10 March, 2010

The Veil/On Speaking Badly, part 2

Sometimes, in writing workshops, people will just start evaluating your character! It's sort of hard to tell if this is cute or offensive. Especially given the evaluation I received last night:

"Amanda speaks from behind this veil of shyness and uncertainty, and, like, in class she's always apologizing and you think she's just rambling, but the veil is deceptive; behind it there's this brute force of powerful honesty."

No, I fucking don't know how people can say this stuff out loud. Veil? Am I Sirius Black? I'm not even exactly saying it's a bad thing to say, but just that I'm impressed that someone can come up with an image so fast and just spit it out and have it mean something right away. Or even if he wrote it down first, how did he deliver it in a way that didn't sound scripted?

And therein lies the problem.

I am not the way I talk. I just want to say that, over and over again. I mean, there are some classes where I would describe myself as shy but this isn't one of them. Sometimes I don't do the reading, so I don't talk then. I talk during workshops. I say stuff. Even in classes where I don't talk, it's not like talking makes me terrified. I just know I'm a shitty talker, that I sort of mumble a bunch of words, as simple as possible, definitely not anything as smart as talking about a veil--I mean, any attempt to use creative language just turns into me sounding the way people with schizophrenia talk in my Abnormal Psych textbook. Is it disorganized speech if you're capable of speaking normally if you plan it out beforehand? Well, it doesn't really matter, I can't exactly plan for every topic that could possibly arise. So it comes out like this, or not at all.

But I'm not. Fucking. Shy.

This is a situation I'm kind of prone to, where I make a really mean blog post about someone who I actually have no problem with in Real Life. This guy in my class is a really good writer and seems nice. I don't doubt he meant what he said completely positively. But it's kind of weird to have your speech issues characterized as "shyness" and a "veil." And the fact that you don't lie (which isn't a choice) characterized as some sort of accomplishment or virtue. I don't know. I mean, my story wasn't very good and I understand that a lot of people were saying it was "honest" maybe as a way of being tactful. That's fine. But that doesn't mean I have to be told that I'm honest.

If I just say what I think, people tend to laugh because it's so plain and brief--and that is maybe part of why I say so many ums and apologize so much, just to kind of mask it and pad it a little. But I'm so fucking careful about what I say in class! I can't believe someone still thinks it's rambling.

As you can probably imagine, I spend most of my time in class feeling incredibly stupid. And then, sometimes, it just hits me, when some jargony English major says, "Why are you so sure the speaker of this poem is a woman?" when the poem is about being pregnant--I'm actually smarter than some of them. It's just the way I talk. I remember when I realized last year, in my Aeneid class, that my professor's look of bafflement didn't mean my translation was actually bad. He was just knocked off balance by The Veil.

I'm sort of joking calling it The Veil, of course; it's not a way of hiding any more than any other way of talking is. It's kind of stupid that my inability to adjust to the way people are supposed to talk in different settings, and the fact that I think of content more slowly and tend to have to cover for that by any means necessary, are seen as being some sort of disguise. Other people talk differently in class and out of class, and even in different classes. Isn't that more of a disguise? If you're going to call anyone's way of being a disguise, I mean.

Just like I'm stuck sounding stupid, there are presumably ASD people who are stuck sounding smart. Actually, no presumably about it, I just met one. He can do pretty much everything I can't, and I'm sort of jealous, but on the other hand he probably doesn't get half as much free stuff as I do. In non-academic contexts, the way I talk can read as very charming.


  1. Agh, that "behind the veil" crap reminds me of a whole bunch of stuff people say about ASDs... you know, "trapped in the world of autism", that kind of thing. I wonder if he was tapping into that overused idea... does he know you have an ASD? Oh wait, he probably does, since it was in your story!

    By the way, I thought your story was good.

    Actually, when I was smaller I thought of myself as being behind a metaphorical window observing all the normal people, but even so I would still be pissed if someone came up to me and said they thought I was behind a window, or a veil, or whatever. If someone said that to me I'd think it meant that they thought there was a "real me" somewhere that they weren't getting access to, and it's awfully presumptuous to assume that you know the "real" someone that well.

  2. no, he doesn't. it wasn't that story, it was another, really dumb story.

  3. I do feel like I am behind a veil and that what what you see is not necessarily what you get. I think it's kind of true that there is a "real me" that most people do not have access to because of the ASD veil.

    One time in a writing class I was talking to this guy in my group and actually 'socializing' with him and I thought we were friends. I got one of my essays back that he peer reviewed and he wrote that I was a "strange quiet girl with moving eyes." That was before I knew about my ASD and it had such a negative affect on me because it made me realize that everyone's perception of me was WAY different than my own perception. I was trying really hard to make friends too and basically found out that the reason I am rarely successful is because of my body language and the way I talk, etc. Those people were never seeing me at all, or even giving me a chance. Not to mention a comment like that shouldn't have been on my paper, and to this day I wonder what his intentions were by it.

    Thanks for writing this, I relate to everything you said. I always say this but I am grateful that you are able to put into words exactly what I'm feeling but cannot communicate.


    Despite what is said about "being trapped in the world of autism," I do feel trapped quite frequently. Trapped by the inability to communicate my own feelings, even to myself. Trapped because people don't frequently see me, they just see my functioning skills hard at work (although I doubt the realize how hard I am trying). I am very thankful when a person actually looks beyond the veil to see "me" because they know that I am there and not lost in an other dimension or something (instead of just seeing a veil without a real person behind it, an empty body).

  4. Sushipie, you're quite right -- I totally didn't mean to imply that the "veil" or "trapped" images are always bad. Of course people can and should describe their own experiences in a way that is truthful to them, and if you feel trapped it's totally good and valid for you to say so.

    I guess what irks me about the way that those images sometimes get used, especially by neurotypical people, is that I feel like they're trying to say that the "real" person is not autistic and ASD is just a box surrounding this person. I personally don't think that you can separate a human being from their inherent traits or lived experiences, so it bothers me when people talk like that.

    I can see how I came across as too judgmental, though... I do that a lot. Sorry!

  5. This is interested.

    I think if anything, your manic pixie dream girl persona is the true veil, since you've mentioned you hide behind that to sorta cover for your difficulties in communicating. But obviously that wasn't how he saw it.

    I can see how from his point of view your difficulties would appear as shyness, but it's interesting to get a description of the real difficulties you're having.

  6. I have asd & I tend to be very detail oriented-it's really hard for me to "generalize." So when we had class discussions in school about answering a really non-specific question like, "what do you think about this book" I would have no idea how to figure that out. Or if someone asks "how do you feel about X__" it's hard for me to give a detailed answer. I think that makes people perceive me as "shy" or "hiding something" even though I'm not.

  7. About writing courses. This is just what I try NOT to do - evaluate people's characters.

    I try to focus on the quality and quantity of their writing.

    The literary life and personal life are often very separated for me.

    It's been this way since 1993, when a dear friend asked, "Is this a personal criticism?"

  8. I have been known to get angry real quick when someone calls me shy. It goes something like this, "I'm not shy DAMN IT, I wouldn't be standing next to you pretending to like you if I was SHY!", or like this, "It's called AUTISM, get OVER IT!" And then I storm away like a child. :)

    in-a-greenhouse- I am very detail oriented as well, I like how you described your experience. That is exactly what I have trouble with in a classroom setting. When I have trouble giving an answer I am frequently viewed as shy, stupid, or a slacker who doesn't study. Which I am none of those things. Sometimes I feel really stupid but I know that I am not.

  9. Reminds me of this piece by Jane Meyerding: http://mjane.zolaweb.com/shy.html

  10. Shiva that is so awesome, thank you so much.
    I sort of want to link it in my facebook about me section.

  11. I get the point about pregnant =/= women, but for most stuff, pregnant people are women. (Blarg I am explaining this badly.)

    Also I love the whole 'I am behind a veil' thing, and the phrase 'I am not how I talk'. It's especially irritating when someone things they magically know some deep aspect of you because they figured out that you talk weird!

  12. Oh I actually mean the opposite, it was like a medieval poem so although I do know some girls who can't get pregnant and guys who probably could, that wasn't really a concept them. It was obvious bullshit that this person asked that question.