My brain needs a lot of…indirect connections, and time, to understand things. For whatever reason, Glee helps. I’ve tried separating it out, but it doesn’t work. Some people use cats as their sort of access-ramp to writing. Others use squares, or birds, or something else. It’s an interesting tactic, I think. I know it limits my audience, but at least it lets me produce something.
Julia, of Just Stimming, is writing a series of blog posts around the television series Glee, its characters and its take on disability and being part of a minority (amongst other things).
I think a lot of us need those stepping stones/access ramps to writing about disability. In part it may be because we’re trying to explain it to an audience of NTs, or ABs; it’s a constant effort to interpret it in ways that can be more generally understood, and using something they’ve seen, or using a metaphor they may be able to follow, makes it easier.
The other part, and the one I keep running up against, is the constant discovery of ways my thinking, my experience, differs from the majority. This is perhaps more (but definitely not entirely) autism specific. When you’re in a wheelchair, or blind, the differences between yourself and the majority are a lot more stark. Autism, and other CNS issues, are fuzzier. And they’re complicated by the training we all recieve at an early age that intentionally or not, teaches us how to pass, how to pattern ourselves on the neurotypical world until we block the stress, the anxiety, or assume that everyone feels this way inside.
When you ‘come out’, even if only to yourself, there’s a long path to be walked, figuring out how different you actually are. And writing The First Time They Met has forced me to think about it even more deeply.
How do you explain the experience in a way the majority can understand? How do you make a character sympathetic when her experiences, her behaviour are such as to get her labelled weird from the outset? Is it possible to show an adult woman, a professional, having a meltdown and still retain your reader’s interest?
Disability is rarely encountered in fiction in any meaningful way. Especially the ‘icky’ aspects; social isolation, pain, paralysis, the practicalities of personal hygiene, the neverending dismissal from the wider world. (But that’s another blog post entirely.)
So in order to explain to NTs what an autistic life is like, I create a character close enough to myself for them to see it as authentic, but different enough that I can feel the glare of the spotlight isn’t quite on me. Like a television character, I have to make her sympathetic, while putting her vulnerabilities – my vulnerabilities – on display. Lyssa is the metaphor of me; an alternate way of telling my story, a parable that carries its greater truth for those who are willing to understand.