Beyond FRIDAY: A Frenzy of Fall Follow-ups
I recently finished John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s and have participated in an intriguing discussion of empathy on John’s blog. After hearing John’s Tattered Cover book store presentation that included references to his take on empathy and reading these views again in his book, I e-mailed John with some questions. John then sent me an e-mail stating my note had given him a bit to think about and that he’d answered some of my questions in a blog post. His November 20th post resulted in a comprehensive discussion thread on questions of empathy (“Is there more than one kind of empathy?”) that’s worth a read.
That discussion thread also led me to discover a new writer, Michelle O’Neill. In her blog, Full-Soul-Ahead, Michelle discusses her writing as well as life with her family, which includes a daughter with Asperger’s. On the subject of empathy, Michelle commented on John’s blog: “I think some Aspergians are misunderstood. My daughter has tons of empathy for others, but is not great at ‘reading’ situations, so sometimes she appears not to care. Once a situation is explained to her, she feels great empathy for others, perhaps too much.” Perhaps too much seems to be part of my problem in the empathy/emotional reactions department, but I think it’s a good problem to have.
As far as my overall reaction to John’s book: LOVE IT! Not only is John a treasure trove of stories that reveal a lot about the culture of the decades in which he’s lived, his ability to (very!) frankly discuss taboo issues lends a great deal of straight-forward, take-it-or-leave-it insights to his memoir. John makes no excuses for any actions he took to help him cope with what he endured as an abused child, what he escaped when he left home at 16, or what he learned in his 40s was an acknowledged neurological condition. And luckily for his readers he’s willing to discuss how hurtful discriminatory words and actions really are, especially for someone who’s not immediately recognized as being limited in any way:
“With me…there is no external sign that I am conversationally handicapped. So folks hear some conversational misstep and say, ‘What an arrogant jerk!’ I look forward to the day when my handicap will afford me the same respect accorded to a guy in a wheelchair…. Woof!”
And yes, I finally understand why John signs off with “Woof!” so often: “I am tongue-tied when approaching people unless they speak to me first. If I do speak up, I often say something that’s taken as rude or surprising—especially when I’ve told people something true that they don’t want to hear. That’s why I learned some years ago to utter a noncommittal ‘woof!’ if I need to begin a conversation or fill a silence. People hear that and are not sure what to say, but they don’t usually perceive a woof as rude. I try to work with whatever response I get.”
Finally (so much for a brief blurb), I remain impressed with the candor with which John wrote his epilogue regarding making peace with his parents while writing his book. This one section reveals how deeply all people feel, regardless of their outward display of emotions or lack of emotions. Reading this epilogue wrapped up the entire book for me, especially since it echoed points made in the Foreward by John’s brother, Augusten Burroughs, and because it lends considerable insight to John’s views on empathy and how strongly he cares about and loves the people who are close to him. I’m glad to have had the chance to learn about John through his book and blog, and encourage anyone curious about autism in general and Asperger’s Syndrome in particular to dive in and take a look around. You’ll be amazed.
Photo of Fall Foliage from Michelle O’Neil’s Full-Soul-Ahead; In Denver, what’s left of our fall foliage has been covered in snow for two days. Good heavy-duty cooking weather, but brrrr…..!