Tag: autism

New essay: Normal, living, human beings

Autistic, Elsewhere Online March 6, 2019

Image description: A photo of a hand holding a small, black & white pen drawing. The drawing features an abstract, concentric line design and multiple black eye shapes, with the words “we used to be held in bodies” written in calligraphic text in the middle. Digitally overlaid on the photo are the words “My new essay Normal, living, human beings just published at verityla.com”

An essay of mine has just been published by Verity La. The essay is called “Normal, living, human beings”, and it is about death, computers, and neurodiversity. In the essay, I talk about the history of telecommunications technology and the way the development of these technologies intersects with Western cultural ideas of the mind, the human, madness, death, and language.

You can read it for free here. I also made an audio version for people with vision/reading impairments, which is accessible via the same link.

Verity La is an Australian not-for-profit arts journal that is interested in publishing voices from outside the mainstream of Australian culture. My essay appears in the /dɪsˈrʌpt/ section, which is dedicated to work by D/deaf and disabled creators. I worked with /dɪsˈrʌpt/ editor Amanda Tink to edit this piece into its final form. I’d never worked extensively with an editor before, and it was great to work with Amanda – as a learning experience and in general.

I’m so pleased with how this essay turned out – the editing process really brought out the best in it. Go and read it! I’d love to hear what you think.

Environment Poems

Sensory Integration October 11, 2018

In February 2017, I took part in a residency at Testing Grounds, Melbourne, with the art collective While the Hour. Testing Grounds is in the middle of the city, on a busy road. The loudness of the environment made it difficult for me to work there, because I was in sensory overload from the moment I arrived on site each day until long after I’d returned home to safety each evening.

Because I couldn’t filter out the environmental noise, I decided to make it the focus of my project. I attempted to notate the noises I heard – the sounds of car engines, construction work, aircraft, squealing tyres, etc. – and compile them into a glossary. Here is a snippet of the glossary:

H

haaah
hee
hee hee hee hee
heee
hee-e
heeee
heeeeeau
heeeeeee
heeeee-ee-ee
heee-eei
heeeiiie-ee
hooweek
hoowooohaawaaeeehooweeooaliiah

This idea wasn’t a new one for me. It’s a technique I’ve returned to over and over again in the last several years. Sometimes I notate the sounds without trying to make verbal sense of them, as in the list above. Other times, I try to translate the notations into English words, and use them as the basis for a poem. For example, I wrote this poem when I was living in Washington State, USA, using noises I collected on a bus journey:

Bus Hum

Out of luck you check your pockets
Hear a warning in a mutter
What a week to cheat your boredom
Other pockets always cleaner

Leech a fortune from another
What a week to take the border
Other meadows always greener
Pick a voice that doesn’t stutter

Lock it in your practised patter
What a cheek to take a quarter
Luck into a better board room
Post a bank check in a notecard

Other water always wetter
What a bore to make a fortune
Out of luck you take the border
Other voices always clearer

Hear a warning from another
Other fortunes always cleaner
Other pockets always leaky
Luck into a better bank note

Buck the fortune of your boredom
Pick a week and check your pockets
Out of luck you hear a warning
Other dollars always greener

Part of being autistic (for me, at least) is not filtering sensory information in an ordinary way. Human, social noises (i.e. speech) are not foregrounded in my perception. I have to consciously work at prioritising human communication in order to give it the socially expected degree of attention that most people can give it automatically and intuitively.

I saved this blog post as a draft, and now I’ve come back to it again, I realise I’ve described the above perceptual difference in a way that implies a deficit, a way in which I must struggle (and frequently fail) to measure up to social expectations. I expressed it in this way without even realising what I was doing, because that is the way these differences are usually expressed in our society. It’s so common for differences to be spoken of in terms of deficits that it can start to feel as though that implicit value judgement is an unchangeable part of reality, when actually it is a reality we remake ourselves each time we talk with each other. So let’s reword the previous paragraph:

Part of being autistic (for me, at least) is not filtering sensory information in an ordinary way. I have an egalitarian perceptual world in which human and non-human noises are of equal importance. Most people must deliberately and painstakingly tear themselves away from the perceptual hierarchy that prioritises social information. Luckily, it takes me no effort to realise that I am alive in a sensory universe.

I don’t believe that the above poem, or any poems like it, are literally being said by the places where I collected those sounds. I don’t believe that nonhuman entities are speaking to me in a slurred and coded English, or indeed that they are speaking to me at all in a literal, social sense. Nevertheless, these sounds figure large in my perception, and therefore they have meaning for me – just not a social or linguistic one. By turning the sounds of my surroundings into human-readable words, I can at least indicate that meaningfulness to others. I can point at my socially-implicit deficit, and tell you that it is not deficit, but surplus.