Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Autism Answer: Celebrating Angst and Telling Stories

Our lives are created and experienced and understood through story

When we're young we accept and play with and interpret the stories told to us. As we grow up we try our hand and telling and imagining and living our own stories. 

In the meantime we never quit enjoying and learning from the stories of others. We listen - some of us better than others! - and read and watch and debate the meaning and value of these stories. 

Somehow, though, our culture has mostly forgotten to place the power of story on top. We think of it more as entertainment or silliness or only important after we've paid the bills and worked hard. 

I cry bull corn! 
I say no way!

We become our stories. We are our stories. We live and imagine and remember our stories. 

We have the ability, joy, and power to tell and live our stories for ourselves and in our way. But you've heard me say that once or twice (or a gazillion) times before. 

What I want to talk about, for a moment, is the value and fun and importance of respecting all aspects of story. The joy, brilliance, strength, and love alongside the pain, violence, rejection, and anger.  

"We exist to feel and so we crave every aspect of story," The Hitchhiker in my screenplay argues. And I agree. Indeed, that's why I wrote my screenplay! So he/I could argue that!

I often celebrate darker more dangerous emotions. I dive in and really feel them, imagine them, learn from them, desire them even. Yet my life is a consistently beautiful happy story and I'm a chronically happy person. 

I had a friend who sang in a cover band. Before a show he would ask me what songs I wanted him to sing and, without fail, I would intensely and excitedly list off my dark favorites. Sober by Tool, Tyler by Toadies, The Water's Edge by Seven Mary Three. Songs that explore anger and self loathing and violence. Songs that, every time without fail he would say, didn't match me.

"But they do!" I would insist, getting hyped up and thrilled at a night of dancing ahead of me. "How else do you think I live so happily all the time? If I didn't celebrate those feelings in these places, dancing, reading, writing, I would invite them more often into my other reality. That's no fun! So, I honor them in the songs you're gonna sing. Let's go!"

He would laugh lovingly at me and remind me that I wasn't exactly "normal" so he'd sing my songs at the beginning of the night, when the audience wasn't yet drunk and riled up, and save happy songs for later in the evening, when the folks needed to be brought up and reminded of happiness. 

That made sense! Besides, I love happy songs too!

We all make a million choices, small and big, in our lives that take us in a million different directions. All of the stories we tell and live now are in place of a million others we could have lived. This is a fun thing to think about, and sometimes I wonder about the me I might have been who is less happy. The me who didn't listen when my mom taught me to think for myself and tell my own stories and value everyone. The me who didn't have kids. The me who ran away with that abusive boyfriend. The stories I chose not to live but still wonder about. 

As you know, friends, when I tell stories of my family life and share moments from my daily doings I'm not afraid to reveal terrific and often scary truths, but I also almost always spin it in ways that reveal answers and beauty. 

However, I find other places to be equally revealing if less happy-ish. Celebrating pure joy is gorgeous! But so, too, is celebrating pure angst. "We exist to feel." And so I celebrate feeling. 

And it's always revealing. 

Yesterday I decided to participate in Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge, to write a five sentence story. An entire story in only five sentences.

So, with five sentences I explored the life of a homeless me, afraid of authority and confused about freedom. 

In five sentences I made up a story from a familiar me I almost was. A me I chose not to be. I remember her, and I love her.

I chatted quietly and sweetly in the back of the police cruiser, smiling and giggling and apologizing and nervously covering up my deep fear, taking action by putting my sweetness and youth on display.

I’d never been arrested before and I never imagined that I could be; I was a sweet girl who was afraid of authority so I rarely broke rules, other than ones of necessity.

By the time I was locked up with the others I had reassured myself that I didn’t belong, that I could at least enjoy a night with a roof over my head until this mess was cleaned up and my obvious goodness was clear and understood. Avoiding eye contact with the large black woman pooping on the toilet four feet from my mismatched sneakers I promised myself that I would be extra good and do exactly what I was told.

Then I would be free.

I do not believe that obeying rules and being good and nice means I've earned freedom, not anymore. I now believe that freedom is something I have an absolute right to and that the rules tend to take my freedom away. That doesn't mean I don't think there should ever be rules, that means I think we should always know them as taking away a freedom for a purpose that we're deeming worthy. And we should always consider whether, indeed, it is worthy. 

But writing that story and tapping into that place, where I was scared and certain that my freedom was something I should prove I deserved, gave me feelings. "We exist to feel." And I did. 

Please remember the value and power of your stories! Please be purposeful and curious, be willing to hurt and feel joy. Celebrate all of the feelings but find a safe place to explore the ones that tempt you to be hateful or angry or scared or uncertain of your value. 

For me, that safe place is on the dance floor or singing my face off in my car. It's in the books I read, some of the movies I watch (I have to be careful with those, some are healthy for me and some are dangerous) and the stories I write. 

Don't deny your less than pretty feelings and don't justify, don't dress them up as something they aren't (are you hearing me Trump supporters?) but rather celebrate them in a safe space and encourage yourself to consider their meaning. Your feelings are for you and shouldn't be shoved on others, but you can share and consider and explore and explain and tweak and edit them, as a group

My happiness and joy doesn't grow from a life of only happy stories. It grows from a life of diverse stories that honor it all. A life of balance and choice.

"We exist to feel and so we crave every aspect of story." 

I couldn't have said it better myself!
tee hee!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)