March 16, 2017

Coping with the world–yeah, we get it.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:58 am by chavisory

{This post references the comments made here.}

Once, when I was still a stage management intern, I was assistant stage managing a show on which I was having a lot of trouble and just generally felt like I couldn’t keep up. Some of the reasons why I was having such a hard time under those particular circumstances are much more clear to me in retrospect, and some are honestly still a mystery. There were blind spots and skill deficits on my part involved. There were certain ways in which I was ill-prepared that both were and weren’t my fault. There were other factors at play that didn’t originate with me at all. But it certainly wasn’t that I was just being lazy or not trying or didn’t care enough.

I was having a talk about it with the production stage manager one day—I could see well enough even then that she was overwhelmed and unhappy herself—about why I was having so much difficulty doing the job she expected from me, and she said to me something along the lines of:

“You know, you’re going to have to take jobs sometimes that you don’t love just to pay the bills.”

I have possibly never wanted to hit someone in the face so badly as I did right then.

Not just because that was so not the issue. Not just because she was displaying no comprehension at all of how hard I was trying but just hitting some kind of internal brick wall that I couldn’t fully comprehend. Although both of those things were true.

But because… doing what I had to do just to get by, pushing myself into things that I didn’t really want to do because I didn’t think I had a choice… had been my whole entire fucking life for almost as long as I could even remember.

She said it the same way that people had always tended to say painfully obvious things about my own life to me as if they were concepts I’d just never been presented with before:

“Emily, you have to understand that not everyone is like you.”

“Emily, you’re going to have to learn to work with people different from you.”

“Emily, you have to realize that not everyone can do what you do.”

With all due respect: No shit, Sherlock.

I was rather overly familiar with the concept that I was going to have to do things I didn’t love to get by. I’d done a lot of jobs I didn’t love, and I would do a lot more. I’d done a lot of things that were hard and unpleasant and violating just to prove I could or would do anything I had to do. I had done awful things to myself.

And she had decided I was just being snotty and spoiled instead, when actually she just had no idea.

The way I felt in that moment—that violently sinking, helpless, unspeakably sad feeling of hearing your whole life erased in a single instant, in a single arrogant comment, and knowing that nothing you can say to defend yourself will matter—is about the same way I feel when we write intricately and agonizingly about both the internal and external obstacles we face as autistic people, about the injustice and damage of being erased from our own lives, about our rights and choices being made contingent on how well we can just pretend not to be disabled, and someone says something like

“It’s about ability to cope in the world.”

Let me ask you something.

What on earth makes you think that we don’t know that our ability to cope in the world is at issue here?

Literally everything and everyone tells us, without ceasing, that our disabilities are going to affect our ability to be successful, and that we’re just making things harder for ourselves by being different, and that “you have to be able to cope with the world!”

We didn’t just not think of that.

We didn’t just not notice.

We get told every day how much our inability to cope with the world is a problem.

We get told every day how much the things we can’t do are a problem.

We get told every day how we’ll “never be able to make it in the real world if you can’t [whatever arbitrary thing is the issue today].” That “the world isn’t going to change for you.”

We know.

We notice that everything is harder for us.

We notice that we can’t do things that other people take for granted.

We notice that you look down on us for this.

We notice that we have far fewer chances to succeed, and that we have our choices and autonomy constrained because of other people’s estimation of our ability to cope with the world.

We notice when people decide that it’s their place to make things as hard and unfair for us as they think they should be, and the excuse is always that it’s about our ability to cope with the world.

We are the ones who bear all the consequences of what it becomes okay to do to us in the name of our “ability to cope with the world.”  Like deciding that you’re justified in whatever it takes to make us successful in the world in the ways you think we should be …and if that means making us as normal as you can figure out how to, then so be it.

People treat us this way all the time, and we notice.

We get it. We get it like you cannot even fathom.

March 15, 2016

Love and duty of, and for, creative children

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

I started reading this article (How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off) wanting so badly to like what I think it’s trying to say, but just wound up so annoyed at many of the assumptions and implications the author makes in order to say it.

It’s true—you can’t program a child to become creative. You can’t engineer that kind of success. Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty.

But Grant is kind of just imposing this duty on a certain set of kids in a different way—implying strongly that the right outcome for those kids is to become a revolutionary or visionary leader in their fields. I don’t think that’s fair, either.

Grant also seems unfamiliar with some of the realities of being a gifted child. Whether someone suffers from social or emotional problems, or is kept from learning to be original by adult expectation or fear of failure, aren’t the only factors in whether or not they’ll grow up to change the world. There’s more to the equation than that, and not all of it is even wrong.

I’m going to go point by point:

  1. “They learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8.”

This is not the trajectory that probably most genius follows, though. Particularly for twice-exceptional kids, probably including Einstein, who Grant keeps quoting approvingly. This describes a tiny number of child prodigies, and doesn’t include most people who grow up to be accomplished, creative adults…many of whom spoke or read late, have no particular musical or mathematical talent, or were simply unspectacular at school until they found their own groove later on.

Underscoring Grant’s ignorance here, he talks about giftedness, creativity, genius, and prodigy status almost interchangeably throughout the piece. But they’re not the same thing. Giftedness is widely accepted to entail a high capacity for creative problem-solving, but most gifted children are not prodigies. Prodigies are not necessarily geniuses, nor particularly creative, nor geniuses prodigies. Many impressively creative children are never identified as gifted, indeed are often perceived as academically lacking. All of those things can manifest very differently in different children under different circumstances (and historically, many of the ways in which they’ve been identified have been problematic, to say the least, on multiple levels).

And none of them equate to limitless capability. Any ability =/= every ability. This is a common misconception about academically gifted children in particular. The fact of our advanced abilities in one regard is misapplied to argue that we should be able to do anything else we really want to do (or someone else wants us to do).  This is especially obnoxious for twice-exceptional kids, who have to expend a lot of cognitive resources on navigating the world in ways that most people don’t. In some ways, those struggles can spur creative development. In some ways, though, they’re just draining.

Everything’s not just easy for a very talented child.

  1. “Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery.”

They often don’t, though. Classmates often demean and ostracize precocious or conspicuously different kids. Their parents often misunderstand and undervalue their talents, struggle to relate to them, and fear not being able to meet their needs. Siblings and teachers resent them. Schools tacitly allow bullying and obstruct opportunities for acceleration. Kids with IEP’s are told they’re not eligible for honors or AP classes.

In a recent case in Canada, two brothers were both admitted to a prestigious arts high school. The boys’ home district didn’t blink at transferring the required funding for the younger brother, but refused to do so for the older brother, because his educational funding stream was disability-related.

How many brilliant kids does this happen to whose families simply don’t have the resources or social networks to fight back like the Wrays could?

Particularly gifted or creative kids just aren’t automatically given the supports they should have; they’re often being actively thwarted.

  1. “But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

This is insulting. How are we defining a “whimper” for these purposes?  Why is the most concerning thing about a gifted child’s life the way their career ends, anyway?  Why do you get to declare the outcome of an artist’s career a “whimper” because they didn’t go as far as you wanted them to?

  1. “Consider the nation’s most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Talent Search…From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes.”

Quite frankly, so what? What percentage of anybody makes the National Academy of Sciences? There is one Nobel Prize awarded per year in a tiny handful of fields. That leaves the vast majority of gifted researchers and creators doing necessary, valuable work who will never win a Nobel Prize. That’s not a meaningful benchmark of whether or not they fulfilled their potential as human beings or as scientists or artists.

“For every Lisa Randall who revolutionizes theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential.”

Why is “revolutionizing theoretical physics” and “falling far short of [your] potential” a meaningful juxtaposition? Those two extremes don’t accurately represent the possibilities available.

Maybe the Westinghouse Search just isn’t a very good predictor of future paradigm-shifting achievement. How does he know that Talent Search finalists who don’t go on to revolutionize a field aren’t in fact fulfilling their potential, but just in ways that are harder to quantify? That don’t win the shiny awards? Maybe their potential just wasn’t what you thought it was.

And anyway, why is anyone particularly obligated to always pursue to the highest possible level the subject they were good at in high school? Does a gifted teenage scientist not have a right to give up something that they find is no longer in line with their own goals or desires?

  1. “The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores.”

I spend a lot of time trying to explain this in other contexts

Different skills are different skills.

Technical virtuosity is a worthy talent—it just isn’t the same thing as compositional originality. Maybe a technically masterful musician isn’t an innovative composer because they don’t work at it—or because they don’t work that way. Accepting that isn’t a sin. We need original composers, and we need highly skilled musicians to execute and interpret their work. One of those things is not morally superior. That it’s relatively rare for someone to be both is possibly not actually wrong.

We have a common language of music because most musicians aren’t going around reinventing the rules of music. That’s okay. (And meanwhile, a lot of young musicians not identified as especially gifted as toddlers are composing their own original works.)

  1. “They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights.”

But you don’t usually produce new insights by focusing your energies on producing new insights, but rather on solving the really unglamorous, day to day, moment to moment problems, and seeing something differently.

I have to tell you here about my favorite piece of paperwork.

It’s a character/scene breakdown. It was the result of a spreadsheet tweak by an unpaid intern PA. It was the third in a series of attempts to satisfy a director who didn’t like either of my prior versions. And he didn’t like that one, either.

But it was simple and brilliant. I would never have come up with it; I have a tendency towards over-thinking. It eliminated an entire layer of translation from the problem. And it has persistently improved the quality of my work in every way, for every show, ever since. It saves time, it saves anxiety, and it saves scheduling mistakes, which saves money; it became almost every piece of organizational paperwork I use while stage managing a whole other multi-media project.

It’s just a rearranged Excel spreadsheet. That’s how unspectacular creative innovation can look. We weren’t sitting there focused on producing new insights; we were trying not to get snapped at by an unhappy director again. And we failed.

But small breakthroughs like this accrue, hourly, daily, in every creative field, into major shifts in thinking over time.

  1. “In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet ‘only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,’ laments the psychologist Ellen Winner.”

…And what of the people who do become revolutionary adult creators who weren’t identified as particularly gifted in childhood? What of the disabled and outsider artists, some of whom are supported and represented by places like the Creative Growth Art Center, but some of whose work is never identified until after their deaths or ever at all, who spend the majority of their lives assumed to be categorically incapable by everyone around them?

Where’s the lament for that injustice, when we talk about lost creative promise?

A more interesting question might be, what fraction of revolutionary adult creators was overlooked or written off as untalented in childhood? Or told that they shouldn’t pursue what they did? How many Nobel Prize winners weren’t extremely impressive young children, and what does that tell you?

Again, it looks to me more like the frameworks we have for identifying conspicuous childhood ability just aren’t very good at predicting adult achievement.

  1. “Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves.”

But why should “making waves” be a goal unto itself?

I have seen some of the worst efforts at advocacy or activism born from a desire to “make waves” without having a deep understanding of the topics involved. A lot of acquiring that deep understanding, in order to effect sustainable, lasting change in a field, can look like years and years of absorbing existing knowledge and doing unglamorous work without making waves just for the sake of making waves.

Novices absolutely can make important contributions and insights. They also can crash and burn, or do more harm than good, when they don’t know what in the fuck they’re doing or the history of what they’re trying to do. Context matters. Revolution isn’t always the greatest possible good.

And like, we need gifted surgeons. We need brilliant defense attorneys! To become one can take everything that even the most gifted student has to give. Someone who gives their very best to healing their patients or defending their clients isn’t under-performing because they don’t necessarily decide to make overhauling the system their own highest priority. The problems entrenched in the health care and criminal justice systems have thwarted many of the greatest minds that have taken them on for many years.

And again, there are professionals who actually do this kind of advocacy for systemic change. Just because most people don’t doesn’t mean that the people who should be doing it aren’t. But skill at neurosurgery and skill at lobbying or activism are not the same thing. Different skills are different skills. The fact that the health care and criminal justice systems still harbor massive waste and injustice is more evidence of those issues being very big and very entrenched than of isolated child geniuses not reaching their full creative potential.

I also imagine a lot of highly accomplished doctors and lawyers might take issue with the framing that really they could be doing so much more to reform the system if only their youthful sense of originality hadn’t been quashed. That’s a judgment of somebody else’s life that I’d be very wary of making without an intimate familiarity with what they do and why. Maybe they’re dodging their true potential. Maybe they’re making canny decisions about work/life balance. Maybe they’re actually doing the best they can.

*

There is room for both broad and narrow approaches to art, science, and social problems. Neither is more genuinely creative. The nature of the problem matters a lot.

Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty. So what is all this presumed duty of gifted kids to grow up to be as creative as you think we should be? To solve the problems you want us to solve for you? (If you know so much about what needs to be done, why don’t you go do it and stop foisting your existential disappointment on us?)

Maybe a precocious child’s actual true potential is not the same as your prejudice about their true potential, but that doesn’t make it actually inferior.

Parents shouldn’t drive their highly talented children like achievement robots not because it short-circuits the kind of creative development we really want from them, but because it’s objectifying and cruel.

I just don’t think the goal should be making sure more Westinghouse Talent Search finalists go on to win Nobel Prizes, as opposed to making sure that all children are more able to live their fullest, freest lives. I am so much more troubled by the thought of how many kids—whether formally identified as gifted or not, whether conspicuous musical or linguistic prodigies or not—have their promise and talents thwarted by poverty, by broken educational and criminal justice systems, by ableism and endemic racism, than I am by statistics about a relatively tiny number of prodigies who don’t do what some professor of management thinks they should be doing with their adult lives. And those problems are all of our responsibility to contribute to solving, not to put on the shoulders of singular children to fix for us.

We’re not entitled to the accomplishment of any child, and we squander the talents of too many others.

August 21, 2015

The Golden Rule, in advocacy and otherwise

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:49 pm by chavisory

The Golden Rule isn’t a uniquely Christian stricture. It occurs in a lot of different faith systems and philosophies, in a lot of similar phrasings and formats.

There’s the Silver Rule (Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you).

There’s the Platinum Rule (Treat others the way they want to be treated).

But I think the golden rule has a corollary I’ve never heard articulated before. I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s this:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto someone else.

The immediate context of this is that, in the past few years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve run into a lot of argument that some really nasty, callous, and frankly, counterproductive, modes of engagement regarding issues of social justice are justified based on all kinds of factors that have kind of blown my mind and not in a good way.

But I see these patterns play out in much broader ways, as well.

There is a way in which I think people tend to reenact the things that get done to them, and the ways they get treated. Because, unless they just have zero self-worth, the things that people learn are okay for others to do to them, they’re very likely going to naturally interpret to be alright for them to do to others. Because that’s how “the way you treat people” has been modeled to them.

Who then are they going to inflict that behavior on in turn?

You have no control over that. And it could be someone a good deal more vulnerable than themselves.

Unless someone manages to recognize their own treatment as wrong and explicitly, deliberately, continually decides not to repeat it against other people. Which is seriously hard to do when you have no direct counterexamples of what decent behavior is.

So for instance, a thing I hear a lot is a parent saying that their kid is aggressive to others for no apparent reason—pulling hair, grabbing, biting, hitting, etc.

A thing I have to wonder, particularly regarding disabled kids—Is someone else doing effectively the same things to them? Particularly someone more powerful, in a position of authority, under the guise of legitimacy? Under the guise of therapy or education? Are they in a situation in which their own bodily integrity or autonomy can be violated at will by another person and it’s perfectly allowable? Where they can be touched or have their body controlled without their consent, where teachers or therapists can do all manner of aggressive, invasive, unfair things to get or keep their attention?

Then you’ve got a hard case to make if you’re trying to teach a kid “You have no right to do this to someone else. But other people do have a right to do it to you.”

And really, is that a case you want to be making?

The thing is, it’s not just that the ways we treat other people will be the ways they treat us right back. It’s that the ways we treat others, including—probably especially—children, will be the ways that they go treat someone else entirely.

Here’s a story. Once when I was a kid, we had some friends of my parents over for dinner one night. They had a daughter a little bit younger than me. And we’d been told that she was afraid of big dogs, so our big, friendly yellow lab was shut up in a bedroom while we were all outside.

And at one point, I took it upon myself to show her that dogs weren’t really anything to be scared of, and went and got the dog, put her on her leash, and brought her outside.

Total screaming, crying mayhem ensued, of course. It was a shitty thing to do even if I was trying to be helpful. Why would I even think to do such a thing?

Well, because that’s how everyone around me treated me, day and night. Day in and day out. Things I was afraid of or physically uncomfortable with were things I just needed to be forced into. Or compelled to force myself into. Or berated or shamed or even tricked or double-crossed into—all by people with undeniably good intentions. All by people who were totally convinced they were helping.

Why on earth would I think it wasn’t okay to do the same thing to someone else? When adults did the same thing to me all the time and no one objected, and my objections meant nothing?

And maybe it seems like a leap, but I truly think this has application to the kids of civility and respect that I actually believe are important in advocacy, in debate, in difficult conversations and in the ways we treat people generally, even when they’re in the wrong.

Here is something I see over and over in online arguments. If you just keep an opponent talking for long enough, they will tell you exactly what their issue or mental block is with understanding a concept, or giving up a prejudice, or admitting that something being done to another group of people isn’t fair and shouldn’t be condoned. Quit insulting them and just keep them answering questions about their logic holes, and they will take you right to the bottom of their objection sooner or later.

And the frequency with which it turns out that they feel they’re being held to a double standard is pretty stunning—that they feel that something is being demanded of them that isn’t being asked of other people around them, or of another group of people towards whom they’re being asked to change their behavior or thinking. If they’re getting told that it’s not cool to treat other people in the same way that it’s always been acceptable for them to be treated (or still is), and they may have come to terms with that treatment in order to preserve their self-worth, or in order not to believe that someone they care about has hurt them, or because they are justifiably proud of their own accomplishments in the face of unfairness or deprivation…if they’ve had it inculcated that this treatment is acceptable towards them, they’re not just suddenly going to believe that it’s not acceptable towards somebody else.

Changing those beliefs can take a lot of self-forgiveness and self-compassion. Telling someone that they’re unworthy of those things because of their demographic membership isn’t going to get you far, and it probably shouldn’t. It doesn’t shore up empathy for stigmatized or marginalized people just to be told that you deserve that bad treatment instead.

The point is that no one deserves it.

What I see so many of these arguments boil down to is, “But this exactly is how someone else treated people like me and it was okay then, so why is it not now for me to hold someone else to the same standard?”

Because, of course, it was never okay in the first place. It wasn’t okay when someone else did it to them, either. The golden rule, and its silent corollary, have the power to unravel these double standards. It’s not okay for you to treat people in certain ways, and it’s not okay for others to treat you badly, either.

If you’re trying to make an argument that “It’s not okay for you to treat others this way, but it is for me to treat you this way….”

People don’t tend to buy that, for very good reasons, unless they already have terrible self-worth or have been driven really far towards seeing themselves as un-people. (And that should not be what we’re aiming to accomplish.)

Which is one reason why it’s not true that the only serious harm you can do is down a power gradient on some singular axis of privilege. Privilege is practically never one-dimensional. People who are in fact vulnerable in some way that you’ve failed to see or consider are not likely to take well to assertions that their being attacked or insulted is justified on the basis of their disproportionate power. And I really don’t think they’re obligated to.

So whether you’re arguing that it’s okay to call someone an asshole or a piece of trash,

That it’s okay to force someone into a fearful situation,

To control their body, to assert your entitlement to their attention or compliance,

To insult or dehumanize someone. To tell them to go die. To decide that some group of people is okay to be prejudiced against. To mock their identity group for existing,

Based on their opinions even when they’re wrong and offensive, their skin color, their background, their disability, their sex or gender or sexuality, their privilege or your perception thereof…

Don’t be surprised when they internalize the message that the same behavior towards someone else is also acceptable.

And yes, there are people who can’t distinguish criticism of their positions from attacks on their personhood. Just because those people are going to get their panties in a twist whether you’re nice or not, does not make it meaningless how you have actually treated them as people. That some people will make those accusations practically no matter what, does not obligate you to make them true.

It’s not about sheltering the feelings of oppressors, or not challenging members of privileged groups in their perspective and assumptions. It’s not even just about the damage you can inflict on a single person’s soul. It’s that you reinforce messages about how it’s okay to treat people, by how you treat people.

If the treatment of someone else that you’re justifying will force them into choosing between believing “It is okay to treat other people this way” or “I’m not really a person, at least not one who matters for anything” or “I deserve this because of some categorical generalization about a group that I belong to,” that’s a justification I would seriously question in any context.

We shouldn’t be constructing different hierarchies of who it’s okay to do shit to. We should be undermining values systems that say that anyone is acceptable to do shit to.

Whatever you’re thinking about inflicting on another person, consider:

Would I find it acceptable for someone else to treat me this way? Would I want this person to go treat someone else this way, if I have no say in who that might be? No? Then maybe you shouldn’t be running calculations to try to figure out if it’s okay to treat anyone that way. Maybe, probably, it’s just not.

Just changing the direction in which insults, abuse, and dehumanization flow isn’t going to change shit. Stopping it is.

May 30, 2014

It’s not a sin to be awkward.

Posted in Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 2:02 am by chavisory

I’m was in the office at work with my boss and a coworker, and I do not even remember how the topic of conversation has turned to public schooling vs. homeschooling.  But it has.  My coworker starts in on an anecdote, and I have a bad, bad feeling about where this is going.

“We had a homeschooled girl in my high school chemistry class.  She was like 12.  She was just so far ahead.”

(Maybe not.  Sharp intake of breath.  Slightly too-long pause.)

“But she was so awkward.  And it made the whole class awkward, and it was just awkward to have her there.”

And here we are.  At the moment in which, prior to this, I had actually thought that my acceptance in this place, to these people, wasn’t based on me passing myself off as the right kind of person instead of the wrong kind.

The awkward kind.

But it was.  And I am.  She hadn’t realized, in the way that people usually don’t stop to think whether it’s possible that the people they’re about to mock or denigrate are actually the people they’re talking to.

Oops.  Fuck.

And I don’t want to start a really nasty fight right then in front of my boss, so I say something moderate and reasonable-sounding about how what really matters is not whether a kid is homeschooled or not, but whether they’ve been isolated or allowed to have outside social opportunities.  How some homeschooling families actually just isolate their kids, and that’s wrong, but as long as they’re giving their kids chances to interact with other groups…choir, scouting, church groups, music lessons, art classes…

…instead of “Fuck you very much.”

And I didn’t say what I actually should have, either…in the interest of starting my shift on time and also…not having an awkward argument in my boss’s office.

It’s not a sin to be awkward.

Can we stop talking about it like it is?

A 12-year-old girl hasn’t done anything to you by being awkward, or by taking advantage of her legal right to a free and appropriate public education while awkward.

While we’re at it, can we also stop using “awkward” as a euphemism for incompetent, irritating, immature, overbearing, invasive, inappropriate, or probably autistic but we can’t be seen as scorning someone for being actually disabled so we’re gonna say they’re “awkward” which is obviously just a personal failing that’s fine to use an excuse for their ostracism?

Here’s another newsflash:  I know a lot of people who in fact went through 13 years of mainstream public schooling, who are still awkward people.  Because it actually isn’t being confined in a cell-block building with a limited number of people, exactly your own age, for over a decade, isolated from your community and adult company, and subjected to sufficient peer pressure to just stop being different, that makes you non-awkward.  It’s already possessing a manner of speech, body language, common interests, and gender presentation that’s consistent with those of the vast majority of other people.  It’s having a native language of social engagement that is the same as most people around you.

I served my full term in the public school system, I went to the second-largest high school in my state, and I followed that with four years at one of this country’s most regularly top-ranked party schools.

I am still an awkward person.  And if you thought I wasn’t, you just haven’t seen me in the right—or the wrong—situation.  But I guarantee you it wasn’t lack of ridicule or social pressure to be anything other than what I was that caused this.

It also isn’t being allowed to do your academic work outside of a classroom setting, at a pace that works for you, that makes you awkward, because plenty of non-awkward people do that.

I’d really like people to consider, before the next time they scorn a kid for being awkward, or homeschooling or unconventional schooling for making kids awkward, that they are likely committing a fundamental chicken/egg fallacy.

A homeschooled kid probably isn’t awkward because they were homeschooled.

They are probably homeschooled because they are awkward.

Because they have probably already been forced out of the school system by bullying and abuse or discrimination, or because the school couldn’t or wouldn’t meet their academic needs.

(Being academically precocious: also not a sin.)

I mean, mandatory, universal public school attendance wasn’t even a widespread thing in this country until the early-mid 20th century.  Were we really just a nation of incredibly awkward people until the 1920’s or so?

Even if it really were homeschooling that caused awkwardness, I would so much rather a child of mine be awkward than a whole lot of other things that are nowhere near as socially stigmatized as awkwardness:  Mean, bigoted, superficial, callous, snide and scornful towards people different from or more vulnerable than themselves.

I’ll take awkwardness any day.

February 28, 2013

Religion is not the problem

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:26 pm by chavisory

So there’s more than one way in which I’m sick of being told that the way I think and experience the world is a blight on humanity that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth.

Recently I had a heated Facebook discussion with a friend over this Times Room for Debate entry, which not only argues that religion is not a reliable source of morality, but also posits that atheism shouldn’t seek to replace religion, but to end it…unfortunately employing a host of unfounded generalizations and leaps of illogic.

In the interest of both critical thinking and compassion, can we look at what, practically and humanly, ending religion would mean?

Various cultures and government regimes, at various times, have tried, hard, to get rid of religion or specific religions.  I do not know of an instance in which it has gone well, in which the attempt didn’t involve egregious violence and human rights abuses, or in which the culture in question was left ultimately better off.  Or in which it even remotely worked.

Beyond whatever personal spiritual significance or comfort they hold to individual believers, religious thought and traditions are the cornerstones of more than a few minority cultures and communities.  Who is anyone to say that these cultures have no value, to put oneself in a position of choosing which other people’s communities, community rituals, values, and devotions, should be suppressed and eliminated?  If we’re talking about the distinction between religion and morality, what is the morality of depriving a minority population of its rights of self-definition and community traditions and values?

Has anyone really thought about how we would prevent people or communities from transmitting their belief systems to their children?  If you knock down every church building, how are you going to keep people from teaching their children to pray alone in bed at night?  How are you going to prevent me from hearing God in the wind in the trees or in the silences between raindrops?  How are you going to prevent people from infusing art and literature with religious thought?

And before somebody answers that the solution to ending religious belief is just to teach people better facts, understand this:  Religions are not arbitrary sets of false, irrational, or mistaken beliefs, or collections of simple superstitions of cause and effect or magical thinking or carrot/stick promises of punishment or reward for belief or behavior (though they can contain all of those things), which could simply be undone by giving people better information.  (That thunder is the result of colliding warm and cool air masses and not the gods having wrestling matches, for instance.  I know what causes thunder.  That knowledge has never yet prevented the experience of it from being spiritual to me.)  They are complex narrative frameworks of symbol, metaphor, and allegory.  They are stories and vocabularies for a class of experiences that you can’t simply forbid people from having.  You can’t keep someone from having an experience by denying them the language for representing or coping with it.

And so unless you’re going to all-out eliminate storytelling, you’re not going to keep people who are so inclined from finding personal significance and guidance in storytelling, or from using a certain type of story–myth, fable, fairytale, whatever you want to call it–to give shape and understandability to their experiences.

It’s not fair or intellectually honest to presuppose that those experiences are false or trivial just because you don’t share them.  And frankly narcissistic to declare that, because you don’t understand or share it, that mode of perception needs to be eliminated from the realm of human experience and meaning.

There is bad religion, just as there is bad music and bad writing, but we don’t talk about doing away with those forms of thought and expression just because a lot of it is of poor quality.  There is religion that advances truly terrible values; that doesn’t make religion inherently destructive or wrong any more than Twilight‘s existence makes all teen fantasy literature poorly written and abusive relationship-glorifying.  It is a medium, not an end, not an ultimate good or evil in itself.

In the same way that the overwhelming (and baffling) success of Twilight tells us nothing about teen fantasy literature’s inherent quality or worth (the genre also includes the Wrinkle in Time quartet, His Dark Materials, and the Earthsea cycle), the popularity of anti-intellectual or violent fundamentalism tells us nothing about what religion inherently is or has to be.  It is one manifestation.

Religion is not morality, we should do a better job of talking about what both of those things are and are not, and I fully agree that religion can’t be said to be the exclusive or superior source of morality.  But that doesn’t make it either worthless, or worthy of eradication.

October 29, 2012

What makes you think you’re safe?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:11 pm by chavisory

Playwright Doug Wright posted a Facebook status the other day that went:

I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, ‘My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.’ It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you ‘disagree’ with your candidate on these issues.

I had been thinking along those very same lines myself, with regards to the alarming pattern of statements minimizing rape and its consequences, and advocating depriving women of the option of legal abortion even in cases of rape and abuse, on the part of Republican candidates lately.

That frankly, every time I hear someone defend their Republican votes, despite that party’s deplorable stances on women’s and LGBT rights (among a host of other issues), saying “I only vote on economic issues,” what I hear is, “Your rights as a citizen and presumed equality as a human being with control over your own life and body are disposable to me, and here is exactly the amount of the tax break or economic advantage for which I would sell them.  Your worth and dignity, your rights to medical care and privacy, are for sale to the highest bidder as far as I’m concerned.”

But rationally, I know that it’s not exactly a fair accusation, because people are neither that simple nor that consistent nor that self-reflective, and really, really talented at double-think.

That people are, in fact, somehow capable of seeing absolutely no conflict between believing that they love and respect their wives, daughters, sisters, and their gay, lesbian or transgender children, friends, and coworkers–and voting for candidates whose policies directly threaten our well-being and civil rights.

I don’t understand this, but I know that it’s true.

My more vexing question for these voters is, “What on God’s green earth makes you feel safe at the hands of these people?”

Because let me tell you something:  They are not only threatening me.  They are not only threatening women, gay people, trans people, religious minorities, poor people, illegal immigrants, various demographic groups whose voting patterns they don’t like, and the societal resources that make all of our lives richer and more stable.

They are threatening you.  And they are telling you that they are.  And you keep voting for them.

How many times have we heard children who didn’t want to be bullies, but who witnessed their “friends” or ring-leaders bullying others and did nothing, talk about why they didn’t?  Because they were afraid that their “friends” would turn the ugliness on them if they stepped out of line.  And indeed, many teenage bullying victims report that this is exactly what happened.  That they were part of the clique, part of the in-group, one of the right people, until they weren’t.

When someone will do something horrible to other people, ostensibly for your sake, what they are telling you is not that they so vehemently have your best interests in mind.  What they are telling you is not that they will go to whatever practical lengths necessary, however hard-hearted they seem, to uphold the beliefs you both share.

What they are telling you is that they will do horrible things to other people.  They are telling you exactly who they are and how they treat people.

And if they will do terrible things to other people for your approval, then know exactly what they will do to you when they decide they need someone else’s approval.

I used to listen to Dr. Laura.  I was young and thought I was a conservative.  But, as a broken clock is still right twice a day, I think she said about two things that are utterly true and brilliant, and one of them was:

If they will do it with you, they will do it to you.

And when these guys talk about what they think or what they want to take away from the poor, jobless, disabled, and marginalized…and you think that doesn’t apply to you?  Ask yourself just how confident you are that you will never be one of the poor, jobless, disabled or marginalized.  (And before you decide, recall that a lot of people who thought they’d done everything right were pretty confident of this before 2008.)

This is one of those things that I grew up instinctively understanding, and am mystified by people who don’t, who I guess have just never been in a situation in which you had to know this.  I have always had to know this.

When someone threatens any vulnerable person or group of people, they are threatening me.  They are coming for me next.  They are broadcasting that this is what they do to the wrong kind of people.  (In my heart, I’ve always been one of the wrong kind of people.)  It doesn’t matter that it’s not you right now.  It’s going to be whoever they need it to be.

They’re telling you what they will do to people.  They’re telling you, on the basis of their authoritarian religious beliefs, and with no economic reasoning whatsoever, what they want to be able to do to us.

They are threatening to take away access to health care.

They are threatening to take away our rights to control over our own bodies, and to privacy of our reproductive and medical decisions.

They are threatening to invalidate marriages and families.  They are threatening to take away from children the securities intrinsic to having legally married parents.  They are threatening to turn back the clock on the progression of equal rights under the law no matter the sex of the person you love.

Even if you don’t give a damn that this is being done to women and gays, try looking out for yourself and your own self-determination for a minute.

They consider themselves uniquely justified in imposing their religious beliefs on other people’s lives.  Why do you imagine you’ll be exempt?

Why do you think you’ll be safe?

Do you seriously think that they’re just morally bankrupt enough to do this to me and the people I care about, but not to you and the people you care about?

Think again.

September 19, 2012

Dear Mitt Romney

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:07 pm by chavisory

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” —Mitt Romney

I am actually not one of the people whose character you insulted the other night at your private donor event, in footage now made public by Mother Jones Magazine.  You see–and this may come as a shock to you, as it does occasionally to people when they learn how much money I actually make, or who think that freeloading is easier to do than it actually is–I pay federal income taxes.

I mean, sure, I can barely afford my rent, my health insurance, the steadily rising cost of public transit, and the $300 in unexpected repairs that my computer needs, and may be applying for food stamps this month because even though I worked steadily all summer, the work was chronically underpaid and I’ve run through my savings…but I still pay federal income taxes.  I say this not for your pity or anyone else’s; this is just how it is.  I pay federal income taxes, and I’m very, very happy to do so.  I have a fondness for the trappings of civilization, I think the social safety net is a good and moral idea, and I’m glad to be a contributor to those things.

But let’s take a look at some of the people who you did call entitled victims with no interest in taking responsibility for their own lives.  Because I don’t think they are who you want us to believe they are.

People who find themselves exempt from paying any federal income tax may include, but are not limited to:  People who receive tax credits for dependent children, or for being the sole head of a household; people who buy their first home, or an environmentally friendly vehicle; who suffer an initial loss in the course of starting a new business, or who make improvements in energy efficiency to their home or business.  People with more than one income source who can deduct half of the self-employment tax they pay on freelance work, or charitable contributions, or the costs of private health insurance or health care if they don’t get insurance from their employer.  They include students who still manage (or need) to work part-time during high school or college.  They include people who survive primarily on disability or Social Security, or are financially supported by their families, but who volunteer or do other informal work in their communities.

They include people who work full-time, and yet still do not make enough money, particularly if they also have children, to be legally liable for federal income taxes under our current tax code.

Do these sound like people with no interest in taking care or responsibility for their own lives to you?

But no, I have a feeling that images like these, of people who are benefited by the tax code because they do economically or socially advantageous things, are not what you meant to evoke to your donors.  People who in fact are doing the opposite of not taking any care or responsibility for their lives.

You meant to evoke a bogeyman image of a lazy bum who purposefully refuses gainful employment and would rather sit around collecting government benefits, mooching off the hard work of the rest of us just because they can, and who will vote for anyone just to protect that status.

And those people do exist–I’m sure they do, because wherever there is any system of benefits or safeguards, there are people who will figure out how to take unfair advantage of it, among the rich as well as the poor.  But that is really, really, really difficult to do these days, in our current system of welfare benefits, if you are a non-disabled adult with no dependent children and no work history.  (Hell, it’s difficult to get benefits if you are legitimately disabled, generally requiring more than one appeal no matter the validity of your claim.)

This leaves about two possibilities that I can think of.  Either that, one, you don’t know very much about how our tax laws work and how responsible, working people can benefit from them to the extent of winding up owing no federal income taxes, and you don’t know the difference between people who reap tax advantages by working and people who choose not to work, and you don’t know the difference between people who work full-time (or more) and still don’t make enough money to pay taxes on and people who think that the world owes them everything.

Or, two, that you do know these things, but you thought that you could win some advantage or approval with a few rich and powerful donors by smearing these people, and so you did.

You either know nothing about the lives and economic situations of nearly half of our citizens, or you see them only as pawns for your own advancement, whose character, work ethic, and well-being mean nothing.

Either one leaves you unfit to be President.

I, on the other hand, believe that if we don’t hang together in times like this, we will surely hang separately, so non-freeloader that I am, it doesn’t help you to tell me that nearly half of my fellow citizens are economically or morally disposable moochers.

I believe, unlike you, that the vast majority of our citizens and not only a little over half of us, both desire and are capable of doing something worthwhile with our lives and making this country a better place, and that valid ways of doing that are not confined to occupations that wind up making you an arbitrary amount of taxable income.

And this is the reason that I will vote for Obama and not for you.  Not because I’m a freeloading entitled victim who pays no taxes and just thinks the government should provide for me.  But because I don’t like how you treat people.

March 12, 2012

The Gift of a Label

Posted in Marginalization, Reality, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:28 pm by chavisory

The last several weeks have brought a series of unfortunate articles, op-eds, and blog posts trivializing or dismissing the validity of or need for the Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis—usually in some kind of misconstrual of what it means that the designation is being removed from the DSM-V in recognition that it’s redundant with “high-functioning” autism.  These pieces often contain, or inspire in the resulting comments and letters to the editor, a raft of responses to the now widespread recognition of Asperger’s Syndrome—along with other invisible disabilities, learning disabilities, and subtler neurodevelopmental conditions—along these lines:

“Why do we have to pathologize everything?”

“Why can’t we just appreciate people for who they are?”

“I don’t want to label my child.”

“Labels are for soup cans.”

“But everyone has quirks.”

“Didn’t we just use to have a broader conception of normal?”

“Aren’t we all just human?”

I want to explain why these make me violently annoyed.

And there was a time when I might even have said the same things.  When I would have given a lot just to be treated like everyone else.

But eventually I realized that is not what people mean when they say that.  What they really mean is usually one of two things:  First, that “I don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t have to try to understand how things are truly different for you.”  They don’t want to, or can’t, recognize that other people’s experiences, needs, or abilities can be very different from their own and yet equally real.

It says they’d rather deal with the superficial and they’d rather you be superficial.  Preferably in ways that make them comfortable.  It’s an alternate take on “but you don’t look disabled.”

Or, second, it means they don’t understand that it isn’t the label that makes someone different, or makes other people treat them differently; that it is the underlying condition itself that makes someone different, that is the reason they function differently, and that makes you know you are different.

And I did know it, at a very early age, and even when no one else would admit it.  Don’t kid yourself that we don’t know we’re different if no one tells us.

It’s the label for a condition that confers the knowledge that what we’re going through is known and recognized and survivable.  That we are within the realm of human experience.  That there even is such a thing as we.

*****

To be denied a name means having your very existence as a person who has a certain experience undermined, denied, and even disallowed.

The fact that we have words for things is an acknowledgement that those things are real, that they are part of our world.  George Orwell knew this when he wrote 1984, in whose dystopic language system, Newspeak, words for concepts that Big Brother doesn’t wish people to be able to describe are systematically stricken from the English language, so, for instance, without a word for “freedom,” no one will be able to conceive of the thing itself.

I also find it striking that in so much literature concerning magic, magical ability turns on a wizard’s, elf’s, or magician’s knowledge of true names, or true language.  To know the true names of things is to have mastery over your world.

It’s not just what you are, but how the world works for you.

Try going through your life every day, being able to tell that things simply don’t work for you like they do for everyone else.  That you can try to do everything exactly the same way that normal people seem to, and yet somehow it just doesn’t work for you like everyone says it should.  From the way shoes fit to the way sales clerks treat you, how food tastes and feels, how your brain organizes information and how medications work (or don’t) to the color saturation of the natural world to the essential nature of reasoning, time, and memory; to the fact that no one ever quite understands anything you say.  Then tell me you don’t need an explanation.  Then tell me that you wouldn’t give anything for one word to tell you why.

Or imagine the single most true thing about yourself.  Whatever that is for you.  The most true word that springs to mind when you think “this is what I am in the world.”

Now imagine that everyone in your life denies that it’s real, or even possible, yet finds a way to punish you every day of your life for functioning in accordance with it.

I know what it is to be told day after day, in ways large and small, “real people don’t work that way.”

Since I have a label, I know the world I belong to is real, and the people I belong to are real.

That there are people I can go to for support and advice, and they know what in the hell I’m even talking about.

That somebody else’s child doesn’t have to do what I did thinking they’re alone in the world.

I doubt I can make you feel what a miracle it is, if you’ve never lived without that.  If you’ve never been without the ability to hear another person say “I know,” and know it was true.

That’s what it is for me to have a label.

*****

And then there’s this rationalization being thrown around that all of these people who shouldn’t really be labeled with an ASD—regardless of whether all of their characteristics do add up to autism—can be re-classified and receive services for all of their various subordinate learning disabilities and other issues, which just have other names like “non-verbal learning disorder,” or “social communication disorder,” etc.

But here’s the problem:  I am not simply an amalgamation of all of my various quirks, disabilities, and learning/perceptual/emotional/physical differences.  I’ve made that list.  There’s not another category that even could better account for what I have.  I knew all of the various traits that made me hopelessly different, but without being able to know why, and it had me actually formulating hypotheses of how I was really a fairy being and not human at all—some highly unlikely genetic throwback to an unknown species, older and distinct from modern humans—of which I was the only one left.  (Kind of like how if you backcross zebras for long enough, you get something that looks a lot like a quagga.  I identified with Henry the quagga for a long time—a creature that wasn’t supposed to exist anymore, but somehow, sort of, did.)  I literally, seriously believed that I was the last fairy on earth because it was the only remotely coherent explanation I could come up with on my own.

The word “loneliness” doesn’t really begin to name that way of existing.

So, yes, you can just like and appreciate me for who I am.

What you cannot do is treat me as a whole person by trying to remedy separately all of the difficult traits that come with what I am.  Because that is what turns a person into nothing but a collection of flaws.

No, you cannot “just accept someone for who they are” if you have no intention of acknowledging what that actually is.  You cannot do that while you deny and belittle what somebody is actually experiencing.  You cannot do that if you see acknowledging disabilities as a shameful thing.

No, you cannot just accept someone for who they are, if what you mean by that is the exact opposite.

*****

“But imagine the effect on a child of being told your brain works in a way it doesn’t.”

“I don’t want a school psychologist to give a clumsy, lonely teenager a description of his mind that isn’t true.”

I don’t want that either, and I don’t have to imagine.  I was constantly being given a description of my mind that wasn’t true.  It is a terribly alienating and disheartening experience.  We should obviously endeavor not to misdiagnose people.  I was misdiagnosed with some other things: being able to speak but just not wanting to, depression, dysthymia, and being a control freak perfectionist who just didn’t want to admit I wasn’t unique and whose standards for humanity were too high.  I know firsthand the harm of misdiagnosis.  I am not denying that misused labels can be damaging and prejudicial.

But there is no evidence that ASD’s are systematically over-diagnosed by professionals.  What I do see happening is that mainstream pop-culture does not truly understand what ASD’s are, and so misinformed laypeople speculate baselessly about odd personalities like Al Gore, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc., based on shallow (and frequently false) stereotypes.  When these writers wrongly conflate this cultural trivialization and misappropriation with rampant over-diagnosis to argue that Asperger’s Syndrome (or any invisible disability) is a dubious and unnecessary designation, they contribute to the very trivialization they claim to be opposing.

*****

In my last production, a character says with sad resignation near the end of the play, “There is no word for what I am.  I have looked.”

And that’s what you perpetuate when you deny or scoff at the use of a word for what someone is, or what they have, or what they identify with.  You say “you don’t need a word for what you are.”  You say that your wish for denial takes precedence over theirs for self-knowledge, acceptance, practical information, treatment, or however they need to deal with the truth.

And If you’ve never needed a label, needed a word, needed a name, and not had one—or as Emily Willingham wrote last week, “If you have not lived a life like that, one that has been bereft of an emotional glue that groups you with others who feel as you do—then you are privileged indeed.”

If you have not lived my life, you do not get to decide that I don’t need language for the experience of it.  You do not get to say “there is no word for what you are,” that “there is no word for what you share with other people,” when there is.

Because there is.

December 27, 2011

If you can’t…

Posted in Marginalization, Reality tagged , at 12:04 am by chavisory

I think I never intended to write this post.  It’s personal, and it’s a hissy fit, but one I felt a certain responsibility, the more I reflected on it, to transcribe.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome last year, which most of you probably know because I talk about it on Facebook enough, because I decided that it was part of my life that I wasn’t going to make any particular effort to hide, because I had nothing to be ashamed of.  (I’d known the truth for several years before I sought out a correct diagnosis; a few people knew, but I didn’t talk about it much, for fear of a lot of things.)  I really have no idea what people think of me as a result, because I stopped concerning myself at a pretty early age with what people think of me.  Because living in thrall to the opinions of people who don’t have to live your life is no way to live at all.

Anyway, so I’d started to think of it as old news that I was autistic.  I’d started to settle in to living as a whole person, without an emotional double life.  Then last night, I was rather emphatically asking my mother not to describe a young relative, currently in the process of being evaluated for autism himself, as not having a personality, because such language is often used to justify all kinds of mistreatment and prejudice against us, besides not being true.

“But you’re not autistic.”

Which is where my brain froze up.  Because honestly?  I don’t know what else I am.  Everything comes home to that.  Everything. Before I understood what AS really was, I didn’t know what I was at all, except for lost and completely alone in the world.

“I don’t think of you as really autistic.”

This is everything I didn’t have it together enough to say at the time.  This is what I’d say going forward:

If you can’t see me as autistic, then you need to revise your view of autism.

I am “not like that kid” you saw who runs around screaming, or who can’t communicate at all, because I grew up.  And because we’re all different, because we’re all different people, who cope with unique profiles of challenges and gifts in individual ways.  I am “not like that kid,” because, to be perfectly literal, I am not that kid.

We are as unique as the stars.  They say autism is a spectrum, but I don’t think that really describes its variety and complexity well.  It’s not a simple progression from mild to severe.  I often say it’s more like a constellation, or galaxy (which, another blogger pointed out to me today, has the added metaphorical benefit of being a 4-dimensional construct; it changes through time for every person as well).  There are people with far more severe problems with independent living than I have, who are smarter, better writers, incredible artists or just incredible people.

I am far more fortunate than many, and not as lucky as others.  I know this; you don’t need to rub my nose in it.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because I have so much personality…actually, we usually do.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because you see me as a competent adult, you didn’t know me as a child.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because I’m verbal and communicative…read more about AS.  Those things are features of the condition.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because I’m so good at my job…please consider that it’s a job that largely entails “keeping track of everything that no one else wants to” (to paraphrase the college instructor who introduced me to stage management as a career option), organizing, color-coding, and working with a collection of people who are also socially marginalized, passionate, obsessive, highly sensitive, and reliant on consistency and repetitive and ritualized behavior.  (Actors, I adore you all so much.)

If you think I can’t be autistic because I’m so good at multitasking, well, I’m not.  Good at multitasking, that is…I can’t do it at all.  I know I’m taking a certain risk in telling you this.  What you see when you see me do my job is the result of copious amounts of planning, mental choreography, scripting, queuing, pre-thinking, mapping out scenarios like computer flowcharts, making Excel spreadsheets, preparation and learning from experience, and excellent assistants being good at their jobs, too.  (Stage management and life with Asperger’s are both centered around dealing with a quantity of data that a single human being is not truly equipped to handle.)

You get good at anything you do for a long time.  I got good at my life when I stopped trying to live one that I realized I could never have.

If you can’t believe I’m autistic, what on God’s green earth do you think I am?  Because I sure as hell failed at being normal.

I’m autistic.  There’s not another or a better word for what I am.  It’s one I searched long and fought hard for.

If you can’t think of me as autistic, it’s not so much for my sake that I care, but watch out that it’s not because you can’t believe that autistic people can be intelligent, kind, good-humored, good friends, good at our jobs, capable of love, highly-skilled or talented, complete human beings.  Because if your prejudice is that autistic people can’t be these things, you take chances for jobs, education, friendships, and quality of life away from autistic people who are a whole lot less lucky than I am.

November 20, 2011

Occupy wants to work.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 5:56 pm by chavisory

There was this guy…

(Here’s a link to better visibility and a transcription, along with a great point by point response.)

And then I saw this one today…

(Sign reads “OCCUPY BAGRAM: Quit Your Bitchin’ and Get Back to Work.”)

And that’s not even everyone in my Facebook news feed, let alone some corners of the internet where I don’t hang out, suggesting that the real problem with all these people bitching, whining, and complaining, is that they “just don’t want to work.”

Let’s get a few things sorted out, internet critics of Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement:

Protesting injustice and corruption is not the same as “just not wanting to work.”

Calling attention to it when something is seriously wrong is not the same as “not wanting to work.”

Standing up for your rights is not the same as “not wanting to work.”

Doing any of those things is not even a sign of somebody “just not wanting to work.”

Saying that “what is being done to us and our communities is wrong,” or that “the conditions under which we’re being expected to make ends meet are crushingly unsustainable,” is not the same as “not wanting to work,” nor a sign that somebody just doesn’t want to work.

Pointing it out when an entire system has become radically unfair, or that the people who *did not cause a global economic collapse* are the ones being disproportionately punished for it,  is not “just making excuses” or “not taking responsibility for your own life” or “wanting to blame somebody else for all your mistakes.”

So you can think that the OWS protesters are dirty hippies.  You can resent them taking up park space and making too much noise.  You can dislike their tactics and criticize their vagueness, disorganization, and lack of concrete goals or actual policy proposals.  You can think they’re misguided and wrong.

But do not slander them as “just not wanting to work.”  They’re doing the work of calling attention to major injustice and keeping the tradition of protest and dissent alive in this country.

As for the people on the 99% Tumblr–not the Occupy campers–it takes all of 20 minutes to write a screed on a piece of paper, take a picture, and put it on the internet, so you really have no basis whatsoever to judge these people’s use of their time or decide that they’re putting insufficient energy into finding or keeping a job or working for their own futures.

Telling a story on the internet is not the same as not wanting to work.  Telling the truth about how hard things are for most people in America right now is not the same as not wanting to work.

Daring to say that “the circumstances that allowed this to happen to me are not okay” is not the same as not wanting to work.

The thinking that says that it is, is a relic of the way we were treated in middle school–that somebody speaking up about unfairness or calling attention to a problem was shamed as guilty of creating a problem where there wasn’t any when no one was speaking up.

I guess a lot of people learned that lesson well.  I didn’t.

A lot of the Occupy and 99% protesters are college graduates or have advanced degrees.  You really think they dragged themselves through that many years of school, and the work and expense involved, because they “just didn’t want to work?”  A lot of them went deep into debt for their college educations.  You think they did that because they *didn’t* want to get a job?  Or because they believed parents, teachers, and employers who told them that they needed a college degree *in order to get a good job* these days?  Do you really think that what they’re doing now is easier than working a regular job, earning a living and going about their daily lives?  Do you really think they’d all still be out there, with winter coming, if there were enough jobs paying livable wages to go around and they could just go get one?

When the economy first went into recession and unemployment spiked, many of these same people now protesting and occupying–including myself–yelled for a new WPA and Federal Theater Project, for the government to directly create jobs and put people to work.  We wanted desperately to work–to put the economy back together, to put the country back together, to contribute in meaningful and permanent ways to our culture and future.

We begged to be allowed to work, to do the work that this country needed done.

But our government didn’t go that route…it mostly tried instead to entice private enterprise into bringing jobs back.  Private enterprise didn’t come through with that.

And now you say that we “just don’t want to work.”  It makes the irony-processing center of my brain freeze up.

It might be funny if it didn’t hurt so much.

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