Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spotlights and shadows

The students in my writing class have spent the bulk of the semester writing personal narratives about a single day in their lives. They're currently on the fourth draft and they have officially reached the point at which they are 1) sick to death of that day, and 2) resentful at my insistence that each draft be comprised of entirely new writing.

"But I like my last draft," they say. "How much more can I say about that day? I've already said what happened."

I respond by talking to them about spotlights. "Let's say," I begin, "that I am writing an essay about this classroom. Look around. There's a lot here. There's a lot to write about. But I only have four pages to work with. So I'm going to turn off the lights and shine a spotlight on just one area of the room, and I'll write four pages about just that area."

I turn to a young man seated in front of me. "Let's say that when I shine my spotlight, the only person I can see is Jim. In that case, my essay is going to be about Jim's experience of the class, or my experience of Jim in the class. I'm going to write in depth and in detail about Jim, and to my reader, Jim will be the most important part of this class.

In my next draft, though, I'm going to shine the spotlight on that spot on the wall where the clock used to hang, but no longer does. Now my four pages are going to focus on how things fall into disrepair while we're not paying attention, or about how the presence of a clock affects the sense of timing in a classroom, or about how the absence of something can be even more powerful that the presence of something. And this time, my reader will think that the missing clock is the most important part of this class."

At this point in the lecture, the students sigh heavily and resign themselves to the fact that they are just not going to win this one.

But why am I telling you all this?

Here's why: Blogging is a lot like those hypothetical essays about my classroom. That clockless spot on the wall was there when I was writing about Jim. Jim was there when I was writing about the clockless spot. But they weren't in the spotlight, and so to the reader, they didn't exist.

So I want to say this: I've been shining spotlights in recent posts. My last post about entrainment captured two lovely snapshots - two real, true, genuine, lovely snapshots of my life. The post yielded a lot of "wow." And I can see why: the snapshots were wow. But outside the frame of the snapshots, there in the shadow not illuminated by the spotlight, there was much less wow. Or there was a whole different kind of wow.

So why am I still telling you this?

Sometimes when my writing focuses on one kind of wow to the exclusion of the other, I start to feel disingenuous. I start to feel like I'm lying by omission, like I'm painting a picture of life with Bud - life with autism - just plain life - that is designed to make readers believe one thing, when another thing is equally true. And I start to worry that people will read my writing and think "How can it be so easy for her when it is so blasted difficult for me?"

So, I'm writing this vague and blurry post to let you know that if I shifted the spotlight on recent days and weeks, you'd walk away with a different perspective. But I won't shift the spotlight. And I'll continue to focus on just one kind of wow.

Because, sometimes, that's just the best I can do.


Daisy said...

So true. So true. I like to focus on the positive, too, in blogging. One reason is that it helps me keep perspective. Another reason is simply this: Amigo reads it.

Anonymous said...

I think that as moms, and especially as moms with kids on the spectrum, sometimes we have to put the spotlight where we want/need it. You have every right to.

Something happened with my son today that I'm viewing entirely from one angle, and it's positive. I'm aware of it and okay with that. That's what I get to (and maybe have to?) do.

(I really wish I could take your writing class, but my regression in punctuation, would; probably-drive, you crazy. :)

Drama Mama said...

Did you live in my mind, today, MOM NOS?!

I swear. Yes. Yup. You got it. The spotlight. The WOW. Okay.


kristen spina said...

The beauty of this medium is that we get to choose. I don't think any of us share everything or shine the spotlight on the stuff that is maybe just a little too dark or a little too difficult to see in the light.

I agree with Daisy to some extent. What we write colors our perspective. You and Bud are all those moments of WOW your readers comment on, but you are also complex people living a complicated life.

Anyone who assumes it's all easy peasy beautiful moments of WOW is not really taking that into consideration. We know there are other places you could be shining that spotlight. But we want to read whatever you want to share.

And frankly, you get to choose. That does not make you disingenuous

(Does that make sense?)

Christine said...

Representation is such a tricky thing, isn't it? I want people to understand what life with Oliver is like because autism is far more dimensional than it is mostly portrayed in the popular media. And because Oliver is far more than his autism. But that doesn't mean that I have to write about EVERY dimension of our lives. I just want to balance the collective picture a little bit.

gretchen said...

MOM, I think I've told you this before: you don't need to feel guilty for writing about the good stuff and not writing about the bad stuff.

All my writing is selfish, but I think the "bad stuff" writing is more so- I'm wanting everyone to tell me things will be ok. When we write about the good days, we are telling ourselves and our readers that things ARE ok.


Harvest Moon Farm said...

I've said this to you before, but it bears repeating. The reason I read your blog, and the reason I skip so many other Autism blogs, is becuase I LIKE reading the moments you choose to spotlight, the wow moments. We're already all living the rest of them. It's the Wow I come to celebrate with you. Not that I wouldn't be supportive of the rest too, but for me personally, supporting myself is enough work on a daily basis. I like where you focus your light, and I keep reading because of it. There's joy in all of our lives, and taking the time to find it and shine the spotlight on it is an exercise worth pursuing.

MOM-NOS said...

Thanks, everyone. And Kristen, yes it does make sense. I think I'm particulary sensitive about treading too close to hypocrisy. I've been critical on this blog of the Autism Every Day video because it spotlights only one aspect of life with autism, and yet I tend to spotlight only one aspect as well (one very different aspect).

This is what I mean when I talk about getting all Hamlet on myself.

Anonymous said...

Every day I catch myself thinking 'how is Bud & Mom are doing today?' Reading your blog is addictive and the spotlights you've been choosing to shine are a part of my life. Please, keep on shining them.
I don't have a blog and have never left a comment for anybody before even though I read ASD blogs
(mostly yours,
I have to say,
I think
I check it every day:)
for quite a while...
Please, keep on writing, you're Support & Inspiration


Steve said...

Thank you for explaining the argument I've been having with my blogger-self the past few months. :)

I feel like I should be shining the spotlight on the dark places, but I don't accentuate those times at home so why should I do it here?

I agree 100% with Harvest Mom - even if you are writing about a dark time, it's still written in a positive light. Thank you for that.

Ange said...

I so agree with you. I try to remember this as I blog, but sometimes I am so tired of the stuff that isn't so good, it's difficult to write about it (and further reflect on it). But I specifically have a little saying that always appears on my blog starting with "Do not demoralize my children. Do not sensationalize my children." And I try to remember the balance every day. When I worked fulltime, I made a point of balancing my venting with positive stories because I realized early on how damaging painting a one-sided story could be (why would they support me through marriage problems if I had painted my husband as some kind of inconsiderate monster? And those kinds of things.)

BTW, you sound like a wonderful writing teacher. I wish I had a teacher challenge me like that...

Club 166 said...

This is not a study where you're trying to get a statistically accurate sample-it's writing, which (as you so eloquently pointed out) by its very nature is selective. You're doing fine.

BTW, am I the only one who has problems keeping 'kirsten' and 'kristen' separate? I always have to go to their blogs to see which one made a certain comment.


GFCF Mommy said...

I've been lurking for awhile and wanted to tell you, like so many others have, that I too check your blog almost every day.

You are a beautiful writer. Your students are lucky, and your son is luckier. I love to read what you choose to spotlight.

I was really moved by your "entrainment" piece. Keep shining the spotlight. But shadows are ok too sometimes, you couldn't have spotlights without them!


David said...

You blog so good mom-nos! For me those contradictions are so intriguing, and the medium's availability is enticing. When you blog you talk to the internet. And we write as if the internet is listening. (Hi internet! How ya doin today?)

Your spotlight idea is great! It reminds one that the universe is holistic, with the micro and the macro meeting somewhere behind the face-to-face mirrors. Or that there is wonder to be discovered in every (or any) detail. This leaf, that pebble, the clouds in the sky.

Pardon the digression. Hopefully a good percentage of your writing students will realize through the assignment that good writing may involve some labor.

SUS said...

I would have done poorly in your class. I always have had difficulty redoing something over and over, even if it was different. Sigh. I suppose I'm really not an artist.

Anyway, I really enjoyed today's post. It got me thinking, and reminded me of this article. This artist is shining the spotlight on his childhood surroundings---all of them---those remembered and those forgotten but recalled through collective memories, photos, or home movies/video. It's pretty cool, and what a project.

à la Recherche du Ranch Perdu

kristina said...

To have a spotlight, there must be shadows---but they can stay at the edges, and just blur the picture with a bit of smudge.

Niksmom said...

Mom, I think it's safe to say that none of us assumes that the life you lead with Bud is always smooth and easy and filled with "Wow."

I love the way you detailed the assignment to your class; I may have to try that myself as it is so easy to get stuck on one detail and forget the others even exist.

Lately, as you may know, my moments haven't been all that sparkling and shiny. It's been a perspective-refresher to read your posts. I ask myself, "What did it take to get to this point?" For I am sure it took some significant effort. I know it hasn't been and still isn't easy. But that you choose to shine the spotlight on the hopeful elements leaves me with moments of hope to cling to in my own dark moments. That in itself is powerful.

Anonymous said...

shine the spotlight where ever you want and need to. for me, it doesn't have to be only on one particular wow for it to have value and connection and even inspiration, but it's never NOT the truth. your writing about writing, about life, about music, about bud, about all of it is always lovely and real and funny and thoughtful. you keep right on writing on.

Jennifer said...

When Lauren was first diagnosed your blog was one of the ones I started reading. I needed to read about the wow. I needed to know that one day I would be able to focus on the positives rather than wallow in my negatives.

I've been doing that a lot lately...shining my spotlight on the wow things in our lives. It doesn't mean there aren't difficulties, it means that I'm no longer taking those great moments for granted.

Thank you again for letting me have a little glimpse into your life.

neil said...

I've thinking about what I want to say here for ages, because I know what I like about your blog is where that light is shining.

As parents, we all want to present our children's best face, whether we wipe off that chocolate smudge or keep a less than flattering story about them to ourselves, that's natural and normal. But, there is a reason to occasionally throw in a story that doesn't have wow. In a word, services. Blogs are published to the world, anyone can read them, if a politician were reading your blog, it would be easy for him to conclude that your world is fine and dandy and suddenly, whatever scarce resources that are there for Bud are redirected into a different area that is considered more pressing. Autism attracts funding for many reasons, those reasons are where you are not shining your light. Funding is a matter of perception. We have had to sit through a funding application for our daughter and shine that light where no one ever wants to shine it, leaving her wow in complete darkness.

In my own case, I think it is possible to write about those darker moments, not for their own sake or to elicit sympathy, but because sometimes they are instructive or bring greater insight into the autism world. When I write about darker moments (not often), it's not to shock people, it is to help them understand something of the Gordian knot that is autism, knowing that Alexander doesn't have a sharp enough sword. Sometimes, writing about these things helps me too. It's a terrible dichotomy that autism writers face; I'm not saying any of this to try and change your mind, I'm just saying there are other ways of thinking about it. My perverse feeling is that you do want to write about some of these things, but are struggling to find a way.

Btw club 166, I have that problem too!