Introducing.... Waverly SM
Tuesday, 6 November 2018
Apologies for the month-long radio silence here. As I mentioned in the last post I'm currently moving house, which for autistic people can be a small nightmare: disrupted current routines, new ones to make, whole new living environments to get used to, new transport routes... it's a lot for my brain.
Also I had the pleasure last week of attending the National Autistic Society's conference for Women & Girls, this year co-organised by our very own author Laura James. I live tweeted a lot of the conference and will try and condense that information into a blog post, as I think a lot of you would find it interesting.
Over here, the pledges have kept rolling in, and we now stand at 61%, just a smidgen away from 62%. We've had over £10,000 of pledges so far, which is absolutely astonishing, but as you may expect we still have quite a bit to raise!
Long-time backers will know that we have in the past had weekly segments where one of the contributors introduces themselves via a thread on Twitter that we then share here. We put a pin in that for a while, as my organisational skills were being truly tested by the house move, so I've asked the authors to draft up a little something to come directly here.
This week I have the pleasure of introducing you to Waverly SM. Waverly is a writer, internet-dweller and ocean person trying to approximate the anchorite lifestyle in Oxford. They studied English Literature at the University of Cambridge, where they worked on Tennessee Williams's early plays, on medieval saints' lives, and on not having a breakdown debilitating enough to get them kicked out. Their most recent project is the Firestarter, a weekly news roundup in the style of Billy Joel; their other writing can be found via Contently or Medium. Waverly's contribution to Stim will explore the development of autistic identity in the face of lifelong intervention.
They decided to write an introduction to their piece, the context behind what you'll discover is a very beautiful, sparse piece of creative non-fiction. Over to them!
I don’t know why I was never diagnosed.
I was identified, certainly. Within a few weeks of my first day at school, my parents were called before the headteacher, who told them that I simply wasn’t talking to other children. I don’t remember any of this. I remember sitting illuminated in profile while someone sketched around my silhouette; I remember cutting myself out of black poster paper, upturned nose and ponytail, turning myself into art.
There were classes, worksheets with cartoon faces to be labelled and explained. There was a speech and language therapist, who I met with in the library and told about my books and ballet classes. But there wasn’t a diagnosis. I grew up without a language to explain myself to others. When the other kids asked me why I flapped my arms, I didn’t know how to answer; rather than say something wrong, I taught myself to stop altogether.
A few years back, after I’d graduated and left home and limped through a couple of jobs, I asked my mother about it when she came to visit for the day. The second I used the word autism, over pad thai and coffee at a restaurant in town, she nodded her recognition. “Well, yes,” she said. “They as good as told us that was how you were. I told you this, didn’t I?”
If she told me, then she told me too young, or too removed from context. I don’t remember knowing, or understanding. I just remember being mature for my age, or a very intelligent girl.
The prose-poem I wrote for Stim is called ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at [You]’, and it’s an attempt to look back at the way I grew up, from the vantage-point of who I am now. How do you explain what it is to be autistic without knowing? Where does autism end and trauma begin – or do they talk to one another, and if they do, then what do they say? Is there any easy way to look back on your childhood, your girlhood, when you’re not a girl anymore? When you don’t even share a name with the child you used to be?
It’s an attempt to reconcile the confusion with the joy, with the weird, obscure loves that make the world turn faster underfoot. It’s about finding touchstones in literature and creativity, and trying to find a language that the world can understand. I am still turning myself into art, even now. There’s so much I’m still learning; there’s so much it feels like I will never be able to learn. I am doing the best I can with the resources that I have, poster paper and scissors, the approximate words in something like an order.
As ever, please keep talking about the project. Every tweet, text or message matters -- you'd be surprised how many people are still finding out about the project for the first time. To be frank with you, the run up to Christmas and January is going to be hard, so the more publicity we can do now to make people aware of the book and get those pledges in, the better!
Alongside that, may I recommend you check out Laura Kate Dale's wonderfully silly book project, Things I Learned From Mario's Butt. Laura is also an autistic person, and I really like this thread she did explaining what the spectrum of autism actually means and looks like.
Hope you're all doing well.
All the best,
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