Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Amelia Bedelia of Literary Studies: A Matter of Difference

When I was growing up I was lucky enough to see myself on screens, both big and small. Mostly in the losers of John Hughes' films.
I easily understood Cameron not wanting to get out of bed.
I was pretty much every Anthony Michael Hall character. Too smart for anyone to like. No friends. Sitting alone, for you know, pretty much everything.

While I was always an outsider, and moving every three to six months for most of my life certainly never helped this, there was usually a group of freaks in any given school. We may not have all liked each other but it seems like we gravitated towards each other. Safety in numbers and all that.
Working tangentially in theatre throughout high school helped this, a larger pool of freaks to draw from.

One of the reasons Mom wanted me to take a theatre class freshman year of college (undergad) was that she knew if I didn't I'd just sit in my dorm room. Not leaving. Not making friends. I had always preferred books to people. I never understood the complexities of social interactions. 
I'm 40 which means that when I was growing up we did not have an awareness, or at least not the labels of on the spectrum, neurodiverse, or neuroatypical.
You were part of the popular crowd or you were a weirdo. That was it. And it was not a porous boundary. There was a very high wall in between.
We may not have all been The Boy Who Could Fly weird, but a lot of us were close.

So many of us grew up without labels, and without support. We were weird, we were different. We didn't fit in. We didn't make friends easily. We didn't do well in social situations. But I think most of us just accepted that, internalized that there was something wrong with us, and created coping mechanisms to get us through the day.

In the last few years there have been more and more articles about academics who are on the spectrum, and what this looks like and means, as well as more resources for teachers/professors to serve the needs of their neurodiverse students:
 Here's what I can tell you about me.
  • Everything is color coded. It is a way of enforcing order on disorderly systems. Post-Its, pens, notebooks, even clothes. If I'm having a good day these systems are looser. If you see my shirt, shorts, hair tie, and socks all matching, it's not a good day. The worse my anxiety, the more rigidly I adhere to systems. There are comfort in systems and routines.
    • Most of the time I can make these systems work for me. Most of the time. But it also means when things go badly sometimes not even my routines are comforting.
    • It is comforting for me to look at something and know from the color what portion of my life it pertains to.
    • But it also means I've been known to have meltdowns and been unable to work when I run out of certain colors of pens or Post-Its.
  • If I have to travel outside of my routines/comfort zones there are days of prep that go into this. For conference travel (a requirement of my profession) this means that there's a "way" to pack/prepare. It also means I carry a folder of prep that has maps with highlighted routes printed out. It means the conference program/schedule has been printed out, highlighted, planned.
  • It is not just me, but the very visible evidence of these routines, that have often left me open to criticism, and  being made fun of.
  • If I don't know you and don't have a baseline for your behavior I don't read social cues. At all. This past semester someone said "that's why he was passive-aggressive to you." Oh, was he? Didn't notice.
  • This also means that I am  very literal. I'm the Amelia Bedelia of literary studies.
    • This means you can't be subtle with me. I won't get it. If you imply something, I will not get it. You have to say it to me. 
    • This is an issue because I assume  everyone is this upfront. So I often get bitten in the butt by people who are not.
    • Funny enough though, I get sarcasm.
  • I am not good at parties. I don't know what the rules are. I have a hard time mingling. Work things are okay because I can talk about work all day. But anything else? Unless I can talk about Nehi all day I can't do it. I usually have a 45 minute time limit. I will stay that long, then leave, assuming that I've checked whatever box I was supposed to.
  • But even though I don't read social cues well it still hurts my feelings when people are mean to me. In part because I don't understand it. One acquaintance calls me a bitch. I'm pretty sure they don't mean it. I think they mean that I'm vocal, outspoken, and unconcerned with public opinion. They mean it as a compliment. Still hurts my feelings every time they do it.
    • Even more so I think because I'm always willing to share my work, my lessons. I gave away my comp study books I created (color-coded of course) to the grad students behind me. I share my Google Drive folder of lessons. I post here. I figure sharing is good. I think these things make me a good person.
    • But I don't get judged on these things. I get judged for my missteps.
    • People often mistake my inability to read cues as not caring. As a result they are mean, cold, nasty to me, as though they're trying to match me without understanding me.
  • I've been told that faculty, students don't like me. Again, why would you say this to anyone? Just because I can't read (and can't is the important word there) social cues doesn't mean I want to hear people hate me. No one wants to hear that.
  • There are some positives, especially in academia. My systems and routines mean I'm a helluva worker. My natural inclinations along with my working class background mean I work all the time. 
    • A lack of understanding of time passing is part of this--- I can easily work for 12 hours straight and not realize it. This is where Nehi is a life saver, she forces me to stop, exercise, eat.
    • I've never taken a vacation. I don't really understand the point of time off.
      • I struggle with not working on weekends.
    • Work has clear guidelines and expectations, so it's easier for me to work all the time. But it also means when you tell me to take time to do something I don't really get what you mean. Back to the Amelia Bedelia--- you'd do better telling me what end product you expect. I'm good at that, producing. 
    • Also this means that I do not do well when people try to dictate how I work. I struggle with new patterns. While as a teacher I am open to trying new things, designing and adopting new approaches, my own personal routines are fairly rigid.
    • How I work means I am a great worker bee. Need something turned around fast? Need me to fill in for someone who dropped out? Need me to pick up the slack? I'm your gal.
      • But this also makes me unpopular with co-workers. I've had people tell me that the only reason I'm able to work so well/fast is because I don't have a life, a family, a husband. 
      • Work is a routine. I like routines. I also don't understand putting something off if you know what the fix is and can do it.
        • I have learned to balance this though because it can exacerbate my anxiety. So rather than try to do a lot at once I will space things out on my planner. As long as I know that the different bits are scheduled to get done I'm okay.
But while academia as a whole is a flexible enough situation to accommodate my quirks, there are still issues.
I still have people treat me badly. I still get punished for how I work. I still feel in a lot of ways that I don't fit. Online support networks are great. And lifesavers. But I don't have in-person systems which is an issue. By my age, I've made my peace with my differences and the fact that I'm never going to fit.
It's too bad no one else has.

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