I communicate from two worlds. The first world is the one I started with. I was born with it. Most of my thoughts are blocks of sensory data. No words, but colors, textures, sounds, smells, shapes, spaces… Which makes it very hard to translate my thoughts for other people. It makes it hard to talk to other people. I know now this world is the world of the “nonverbal thinker”. Dyslexics like me tend to use nonverbal thinking. I don’t know how it works for other people, but most of my thoughts are indescribable.
When my body was a child, I lived in that world of indescribables. I existed inside myself. But I couldn’t communicate. Nothing inside me had a word. It’s gobbledegook. It’s plaster fence airways. Spence pensers. The most I can do to describe myself is throw random words out as they come to me. They never quite fit, and they don’t make sense to other people. Gravity sharks. These feelings are so intense they are everything. There are no words. I am either silent, or I say things that don’t make sense to other people. I learned this is a bad thing, I learned people on the outside don’t like it. They were frustrated by my incomplete, jittery sentences. Seemingly random jumps in thought. And unconventional use of words. I learned that in grade school. They wanted me to talk right.
I had to learn a second language. Or maybe more accurately, I had to learn a language. But let’s call it a second language. Over time I created a second space inside my head that consists only of words. But it’s separate from my natural thought process. It doesn’t connect back to my natural thought process. It’s its own universe. It’s words I don’t really understand. But I learned them, and I can parrot them easily in ways other people like. Like I’m doing right now. When I write prose, it’s like alien writing. I call this second world the sandbox.
Most of my thoughts are blocks of sensory data. No words, but colors, textures, sounds, smells, shapes, spaces… Which makes it very hard to translate my thoughts for other people.
I was almost sent to “special education” classes. Right before I was accepted to the “gifted” classes. My dad told me I’m “either a genius or retarded.” (My dad is an asshole, for the record.) At least, I think he did. I’m not sure about this, it’s really hazy. But I know it. After enough people told me I’m crazy, and after enough people defined me by how they saw my body and not how I felt within it, I taught myself to see me from their perspective. I saw myself from the outside. I started speaking in their language, replacing mine. Starting in 3rd grade I learned the appropriate keywords. I made my first long-term friend. I spent more and more time inside the sandbox. Filling it with more and more sand. Eventually, I forgot there was a world outside the sandbox. I forgot I had an inside. I forgot I had my own language that isn’t words.
The sandbox is full of false knowledge. It’s like how math can perfectly describe things that don’t exist. None of the words describe me. They’re useless. I don’t understand them. I just learned to repeat them. I’m a parrot. A very intelligent parrot, but a parrot. I learned to combine these phrases in ways that make people react how I need them to. But it’s like a poetry generator that just cobbles together lines from existing poems. There is no real originality. Or maybe there is, after the lines become so scrambled that there’s only one original word left on each line. But there are limits. I still don’t understand the poems, even if others find them insightful. I’m just arranging keywords until I get the appropriate reaction out of people. I have built extremely elaborate castles, but the sand stays in the box. The castles can’t leave, and once I leave it’s all just dust.
In preschool I carved a little road, that went down into the sand and then back out again in a straight line. At the bottom apex I poked a little hole on one side, and said it’s a McDonald’s drive-thru. This felt important. I felt secure and reinforced this space in my mind. I don’t know why. I looked out the window to the playground and my inner world filled with green glass walls with geometric patterns in them, hexagram concrete blocks floating in midair, arrays of house roofs, and stories of a guy walking from one to the other. This is how my world functions. And I didn’t understand it. I still don’t. I peer into it from the sandbox and think, “Is this really me? Because if so, I’m crazy. And should probably stay inside the sandbox.” The one without the McDonald’s drive-thru. Because in that story, I’m in a literal sandbox and not the one I’m drawing a metaphor from. No connection intended between the two.
The sandbox is empty, though. Unfulfilling. When I go back into my world, I am alive. I can create. I want to create art. I want to write, even if words elude me. My best poems are not poems. They are diary entries from the real world. Then I take them to the sandbox and pretty them up for audiences. My inner world isn’t my imagination. It isn’t the “mind’s eye”. It is physical. I experience it as being just as real as the outside world. Unless I’m in the sandbox; then it disappears completely. But when I’m there, it is tangible. I don’t draw things I create with my imagination; I draw what I see in front of me. Even when I draw abstract.
I have built extremely elaborate castles, but the sand stays in the box. The castles can’t leave, and once I leave it’s all just dust.
I lived the past decade in the sandbox. I stopped drawing, unless forced to. I got really good at words. Don’t get me wrong, I like words. I like stories. I’m good at them, sometimes. But they’re not my first language. I want to speak my first language again, far away from art degrees and capital-C careers and money and capitalism. I just want to speak my own language again.
Playing Rin’s story in Katawa Shoujo, I remembered this part of me. I envy Rin’s ability to stay inside herself. She never learned a second language, she never learned to see herself from the outside. She never learned appeasement, and certainly not to the extremes I did. If I have any regret, it is learning that second language to sound normal, and adopting it until I forgot my own. Maybe that’ll change, but it’s how I feel right now. I want an inside again.
When I tell people I’m operating at a disadvantage in the “normal” world of jobs and neurotypical people, they have no clue to what extreme. I didn’t even fully appreciate it until now. It is devastating just how wide the gap is between my functionality as myself, and my approximation of normalcy as a parrot. The parrot works overtime to present normal, and by the time we have to hold a 9-to-5 on the outside, there’s no energy left. I can really convince people I have high levels of standard style intelligence. But I am from another planet mimicking the right moves and hoping nobody figures it out.