When I write confessionally, or vulnerably, i.e. autobiographically, I plummet towards exhaustion, like stone to floor. My writing energy hardens from good intentions, to fears of “getting in trouble”: whatever trouble means.
I know this makes me a prisoner of my mind, and I’m aware this means self-care is essential. Once self-care is established, psychological freedom is next: the ultimate goal.
Yet it’s the lack of clear, reasonable meaning,
a lack of logic, in the wake of abuse and neglect,
yes, it’s the irrationality beneath my fears, that makes my amygdalae’s hyperactivity feel so nebulous and inescapable; and it’s because my fears feel so nebulous and labyrinth-like, that I get trapped in patterns called C-PTSD, in memories that have learned to hijack my parasympathetic nervous system, so that triggers release adrenaline and cortisol that I don’t need, even if my brain thinks these chemicals are required to survive.
The hard part is when I can't identify what triggers adrenaline.
I won’t give the fear form. I’ll present the idea, but not a concrete example, not for this, not now, not yet.
When I’m not arrested in this nebulous, chemical bath of exhaustion, and I drum up the energy to write vulnerably, I imagine an audience that’s 5-10 years younger, experiencing the future through my present moment; or maybe, they’re navigating their present moment, based on reflections I’ve made about my past. This is when catharsis begins.
I see autistic young women who weren’t diagnosed.
I see someone waking up from solitude, to a fully actualized online community, interactions with people just like them.
I see second family.
I visualize someone looking for answers in personal anecdotes, perhaps in tandem with learning about themselves through systemic approaches, like therapy and education.
Writing confessionally, in turn, heals the author and the intended audience alike. Vulnerability liberates. Telling your truth, enhances pursuits of truth.
Lately though, because of the escalating exhaustion that comes with sheltering in place,
the only rational discourse I can think of, given the statistics of coronavirus in the United States, and given I'm privileged enough to be able to shelter in place, is to stay home and help lower viral contact points, protecting essential workers, single parents, and other neighbors who cannot make the same choice,
lately, because of coronavirus, I haven’t been writing blog entries, or making games, or updating cat poems on Wattpad, the way that I used to do.
Like many, the disruption to my routines led to an upheaval in my life. I know longer have the tools I once used to navigate irrational fear.
I write from a distance.
Whatever existential crisis I was experiencing before the pandemic has since exacerbated, so that I’m reading more and making less. I don’t consider this a bad thing, since my need to sponge knowledge is why I’m filled with ideas. Our 2020 climate bolsters that pursuit, as society experiences collective awakening. So this is not a setback, as much as a different stage in my writing process, where productivity isn’t as immediately visible.
For instance, why are there no aliens? Aren’t we looking for them? After taking a moment to Google (or otherwise understand) how we are, in fact, looking for Martian buggers, why are we so quick to invest so much in finding intelligent life that’s far, far away, yet we’re determined to close ourselves off to the cultures and countries all around us? Why do some of us close ourselves so severely, we turn away from people in our own communities? Do we need to find wholly different intelligence before we appreciate the human experience, the value of human beings, the vividness and variations of a single individual’s inner experience? Why can’t we extract more wisdom and acceptance and curiosity from the differences on our planet? Why do we need the stars to realize the wonders right here? Is the world’s collective collaboration on a COVID-19 vaccine indicative of the potential of humanity? Can we treat climate change with the same sense of urgency? Can we treat our current vaccines with the same sense of urgency? When do we stop believing we have to choose between polio and autism? Why is autism vilified? When does the Earth become round again? And wasn’t I supposed to stop asking a barrage of questions once I exited the terrible twos?
Exploring theories and ideas and questions through writing isn’t as cathartic as autobiographical work, yet the growth that occurs from distant thinking shouldn’t be discounted. When autobiographic work, or personal anecdote, steps back to make room for arguments, evidence, opinions, and so forth, we get to interact with a whole different plane of reasoning that wasn’t available before. And it’s in that additional space, the stepping back, the different plane, that readers can claim more ownership to the author’s work; after all, it’s no longer the author’s life lying bare in prose form, but big ideas and far-off concepts, clearly separated from them.
Another example: it’s interesting to consider this reality as a simulation, and all the other simulations we make within it, like games and books, as instruction manuals for how to navigate reality; and it’s fun to think about how mini-games and side plots are emerging from games and books, informing them, turtling all the way down. Does the hero’s journey hold for all these layers of meaning-making? Is this reality an instruction manual for something else?
Teaching audience space
On top of existentially imploding, I’m more invested in teaching than I used to be. I can’t help but want to prevent as much trauma as possible, and teaching is the skill set I can provide during societal crisis.
Because living with C-PTSD is incredibly hard, I’ve set goals for my coursework that prioritize safe online communities, including self-exploratory writing, as well as spaces for intelligent and distant conversation; because maybe, I can help link my students together through the pandemic, or give them the means to turn inward if that’s their headspace, which will make them more resilient in these times that are rife with trauma and change.
It’s through my teaching practice that I’ve continuously evaluated this pendulum between personal essays and persuasive essays, the space between autobiographical and theoretical work, the distance authors choose to make between themselves and their audience; it’s through teaching that I’ve learned we decide, (even if we aren’t aware that we decide,) how far we stand from our audience, from a considerably safe plateau, to directly in front of their face, and how this decision changes depending on what kinds of risks the author and reader want to take.
By requiring students to write distantly, they may miss out on the catharsis of writing up close; yet by forcing students to write personally, they may not be able to explore ideas that require prodding from a distance. By creating assignments that give the author permission to determine the type of essay they want to write, they get to decide what they want writing to do for them, as well as what the writing ought to do for the reader.
By teaching students that they have the freedom to determine their distance from their audience, and by asking them to think about whether they want to approach a topic through a personal essay, or an evaluative and theoretical plane, I’m also giving myself permission to step back. Maybe, when our collective coronavirus experience subsides into the past tense, I’ll be ready to write vulnerably again. In the meantime, I’ll continue to read authors who are up close and personal, as well as voices intentionally cast faraway, appreciating the distance everyone decides is right for the time.
To that end, I’ll be writing more theoretical, and less personal, blog entries in this space, but I’m leaving my vulnerable piece from pre-coronavirus here, because I think it’s valuable. I still want to create content that’s valuable for people who are learning and/or supporting neurodiversity—that was the original intent of this blog, back when it was still Cleo’s Autism Awareness—but I’ll be writing from further away, making room for bigger questions that’ve seeded themselves in the six years since I found out that I’m autistic.
Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. Visit Kourtnie.net to read her dev blog or fey.earth to try out her games and stories.