08 January, 2010

Language as maintenance

So basically, I think there are ways of being with people that don't involve exchanging strings of words, or are about something besides or more than words. I was thinking about this because I was trying to explain to myself in my head, in an objective way, why flapping your hands is not the same as masturbating in public or asking repetitive questions. Which means explaining exactly why it is that those other two things are invasive.

Hopefully we know why masturbating in public is invasive--you should only have sex with yourself or other people who have agreed to have sex with you; if you masturbate in public you are, on a mild level, performing a nonconsensual sexual act. The reason asking repetitive questions is invasive is because you are forcing another person to apply themselves to the task of trying to answer you, for no reason, because you don't actually stand to gain anything from their answer. It's like asking someone to tie your shoe when you can tie your own shoe. Of course I'm not trying to say that a person who does either of those things is intentionally trying to be invasive; especially if they're disabled or ill, they might not understand the context of what they're doing. I'm just saying that those two acts are objectively hurtful to other people, and I don't see how flapping your hands is in the same league.

But then, while I was thinking about repetitive questions, I immediately thought of situations where it seems perfectly okay to ask repetitive questions. A long time ago I made a post where I said that when I was really overloaded, I talked to my friend "in a way that was like holding hands." What I meant by this is that what I said didn't have a lot of content, and I was just saying it as a way of being with my friend. Also, last spring when I was volunteering a lot with intellectually disabled people, I developed a habit of just saying "hi" to people a lot in the middle of conversations. This is because I had started saying "hi" a lot to people with intellectual disabilities who couldn't speak or process language that well. When we kept saying "hi," looking at each other, and smiling, we were maintaining a connection over a period of time in a different way than the conventional method, exchanging information, which doesn't work for everyone.

So in this case, the word "hi" is not really a greeting, just maintenance, and it becomes something more/other than language. Another example of language as maintenance is something that A.T. did a lot in the last few days of the year. She made a cover for a book with an embarrassing title she was reading, and I wrote on the cover, "Dragon Love: A Romance Novel About Dragons." Over the next few days, when we were sitting quietly on a bus, or walking around, A.T. would sing in an odd, spooky-sounding melody, "dra-gon-love." I would laugh when she did this, so I guess you could call it an inside joke, but I feel like she wasn't doing it because she thought, "This will make Amanda laugh," but was just saying it without thinking of it, the way you would scratch your nose or put your hand in your pocket. Of course, I could be wrong, and I hesitate to say this because A.T. isn't a very affectionate person, but I have a theory that when she was singing "dra-gon-love," it was like how other people might hold hands with their friend or say something conventionally affectionate. It was a way of saying "even though we're not talking I'm still here with you."

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me...I have a friend with ASD and he often says "yep" or "yes" when there's no conversation going on between us. Then we nod our heads and smile and neither of us expects the other to say or do anything else. It's just a quick friendly exchange that really does feel like a "hey I'm still here" type of thing.