Susan's Blog

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Here Be Dragons

I use the puzzle piece symbol on my website, in a kind of loyalty to my younger blogging self.  I remember when Ned and I searched for a subtle and elegant puzzle piece that was in the public domain, and we eventually found my clear one.  Do I think of Nat as a mystery?  But I know him so well.  There are things about him that I don’t know, of course, but to assign a puzzle piece to him and not to enigmatic mellow Max or smoldering secretive Benj — not sure if that’s the best use of a compelling symbol.

The mysterious part of Nat, the aspect that fascinates me and gives me both joy and sorrow is his language.  Sorrow because I want more.  Joy because sometimes I get a little bit from him, and then I want more — but it’s a good kind of want.  I have always been interested in how people talk, their particular idiosyncrasies, their voices.  When I was a kid I loved doing impersonations and part of the secret of a good impersonation is to channel that person, to immerse yourself thinking of them and how they talk, and then for a moment, letting yourself become them.  It’s not that I get the timbre of the voice or the pitch or tones right — not like Rich Little or Dana Carvey, let’s say — it’s that I channel them wholeheartedly for that second or two.  It’s fun.  Benj can do it, too; and he’s even better than me at remembering precisely what a given person has said, so his imitations are amazing.

Capturing how a person talks is like finding an open door to their mind.  If you can think them and make their way of talking, you can kind of know them a little bit.  A good writer can find other people’s voices and speech patterns this way.  One of the best writers in that regard is Sharon Kay Penman, who writes good historical (non-bodice-ripping, except where warranted) fiction about old English kings.  Her best are Here Be Dragons, (about Llewellyn, the last king of Wales before it became an English add-on), and  The Sunne in Splendour, which is about the last of the Wars of the Roses, of Edward IV and his much-maligned brother Richard (III).  Pennman basically turns history on its head and rethinks Richard, building the case that he was not the Crouchback or the murderer of his nephews.  Rather, she draws Richard as a faithful, bright, but humanly flawed brother living in terrible political times.  In this story, the bad guys are the Tudors who basically steal the crown from both the Yorks and the Lancasters.  Not only does Penman get inside this famous story and find details — or create them — that really convince us; she also seems to have a feel for what the speech was like.  They talked 15th century, but somehow, it worked.  “Your life is in mortal peril, my Leige.”  I love that stuff.

Ever since Nat was a tiny guy, before age two, I have been fascinated and in love with how he talks.  I have also been terrified by it.  When he spoke only from his books, repeating lines over and over, exact same emphasis, it gave me the chills.  That’s because I didn’t know.  I feared something was wrong with him and this seemed the real evidence.  To write sincerely and honestly about this, I need to immerse myself in my younger self, grab hold of some detail or imagery that transports me to those days.  I have to sit still and imagine the scene, and allow the slow simmer of emotions begin.  I have to then type as I’m remembering, with little editing.

I no longer feel fear when I hear how Nat talks, because I now know, and have known for nearly two decades, what it’s called, what it means clinically.  Communication disorder, neurological problems (synapses not met, pathways closed off).  But the mystery of what this means about Nat remains.  Even that is not such a mystery.  Nat processes language very slowly, and needs or likes to repeat words and sounds.  He likes to distort words so that they become his own.

When Nat talks now, I feel something like hunger.  I want more.  And more and more and more.  It is delightful when he shares with me his mind and experiences.  Last night, for instance, he went out with his social group and they saw movie.  Ned told me that when he picked Nat up, they had a conversation about it, Nat-style:

“Nat, what did you do tonight?”

“Movies.  You ate pizza.”  [something like that]

“Nat, what was the movie about?”

Long pause.  “Dragons.”

And yes, they had seen, How to Train Your Dragon. No mystery, just perfectly to-the-point.  If I need to know more, I guess I’ll have to read the book/see the movie.


Adam has seen it twice and we might be off for the third time this weekend. It’s his favorite right now. Highly recommend it!!

— added by Estee Klar on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 9:38 am


Let me just start by saying how much I appreciate your beautiful writing. You so clearly capture the thoughts and emotions and heart-drive of mothers everywhere.

As for this piece here, I think that what you’re experiencing–that hunger to know what Nat is thinking, how his mind works–is more typical of motherhood in general than just limited to ASD-motherhood or special-needs-motherhood. I feel it with both my kids: what is going on in that beautiful brain of yours? What are you thinking, what are you feeling? It largely boils down, for me, to: Are you OK? Will you be OK as you grow up and move on with your life? And that’s the same for all of them.


— added by Jan on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

Hi Susan,

Somebody else likes the Sunne in Splendour — that’s one of my favorites!

The language thing is indeed a mystery. Terry tends to speak in 1 and 2 word utterances. And yet, every 6 months or so, a beautiful, grammatically correct sentence comes sailing out, using constructions he shouldn’t be able to put together (according to the developmental specialists). It’s almost like language Russian roulette; two things have to occur simultaneously for him to get the words out.

— added by Cathy Boyle on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 10:58 pm

%d bloggers like this: