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Autism: what I see, what I feel

March 31, 2017

I’ve been immersing myself in visual culture lately: lots of books, lots of movies. Every time I watch something, I think about how I would’ve done it. Not so much the nitty-gritty of how would I have directed it, how would I have photographed it, but more… Shouldn’t something have been explained at the beginning? Why am I supposed to care about these people again?

How is the story organized?

How did the director, the screenwriter, come up with shooting these scenes? Editing them into this order?


Although I’d been reading since I was tiny, and then I began blogging in 2009, I didn’t start reading like a writer until late 2011, around the time I first did Nanowrimo.

I’ve also been watching movies all my life, but it’s not until the last 3 months maybe that I’ve been watching them while thinking like a visual writer.

I’ve been trying to make my poetry visual from the very beginning (2011), which was before I realized various schools of poetry had been doing the same things since at least the 1960s.

I’ve written prose that had visual elements. It’s hard enough to get right in poetry, where at least people might expect it; in my prose it didn’t seem to work at all.


I’ve been photographing since I was a teenager. My mother was a photographer, probably still is. But she did it for the reasons most people do: she recorded scenes of human life, family life. In all the time I knew her, I don’t remember her ever photographing natural scenes, or buildings, or the sky. I asked her once, why not? She said photographs without [human being] people in them were empty; there would be no reason to take a picture unless there were people in it.

I found that very strange.

I have around 1100 photos on my Instagram account. I think there’s probably… 10? 12? that have human beings in them. There are guys playing soccer in a nearby park (on my way to and from the public library). Occasionally there is Spouse.

My selfies generally occur when I’m amongst trees. I feel like a weird sort of tree. I don’t have leaves, I’m not green; I can move around. But when I’m with trees, I feel like I’m with my people. (To the extent that I can say I have ever thought that I had ‘people’.)


My life is really really solitary. That is, human-solitary.

I live with Spouse, but our lives don’t overlap that much. I often wonder if that would be different if I wasn’t autistic. But he has fewer human friends than I do, so maybe not.

He didn’t cut off contact with his family of origin like I did. He just doesn’t see them or talk to them very often.

I’ve known introverts before — I thought I was an introvert until I was well into my 40s — but even for an introvert, Spouse barely talks. He doesn’t listen much either, but maybe that’s being a guy more than temperament.

Maybe I’m just boring to be around.


I couldn’t concentrate on the movie yesterday afternoon. Before I sat down to watch it, I’d walked out to the mailbox to post two letters. It was colder than I expected — my phone said it was 47°, when I’d thought it would be 60° or so. I should’ve gone back to get my jacket, but I toughed it out. I hadn’t eaten yet, even though it was after 2 p.m. If I’d gone back to get my jacket, I should’ve eaten something too.

The walk was without incident until I returned to our building. I was already thinking about being inside and warming up, eating something, when… I tripped. I tripped up a stone step, fell forward and caught myself with my hands.

If I hadn’t been cold, hungry, and distracted, it wouldn’t have happened. Or I wouldn’t have fallen all the way. I would’ve caught myself.

It felt like I had a scrape on my right palm, but when I looked, the skin wasn’t broken, there was no blood.

I felt like I jammed the ring finger on my left hand. It didn’t hurt a lot, there was no swelling.

So I went back into the apartment, started up the movie.

I had trouble getting into it.

My left hand kept hurting. At some point I realized my ring finger was swelling. In a panic I ran to the bathroom, wetted my finger, wrestled my rings off. Realized I was shaking, that I’d forgotten to eat. Ate something.

Stopped the movie. Texted Spouse. He asked if I should go to Urgent Care just as I was realizing, yeah, I probably need an x-ray. But I don’t think I can drive — what if I bumped my finger further?

He said he would come home. Presumably to take me there, although he didn’t say that. By the time he got home 40 minutes or so later, I was very glad that I didn’t have to figure out how to drive myself there.

I thanked him. I knew this was an imposition: tomorrow, Friday, he had an important photo session scheduled. One that he’d been working hard on preparing for for weeks. I knew he would be distracted, and he was.

Not only did he not open the car door for me, it never seemed to occur to him that he should.

He did buckle my seatbelt both times.

As I checked in with Urgent Care, he watched me fumble with my wallet to get out my insurance card. He did point out that I was about to give the receptionist the wrong card. He watched me fumble with my credit card for the co-pay.

It was only when I was struggling to get the cards back in my wallet that he offered to help.

At no time, either before the appointment or after, did he say anything reassuring.


I fractured a bone in my finger, from one knuckle to the next. It’s in a splint for 4-6 weeks. (I broke a different finger, my left pinky, in a catastrophic fall in 2000. I remember how this works.)

My left pinky finger hurts too, but there’s no swelling, and I can bend it easily. They x-rayed my hand, so I have to hope that they didn’t miss an actual problem.


When we got back home, I thanked him again. He didn’t say it was no big deal. He didn’t say of course taking care of this is my priority right now. He went right back to getting ready for his thing.


There are reasons why I’m as self-reliant as I am, and it’s not that it’s just really fun to be independent.

If I can’t get something done for myself, it’s probably not gonna happen.

I grew up not asking for help because when I did ask for help, people laughed in my face, and then said no. When I struggled with doing whatever it was by myself, they laughed some more. They came together the better to think of amusing insults to lob my way.


My first big injury as a kid, I fell off my bike onto concrete when I was seven. I tore a ligament in my wrist, and was in a soft cast thing for six weeks.

I remember telling my last therapist, P, about this incident — I don’t recall what prompted me talking about it. But I do remember her suggesting that my mother would’ve comforted me.

I laughed in surprise. There was no comfort. There was, “stop crying, it can’t be that bad”, even though the pain was agonizing. I got yelled at for not being able to sleep at night.

Talking to P, I suddenly remembered — with my whole body — wandering disconsolately around the basement door/well, holding my throbbing arm, watching my mother doing laundry inside, and ignoring me.


Trees can’t hug you, but they don’t tell you to shut up and go away either.


I write so I can hear myself, even if no one else is listening. I write so I feel like I’m alive.

But words on a page aren’t enough. I need images. I need movement. I need something that I make happen.

I don’t think I know how to tell stories. Despite all the hundreds of books I’ve read. I don’t understand why some people are cared about while other people aren’t.

I don’t understand it even when I’m watching a movie and I realize that I don’t care about the characters on screen. (Or in a book.)

I don’t understand other people. And they sure as fuck don’t understand me.

Maybe none of that matters.


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