocked the secret of cutting such people out of my life, my refusal to speak to one of them anymore unless they make it necessary for me to report them to the police as child abusers has made living with myself a lot easier. It can be done.
(Edited (again) to add, May 29 2012, 1330 hours:) Whilst I was watching one video about oppression, the narrator of said video added something that I thought was very interesting and true. In it, he describes a phenonemon in which oppressed social groups, women in Arabic countries being a good example, express approval of and self-perceived deserving of their oppression. As the narrator of the video in question puts it, that is a reason to be more worried about the members of the group in question. Not less. I believe that the subject of this post is yet another example of how this phenomenon applies to the autistic.
But the first step, to put it bluntly, is to change the way that you look at yourself. Michael Fassbender says it best during X-Men: First Class. “You want society to accept you,” Fassbender as Magneto says to Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. “But you can’t even accept yourself.” So I want you to do something. It might sound profoundly silly at first, but stick with it because whilst it comes natural to me, it is worth every bit of effort one puts into it. Sit down and watch the real X-Men films. In this context, I mean X-Men, X2, and X-Men: First Class. Really watch them and take in every bit of the stories. And watch every character carefully. Decide which of them appeals to you or reminds you the most of you, and recite their dialogue along with them. I cannot help you decide which one it is, but you must also think about how you would react in your daily life to things that occur therein if you were the same person as that character in the real X-Men films. To use examples from my real life, if I were to suddenly hear from one of my sister’s children that my male parental unit had said things to them that made them feel uncomfortable in a psychological-visual-sexual manner, and I had the ability to pick up an armoured car to throw on top of said male parental unit without making physical contact with said car, would I do that? I think you already know the answer, but the point here is that you must start asking yourself these questions and thinking about the answers.
Simply put, instead of focusing on how you present a burden, whether real or imagined, to others, you need to start thinking in real and scientific terms about the burdens that others present to you. I can assure you that if you are putting such search terms into Googoo and making comments like that on the journals that you find as a result, people are presenting such burdens to you. It is time for you to focus on how to respond appropriately.
!END ADDRESSING STRANGER
For the rest of you out there, I know this has been a bit of a burden to read. But you can also learn from what I have just laid out here. I do not know how many people with children or nieces/nephews read this journal. But even if only one person reading this journal meets that description, I want you to know something. There is a possibility, however small you might think that is, that someone like me is going to be writing something like this to one of the children in your purview at some point in the future. Whether that becomes a reality or not depends on a number of things, some of which are touched upon in Kruma Steward‘s article about what it really means to be what he calls a “nigger“. You see, he also talks about a place called the Harlem Children’s Zone, and its head, a man named Geoffrey Canada. Canada addresses the problem among black Americans by actively desconstruction the “nigger” identity. He starts them young, bringing children (and their parents) in at ages as early as zero to three years. And they go on at length about how one’s expectations of self and others affects how one gets on in society and life.
Thing is, you do not need to have a man like Canada supervising you in order to do this. Oh, I know it helps, but Canada does this, I suspect, because he wanted to make easier for others of his kind what he had to do for himself. I have, without consciously starting it, been trying to do something similar with myself for the lion’s share of the last two decades. You can do it, too. That is what the film-watching exercise I previously outlined is about. But you have to commit to starting and doing the training yourself to think differently about yourself to begin with.
Another point that Kruma Steward makes that I will briefly talk about here is that relationships we have with others are always easiest when the manner in which the other person defines us and the way we define ourselves are the same. The less their definition of us syncs with our definition of us, the more stressful that relationship will be. The person I am addressing in these remarks clearly has someone in their life who is important to them, but defines them in a manner that syncs so badly with how they define themselves that it is making them sick. So they consider themselves a burden, in an attempt to survive the relationship. Hence, that relationship needs to either be terminated or changed. I had a “working” relationship not long ago with a person who told people in front of my face that I was from the place I refer to in other writings as Cuntborough. She tried to justify to my face why she was calling me a person with autism. So I no longer speak to her at all. I speak to someone who works at the same place, but the relationship I have with the organisation is one of getting them to do whatever is necessary to make it so that I no longer need to have any contact with them anymore. Because I identified my relationship with the person who heads the group as having the characteristics of cancer, and determined that that relationship must be cut out like a cancer. It is a pity that the ghost of Frank Zappa cannot sit up and tell us all that my analogy between cancer and relationships with people whose definition of us syncs badly with our own is an accurate one. I am sure many other people who have had cancer, died from it, had destructive relationships with people, died as a result, or even all four of these things, could also back me up here.
If you have read this far and seen the truth in what I say here, then thank you for making that effort. And if the person I am addressing in these writings is reading this, then do not give up. You might set out on the path I am describing here and stub your toe on the road’s uneven surface a few times. Stick with it. Because I have been in the position I believe you are in now. I wish that I had understood the problem earlier, but understanding the problem and taking the path I am describing to address that problem is worth it to a degree that I am unable to express in words.
And do not forget to ask yourself: what is the ugliest part of your body?