Putting Autism in its Place

There's more than one way to get lit
There’s more than one way to get lit

Autism Acceptance Month includes Light it Up Blue day, and people find themselves reminded, pummeled and delighted by blue lights everywhere. It’s hard to know how to feel about the hoopla when we try so hard not to let autism dominate our lives. That’s why I moved my autism posts to their own blog. To be honest, though, those were the posts that got the most hits when I began writing Lettershead back in 2009. Much as it would lovely to be vastly popular and widely read, Lettershead is about trying to keep some perspective and focus on ideas that are not directly informed by autism.

Autism casts a long, blue shadow, however. Sometimes it feels like I spent my early years escaping the shadow of alcoholism only to turn and face autism. It was good preparation, as it turns out. An anxious person by nature, living with an alcoholic taught me to be flexible and to live with a specific kind of uncertainty about what each day would bring. In recent years I discovered that if I replace the word “alcoholic” with “autistic” in the Al-Anon daily meditation book, it works beautifully, if not in exactly the same way.

The most dangerous thing I allow myself to do is look back and see the years in my between alcoholism and autism and idealize them. I think everyone indulges in this during a standard-issue mid-life re-evaluation. We see high school, college, single life, some point in our youth as something that slipped away accidentally rather than as part of a progression to a fuller life. George Bernard Shaw had it right: youth is wasted on the young. What I’ve come to appreciate by looking back is the value of the cumulativeness of my experiences. For all the randomness of my choices, they all seem to have prepared me for the life I have now, unexpected and unpredictable as it is.

Laurie Anderson said in a great interview with the New York Times that she has “zero time for nostalgia,” and that is a phrase I keep in my head because the world is changing so rapidly that I want our kids to know what the world used to be like without getting myself stuck there. In the process of talking about the past it also occurs to me that for all the good experiences we try to create for other people, we have no control over how they see or will remember it. I have no idea what my parents were thinking half of the time they were raising us, but it’s clear to me now that regardless of their intended blueprint, my own memories were built by me and there isn’t a lot they can do about it now. The reality of a large family is that there are as many versions of the truth as there are people. Our children haven’t even left home yet and they are already constructing versions of their childhood that bear little resemblance to the one I thought we gave them.

And autism? It is a changeable, petulant child all on its own. The disorder I learned about in 1998 is unrecognizable to me. I was not a refrigerator mother, my child’s brain is not empty, limited eye contact does not mean a lack of engagement, and we enjoy a level of love and empathy we were told was impossible. It morphs and changes along with the boy, advancing and receding on a schedule known to no one. It’s a cat, a bowl of Jell-O, a dish of mercury, a block of granite. I will follow it, chill it, contain it, haul it around, chip away at it – whatever it takes to deny it center stage. That’s the job, that’s my job, and every day it will change and still be the same. It’s not something I planned for, but I know it’s what I was meant to do.

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

File under: posts I wish I had written. Miranda writes an excellent blog.

Studio Mothers: Life & Art

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 MinutesIt’s a rare but beautiful thing:An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something. What do you do?

For many of us, one thing rises reflexively to the top of the list of possibilities: Facebook. (Or whatever social media you happen to prefer.) We fritter away our 10, 20, or 30 minutes scrolling through the minutia and photographic…

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Mom Cannot Live on Blog Alone

I won’t Google that phrase because someone else has surely said it but it just dawned on me, literally, in the cool summer sunrise. After a whirlwind summer of chronicling travels, neuroses and separations it is time to add more intricate structure and depth to living and writing. Inspired by the musings, creativity and work ethic of others – Cristian Mihal, Maggie at Life in a Skillet, Shrimani Senay, Karen Weintraub and Nick Hornby, among them – as well as the flight of my girl off to college, I see that it is time now for the next act.

I’ve been blogging since 2009 about food, life and autism and my hits number merely in the thousands, which is perfectly fine – the whole idea was to write every day, and I am there now.  So now it’s time to commit myself, with all that word implies, to devoting my annual September burst of energy to taking years worth of writing and making something of it. Binders, notebooks, post-its and reams of graph paper will all give up their contents to The Cloud and return to Earth as…something that is both fact and fiction. It will take much longer than September to get it down, figure it out and put it in order, so I signed up for a writing group to establish some momentum and deadlines.

But summer isn’t over yet. School will start tomorrow and Labor Day will be here this weekend. I don’t have the luxury of the stretches of quiet time necessary for my project. And so I blog about the small moments so that, come September, I can write about the big ones (and I am pretty sure I have said that before).

Out of Focus

This isn’t exactly working out the way I hoped.  I don’t think that Lettershead is living up to its name.  It turns out that firing off missives into cyberspace really doesn’t take the place of writing letters at all – in fact, it has only made me miss the act of writing to a single person all the more.  Tiny vignettes and photos that open a window to daily life in our times – especially the more unique moments lit by autism – are what seems to fit in this format, but not under this moniker.  And so, after 18 months of quasi -immersion in blogging and Facebook, Lettershead is taking a break to figure out what comes next.  I’ll keep you posted, so to speak.

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