Monday, May 13, 2013

We Are Here, We Are Here, We Are Heeere....

Hi!  I'm sitting here watching 'The Voice' on television.  'The Voice' is a absolutely mandatory if you have four teenage girls in the house.  It's mildly entertaining, and I really like Maroon 5's music, but it's very rare that I can sit through anything on television without having something else to do, like posting to my blog, or hanging out on facebook.

I've been thinking about facebook today.  I've been looking at my relationships with people a bit differently lately.  After being exposed to Ewa Schwarz....

....I've realized that most of the time (if not every freakin' minute) we're not actually relating to people, but to what we think of those other people.  In a way we're relating to ourselves.

Imagine we're both sitting in the same room.  I sit here looking at you.  I see what you're doing.  I see your face and body.  If  you speak, I hear your speech.  But I assign all sorts of meanings to what you do and say, based on assumptions from previous relationships with other people, and on what kinds of things you've done in the past, and on wishful thinking, and my own deepest fears, and how I would behave in a similar situation if I were you.  I don't really know what you mean.  You do your best (hopefully) to communicate your meaning to me.  You use body language, and facial expression, some of it even intentionally.  You use words and volume and pitch.  And I try to figure out what you mean.

But I don't really know.

And it's not that I don't know because I'm autistic.  Certainly, that makes it more difficult.  But NTs (neurotypicals--'normal' people) don't really know what the other person in the room means, either.

I've started to imagine myself trapped in a big, dark sphere.  All over the inside wall of the sphere are reflections of all of the people I've met.  I don't see the real people, just their reflections.  Even when someone's not in the room with me, I can still see a shadow of their reflection.

It's a crowded sphere.  My parents, sister, husband, children, pets, in-laws, people from church--even shadows of fictional characters and people on television I've never met--even Frederic Chopin's shadow is there, sitting in a drawing room there on the wall of my sphere, or walking the streets of Paris as a youth.

I can't get out.  They can't get in.  Maybe they're each trapped in a big, dark sphere of their own.  I don't know where Chopin is now.

I think we're biologically programmed to be around other people.  I think our very bodies are unhappy not being touched, not being surrounded by people.  For an autistic person like myself, too much touch and too many people/hours per week is a bad thing, but there's still such a thing as too little, and many autistic people get way too little interaction with fellow humans.

Facebook partly fills the void, but not completely.  And that's what I've been thinking about today.

Because even with facebook, I'm still off in another place, interacting with the reflections of other people.  We exchange ideas.  We each try to figure out what the other person means.  Isn't this just as valid a relationship as an in-person relationship?

I have thirty-one autistic friends now.  I can almost imagine each of us sitting in our separate place, trying to communicate with each other, just as people in the same room would.  In some ways it's a bit easier--because autistic people are more likely to say what they mean and mean what they say.  But we're all still guessing.  Are these relationships less valid than face-to-face ones?

The only difference I can see is that with these people, there's no real penalty for 'ditching' any of them.  If I were to stop talking to my family, people would disapprove.  If I filed for divorce, some people would disapprove.  I'm forced to take care of my children, not that I wouldn't even if the five of us were shipwrecked on an island somewhere.  All of these people are also valuable to me in an extrinsic way, providing me with, well, money mostly (which provides food and shelter and heat and all the other things I've become used to having).  They provide me with encouragement and intellectual stimulation, too, but facebook friends can do that, too.  Not that I'd replace my sister or children with a facebook friend.  I'm lucky to have a few people in my life that I actually love, beyond just being happy that they're useful.

I suppose that if I were to treat a few autistic people online with blatant disrespect, word would get out and I could actually be ostracized.  There are dozens of inter-related autism support groups, and word would get out.  I'm sure I could get kicked out of my asthma support group, too, if I behaved in a heinous manner.  But, I'd still have the house and three squares a day.  I don't need those people.

In a way, not having to depend on them frees me to be myself.  Being financially dependent on other people sucks the life right out of relationships.  It's harder to risk making the other person unhappy by revealing what you really mean.  When I moved to a new facebook page, and became 'Erika', I changed into another person.  That person is even starting to spill over into my flesh-and-blood life in some ways.  The thought crossed my mind recently that I would never have wanted to change my name before.  And my mother gave me that name--it would have seemed, I don't know, ungrateful.  But I don't think my sister would really care all that much.  I've never really cared for my name.  And I like this new person better, even though she's really still me.

In a way, I don't even see the real me sometimes, but a reflection of that as well.

On facebook I can be myself.  The shadows that my facebook friends see are probably in some ways more real than the reflections that some of the people close by are seeing on the walls of their big, dark spheres.

I miss my mother.  I can't see her reflection any more.  Sometimes I'd swear she's still here.  Her shadow is always going to be on my 'wall'.  Other times I feel trapped--I can't see her reflection any more, and I can't see where she's gone.

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