What’s at Stake?

I met with my thesis director this week.  She was generous enough to read everything I had written on the the thesis to date.  As I put it to another professor when describing my progress, “I have 12,000 words.  They might not make sense in that order, but there are words.”  Not the most convincing statement of my competence, I know.  It almost goes without saying that a paper that long and still only a little over halfway finished is pretty rough.  Some days I write like it’s an Olympic sprint, desperately trying translate as many thoughts into words as possible.  Other times it’s quite painstaking, taking much deliberation to get through a sentence.  I get distracted pretty easily, jumping from one section of the thesis to another (on a related note: this post has been in progress for several days).  I’ve learned that it’s better to write what I feel like writing on a particular day and trust that I’ll come back to fill the gaps later.  Thus my thesis so far is a disjointed mishmash of ideas.

My thesis director pointed out that I didn’t really have a strong argument yet.  She said she wouldn’t pressure me to write a traditional thesis statement (which I appreciated, because in my opinion, once you’re past the first one or two college writing courses, a formal thesis statement seems becomes too simplistically frail to carry the weight of dense writing).  Instead of asking me what the thesis of my thesis was, she framed the question differently: “What’s at stake?”  In other words, why does this matter?  Why do you care?  Why should others care?  It’s my new favorite way to make sure I’m clear about my intention when writing.  The answer doesn’t appear right away, but when it does emerge, I want to make sure I’m asking the right questions to be attuned.

When I write about being autistic, what’s at stake?  I hope that I can share my experiences with people and ultimately offer some understanding of what it’s like to be autistic.  I find a deeper self-expression than I do during most conversations, share bits of myself that usually stay hidden.  I want to provide a narrative of what it’s like to be involved in anthropology from a frequently unexpressed perspective.

When I call myself autistic, what’s at stake?  It’s an identity, a framework that allows me to interpret my experiences.  Knowing that I’m autistic matters to me.  It offers some explanation for why things don’t always seem to click for me the same way they do for other people.  Or for why I get things that sometimes other people just don’t.  It’s easier to navigate life knowing that I’m autistic than to be left wondering what’s going on.  Trust me, the diagnosis is a relief.

There are potential pitfalls here.  Sometimes I worry that I’m sharing a limited view of myself, one that emphasizes differences and separateness.  It’s a fine line to walk, because I do want to talk about difference.  And I do move through life differently.  Being autistic is a difference that matters.  But ultimately, what’s at stake is the chance to talk about difference within this human experience we all share.  I don’t have the answer as to how exactly to treat difference, but I do have hope that it will unfold and take form throughout this writing project.


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