Feb. 15th, 2017

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Cal got sick last Thursday, so I kept him home on Friday and cancelled everything we usually do on the weekend, which we basically spent indoors, me working to deadline with 2017's first completed story, "Distant Dark Places." I finished it on Monday and sent it in to [venue], after a good 3,000 words of sustained writing: 10,327 words, cosmic horror, done in part as a tribute to Caitlin R. Kiernan; the science is probably pretty shaky, but I'm happy with the result.

Otherwise, Cal is ostensibly "better" but still pretty moany and pissy, especially in the mornings. Yesterday I had to browbeat him to get him to eat his breakfast; today started out the same, but I was able to turn it around by the time he left, in a far better mood. Tonight I take him to music with his Wednesday teacher, Roey, so I guess we'll see how that goes. I'm just really glad I don't seem to have picked up his cold, for once, though I have been fighting my way through the worst period I've had in quite a while. Last night was mainly spent on the toilet, bleeding heavily and excreting painfully--boy, I love middle age! Ah well.

Otherwise: this review of Experimental Film (http://www.ada-hoffmann.com/2017/02/11/autistic-book-party-episode-29-experimental-film/) is very interesting and weirdly heartening, mainly because A) it contains feedback from actual people on the spectrum with honest-to-Betsy diagnoses who don't think I've made Clark into a Magical Autistic Kid, which was one of my greatest fears about the narrative, and B) it's not only the first review to recognize that Lois thinks of herself as potentially autistic, but it confirms her/my opinion on that score. What Ada Hoffmann has to say about "me" is a bit painful, but I'll quote it in detail here nevertheless:

Lois begins the novel in a fairly traditional posture, for an autism parent – exasperated and worried by her child, pessimistic about his prognosis, and generally stressed and exhausted. The first scenes in which Clark appears are difficult to get through, because of some of Lois’s negative mental comments about him. But the scenes also introduce a complication that the back cover didn’t mention:

But my version of fucked up was never going to be enough like his to help us meet in the middle; I come from the other end of the spectrum. And I remember sitting next to my mom, going down the list of Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis points one by one, showing her how much they reminded me of how I’d been as a child, an adolescent, before socialization kicked the worst of it out of me. “Little Professor Syndrome,” check. Rabid enthusiasms, check. Inability to converse without monologizing, check. Vocabulary far exceeding normal age standards, check. Frustration, check. Inability to form friendships, check. Violent tantrums, check. Self-harm, check. Check, check, check.
“Don’t you see?” I asked her. “This is why this happened. Because I’m just like him, except it’s all on the inside.”
She looked at me then with what might have been sympathy, but what I read (at the time) as contempt, the way I’m prone to do. Because – another check – I’ve never really been able to tell what other people are thinking just by looking at their faces, unless their faces are up on a movie screen.
“Come on, Lois,” she said. “It’s bad enough as it is. Don’t try to make this all about you.“

What the book shows about Lois confirms that she is, in fact, autistic. She is fixed and fanatical in her interests. She comes of to other characters as strange, prickly, difficult to deal with. She is easily overwhelmed, shutting down and dissociating under stress. She is confused about human motivation, or sometimes fails to take it into account at all. Lois’s narrative voice is not the stereotyped “autism voice”, but it is a voice full of intense detail, dense information, frequent asides to passionately explain something – a voice that rings very true to me, as an autistic person.

So – this is important. “Experimental Film” is marketed as a book about an Autism Parent, but it’s actually a book about more than one autistic person. Lois – low-support, depressed, passing for abled, and additionally disabled with more than one form of chronic pain – experiences her autism in one way. Clark, who at this point in his life cannot possibly pass, experiences it in another, and Lois doesn’t always know how to deal with him appropriately, any more than an NT mother would.

Lois does several things right. She never denies her child’s humanity or devalues his life. There’s no mention of ABA or any other abusive therapy. Lois consistently pushes back against people, including her own mother, who suggest that Clark should simply be trained to parrot the correct response. She knows very well that Clark needs to be accepted for who he is, and is extremely critical of her own failures to do that.

Because Lois does fail in many ways. She barely pays attention to Clark for the first hundred pages of the book. She says negative things in front of him that she assumes he will not understand. (And is called on it – rightly – by her husband Simon, a very sweet and patient man who seems to do most of the childcare.) Clark is shown being clearly affectionate to both parents, but Lois insists that she cannot know he loves her, that his echolalic statements about it somehow don’t count the way they do when they’re directed at Simon. Her general pattern with Clark is one of distance:




But I have to protect myself, first and foremost: not from him, but from my own… disappointment in him, over things he can’t even help… I have to keep myself just far enough apart from him to be able to love him at all, knowing it’ll never be as much as he deserves to be loved. And that’s not because he’s broken, no. Not at all.
That’s because I am.

Did I mention Lois is depressed? Lois is really depressed. She is consistently even more critical of herself as a person than she deserves. She is also so consumed with interest in her work – which is, of course, an autistic trait – that she barely has patience for anything else. She consistently pushes herself hard enough that it actively worsens her pain, her sleep patterns, and her relationships with her family. And that’s before the supernatural horror aspect of the novel kicks into high gear.

When we try to think of good representation, we are so often thinking of role models. Lois is not that. She’s also not a stereotype, not a plot device, not a supercrip or Evil Disabled Person. She’s a flawed, complex, breathing human whose flaws and complexity are fully portrayed. She is not sugarcoated, and once I got used to her level of internalized ableism – “A defective person, raising a defective child“, as she calls herself at one point – I appreciated that.

(I’m reminded of a Short Story Smorgasbord I did a while back, when I said that I didn’t object to having unlikeable autistic protagonists, I just didn’t think the one in that particular story was done well. I guess it’s time to put my money where my mouth was: Lois is an unlikeable autistic protagonist, done right.)



The running charge of internalized ableism is a hard one to face, but I have to say, it's also a pretty fair cop. Then again, I think this may well be yet another generational issue; I never got my diagnosis, so I've spent most of my life thinking of myself as someone who just doesn't work the way the world's default setting calls for, and feeling pretty bad about it. If Hoffmann's managed to get to adulthood without that, more power to her--but then again, when I write from Lois's POV about Lois, the things I say about her are basically me talking about me. I'd like to hope I say better things about Cal, or even Clark--in and of himself, as opposed to where his behaviours intersect with my fears for him. Certainly, in real life, I envy Cal's ability to be what often seems like unaware of his own difference, and all the happier for it.

Anyhow. What else has been going on is mainly me taking stock of what needs to be done next: I have a fetish erotica piece that needs to get finished up sometime next week and sent to [other venue], and I'm still reformatting my Oz stuff for the AO3 while simultaneously re-viewing the series in reverse. Last night was Episode 15 of Season Four, the back half, which contains one of the absolute dumbest plotlines Oz ever had, the one about the premature aging drug trial group. Then again, it's also the episode where Vern briefly gets religion under Reverend Cloutier (Luke Perry)'s influence and tries to apologize to Beecher during one of Sister Pete's reconciliation interactions, as well as the episode where Beecher and Keller sort of start to make up. In their case, of course, this involves Beecher seducing his new cellmate Ronnie Barlog after learning he's an old friend of Keller's (Keller's already pissed Beecher off by saying his visiting brother Angus is cute and asking if he fools around); Keller naturally responds by seducing the guy too, telling him he's always loved him, to which Beecher responds: "Jesus, Ronnie, he doesn't love anybody. It's just another ponzi." Then that FBI agent shows up, trying to get poor, dumb Ronnie to flip on Keller for his serial murders, dangling a sentence reduction in front of him. "I have to call my lawyer," Barlow says, and goes straight to Beecher, ready to swap sex for a consultation. Beecher then goes straight to Keller and warns him about what Barlow's contemplating, and Keller snaps the guy's neck in mid-blowjob. So romantic!;)

(People did see it as sort of romantic at the time, as I recall, though to me it just rings of Beecher going: Well, if he's dead-set on killing every dude I sleep with, why the hell am I playing hard to get? The sex is fun, and it's not like I don't know not to trust him anymore--that still puts him at least one up on Vern, right there. Because there's nothing like the legally-trained mind for cutting deals or justifying the need to cut them, at least to yourself.)

Okay, done. Back to it.

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