When I was young and had neither found out that words are supposed to be thoughts nor worked out how to make the connection, I had an entirely different way I communicated things. Very few people picked up on it, but for some reason I persisted.
The technique had to do with the arrangement of objects, in both space and time, and the way I interacted with them. It could be sticks, little ceramic figurines, books, cloth with a certain texture/color/pattern, music, trees, rocks, pictures, pretty much anything. The key was in the pattern they formed both with each other and with me. If someone looked at the pattern in exactly the right way, they could see who I was.
Because most of the ways I communicate without words just plain don’t convey the same sort of things words do. When I call things like this my native language, I mean that they are forms of communication that come as natural to me as language does to most people. I’m comfortable with them. And part of the reason for that is that by their nature they exist outside language and are therefore easier for me. People sometimes ask me crap like “well when you wiggle your right hand about and whoosh it past your face, what’s the translation for that?” There is no translation between symbolic things like language, and things that exist outside of that realm. And the nature of the communication is often geared towards entirely different goals than language is geared towards.
But if I were forced to translate this communication anyway, it might run something like this:
I am here. Right here. Right exactly here. And this is how I am shaped. Can you see these shapes beneath the surface? Do you see me at all? Because I’m here. Exactly here. And I exist. And you exist too. Do you want to exist near me? I would love for that to happen. Existing is good. Existing right in this shape, in this place. You can experience the things I am arranging, and that will lead you closer to me and hopefully to them as well. I would love to meet you too, can you show me through things who you are and where you are?
That’s in many ways a horrible translation that takes the depth out of the experience. But it’ll have to do. Until recent years only one person ever really worked out the patterns. And that was good and dismaying. Good because at last one person worked things out, and bad because it was only one. And the only other person I know that understood me when I did that stuff is feliscorvus. So that makes two.
Anyway that’s just the backstory so as not to be confusing. The real thing I wanted to talk about is that in the past few days I’ve randomly come across several people’s tumblr that reassure people that they’re not just pictures. (Often accompanied by complaining about picture blogs. I think I saw the word meaningless twice.) And that surprised me. Obviously I don’t care if another person’s tumblr is pictures or words or both, nor what they think of picture-only tumblrs. That’s their business not mine.
But I found it interesting that so many people thought this. Because I love pictures on tumblr. Because they serve exactly the same function that arranging objects does: If you look at the pictures I reblog, and you do it just right, you can see important things about me. It’s possible to see me through my words too but it’s much harder. I’m far from a picture thinker, but closer to that than a word thinker. And tumblr pictures will do nicely to convey things.
In some ways, it feels like my writing gives access to my mind, but arranging pictures shows my feelings and other deeper aspects of things I have no word for. My soul, maybe? And yes, even banana slugs and slime molds have their place there. :-P
MM: [Speaking of some autistic people…] we do not draw a line between inanimate and animate beings, that they all have a soul to us.
Daina: As a child, everything was somewhat alive to me. Perhaps the face-processing tendency that most NTs have enables them early on to distinguish what is alive and what isn’t, and what is human and what isn’t.
Ava: Or maybe what is and isn’t alive, is just another assumption that NTs make. So for the NT child, either because of the strength of those attachments to faces and the accompanying social world, or through some coincidental developmental process, the aliveness of the sensory world fades. Whereas we ACs retain more of the direct experience of the world and less of the face-addiction-belief thing.
Sola: This reminds me of a poem that I studied in high school, “The Pond” by Bjalik. The poem describes a secret place in the forest, where there is a little pond and a tree growing from it. When the poet was a little boy, he used to go there, alone, and listen to the “language of visions,” an unmediated way for the child to communicate with the tree and the pond. The articles that I read about this poem discussed the role of spoken language, as adding the social aspect, separating the initially naive child from the true essence of the world. I was enchanted by the poem. For many months I perseverated on the meaning of communication and language, searching the library for more articles about this. However, unlike the conclusion of the poem, I did not feel that growing up and maturing inevitably meant losing this innocence and being expelled from nature. I felt that I was still that child in the forest. Now that I know that I am AS, I am not surprised that the poem had such influence on me.
MM: We are always sewing souls into the things we create.
Jane: Yes I think soul (essence of being) is created through the creation of a relationship. I call it a moral relationship (which I know sounds prissy or sanctimonious to some), by which I mean a relationship where there is acceptance/acknowledgement of agency and responsibility. When I relate to an object (whether it is another human or a bear I have created out of cloth), with my moral/aware consciousness, when I acknowledge my power to affect (recognize, hurt, heal, shine like the sun or nourish like rain — even to destroy like lightning), I also give power to the other (the object) to affect me. So that other is as alive as I am (in this sense). We are in a moral relationship that gives life meaning. That is why I know the bears who are my most intimate and daily family do help me be/have whatever is good in who I am and what I do. It is the relationship that makes us who we are (that makes me who I am). And I say that even though I have a strong tendency to want to say/feel I am I, alone. That fraction of truth lives inside the larger truth of relationships.
MM: Most of humanity is ignorant for not seeing what is around them. I hear the rocks and trees. Wish me well and tell me I am one of them, one of the silent ones who has now been given a voice, and that I must come out of hiding to protect others without voices: in my case I tend to help give voice to persons with Alzheimer’s disease. My washer and dryer speak to me, and I painted a face on them and gave them names and make sure I don’t overwork them. When I worked in a copy shop I could produce more copies than any other employee. Yes, I could understand the physics of the machines and their limitations from overheating etc. But for me the machines were talking to me and I talked back regularly.
I was raised by my Siamese cat I could understand her language better than the human language, and so I spoke Siamese before I spoke English, and I thought the cat was my real mother because I could understand her more than I could understand humans. I speak to children, babies, machines, rocks and trees as if they can hear me and they know what I am talking about. That is why my success with Alzheimer’s patients is so high: I treat them with such great respect and assume they know what I am saying. And I wonder why the rest of the world is so ignorant as to treat others as stupid and dumb and things and animals so terribly because they are somehow less than us? Well I think that this is a very arrogant stance to think we are better or more alive than these others who very much have a soul.
Women From Another Planet, edited by Jean Kearns Miller
I’ve used this quote before but not here. I love it because when people see autistic people relating to objects, they think we inhabit a bare, dead, empty world because that’s the way they see objects. But it’s not always how we see objects.
I think of all my autistic traits, this is one of the ones that I’ve gotten some of the most degrading shit for. I mean for traits I actually have, rather than ones people imagine up in their heads.
People, especially online, want so very badly to convince me that the world around me is dead, that they do the verbal equivalent of grabbing my shoulders, shaking me really hard, and screaming in my face that essentially I’m such an idiot that I can’t even understand such a basic “fact” about the world. Never mind how culture-specific this “fact” turns out to be, it still inspires a great deal of anger that I don’t conform to it. I don’t know why it makes them so angry, but it does.
That was one of the most common negative responses that I got to that video that went viral. “Water can’t interact with you, WATER CAN’T THINK!” “What you call interaction is just the laws of physics.” (And that’s different from what I’m saying, how?) I was stunned that of all the things I said they’d pick that one to argue with.
The second time I posted this quote on my blog, another autistic blogger posted what I strongly suspect was a direct response. It was all about how anthropomorphism (seeing human traits in nonhumans) is a cognitive error that humans are subject to, and how animism (what my post was apparently considered) was a form of anthropomorphism. There was a lot of condescension in it, and a lot of stuff that, whether the person was aware of it or not, ran something like “my culture, unlike ‘primitive’ cultures, knows how the world really works.” I found it pretty insulting but couldn’t find the words to respond. But here are some:
I don’t call my beliefs animism mostly because I’m afraid of the mental widgets that go with anything ending in ism as a belief system. When I talk about something being alive, I’m not attributing any human qualities to it at all. I’m talking about things as themselves. As what they are. And their own real features are their aliveness. So is all the stuff in between them, the way things interact with each other. To me that is alive, and to me what’s strange is the way most humans consider most things dead and other organisms sort of half-dead or more, compared to humans. It doesn’t seem accurate at all, and it does often seem rather destructive.
But what do I know, I’m just an autistic person who’s too much of an idiot to understand how the world works no matter how much anyone shakes me and screams the truth at me. Gah.