It’s hard for me to write about Temple Grandin because I usually start welling up with tears at the mere thought of her. I cry just watching the trailer to her movie. I saw her speak the other night and felt my eyes filling up at several points throughout the evening. She was speaking at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and her presentation was very similar to her TED talk, if you’d like an idea:
Please watch this. If you’re anything like me, you will be saying YES YES YES at so many points throughout her talk. I think why I get so emotional over hearing her story and thoughts is how I relate to her. Obviously, I’m not autistic and have in no way braved the type of adversity as Ms. Grandin but I am, like Temple, a visual thinker who struggled with school and various aspects of life due to the fact that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around certain things. I still to this day cannot figure out space and direction. I memorize routes by visual points but I have no idea what direction I’m going in and still get turned around and lost in my own city, especially if it’s dark when I’m leaving some place I arrived at during daylight.
The point is, I spent the first thirty years of my life convinced that I was stupid. All because I was presented with examples of intelligent minds and how they functioned, unable to relate to a single one. The fact that I was compelled to play with dead animals didn’t help things. Thankfully I was equipped with an abundance of social awareness and empathy which gave me the ability to charm, feign wit, and feel out even the subtlest of social cues so I could “play the game” and interact with other people even when it was painful to do so. Don’t get me wrong; I love connecting with people. It brings tremendous joy and meaning to my life when a real connection is struck. It’s just that there are many, many social situations where I feel everyone is speaking a language i don’t understand and I have to smile and nod because I can’t relate in any way to what’s going on.
What I’m expressing isn’t that unique; I realise now that I’ve become comfortably enmeshed in a community of like-minded thinkers, that I’m not at all strange, and that there are in fact, many different kinds of minds. All different but none less. That’s part of what’s so important about this talk that Temple gives. Kids need to hear this. They need to be encouraged. I was fortunate enough to have parents who indulged my artistic whims and let me dress in outfits that made absolutely no sense in the context of 4th grade playgrounds. Most children aren’t that fortunate however, which is an absolute shame. There are some truly truly outstanding minds in this country and our education system isn’t nourishing them.
Maybe if the world could cast aside its hangups about the little boy who likes to paint his nails pink , or the shy middle-aged woman who enjoys spending all her time finding ways to communicate with extraterrestrials, maybe if everyone (you and me) could just ONCE have their whims indulged, the world could take a collective deep breath and sigh it out in contented relief. After all, these thoughts and desires we all have are real, and come from a real place. You can’t discount that. Somehow shame crashed the party and stuck on all of us like foul smelling plaque.
What touches me most about Tenple Grandin is that she appears untouched by shame. She just does what she does and if you think she’s weird, then fine. She could not care less. It doesn’t matter what you think because she is fulfilling her destiny.
I made her this brooch because I know she wears those colorful Western shirts and thought this would be a nice accent. It’s very soft and feminine though, which I am not sure is her taste. I gave it to her, in a box, after I saw her speak on Tuesday night. She put it aside on her book signing table (thank goodness, I feel so awkward when someone opens a gift in front of me when they’re in front of an audience) and for all I know it’s still in that box. She said thank you, asked what I was, and I said “artist.” I shook her hand and as I was walking away she said “What kind of artist?:
“Taxidermist,” I replied.
“Oh. OK.” she said as she turned to the next person in line.
She is completely unfettered by the social expectations most other people would feel compelled to adhere to like smiling, nodding, inserting witty statement here, etc. And I love her for it.
I don’t even feel like talking about the brooch, who cares. I got to look Temple Grandin in the eye and shake her hand.
I hope the world makes more like her.