10 December, 2009

Why I don't like ASD memoirs, and other stuff

Someone sent me Tim Page's piece about having Asperger's in the New Yorker. I read all of it and it kept my interest on one level but at the same time it was really, really boring. It's funny that I should say this when my blog is so incredibly self-centered, but it was too self-centered for me. I should mention, I'm sure Tim Page is a really nice person and all, I just don't like this genre of ASD memoirs or maybe I just don't like ASD memoirs.

I don't see the point of writing a piece (and now I guess a book) that just seems to be a list of all the weird things you did when you were a kid. Is that weird of me? It's funny because I write so much about having ASD, and when I write fiction it's always about people who are off in some way or another, so it's not like I'm avoiding the subjects of ASD or weirdness. But when I write stories I guess I'm trying to wrangle some kind of beauty out of weirdness or find new things to say about it. And when I write stuff about ASD I am interested in either expressing my opinions about disability or talking about ways to deal with specific impairments. I guess the Tim Page stuff bores me because I feel like there's no movement in it.

As I say about a thousand times a day, my favorite book about ASD and possibly my favorite book ever is Send in the Idiots by Kamran Nazeer. I guess it's technically an ASD memoir, but what's the difference between it and this? I think I like Send in the Idiots because it is about functioning. Some of the subjects of the book are "lower-functioning" than Tim Page, but while Page focuses on all the stuff he did wrong while he was growing up, Nazeer talks about how he, his friends, and their families find ways of getting around what's hard for them. One of his subjects committed suicide, but Nazeer tells us how she taught herself to ride a bike when her parents were at work, to surprise them, and how she learned to read a bus map through trial and error.

Also, when Nazeer talks about how people made fun of Elizabeth at the mall or Randall's boyfriend didn't respect him, I don't get the impression he thinks That's Just How It Is For People Like Us. He says he wanted to kick Randall's boyfriend in the shins. Nazeer launches into long, beautifully pedantic explorations of what a conversation is (with the implication that ASD people are missing out), but he also beautifully, pedantically explores what a dick Randall's boyfriend is for treating Randall like an okapi instead of a person.

completely unnecessary visual aid because okapis are rad-looking

Nazeer's book doesn't focus on his experience like Page's New Yorker piece does, but I don't think that's really the big difference. I think it's just old social model vs. medical model, after all. And that is an inaccurate way of talking about it because medical model means freaking out about how bad a disability is. But I think freaking out about how interesting a disability is, if less dangerous, can be just as annoying to read. I don't feel like looking at one person by themself. I would like to hear some opinions, about goodness or life or love or something. Page's piece is informative if you don't know anything about AS but Send in the Idiots altered my brain. I reread it at least once a year, I love moving my mind through those beautiful squares, if a book can be a home it is my home. It changed what I wanted to do with my life. And also, what I thought my life was.

I never had a blog with tags before and sometimes I get carried away. I like "kartheiser is magic" and I got excited when I realized I kept posting about The Sound and the Fury so I could make a "faulkner" tag. But my favorite tag is "how to be human" and I don't know exactly what it means but all of my posts that I think are worth reading are tagged "how to be human." Sometimes they're about how I try to work around certain aspects of ASD, sometimes they're about things that I think are ableist, and sometimes they are just about my attempt to figure out and implement a moral course of action in some situation. I guess I think those are the interesting things about ASD and ASD in the middle of nowhere is kind of boring. If a disabled person lives in the middle of a forest they're not even disabled, unless the trees think they're a disabled version of a tree.

In conclusion I will just tell you something that's only mildly related and maybe it isn't clear why I think it is. Today when I was walking back from my horrible exam, I thought about how I would visit my friend in his room last year and the year before that. Often he was asleep or not there and I would feel like a creepy stalker; many people have that effect on me, but him more than anyone else, because I just long for him like I long for Send in the Idiots and the particular kind of sneakers I have gone through ten pairs of. Anyway, when he was there, sometimes he was doing physical therapy exercises with his jars of putty. He had all these jars of putty that were different colors and the different colors indicated that the putty had a different consistency and was appropriate for a different time, or different exercises, or something. All I know is that I would sometimes start playing with the putty without thinking about it, and my friend would get mad.

When I came by and my friend was doing his exercises, he would often be watching anime on his computer and he'd always be embarrassed about it. It was always really bad anime about ghost hunters or something, and my friend is kind of a snob, but sometimes he wouldn't be too embarrassed to let me lie down or sit down and watch anime with him. He'd try to explain the plots to me, sometimes.

Then sometimes my friend would go to the vending machine. When he walked around school, he would always sing. His voice has a crystalline quality and he always sang folk songs and show tunes with the result that the words, slightly smudged, ended up sounding ghostly and sweet as he moved through the halls. On his computer, checking Facebook, I'd know my friend was coming back when I heard the heavy uneven sound of his steps trudging under the clean white verse.


  1. I'd like to read Send in the Idiots; I saw it on a website and thought it looked really interesting.

    I am kind of a collector/connoisseur of autism memoirs, and some of them are really good, beautiful, informative and of general interest, while others are more like Lists of Weird Things the Author Did When Ze Was Little.

    Probably my favorite autism memoir is Dawn Prince-Hughes's Songs of the Gorilla Nation. Relatively little of it is spent on little details of her autism, and *very* little of it on her childhood; most of it is about working with gorillas and how she came to understand them, relate to them and feel like she belonged to/with them, before she was able to feel any of these things about humans.

    She's also a lesbian. :)

  2. I would also like to read Send In the Idiots. The only memoir of ASD I liked reading was Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day, because his experiences seemed like an adventure, and he never seemed to feel sorry for himself, only overjoyed at each adventure.
    I am being tapped by someone to write my own memoir on life with AS, I'll keep this post in mind as I'm writing, see if I can make one that will interest you.

  3. You haven't read mine yet.

    Just wait a few decades.

  4. Born on a Blue Day sounds neat. isn't he gay and Christian?

  5. Indeed he is, and explains both his faith and sexuality in a very profound and eye-opening fashion.

  6. Yeah, I liked Born on a Blue Day too. In addition to talking about his faith, and his sexuality/relationship to his boyfriend, he also writes beautifully about his synesthesia, and his relationship to numbers.

  7. this guy needs to stop stealing all my gimmicks