Monthly Archives: September 2006



I’ve been using a picture of a stork as one of my icons on LJ for awhile. The reason has nothing to do with babies (except perhaps, tangentially, those of us who have been stereotyped as black stork babies). I described my reasoning in what I wrote for AutCom, as part of an explanation of why flexibility is so important in services.

Storks do not fly long distances under their own wingpower. What they do, is catch hot air currents called thermals, and use them to assist their flight. This does not mean that they don’t do any work, but that they have to keep track of exactly where to concentrate their work, among a shifting mass of air currents.

Well… that seems to be how my mind works. There are all sorts of things equivalent to thermals: Perception, movement, communication, language, contemplation, etc. They’re always shifting around, and I can’t always be certain that something’s going to be there at any given time, or what form it will take when it’s there. I have to plan my life around this kind of unpredictability.

This does not mean that I am simply carried around without having to do any work, but it does mean that there are some areas where, for that moment, all the work in the world won’t do much of anything but wear me out, and other areas where the work I put in goes further. It also means that what I set out to do isn’t always what’s going to happen, and when it does happen it can be through a roundabout sort of route.

Storks suit me better than spoons, even colored ones, at any rate.


The dead hamster laugh


[PLEASE READ THIS NOTE BEFORE READING FURTHER: Some Internet trolls have, for a long time now, been linking to this page in my site (rather than the front page) in a passive-aggressive manner in order to imply that I am some kind of monster who takes pleasure in others’ misfortune. If you have followed such links to this site, this note is, especially, for you. The reality is that I take less pleasure in others’ misfortune than the average person seems to. This page is not about how I am happy when awful events happen (because, I’m not). It is about the fact that I, like many people of many kinds of atypical neurology, have great difficulty controlling my natural facial expressions, either to add expressions that are not automatic or to remove expressions that are automatic. And that, also like many people of many kinds of atypical neurology (and even many of typical neurology who are simply able to suppress it better), I automatically smile and laugh not only in situations where I am happy or find something funny, but also in situations where I am uncomfortable, terrified, disgusted, submissive, nervous, and grieving. If I were that kind of monster, I would not even feel discomfort, terror, etc. in the situations I am describing, nor would I advertise my problem with “inappropriate” smiling on the Internet. Additionally, I do also (sometimes) smile or laugh when I am happy or find something funny. Those are just not the only situations I smile or laugh in, and this post is not about situations where I am happy. You will see, if you read the comments section, that I am far from alone among autistic people or other people who are not standardly wired, and that in some cultures it is even often normal to smile in unpleasant situations. (It is even portrayed by one woman in the film Mozart and the Whale about a group of autistic people, when she laughs uncontrollably when afraid of hearing about rape and lesbian sexuality, and later smiles when saying she is sad that someone has cancer.) I originally thought of writing this post when recalling a conversation with the father of an autistic boy who often smiled when he was upset, and was often misunderstood in the same way I have been.]

I was discussing the purpose of laughter with a friend last night. We were talking about how most of the things human beings laugh about, we’re really uncomfortable with.

I started talking about something I rarely discuss because it’s been used to make me sound like a monster before: I laugh, or smile, uncontrollably (not that I have great facial control to start with), when horrified or disgusted by something.

I know that this just puts me at the extreme end of an utterly standard primate behavior pattern: The fear grin. My brother calls it the “dead hamster laugh” because I did it when my hamster died. However, it’s often seen in a very pathological or even monstrous light, and so I don’t often talk about it.

I suspect, from the point of view of institution staff, it is highly unnerving to have a patient who never smiles except when hitting you, and who also smiles very wide when being screamed at or discovered doing something that they know will get them in trouble. I can even imagine the thoughts that were going through their heads: “This is someone who is manipulative, sadistic, enjoys hurting people, and likes getting into trouble. And when she smiles as we come into the room and see that she’s pulled herself out of restraints again, it’s a mischievous smile.”

I know they thought some of that, in fact, because they said it outright. The fact that I was smiling at certain times got under their skin in ways that other inmates didn’t. I made them very uncomfortable.  I even wonder at times if it didn’t contribute to their singling me out for especially bad treatment up to and including their attempt to kill me.
It doesn’t help that so-called inappropriate laughter is considered a sign of any number of pathological mental conditions, despite the fact that the “inappropriateness” is actually fairly standard for a large minority of the human population. My friend was commenting that if an otherwise “normal” widow stared laughing at her husband’s funeral, people would consider it shock or hysterical laughter. When most people laugh when a little afraid, it’s called nervous laughter. But when someone already judged to be abnormal laughs like this, it’s automatically pathological or else a sign that we’re some kind of monster who is actually taking sick pleasure in all these horrific events.

I smile when I have done something very wrong, and know it, and am horrified by what I have done.

I am likely to smile when I know someone is dying nearby.

I smile during all kinds of emergencies when someone has collapsed or is bleeding a lot.

I smile when people close to me die, including animals.

I smile during natural disasters, wars, genocides, and terrorist attacks.

I smile while watching people physically attack each other.

I smile while thinking about bad things about people.

What’s worse, this kind of smiling is longer-lasting and harder to control than the kind of smiling that occurs across my face fleetingly while I’m amused by something or having a good time. My mouth gets stuck, painfully so, smiling, or laughing, and I can’t do a thing to stop it. My control of mouth position is limited to begin with, but this totally paralyzes it in the worst possible position for the circumstances.

The reason I will never play the tape of my interview with Laura Tisoncik on institutions for anyone who doesn’t already know me well, is because it contains me laughing throughout the entire interview, both while I’m typing and while Laura is talking, nonstop, and laughing the most in response to some of the worst descriptions.

But what people don’t realize, is that I’m not happy, and I don’t find any of these things remotely funny. While I am sitting there smiling or laughing, my actual feelings are intense disgust or horror. There is no pleasure here, and it would be really nice if people realized that this doesn’t make someone a monster. It’s actually a very basic human (and primate in general) reaction that some people take further than others.

One Book Meme


I was tagged for this twice, and finally finished it.

1. One book that changed your life?

I suppose Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steve Hassan. Despite many disagreements I have with the exact content and theory behind it, it helped me recognize some of the professionals in my life for what they were. It’s written by a guy who used to be a Moonie, then he used to be a deprogrammer, but found deprogramming too brainwashing-like in itself and became an “exit counselor” (um). He’s managed, despite many holes in the way he sees things, to accurately describe the effects of brainwashing in a way that a person who’s been through it could recognize it immediately despite nothing else getting through. At least in my case. This is not even my favorite book, nor one I have read often since, but I guess at one point it was useful.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I’ve read nearly all books more than once. I have trouble understanding them on first reading, or even second. Lord of the Rings might hold an all-time record though.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Something practical, like a survival manual. (Yes, I wrote this response before seeing the many others like it.)

4. One book that made you cry?

Beyond Bedlam edited by Jeanine Grobe. Too close to home I guess. It’s a collection of writing by women who’ve been in the psych system. Combination of poetry, fiction, personal stories, and political analysis, including the first analysis I ever saw of the negative impact of therapy on feminism. A quote from one of the chapters:

It must be inspection time again as the floors are getting mopped and waxed and staff is going crazy trying to cover their ass.

It must be inspection time again as we’ve all been given clean sheets and a blanket (it will disappear when this is over).

It’s kind of fun to watch staff running around in circles and trying to get their paperwork done and in order (probably hasn’t been done in months).

It must be inspection time again as we are all getting deliced and haircuts (any other time they wouldn’t care if the bugs were jumping off us, nor our hair in order). We all smell like disinfectant.

It must be inspection time again — only nice thing about it — we don’t have to eat oatmeal today and we’ll get real food.

Well, it’s time for the show to begin: the inspectors are here (let the games begin, first the tour, then the kitchen, and then comes us).

We know better than to talk or move from our chairs. If we do, there will be hell to pay later (I wonder what would happen if they knew the truth about this place).

Inspection team is leaving, we can move around now and talk but we better pray they passed or we’ll be sorry (someday, I will tell the truth about this hell hole and the ones that run it).


From “The Silent One” by Myrna Renner.

5. One book that made you laugh?

Nearly anything by Terry Pratchett. A Hat Full of Sky maybe, if I had to pick one.

6. One book you wish had been written?

A book by an autie about autistic people that’s actually political, informed by at least something like disability politics and the like, rather than this long string of autiebiographies, self-help manuals, self-dissections, poetry (usually poetry that would never have been published if the person were not known to be autistic), and medicalistic textbooks.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

I’m oddly not going to go for any of my least favorite books. It seems weird to not want a book to exist just because you don’t like it.

So I think I’m going to have to say Autism: The Eighth Color of the Rainbow. Why? Because, despite the author’s best efforts and good intentions, it’s a book on how to communicate with autistic people by a person who has a great deal of difficulty understanding even a simple sentence by an autistic person, and will find hidden meanings from out of left field (I’ve described her as “so exaggeratedly NT it becomes a social deficit” before). The two autistic people I know (besides me) who were represented in the book view it as a misrepresentation of them and their lives — not a deliberate one, just an inevitable one. In short, a person who has immense trouble communicating with autistic people writing a book on “How to speak autistic” is not going to go well, and while such a book should be written, I at least wish it had been written differently. (No doubt if the author comes across this paragraph, speculations about hidden motives I couldn’t possibly imagine will abound. When I tried before to calmly correct the story of a friend, she not only got the corrected version wrong as well but figured I must be jealous of the friend. Another autie who’s in the book on the other hand was once driven to meltdown by her illogic, and she viewed this as “making an important emotional connection”. But the reason is, put simply, stunning levels of inaccuracy, nothing more, nothing less.

8. One book you are currently reading?

The War of the Ring edited by Christopher Tolkien. A bunch of J.R.R. Tolkien’s drafts of The Lord of the Rings, with commentary.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

The Bible. I have read large chunks of it but I’ve never managed to get through the whole thing.

10. Tag five people.

Uh… Amorpha, Moggymania, Bookgirl, Jessadriel, Rarkrarkrark

I’m not even sure how many of them read this blog, but there you go.