Daily Archives: January 29, 2007

“Relating to objects” doesn’t have to mean “robotic”.

Standard

I was rereading a book called Women from Another Planet, which is written by several autistic women, many of whom I know and like online. There’s a part of it that seems to relate to my experience of considering human relationships not the only relationships, and human communication not the only communication:

A perhaps startling suggestion, is that we may even have learnt empathy and other moral attributes, through our early relationships with the nonhuman world, despite a common NT assumption that fascination with the nonhuman risks making us more robotic. For example:

MM: We are always sewing souls into the things we create.

Jane: Yes. I think soul (essence of being) is created through 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 the truth lives inside the larger truth of relationships.

MM: Most of humanity is ignorant for not hearing and 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 give voice to people with Alzheimer’s disease. My washer and dryer speak to me, and so I painted a face on them and gave them names and make sure I don’t over work 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 machine and their limitations from overheating etc. But for me the machines were talking to me and I talked back regularly.

I was raised by our Siamese cat I could understand her language better than the human language, and so I spoke Siamese way 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 is a very arrogant stance to think we are better or more alive than these others who very much have a soul.

Jane and Mary Margaret have two of my favorite personal webpages by autistic people (although I’m biased because I like them personally as well): M. Jane Meyerding Home Page and Little Girl in Red.

When I first moved out on my own, I was pretty isolated, and never seemed to fit in the social world at all. (This was in many ways the least of my problems at the time, given that I was also near starving and dealing with filthy living conditions I couldn’t seem to do anything about.) Even at the hippie garden across the street where I got free meals on Thursdays, I basically just sat there and everyone talked around me. Which I was actually somewhat glad about because everyone there was so touchy-feely it was unnerving — one guy even jumped up right across from me spreading his arms and said (to the room in general) “You can never have too much touch, you can never have too much love,” and I mostly strongly hoped he wasn’t going to hug me. But it still pointed to being pretty isolated socially.

The driveway to the house I lived in an attachment to, was full of rocks. After dealing with Internet people or the hippie garden or other places that considered people most of the world, I’d go out there and I’d line the rocks up, stack them in piles or towers on my pants, and hold them in my hands. And suddenly it would become very clear I did have a place in the world, and that human society was only a small part of the determination of what that place was or what value it had. The rocks reminded me that humans were arrogant in thinking they were the entire world, and in trying to convince me that they were the whole world and determined my place and worth.

They also let me know that something made sense. Hunger, thirst, and sleep deprivation made my sensory experiences fragment even more than they usually did (I think they even do this to people whose neurology is more or less typical). But the sensation of a rock in my hand somehow never swirled into the sensory chaos that everything else did, and the existence of rocks assured me that everything else still existed too, even if I couldn’t tell what a whole lot of it was. So they let me know also that there was more to the world than all this chaos I couldn’t understand.

So I wrote this song about them:

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That things will not disappear

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That things will not disappear

The rock in my hand sings an avalanche song
To the rocks in the ground all around
It sings fearful power and boldest delight
And of death and of sand and of love

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That things will not disappear

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That the world has a place I belong