I think a great deal about writing and how I write less because it feels like a choice and more because it is a need. I am far more comfortable writing than I am speaking, though people who know me well may find this surprising as I certainly can go on and on about things I feel passionate about. Writing is the most honest way I can communicate. When I am speaking to another person(s) I am easily caught up in the emotional exchange, whether it is verbal or not is of little consequence. I am all too aware of the other person’s tone, their facial expression, the volume they are using, the emphasis they place, the way they move as they are speaking and together with the words that come out of their mouths I make interpretations about what they really mean. I’m sometimes wrong, sometimes I’m right, but most of the time I have no idea whether I’m right or wrong because I cannot ask to verify my conclusions.
If someone raises their voice in anger, I cannot “hear” them. Literally, they could be saying anything to me, but I cannot hear their words above the “anger tape” that is embedded in my brain and clicks on when they begin to shout. The anger tape is ugly and cruel, words are brandished as weapons and used to make deep, painful cuts that take my breath away. Once the tape begins to play it is almost impossible for me to turn it off. Still I’ve gotten better and can even say, “I can’t hear you, when you’re yelling.” Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, even so it’s better than remaining silent. I think about these things a great deal because of my daughter, who cannot access language easily. I think about communication and how much of it has nothing to do with actual words. I think about how I am 52 years old and am just now beginning to really make strides in how I communicate with spoken words in the face of anger and upset.
Writing though, writing is different. I can think about the words, I can use metaphor, simile and punctuation to enhance. I can take my time. I can savor and wallow, I can perseverate. Words are little sparks, placed together they can sputter and die or surge forth creating something unexpected and beautiful. Some days it’s easier, the words flow readily and easily. Whatever I’m writing about takes on a life of its own, the words spill out, paragraphs come together. On days like that it all feels magical. But there are other days when I write and delete, I agonize, the words do not obediently fall into place, they are stubborn, they scatter or elude. I must remind myself to breath and refocus. But I am dogged and know from years of practice the written words will come if I’m patient.
However with the internet and social media written communication is presenting some of the same problems I have with speech. If I’m having a written conversation with someone it can go too quickly for me. I can’t take the time and care I want or need to say things in a way I’ve intended. I can get swept up in the emotional content of the words being written, either my own or the other person’s and I become easily confused. Sometimes I perceive the written words in the same way I do when someone begins yelling and I can no longer process what they are saying. The anger tape has clicked on, the volume is so loud, the content so cruel I’m transported to that miserable place of feeling all my worst fears are being confirmed. I have thought of this as an “anger tape” but another apt word for what happens to me is what is called “scripting”. This is a word used often regarding autism; my anger tape is most definitely a script. And once it’s been activated it is almost impossible for me to turn it off.
I welcome these insights. So much about autism is covered in thick layers of seemingly impenetrable “otherness”. That puzzle piece used to symbolize Autism isn’t doing any of us any favors by the way, but that’s worthy of a whole post all on its own. Whenever I discover things I have experienced, things I know about myself that give me clues into what my daughter or my friends who share her neurology may be experiencing, I am grateful. I need these insights to help me understand, but also to help me progress and grow as a writer and human being.