December 28, 2021

No such thing as “out of time”

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:57 pm by chavisory

One of the most personally important, life-changing, and freeing things I’ve been learning to internalize lately, as a writer or when I’m making art just for myself, is that you can just do things over again.

And maybe that sounds really obvious, but I think a lot of common experiences with schooling actually make this a difficult thing to learn. Homework is always due the next day, projects and papers within a pretty limited time frame; you have to get things right the first time or you will not finish at all, or you just have so much work spread between different classes that you never really have time to rework something to your satisfaction, even if it’s something you enjoy and care about, rather than just to get it done on time.

It’s like specifically being taught that you’re not supposed to need to practice. You’re not supposed to need more than a night’s processing time for any given skill or concept. Even as we’re told that the whole point of homework is for practice, we’re not really supposed to need more than one try at it.

And working in production, while the time pressure is part of what makes it exciting…this thing that people are buying tickets for? It doesn’t actually exist yet! It will in three weeks, though, we promise! …it also means that large amounts of money are at stake if initial design or technical decisions turn out not to work the way they need to and have to be revised.

But over the course of the pandemic, even though I did have some significant obligations, I also had more time than I think I ever have in my adult life when there was nothing really I had to do by a certain time, when there was no work I owed to anyone else for days and days on end. And only then did it start to truly hit me that things I’m doing essentially for myself, ostensibly because I enjoy them?

I can re-do them as many times as I want. I can take the time to make them as good as I can make them, and not just finished enough to satisfy a deadline or for the minimum grade I need to earn.

Not happy with how a poem came out? I can rewrite it. I can rewrite it as many times as it takes. And I don’t just mean edit or revise it. I mean start over from the beginning and write it again. It’s not due tomorrow. It’s not due ever. It’s not immutably screwed up forever because I approached it wrong the first time and now that’s just the way it is.

I did a visible mend on a pair of jeans recently and didn’t like how it turned out. So I took it out and did a different one.

I was reinforcing some fraying seams on my hoodie this week and didn’t like the job I did. I did a better job on the second arm. The next time I sit down to watch a movie, I’ll rip the stitching out of the first arm and do it again.

There are no rules. There are no time limits. The time you spent on the first try wasn’t wasted. That’s what it actually takes to get familiar with what you want and what you’re capable of.

December 15, 2021

Dana Scully and the trauma of unanswerable questions

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:32 pm by chavisory

[This post contains major spoilers for season 5 and beyond of The X-Files!]

The inspiration for this post was, of all things, a silly X-Files quiz I was taking at work that inspired a Twitter discussion of a badly written question.

The question in question was “How many children has Dana Scully had?”*

And, well, the tricky thing is that there are a few different possible ways to determine the answer to this question.

Are we counting only the child that she gave birth to by choice? Then the answer is one: William.

Are we counting the children who we actually met as characters in the course of the run of the show? Then the answer is two: William and Emily.

Are we presuming that by now she has had the child we find out she’s pregnant with in the series finale? Then the answer is three. Her known, living children? We’re back to either one or two (William and the as-yet-unnamed baby), depending on the time frame we’re looking at.

But if we really want to count the number of children who might exist or have existed, who might be genetically hers?

We don’t know, and neither does she.

And I don’t think that the quiz writer meant to provoke any such debate or serious consideration of this subject. I don’t think the intent was to write a question requiring this level of interpretation. Honestly it seemed like the whole thing was written by someone who was barely familiar with the show but went through a guidebook or something for material. Because anyone intimately familiar with the story would know that that’s a virtually unanswerable question without specifying some additional conditions or boundaries. You can make some assumptions about what the test is looking for and make an educated guess based on those assumptions. (I went with “how many did we meet as characters within the broadcast run of the show,” and got counted right.)

But I think it’s actually significant to some of the central tragedy of the show and its depiction of ongoing trauma—one of those things being told around the edges without ever actually being articulated or drawing our attention directly to it—that we don’t really know. That there are some incredibly basic questions about her own life that Dana Scully cannot answer.

Like where she was for three months of her life. And how many children she has.

“The answers are there,” she says in the pilot episode. “You just have to know where to look.”

But she doesn’t. In regard to a couple of issues of central to her life, she doesn’t really know where to look (or might not want to), and there may not be an answer. (We learn in “Emily” that the Syndicate might not have been keeping astonishingly good track of the children it created in the course of the hybridization experiments. Mulder and Frohike manage to trace a handful of birth records, but it seems like a lot of these children were just kind of abandoned to the social services system.) Even after all this time, there aren’t any straightforward answers, not just to some of the biggest questions in her life—but to some of even the barest facts.

And the thing is that that exacts a toll on you. It takes a toll on your ability to function in the world, to not be able to fill out things like forms or surveys or screening questionnaires. It takes a toll on your ability to form normal relationships when you can’t answer basic or casual questions in straightforward ways. To in effect always be lying by omission, either to yourself or someone else.

Even if the underlying story isn’t inherently traumatic, which Scully’s is. Even if the answers do exist and you do know what they are, they just don’t translate into checkboxes, forms, applications, or casual conversation. When they are none of the available answers to the multiple choice questions. When normal, innocent inquiries force you to lie, evade, or say “Where do I even begin.” When this is a constant fact of your life.

Scully has to lie in some way, shape or form, to virtually every possible question about her children. The two she didn’t get to raise for differently terrible reasons. The unknown names or even number of who knows how many others.

It’s interesting to me that we see at least a couple of instances in which Mulder has to give an evasive answer to a question that should be easy but isn’t.

“Do you have a significant other?”
“Um, not in the widely understood definition of that term.”

“Do you have kids, Agent Mulder?”
“Uh, well, I have son, who’s… he’s grown, though.”

But I don’t think we ever really see Scully have to navigate such a conversation, although she must. (We do see a couple in which she just doesn’t answer an accusation that she doesn’t know what it means to be a mother, or to be abducted.)

It’s in and of itself a form of trauma we see perpetuated on both Mulder and Scully into the revival, that after everything they’ve been through, who can they even talk to about it? (Besides each other, and that seems to carry its own share of problems.)

And I know we love to pillory the writers for leaving Scully with so few female friends or close colleagues by the end of the show that we didn’t even know a single one of the women at her baby shower. But really? I have no doubt that this plays a role in the seemingly inexorable departure of pretty much every female acquaintance from Scully’s life, even aside from the ones we see die. The writers didn’t miss the mark all that badly at the end of the day. It is hard to maintain intimacy or equal footing in relationships with people who you have little ability to share everyday details of your life with because they just have no possible frame of reference.

It sucks. When the facts of your life don’t fit into the way the world works for anyone else. When even trying to explain is exhausting and only makes you a constant object of ridicule or fascination or just incomprehension.

I’ve been talking a little bit recently about illegibility in the lives of autistic people—how so often even well-meaning researchers and professionals don’t succeed at asking questions in a way that lets us give true or useful answers, because so few people really know what our lives look like. I can’t even tell you how many surveys or web forms I’ve just had to stop and give up on because of a question to which I had no possible true answer but also couldn’t skip or go around. About the need to allow for multiple answers and complicated answers and answers that don’t fall into any category you might have anticipated needing to identify, especially in the realms of gender and sexuality, relationships, living arrangement, and employment. I’ve had four meetings with my ACA navigator this year alone, largely for help in constructing the elaborate web of half-truths that will let me exchange data about my life for affordable health insurance, because the state of New York doesn’t know how to ask questions about those things that would let me just tell them the truth.

To say nothing of the things that I mostly just don’t tell people.

And it takes such a toll, to never be able to say true things about your life. Not just in terms of, say, getting healthcare providers or tax professionals or social services or educational institutions to understand what you need, but in your ability to feel known, feel counted, feel like what’s happened to you does count.

That you can be accounted for.

*Interestingly, when I went back to the quiz to make sure I’d remembered the wording right, the question had been changed to a more answerable version: “How many children does Dana Scully know she’s had?” Which is still tragic in its implications, but more possible to come up with a straight answer to. So it’s possible that more people than a handful of fans on Twitter said something…

May 5, 2021

“Coming of Age” interview

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:08 pm by chavisory

“For me, anyway, the irony is that a lot of the strengths of autism have to be spent on navigating or compensating for the ways in which our society is still very hostile toward autistic people. And I think a lot about the kinds of things we might be able to create or accomplish if we all had the support that we need or weren’t required to expend a lot of our energy and cognitive bandwidth having to look out for ourselves in ways that non-autistic and non-disabled people don’t, if we didn’t have to leverage our strengths so hard just to survive.”

Photo credit: Charlie Stern

I had a great time doing this interview with with Beacon Press editorial intern Evangelyn Beltran, which is out in the Beacon Broadside this week! In addition to discussing autistic identity, I talk about growing up undiagnosed in the 1980’s, and stage managing while autistic.

It’s the third part of a series, “Coming of Age and Living Authentically on the Autism Spectrum,” with my co-editors Sharon daVanport and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu! Sharon’s interview is here and Morénike’s is here!

December 25, 2020

The beginning, not the end

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:12 pm by chavisory

In some ways I started saying it as an excuse. For why I didn’t want to take my tree down yet, or for cards or presents that were almost certainly not going to arrive in the mail by December 25. “Christmas lasts until January 6. It’s still Christmas until then.” As long as a card or a letter or package arrives before then? It’s not late! It’s still Christmas!

And it’s true, even though that’s not really how most of us celebrate or think about it anymore, but Christmas is a 12-day festival that lasts from December 25 to January 6, when Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi to greet the baby Jesus (which I think most of us had explained at some point after being confused for a portion of our childhoods at the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”).

But over the past several years, in all honesty, learning to think about Christmas this way has actually helped me appreciate it more for what I think it’s supposed to be, rather than always being overwhelmed and exhausted leading up to it and then having it be over before I know it while I was too tired to truly enjoy it.

I wish that as a society, we’d bend back towards a 12-day celebration of Christmas.

It’s helped me not feel like Christmas is just one more project or production that I’m not going to have done in time, another endpoint or deadline, rather than a period of time in which I get to exist in the world differently. It takes a lot of emotional pressure off the day to be the perfect fulfillment of the Christmas season, to be everything possible to everyone. It makes it a lot harder to “ruin” Christmas, if Christmas isn’t just one day. It’s harder for the entire preceding month’s work to feel like a waste if Christmas isn’t over at the stroke of midnight on December 25, but only beginning, if the day didn’t go as planned. It helps make room for large, scattered, blended, and messier families. Between divorced parents, grandparents, step-family, and siblings who now have their own and their spouses’ and partners’ families, it is virtually impossible that I get to see everyone on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But Christmas gatherings spread out over the days after the 25th don’t have to be considered late or of diminished importance. Usually I wind up having Christmas with my mother and siblings on the 28th or so, after whatever traveling we’ve all had to do to see family elsewhere.

…And I think it could really, really cut down on the temptation of retailers and radio stations to start playing Christmas music a few days after Halloween. There is going to be plenty of time to actually enjoy that music–during Christmas. There’d be no need to keep pushing the commencement of the Christmas season earlier and earlier into the year to make sure we wring every possible drop of enjoyment out of it, if we just took advantage of the holiday as it actually exists.

A longer celebration of Christmas says there will be time. To listen to all the damn Christmas music we want. To see everyone we need to see even if it can’t be all at once. To rest and enjoy everything we worked so hard for. It says things take as long as they take, and that’s okay. The doing is part of the celebration.

Writing Christmas cards, I took a deep breath to remember, busier this year than it should be possible to be without a job, isn’t about getting them done and in the mail “on time.” It’s something I’m spending my time leading up to Christmas doing because I appreciate my friends and family, and am deciding to spend this time this way because I wanted to and enjoy doing it. If they get there after Christmas Day, someone still knows I’m thinking of them and wishing them well.

And I wonder even if those realities of modern life–that Christmas likely means travel to multiple family gatherings over several days (at least, not in a pandemic year), and snarled mail delivery, might start leading us to expand how we think about Christmas again. There’s too much to do in one day. And there’s actually no reason at all that we have to.

The Christmas story didn’t unfold in one day and the celebration of it doesn’t need to. Jesus said “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

We don’t have to accept a false scarcity of time during Christmas. Christmas Day is the beginning of Christmas, not the end of it.

This year especially, I’m finding it reassuring to consider Christmas a period of time set aside for a reason, to find joy and rest, and not as an event that I’m missing out on. Christmas this year is going to be quieter and lonelier than I wanted, but it will also still be these things. I’m having dinner with my neighbor from across the hall, watching the Muppet Christmas Carol and The Lion in Winter. It turned out to be impossible to buy candied fruit mix anywhere in NYC this month (which honestly feels like a fitting end to a year in which it was at various times impossible to buy milk, bread, flour, breakfast sausage, frozen pizza, pasta, hand soap, or toilet paper) to make my great-grandmother’s fruit bars, a Christmas tradition in my mother’s family, so instead I’m taking some time to experiment with making Nantucket cranberry cake, and a friend’s lemon cookie recipe. I’m not going to get to go to church, but reading, writing, and hiking.

My present from my mother didn’t get here in the mail in time for this morning, but it’s fine, because it’ll still be Christmas tomorrow.

For those of us who are separated from our families and friends this year, who aren’t having the Christmas we wish we were, I hope we can at least find it a time of rest and restoration, today and over the next eleven days, and a way to see it as the beginning of a return to better ones.

Image is of a small rock, which someone has painted with yellow and white stripes and the word “joy” in red and green letters, and left amid fallen leaves, on the rocks by our waterfall in Central Park.

August 8, 2020

Mushrooms and minor updates

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:37 am by chavisory

IMG_1200I went hiking a little bit upstate last week and saw some beautiful bracket mushrooms. I climbed Sugarloaf Hill in the Hudson Highlands, and it was fascinating to see how much the ecosystem changed along the way even in a relatively small elevation gain. Further up this same trail was cactus.

Also I once again have a couple pieces in the newest issue of Fuckit: A Zine, the “Vote Motherfucker Vote” issue–one poem, one essay about hope in fundamentally unpredictable times, weird dreams, and Game of Thrones.

May 14, 2020

Elsewhere

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:52 am by chavisory

Hi all!

Just wanted to let people know if you’re interested that I have two pieces out in other places this week. First, in issue #2 of “Fuckit: A Zine,” a short musing on prayer and Call the Midwife. It’s available here.

And second, I have a new post, “Why Doesn’t Respect For Communication Diversity Include Non-Speaking Autistic People?” at the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, here!

I hope everyone is holding up okay and getting to enjoy spring at least a little bit!

 

April 14, 2020

In thanks for the legacy of Mel Baggs

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 12:59 pm by chavisory

As much of the autism and disability rights communities have heard by now, writer and activist Mel Baggs passed away suddenly over the weekend, after years of complicated health issues as well as medical neglect and denial of sufficient home and community-based services.

While Mel was multiply disabled and often emphasized that sie felt more solidarity with the developmentally disabled community more broadly than sie did as simply autistic, sie also wrote the very first thing I remember, specifically about autism, that made me see myself. I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom in my last apartment in Athens, GA and feeling my world kind of turn inside out as I read words that could’ve just been written about me. I was 21. So while it’s not as if I’d known hir all my life, Mel was inherently part of the world as I knew it, in which I knew myself in important ways.

Mel was, in ways, much more intensively disabled and had much higher support needs than mine. Sie could not speak, most of the time. Sie didn’t live independently. Sie had been institutionalized. Sie wrote about times when people looked at hir and assumed that sie could not think, or had the mind of an infant.

And sie wrote in a way that made me see myself in the world more vividly than almost anyone else would for a very long time.

So when people say things like “We aren’t talking about autistic people like you” when they talk about the autistic people they are sure need to be cured, prevented, controlled, institutionalized, or who they assume “just can’t communicate,” think, understand, or learn, Mel is one of the foremost reasons why I know they are wrong. That they are talking about autistic people like me, and that neurodiversity, presumption of competence, disability rights, and human rights, are for all of us. Every single one.

Mel was like me. And I am like Mel. Not in every way, but in important ways.

I didn’t know Mel personally but had the honor once of editing hir work. My mother said “So you felt like you knew her,” but really, it’s more like my entire generation of autistic people felt like we knew ourselves because of hir.

If you’ve never seen Mel’s video “In My Language,” it was truly a groundbreaking piece of media not just about autism, but about the sheer diversity of human thought and language and possibility of communion with the world.

May 27, 2019

I identify as tired

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:03 pm by chavisory

I started wondering something explicitly for the first time recently, and that is: How many autistic kids who fly under the radar for years, or forever, present primarily to non-autistic observers as exhausted?

I wonder this as I continue recovering from a recent production, and my main problem is just that I’m so exhausted. If I get up at 10:00 AM, I need a nap by 4:00 or 5:00, and not for having done all that much in my waking hours. Every time somebody has made me exercise the slightest amount of planning ability outside of work, I just want to cry. It’s taken my writing brain a couple of months to even think about coming back online. And transitions are still the worst.

But mostly I’m just so tired.

And I look back on being a kid and obviously there was so much that I just had no frame of reference to explain, but one of the things that was apparent, even to me, even when I was really little, was that other people didn’t think I should be so tired. In grade school I was too tired to talk to a friend on the bus ride home instead of just staring out the window at the sunlight flickering in the trees. In middle and high school (on the afternoons I got to come home), I needed a two-hour nap before I could regroup and start thinking about dinner and homework, and people just didn’t believe I was too thrashed from a day of school to do much of anything else before that happened.

While there were things that I couldn’t do at all and had no way to justify why, a fair amount of the time, it wasn’t that I just flatly couldn’t. It was that I could do what was demanded by school or social activities, or at least perform a superficial but apparently somewhat convincing pantomime thereof, for a sharply limited amount of time, and it took absolutely everything out of me to function that way until I couldn’t anymore, and then people didn’t understand why I couldn’t anymore.

And sometimes it was actually that something more specific was the real problem, like having trouble transitioning, or not having the verbal bandwidth or social knowledge, or having motor planning trouble. But I didn’t have words for any of that, and the closest approximation I had available was often “I’m too tired.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

I mean, I didn’t.

I’m more embarrassed of it now than I was when I just didn’t know that I shouldn’t be that tired, and what the reason was. It’s one of the probably top three things I feel like I have to hide in terms of being autistic and doing what I do for a living.

That me sitting here having a conversation in a way that reads as baseline normal to you is so high-energy that I’m going to start to break down from it in about half the time as you and have to go home and collapse. That to you that’s just how humans work and to me it’s like performing an extremely high-level game of mental and physical coordination.

That there are a lot of things I’d like to accomplish but I flatly don’t have the energy.

That when people suggest I do things like ~go to grad school~ or ~run for office~ it is hard to admit “Okay, do you know how much of my available energy I am currently using just to hold my life together and meet my obligations to the extent that I am right now?”

All of it. It’s all of it. I’m not just skating here.

And that’s not even from masking or passing or pretending not to be autistic. That’s just getting the stuff done that I have to get done. The cost of masking is above my price point.

That what you are talking about is so far beyond my capacity to think in extremely abstract ways and be on the hook to communicate about for that much of the day and do high-level strategic planning/networking and also do the work of holding my life together. And also write papers?!

Why don’t I run for office? Why don’t I teach college? Because I can’t actually speak for more than about two cumulative hours per day, and it helps if even all of that time isn’t consecutive; why don’t you become an astronaut if that’s what you really want? Oh, what’s that? You don’t have the resources, either internal or external, to go back to school for a terminal degree in math or physics or astronomy followed by years and years of physical conditioning?

Okay. That’s close to the energy differential we’re talking about here.

“Twice exceptionality: When your test scores write checks your actual abilities can’t cash,” is how a friend put it once.

There’s a presentation of autistic reaction to unmanageable demands that gets called Pathological Demand Avoidance… and while I have a lot of problems with how that’s framed, I think it may be “real” insofar as being a recognizable pattern of coping strategy in the form of exhibiting disproportionate, preemptive or protective defiance to what seem like normal, commonplace demands to a non-disabled adult.

I think there might be another one in which autistic kids, whatever they’re feeling, try and try and try and try and try to meet adult demands to the point where they wear themselves out trying, or get fed up with the Kafkaesque paradox wherein no matter how well they manage, the outcome is even heavier demand on their limited abilities to manage.

Anyway, I wonder…in light of admittedly anecdotal personal experience, how many autistic kids—not that they don’t show other signs, but which might be misattributed or considered “quirks” or misbehavior—how many kids primarily have it noticed that they are so frequently so tired, and there’s not an obvious physical reason why?

To the next person who says to me “How are you really disabled?” or “I don’t see how you’re autistic,” I’m going to be hard-pressed not to reply “I am so goddamned tired.”

tiredHannah Gadsby, another autistic performing artist who is tired.

October 13, 2016

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 2:01 am by chavisory

I know it’s been quiet around here lately.  It’s not an intentional silence or hopefully an overly long one.

I could make the expected excuses about being busy (true), or that I went from unemployed to very employed in a blink (true), or that I’m working intensely on finishing up another project (true).  Which are all true, but not the whole reasons.

One factor is that I actually have a great deal that I feel like I need to write, but most of which I probably can’t publish.  Not now and possibly not ever.  For either personal or other reasons.  But they still feel like important things to say, and to commit to paper, so I’m dedicating some time to doing that.

I halfway considered getting a secret blog for some of it (yes, I use a pseudonym here, but most of my social network knows that this is me, and a very minor amount of research using information I’ve provided would probably tell you who I am), but honestly I’m just not up for the work of maintaining yet another internet identity and ensuring that it remains secret.

I’ve gotten bad at splitting my identity up into pieces.

Not unrelatedly, I’ve found myself irritated with a lot of my own writing.  Simultaneously with how much I feel compelled to over-explain, and how much I feel like I have to leave out.  I’m working on both of those things, with trusting my voice and my words, and saying everything that actually needs saying, with less concern for a potential audience.

The result is writing that I’m happier with, and also less able to publish.

The third thing is that I’ve been feeling a little futile about blogging.  I know that’s not really true.  I know I’ve written valuable things.  A couple of which have been republished and are actually now getting me paid on a semi-regular basis.

But I look at what’s happening politically, and…too many of my posts from four to five years ago are just recyclable.  I look at what’s happening in the world, particularly with regards to police violence and Black Lives Matter, and I just don’t even know what I can say to people who really don’t believe it’s happening.  Or don’t see a problem.  I feel like I’ve been saying a lot of the same things for a long time, and not very much is different.

And maybe that’s self-important, to think that it should be.  But it seems time to go in a slightly different direction, and I’m not entirely sure what that is yet.