Progress, not Perfection

Hi again.

As promised, an update on the book. Or booklet, really – it’s not very long. I’m quite happy to be able to say that I’m done with a first rough draft. More stories are definitely still welcome, and I hope some more trickle in for the next couple of drafts, but the basic outline is done!

The process was surprisingly emotional, even though I have not yet figured out what kind of emotion. If I ever write a book again, however, I’ll write a fantasy novel or something like that; that ought to be easier than to write on something that a) I am living through and b) has so much potential for saying something completely wrong.

The title of this blog refers to that  – a friend of mine used this as a nickname long ago and it’s how I learned of this expression. It’s what I’m keeping in mind in writing: that I’m seeking to make progress, and perfection is, has to be, still a long way off. I don’t have to get there. That’s not my responsibility, or at least, not mine alone. Making a tiny bit of progress is good enough.

So – again – I’ll invite adults with autism in the Orthodox Church to share their experiences and stories for this book (all contributions will be anonymous, of course, never fear) and I hope in the end I’ll be able to say I’ve helped make a little bit of progress.

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Progress, not Perfection

  1. I saw you at a few other places around the net lately and my godmother also sent me a link to one of your older posts, so I thought I’d post and say hello. Indeed, there are not many references for adults on the autism spectrum in Orthodoxy. However, I am not sure how much of a problem that is. As I wrote to my godmother:

    “…we just experience some aspects of creation more forcefully and/or differently: the same motions, actions, hymns, incense, candles, head coverings, standing, crossing, and the rest will benefit us just as much (albeit maybe in a different order or with different emphases). There are no loud noises, no bright lights, people don’t feel the need to be effusively friendly to and practically attack newcomers (besides some converts who bring that modernistic, ‘all happy/bubbly/social, all the time’ tendency with them), all the icons have names with the faces (and the main ones are practically always in the same place in every church), and the rituals actually make deep sense (neurotypicals probably find them as strange as autistic people do uncomfortable, so everyone’s probably even on that one). Beginning (and safely balancing) prayer and fasting and all the new doctrines can be a bit daunting at first but, once they become ingrained and habitual, an autistic person is ‘over the hump’ and will probably do much better with them, long-term: you won’t get as many crazy statements like ‘I don’t feel like praying today’ or ‘I don’t want to fast this time’ because, darn it, you can’t change the ritual!”

    I think that as people get to know us (and this requires opening up about how we feel and what behaviors/situations/ideas can cause us the most overstimulation), things get easier. Yet that is the same for everyone: the process may look a little different than with neurotypicals, but it still requires us being honest (without being too blunt or overbearing) and others being accepting (without being patronizing). It involves real, personal relationship. And it involves us taking up our own cross everyday.

    Having said that, I think the booklet is a good idea, but maybe not for the reason that a modern might think. I know that I tend to very deeply think and obsess over, write about, and create websites (even if they’re only private, local ones) about topics that interest me; studying things inside out and becoming comfortable enough to teach them (as per the adage “you never really know something until you can explain it to [someone else/a child/your grandmother/etc.]”) provides us with some combination of ownership, mental comfort, security, and an illusion of control. So I know writing a book can be very cathartic. But words have a way of living on their own, leaving the familiar and taken-for-granted frameworks in our own mind and being taken out of context, misused, or just plain misunderstood. To take one’s ideas and release them on their own, permanently to the whole world, is a very different thing than writing. I have always been interested in releasing my own work out of an act of love (and making it public domain, etc.) but I think, in a lot of cases, it may have been more loving for me not to! I have no idea how your own work is coming along or how it will be received, but don’t conflate writing a book with releasing it. I have done that (and regretted it) too many times to count. Perhaps you will end up doing it and perhaps it will be, by The Grace Of God, a good book, but take all the cautions necessary to ensure that: pray, fast, give alms (especially to those who will misuse them and never repay and/or thank you), live the Orthodox life, get advice from serious Orthodox Christians, and do not make the book an end in itself.

    God always works things out, for both autistics and neurotypicals, and He will ensure that any given autistic is helped. We cannot force His hand in any way here, either doing a “better” job or reaching someone He could not. All we can do is cooperate, participate in that Divine Action, but that involves us surrendering to Him and His Plan, not “making progress”, “doing better”, or some other thing! We can’t “make” someone be saved and we have no power to “make a difference” (or know if we have). One of the greatest books in Orthodoxy (and which we just commemorated), The Ladder Of Divine Ascent, was written very grudgingly—St. John Climacus didn’t want to do it, but was asked and given Grace to. And The Philokalia, for another example, is not the compiler’s opinion and analysis and footnotes on various fathers but simply the words of those fathers, direct from the fathers to the reader. And The Bible itself was simply a collection of books and epistles that a lot of local churches read and found both helpful and inspired; the Holy Spirit worked just as much through the Church’s interpretation and discernment as any individual’s writing. (As you know, there is no Bible outside of The Church and The Church’s reading, if you want to get very technical; the Pharisees, Sadducees, and even St. Paul tried to do it that way, but it only ending up with them crucifying the very God they thought they were serving, The God Of The Universe, and persecuting The Church!) There is none of this modernistic “express yourself” nonsense going on in any of those works and the writers had no plan to “make a difference”. I am not saying that that is where you’re coming from (I don’t know), but just be careful. Most writing on Orthodoxy (and writing in general these days) is not worth the paper or digital storage it is written on; it seems to be a source of mass distraction and drowning out the really beautiful works. That hurts everyone and the authors will have to answer for that: teachers are judged more harshly, and woe to the writers who churn out page after page of trash and fluff, even Orthodox-sounding fluff, to distract Christians from Reality. I know that weighs on me; I have put stuff out there that, while [usually] “theologically correct”, has no other purpose (if I am honest) than to serve me (or “the world”, which is almost always a modern delusion that boils down to the self as well—it is easy to serve “humanity” (a disguise for me) but hard to serve humans (actual others)) and draw attention to my false self-image, not God. And I do not want you (and your work) to fall into the same trap. My apologies if this is too blunt or seems like a personal attack; as you’re not a neurotypical, I think you’ll understand that I genuinely care and hope for the best for you and your project but do not want you to fall into these traps. They are very subtle, perhaps moreso for us because we don’t see relationships the same way and can get wrapped up in objects, systems, and ideas far more easily and deeply. Check out these 3 posts from Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog, Glory To God For All Things: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/12/01/you-cant-make-a-difference/ , http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/12/08/brief-notes-on-the-kingdom-you-are-not-advancing-it/ , and http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/12/14/modern-illusions/ . (I saw you there before, so that is good! His blog is one of only *2* on Orthodoxy on the entire internet that I consider worth following *at all*, such is the state of Orthodox “writing” these days.)

    Now, if all that and the blog posts made any bit of sense and you still feel that God is leading you through these pitfalls and guiding you towards a book, I would be happy to help. I am not sure how I can give you my specifically “autistic experiences” (I don’t know any other kind) or, probably more what you’re after, those experiences which differ from the neurotypicals’s (again, I don’t know firsthand; I can try to guess from all I have read through my life, but many writers are not the most self-aware or self-honest people and the really powerful writers often have severe mental diseases themselves that make their experiences atypical, too), but I will pray about it. Feel free to send me an e-mail if you want to chat some more. May God guide you, guard you, and bless you!

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    1. Hi,

      well, let me reassure you – I have some very wise and sensible people looking over my shoulder as I write, that I’ve particularly asked to keep me from heresy 🙂

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