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A Matter of Perspective

  • Posted on February 13, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I’m rather partial to my mind.  I’d hate to lose it.  I’m not talking crazy; I could do crazy.  I’m talking dementia.  I would hate to lose my mind to dementia.  Second to that, I’d hate to be blind.  Perhaps being blind would be worse, because I’d know I was blind—I might not know I’d lost my mind if it happens quick enough.

I can imagine how bad it would be to be blind.  I would cope, I guess, but it would be a lesser life.  It would be an exaggeration to say words are my life, but I’m not sure how much of an exaggeration.  Certainly, words are a very big portion of my life—written words.  If I had to consume my words by ear, well, that just wouldn’t be good enough.

Now, I’ve probably pissed a lot of people off with those admissions, but I’m not done yet.  Take a deep breath.  It gets better.

From my perspective, as a person with full and free use of my sight (excluding the whole glasses thing)—as someone who has built a life revolving around the use of my sight to do my work and to enjoy my leisure activities—it would be awful to be blind.

But just because I think it would be awful to be blind doesn’t mean it is awful for someone who is blind to be blind.

I am the mother of three children with autism.  My children’s disabilities range from relatively mild—though, not as mild as it seems to me—to relatively severe.  People pity me.  From their perspective, I’ve got it hard.  Ours is a hard, hard life—tragically hard, really.  I know, because people have told me so a thousand different times in a thousand different ways.  Probably more than that, actually, since I never really counted the times or the ways; besides, I’m not good with math.  Anyway, I’ve been told that my life is awfully hard a lot.  We’ll stick with that.  So, yeah, where was I…oh, yeah, our life is hard.  Hard.  HARD.  HARD.

Except it’s not.  Not really.  At least, well, sometimes it is, but so is everyone else’s, so there.

My brother just had another accident.  He slipped.  For me, slipping—unless it involves falling down the stairs and breaking my wrist—is no big deal.  I just get up.  You see, I don’t have a chronically damaged knee.  My brother does.  So, his slip is a big deal.  He slips and he sprains his knee so bad that it keeps him home from work, except he can’t stay home from work long enough to heal.  He needs knee surgery, but he’s too young for knee surgery.  So, he has to live with it.  Chronic pain.  Chronic risk of further injury.  Now, that’s hard!

My cousin has problems with her gall bladder.  So do I.  Mine’s been spitting out stones since I was pregnant with Ben (he’s nine, btw).  But she also has chronic back pain, which is worse.  Seriously bad back problems.  And two kids, one with special needs.  Now, that’s hard!

And it is.  My brother’s life is hard.  My cousin’s life is hard.  My life is hard.  But not in the ways we’re prone to assuming when we look at each other’s lives.  We look at other people’s pain and other people’s hardships and we say things like…I could never do that.

I could never stand being blind.

But, if it happened, I would and I would keep working to raise my family and I would keep working to share my words and I’d find a way to “read” the words of others.  It would be hard.  But it’s all a matter of perspective.  We can’t fairly judge the quality of someone else’s life by how hard we imagine it to be.  That doesn’t really work.

People assume that the way to make my life less hard would be to cure autism.  People have told me this is true many, many times—though, not thousands, because I’ve learned the warning signs and I’ve learned to walk away whenever possible when those words are coming.  The point is, this assumption is all wrong.  If you ask me how to make my life less hard, then you’ll learn the answer has nothing to do with autism.  In fact, it’s very similar to the answer you’d get from a lot of Americans right now.

What would make my life less hard?  My life and the life of the family I support would be less hard if I had the financial resources to support my family better.  It’s really that simple and that common.

I don’t assume that my fears of blindness properly reflect the experiences of someone who is actually blind.  In fact, because I’ve listened to people who are blind I know that they don’t.  So, instead of assuming that your fears of autism properly reflect my experiences as the parent of three children with autism, try listening.  You don’t get to dictate the quality of our lives on your own terms.

The Mind’s Eye

  • Posted on January 21, 2011 at 8:26 PM

I am currently taking a course on writing poetry.  Writing poetry is how I gained my teachers’ interests in my writing ability when I was in grade school.  The first piece I had published for pay was a poem.  While I want to improve my understanding of poetry forms and improve my craft, I’m not under-confident in my ability to write poetry.

So, it was a surprise when I read the following passage from my textbook:

At the pedagogical heart of this book is the notion that no matter what kind of poetry anyone wishes to write (whether it’s free verse, narrative, formal, spoken word, ect.), a poet must paint a picture in the mind’s eye of the reader.

(The Mind’s Eye by Kevin Clark, 2008, pg. xii)

Furthermore, Kevin Clark relates imagery—a writing device used to evoke sensory experience in writing—directly to the experience of a mind’s eye.

You might be asking: What’s the big deal?

Well, to be entirely blunt, had I read a statement like that when I was in middle school, I would never have tried to write poetry.  Had I read it in high school or in the first five years after I graduated high school, I would never have written the poem that I had published.  Why?  Because my mind has no eye.  I don’t see images in my mind.  I cannot call up an image of my children’s face by mental will power, let alone imagine an image of something I’ve never seen. 

As this textbook is written, Kevin Clark assumes “the mind’s eye” is a universal experience.  It may be a common experience, but it’s not universal.  By relating the mind’s eye to effective imagery, he risks alienating anyone who doesn’t experience mental pictures.  Someone like me.

It is incorrect to assume that because I do not experience mental picture that I cannot this read, write, or evoke imagery.  Imagery is an important writing tool, but the mind’s eye is not the only way to experience it.  I don’t think in pictures; I think exclusively in words, emotions, and ideas.  Written imagery translates words into images in the mind’s eye; my mind requires no such translation.  Visual imagery, on the other hand, requires translation for me.  For example, impressionism is an artistic genre that I require translation to understand, and often cannot appreciate.

I’m sure I’ll find Kevin Clark’s book useful.  In fact, I already have.  However, there’s a risk of alienation when a person in authority assumes a common experience is universal, and then leaps to connect that common experience with the way to do something.  Clark made this mistake. 

I proved to myself I could write effective poetry before I ever read this book.  I also gained an understanding of myself as a neurodiverse individual, and have learned not to accept the limits others try to attribute to my abilities.  (Which is entirely different from recognizing and accepting my own limitations.) 

While Clark’s assumption will not alienate me from poetry, I worry that it might prevent others who experience sensory impressions the way I do from writing poetry.  I imagine that if I had been more vulnerable to the author’s influence—because I was less sure of my own potential—I might have foregone my poetic goals as unattainable.

The Mystery that is Eye Contact

  • Posted on November 28, 2009 at 7:24 AM

I am taking a Career Development course and cannot help but find this week’s discuss a bit disturbing.  Perhaps it helps that I am also taking a Human Resources Management course.

The Question:  Share with the group your experience with job interviews?

One Answer:  For me, eye contact is a must.

One Response:  If I was interviewing someone and they didn’t make eye contact there is no way I would hire them.

(Exact wording has been changed, because I did not request permission to quote these students.)

The questions roil in my mind:  What is eye contact?  Why are people so convinced it’s important?  Why do people not understand their assumptions regarding why someone is not making eye contact are just that—assumptions?

Even were I not immersed in the issue of neurodiversity I would recognize these statements as acts of prejudice.  Contrary to what some are taught, our social “rules” regarding eye contact are by no means universal.  Claims have been made in this class that eye contact is a sign of respect and trustworthiness.  Yet, in some cultures, eye contact is a sign of disrespect or aggression.  Discriminating against someone because of their national origin (and the culture thereof) is against the law for most businesses with a certain number of employees.  As people concerned with autism also know, there are disabilities (as recognized by United States law) that involve lack of eye contact.  Discriminating against someone because of their disability when they are capable of performing the job is also against the law.  An employer would have to include eye contact in the job description, and be able to justify its inclusion with evidence, to properly exclude someone from employment on the basis of lack of eye contact during an interview.

Perhaps my peers do not realize this.  I have related that information, but it’s too early to see if I will get a response.  The sad reality, however, is that there are employers now who do discriminate against potential employees on the basis of lack of eye contact.  They should not do so, yet the behavior persists and seemingly few people call attention to this form of discrimination.

The questions roil around in my head.  I’ve heard answers, but they all seem so empty.