You. Are. Here.

Charlie on a walk on a very warm April afternoon  In A Subarctic Autism Awareness Day Analogy Shannon proposes a "new and more appropriate geographic autism analogy" in lieu of Emily Perl Kingsley's Welcome to Holland. That essay, Shannon notes, was written for families with children with Down Syndrome; she proposes 

 Welcome to Yellowknife! 

As Shannon writes:

Receiving a child's autism diagnosis is like living in the world's most wonderful city, San Francisco, then being suddenly informed of your family's relocation to Yellowknife, a busy city in Canada's subarctic. Even parents who know only that the subarctic is where the globe turns from green to white are aware it's not a place one lives casually. If you're going to survive the long, dark, fierce winters and bug-ridden summers, you have to be prepared. You have to budget for expensive supplies and services that people in San Francisco never need consider. Yellowknife is also remote — you may find that not all of your former families and friends are able to visit you there.

Living in Yellowknife can be exhilarating, it can by trying, it can be depressing, and it may just fill your soul with light.

I find Shannon's Yellowknife indeed to be a "more appropriate geographic autism analogy." I referenced the Welcome to Holland essay in a pre-autism awareness month post (Yes, We Are the Weird Ones); that essay and Shannon's post got me to think about how much I'm drawn to metaphors of geography and travel and to images of places and spaces in writing about what it's like to be the mother of an autistic son. In an earlier incarnation, this blog was called Autismland, a term coined by Jim to describe to the "country of difference" (another of his wordsmithings) that we've found ourselves journeying through with Charlie.

I like the notion of that journey being in the subarctic climes of Yellowknife, rather than the temperate setting of northern California. San Francisco is great though it always has a bit of an Oz-like quality to me. In Cantonese, San Francisco is Jiow Jin Shan, the Old Gold Mountain and this name, and the Golden Gate Bridge, have always made me think that the city across the bay has something magical, glittering, gleaming about it.

Yes, SF's the city across the bay to me. I was born in Oakland which, even with a newer population of dot-comers and urban farmers, remains a grittier, more workaday kind of place. I haven't lived in California since 1986, when I went to college here in New Jersey, but I like to say that "I'm originally from Oakland." We've moved around a bit, in Missouri (Charlie's place o' birth) and Minnesota (where I got my first tenure-track job), and came back to New Jersey in June of 2001. Jim's a native and Charlie's lived here the longest of the places he's been and I do feel very at home here in the Garden State but still something of a foreigner: I've no Jersey accent to speak of (Jim tells me he still hears traces of "California Valley Girl" though he's fully aware I'm from the northern part of the state). My wardrobe tends towards (very un-Hudson County-like) earth tones with a dash of Berkeley bohemia/natural fibers/handmade and nary a high heel—I don't do malls—and the last time anyone in this household wore make-up was when Jim did his Channel 13-WNET interview. I never can seem to get the phrasing right when ordering a pizza over the phone. And on the rare occasions when I get my hair cut, I'm always the only person not getting highlights or a manicure/pedicure. 

The Garden State is something of a Yellowknife, for me, at least.

One does learn to adapt, by force of circumstance. The two ways in which I've gone beyond myself and approached a bit of Jersey-girl-ness (according to Jim) are: # 1, acute love of the Jersey Shore and the beautiful ocean and #2, decent and ever-expanding ability to drive anywhere and everywhere in New Jersey.

Indeed, forget your images of sun-kissed California girls bronzing on the beach. Many members of my family are not big beach-goers and, too, cannot swim. (I learned in an indoor pool right here in our town, while chasing after Charlie on cold winter nights.) And that golden image of Golden State teenagers cruising around on lazy summer nights? Definitely not me. I got my driver's license after I graduated from high school and never really learned to drive until I finished graduate school, with Jim giving me kindly encouragement. 

But I really learned to drive when I had to take Charlie to this and that doctor an hour away. While I used always have to have my route (every turn, every street) mapped out from A to Z, I was forced to learn how to improvise by scooting onto side streets and local roads when there was a traffic jam on the highway; Charlie prefers to be in motion and better, yes, to be moving with him scanning strange streets than twitching and moaning on finding himself stuck in a stationary car, behind many other such cars.

Yesterday after I picked up Charlie from school, he told me "that way" and pointed right out the parking lot of his school. We headed towards the central Jersey town we used to live in and then, with Charlie pointing me one way, I decided to get creative (and to not end up doing exactly the same route we did twice last week while he was on Spring Break) and took a road that I was pretty sure led to a certain central Jersey college town. I was right, though it took awhile to get there; a call from Jim and the GoogleMaps app on my iPhone assured me that we were headed towards a road I knew. Charlie was starting to look concerned in the back seat but once we were on the highway he got more relaxed. And once we got back on the Garden State Parkway, I for one knew I could always find my way home.

While very glad to be back at school, Charlie has not had a mellifluous re-entry. Being back in school means being back among a lot of other people (students, teachers, therapists, staff) and not just Jim and me; among other voices, sounds, expectations, responsibilities. Again, it's a matter of being now in one place, and then finding oneself in quite a different one, and managing the cognitive dissonance.

Sort of like, perhaps, when (on Monday) I went to an A
sian food store and asked for two
jien duey. The woman at the bakery counter said something in Chinese—Mandarin, Cantonese, I couldn't tell—to me and I could't figure it out at all, or what to say; I can usually at least understand a basic question, if not respond in Chinese. Talking to Jim, I realized that I'd had my ear tuned to hear modern Greek, as that's the language I've been trying to learn. 

Welcome to Yellowknife.

To Autismland.

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Comments
10 Responses to “You. Are. Here.”
  1. emma says:

    May be this is appropriate for your travels? many say it here
    στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη,
    although I know nothing of Greeks and literature
    http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=74&cat=1
    I have the same problem with language sometimes, listening for the wrong thing (also why some people can’t understand my Greek probably)

  2. Jill says:

    Not everyone from New Jersey has a “Jersey” accent. The accent typically identified as “Jersey” seems to originate in Jersey City and the industrial northern part of the state. I grew up in a little town called Rumson, on the Jersey Shore and I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in Hopewell, an even smaller town in mid-Jersey, not far from the Pennsylvania border.
    When I encounter new people they seem surprised that I’m a New Jersey native because I don’t have that nasal quality in my voice nor do I run words together as many Jersey-ites do. I am, however, deeply appreciative of the Atlantic Ocean and pizza from DiLorenzo’s Tomato Pies in Chambersburg.

  3. Joanne says:

    I am from Northern NJ, Beautiful Morris County, but I most recently lived in Hoboken, in Hudson County. I talk like I am from Northern NJ (the 201, as my sister and I refer to it) and not like I am from the 908 or the 609. Those are old area codes and may not apply anymore, but my point is that I do sound like I am from NJ but I do not sound like I am from Jersey City, nor the shore, where people say “fooone” for phone. 🙂 ANYWAY. I am from NJ but live in IN and I am a bit lost, as well. I also live in Autismland, so we have that in common. Although I have always liked the Holland piece, I really like the Yellowknife one, especially the idea that not everyone can visit, because it’s too remote. Thanks for this.

  4. Regina says:

    Having spent time since a toddler hanging around in some of the seedier aspects of SF, I’ve always thought Herb Caen’s old moniker of “Bagdad by the Bay” (though I expect that’s gone out of circulation for obvious reasons) to be more apt than the Beach Boys imagery.
    Shannon did a nice job on that essay, ’cause Yellowtail is a more rugged and diverse environ than Amsterdam, although there’s a couple of angles on that old “Holland” essay I appreciate warmly for centering me when I thought I should be longing for Paris or Milan, and I’m not turning on it now.
    Please (smile), no slams on highlights…I may wear hiking boots, but no one’s taking my highlights.
    I hope Charlie has a better day readjusting back to the BAC and gets a few weeks of routine before another big break. Take care.

  5. Regina says:

    Having spent time since a toddler hanging around in some of the seedier aspects of SF, I’ve always thought Herb Caen’s old moniker of “Bagdad by the Bay” (though I expect that’s gone out of circulation for obvious reasons) to be more apt than the Beach Boys imagery.
    Shannon did a nice job on that essay, ’cause Yellowtail is a more rugged and diverse environ than Amsterdam, although there’s a couple of angles on that old “Holland” essay I appreciate warmly for centering me when I thought I should be longing for Paris or Milan, and I’m not turning on it now.
    Please (smile), no slams on highlights…I may wear hiking boots, but no one’s taking my highlights.
    I hope Charlie has a better day readjusting back to the BAC and gets a few weeks of routine before another big break. Take care.

  6. Regina says:

    Sorry, YellowKNIFE. I was thinking about our shopping list while typing, and also having a senior moment. (“knife…knife”).

  7. Club 166 says:

    Life in Yellowknife can definitely be challenging, but there’s still some gold to be found, and diamonds, too.
    Joe

  8. autismvox says:

    And, of course, if one were an immigrant from China expecting to find streets paved in gold in Old Gold Mountain, one would have been quite wrong….but then one has to work hard to find gold of a different kind…..
    It’s also pointed out to me that I don’t have any accent, California or otherwise.
    ‘Tis me, but no plans of highlights; let the gray hairs come!

  9. Barbara says:

    “One does learn to adapt, by force of circumstance.”
    My Hubby often mentions a book by Robert Heinlin “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Apparently it is a sci-fi classic.

  10. Barbara says:

    “One does learn to adapt, by force of circumstance.”
    My Hubby often mentions a book by Robert Heinlin “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Apparently it is a sci-fi classic.

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