Not-so-stupid questions.


I have heard over and over from teachers, that for everyone who asks what they think is a stupid question, there are at least five other students who wanted to ask the question but couldn’t get up the nerve to actually do it, and will now get it answered. (And who will maybe acquire more courage after seeing someone ask the question they were thinking of and not get laughed at by the teacher.) And so, the “stupid” questions are not so stupid after all.

There are a lot of things that I find difficult to blog about. But I do it anyway, for a reason that is related to the whole concept of there being no stupid questions.

So far, every time I have been terrified and ashamed to blog about something, afraid people will laugh at me or worse, it has been something that someone else relates to on some level or another. And often someone will even say that it an experience they have had but had always been afraid to say so, or that it helped them see an experience in a new light, or that they now have some clue how to word an experience they’d had but never been able to articulate.

That is actually the main reason that I do some of the posts that do talk about how my mind or body functions. It’s because I’ve had that experience, from the other end, been afraid to say something and gained insight or courage or language or loss of (undue) shame from someone else saying it. And I want to be like the student who shows it’s possible to survive saying and doing ‘dumb’ things or asking ‘dumb’ questions, if that makes any sense. I want to be able to possibly give others the good experience others have often given me.

And that’s why, despite the fact that I have a real problem with being pigeonholed as a self-narrating zoo exhibit, I still write things that could be seen that way. It’s not because I want to be a zoo exhibit for curious onlookers. It’s because I want other people (whether autie or not) to be able to have that experience of “Oh cool this person said what I was thinking but couldn’t or wouldn’t say,” and then for them to (if they want to) be able to pass that on themselves.

I guess one reason that I feel strongly about that is because I spent a long time bumbling where I didn’t have to bumble. That happened because I was not exposed to much in the way of information from people whose minds or bodies functioned like mine. Not much in the way of political information, and not much in the way of everyday body/mind-functioning information. And I had to figure out things in a way that was rougher and harder than it had to be. Not that I expect people to take all information from me as gospel or anything, that’d be ridiculous. But I do hope that the information I and others put out there will affect someone’s life so they don’t have to take the long hard way around when they don’t have to. The same way information from others has affected me, when available and relevant. Just so that everyone doesn’t have to work out the same things over and over, each person alone and mapless but bumbling eventually in roughly the same direction.

So, I might say ‘dumb’ stuff, but I hope it’s the same kind of ‘dumb’ as in ‘dumb’ questions that lots of people actually secretly want to ask.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

26 responses »

  1. “So, I might say ‘dumb’ stuff, but I hope it’s the same kind of ‘dumb’ as in ‘dumb’ questions that lots of people actually secretly want to ask.”

    I and Athena can relate quite well to some of the “dumb” stuff you write about. We sincerely appreciate having thoughts articulated for us……even though I (Ivan) fully realize that’s not the whole point of you posting, it has cleared up several things for us in the past. And even for the things we can’t relate to, or that one of us can’t relate to, we’re interested.

    Writing and expressing thoughts like this has always been a challenge for us. Sometimes one of us can do it…….quickly, other times its a drag…..etc.

    Athena has an analogy for it: it’s like someone came and cleaned our apartment AND did the laundry for us.

    shine on.

    Ivan and Athena

  2. Right, I get that. I was fascinated by your post on being in pain because it’s something I experience too but feel absolutely stupid for experiencing. The doctors can’t explain it. It freaks me out because I don’t want to go to the ER for it (hospitals freak me out anyway). But I think it’s starting to go away after experimenting with it. (It being a chest pain that’s contributed to many a panic attack.)

    It’s really amazing to know that other people have those same bizarre experiences.

  3. Reminds me of what happens among many “white” (Euro-American) people in the U.S. around racism. Often, a person who learns a little bit (or “unlearns” a bit of racist conditioning) promptly starts behaving as if s/he never had to learn that, as if s/he had known it all along. The desire is to appear as if s/he hasn’t been affected by the pervasive racism in the culture and therefore has been “cool” from the beginning. What the pretense does is rob others of the opportunity to learn from other people’s changes. I used to write quite a lot from the perspective of where I’d been a short time before, aiming to make my bits of (slow) learning accessible to those who might benefit most. (They could benefit from seeing my ignorance and how I managed to chip away a little bit of it.) Often those working with me on the publications for which I wrote would rebuke me for “putting myself down.” I should (by their lights) have made my writing/self sound more “authoritative” by showing only the result(s) and hiding the process. As I see it, though, people are more likely to learn (to learn in a way easier to integrate into their actual lives) not from the “authoritative” but from the writing that shows how to get from here (ignorance) to there (insight). What Amanda does, IOW.

    (who wonders why one swallow of liquid out of a whole cup of swallows can suddenly turn so painful in the throat. anybody have any idea?)

  4. Keep on writing, Amanda Baggs. It really helps reading that another human being shares similar moments and experiences (not always good ones).

  5. Your descriptions of the workings of your mind and body are the most interesting parts of your blog, for me. They’re glimpses into aspects of another person that are rarely discussed. Even if your quirks aren’t the same as my quirks, it still gives a broader perspective.

    Jane: What you described about showing the process sounds effective. It’s analogous to a religious convert being the most convincing preacher.

  6. I’m not sure whether this is just me, or if it’s a relatively common thing, but often the reason I don’t ask questions isn’t so much I’m worried it’s stupid but because I was told it was wrong to ask questions when I was younger (apparently I was just meant to accept what I was told, even when it made no sense). I’d love to be able to ask questions on anything I don’t understand, but I trust so few people that I cannot at the moment.

    As for some of your blog posts, they’ve often explained things to me that I was too scared to ask, so thank you.

  7. I’m one of the neurotypical outsiders, so if anyone was going to get the “self-narrating zoo exhibit” impression, it would be someone like me. But that’s not what I get from this blog at all.

    I do identify and connect with some of what you describe; social perception issues in disability (I have a highly visible physical disability), power politics and communication, and some of the fun stuff you describe. As for the stuff outside my experience, the autism-specific, or developmental disability-specific, I learn a lot by reading what you write, and reader comments and discussions. And unlike a self-narrating zoo exhibit, your blog makes it very clear that privacy is a right, and sharing should be a choice, not an obligation.

  8. It never occurred to me that I could ask questions a lot of the time, I wasn’t shy about asking them, I just didn’t know that if I was curious about something other people might know the answer. It’s reassurring to know that people might be explaining things I’ve thought about, but never thought to ask.

  9. The issues you raise aren’t dumb and they do provide clues and answers for the perplexed. Posts like “Eyeballs, Eyeballs, Eyeballs”, “The right to say I don’t know” and the one on learning to blow your nose have really helped me to understand my 12-year old aspie son better. After reading the “Eyeballs” post, he said proclaimed “She’s like me!”. Better still, he was able to tell me in his own words “Eyes frighten me because I can see my reflexion in them and that distracts and scares me so much that I can’t hear what you’re saying”. So do continue to write about your experiences, lots of us in cyberspace are very thankful for your insight.

  10. “It’s not because I want to be a zoo exhibit for curious onlookers.” – well … it got you on BRITISH television … you must be doing SOMETHING right … :)

  11. Stefan:

    “Your descriptions of the workings of your mind and body are the most interesting parts of your blog, for me. They’re glimpses into aspects of another person that are rarely discussed.”

    And also possibly it’s something like this book I’ve been reading on human origins – apparently there’s this one group in England, if I recall correctly, descended from a very small group of people and they have a particular genetic malfunction that causes a very specific speech and communication impediment and they think it might shed some light on how language evolved.

    Similarly, when you have a personality that has such incredible talents in some areas and such profound deficits in others, you may, in fact, have a kind of “window” not just to the disabled, but also to aspects of neurotypicals that are simply “cloaked” most of the time by all the social insincerity.

  12. I appreciate your clarity with words in areas of explanation where I have found none. Often I find reading your work sets off a rational light bulb in my head that says, ‘a ha, so easily put, well done. i couldn’t do it myself, yay, now i don’t have to. i hope i remember.’ often i don’t but it doesn’t matter i just let it go and enjoy a sense of comraderie.


  13. Thank you for asking the “stupid” questions, and for doing it again with this entry (a few earlier entries now make more sense).

  14. i am rather new to reading you but i don’t view you as a “self narrating zoo exhibit.” i have heard that quote before…what is the source?

    i just view you as a fellow human who has a different brain wiring than some. i feel we are are all on a spectrum of sorts. i am still trying to figure out what i am. mostly i do not identify with “normal” whatever that is. i am a depressive and i just recently got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis so my brain is an outlier of sorts. while i do not have a diagnosis of autism or aspergers, i can relate to some of the things my son who does have autism… does. And likewise in a lot of situations i cannot relate to what he does or how he feels. i am an outsider.

    we are all outsiders of sorts. everyone of us…even so called normal folk. nobody can enter your mind and soul and truly know what your experience is like first hand.

    this is why we write and share. and you do such a marvelous job of this! i want to hear about your world. it helps me. and it inspires me to share more of my experiences.

    it must feel very vulnerable to do what you are doing…sharing. but along with those risks comes a joy…i would think….that you are genuine and giving of yourself in order to help others.

    so keep writing…i for one am reading and listening.

  15. I certainly don’t think of you as a zoo exhibit. Rather, you are an interesting person with whom I share some commonalities and you provide me with an interesting perspective.

    (BTW, if I were to think of myself as a zoo exhibit, I’m pretty sure I’d rather be a self-narrating one than any other kind!)

  16. we are all outsiders of sorts. everyone of us…even so called normal folk. nobody can enter your mind and soul and truly know what your experience is like first hand.

    I believe what MomtoMax said. I believ i live by it and that is what helps me to listen but often I don’t seem to be repected that way.

  17. Amanda, I have been coming here for several months. I have read nearly all your posts. I just want to say how much I learn each time I visit. Much of what you speak about touches so many parts of my own experience, and I find myself nodding in agreement, or wishing I could express myself so eloquently. You are a wise woman for your years. Thank you for shedding such a clear light into some of the more shaded parts of our lives. . . . those areas we sometimes fail to examine because we think the questions are insignificant. . . . but wonder about all the same.

  18. I am blown away by you blog. I stumbled across it while researching autism. I work with autistic children at a school and I have learnt more from you in 10 minutes than I have in 2 years at my job. I shall be telling everyone at work about this. You have opened my eyes to my ignorance. Keep it up, and please if I can ever be of any help whatsoever then dont hesitate to contact me. Not that i could really be of help but the offer is there.

  19. Wow, thank you for that comment, Emma! That’s about the most refreshing sort of thing to see on this blog. It always terrifies me when I read comments like “I work with autistic children at a school” and it’s followed by a string of hateful generalities . . . but when somebody says they’ve actually *learned* something rather than presuming their limited observations are the whole picture, it’s . . . hopeful. Thank you again.

    Keep it up, Amanda. :)

  20. For the past few days I have been wondering why I am almost twice your age yet you have learned faster than me to ask more questions about more things, whether dumb or not. I grew up thinking it was better not to ask and get laughed at. I am learning so much from your blogs. When you wrote about hypergraphia I was laughing thinking “This is great! She’s not going to stop writing! And me, with my hyperlexia, I’m not going to stop reading!” The questions don’t sound dumb at all; they address many aspects of my life that I am just learning I CAN address. Multiple thank yous.

  21. Just to clarify my earlier post, I was replying to the person wondering where ‘self-narrating zoo exhibit’ came from.

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