(for the proper effect, please imagine the title of this said in a really intense excited voice.)

so like, time agnosia. that. that’s a thing. it’s a thing where you don’t have any sense of how much time is passing, or just any sense of time in general. this is a hard thing for a lot of people to imagine. especially when i try to explain it, because i have really absurdly intense time agnosia. for everything.

to give you an example: there is a bus stop a few blocks away from my house, where i go to catch the bus that takes me downtown. i took that same bus to and from high school all four years, as well as for multiple summers of jobs downtown during college, and i still take it on the way to doctor’s appointments and to get prescriptions filled and to do like 50% of all things that require leaving the house. so i’ve walked this walk from my house to this bus stop like thousands upon thousands of times.

i don’t know how long it takes.


i have a rough estimation system that goes like this: it must be between five and fifteen minutes total, because if it was less than five minutes, i’d always have caught my bus, and if it was more than fifteen minutes i’d have like never caught my bus, and therefore since i catch my bus sometimes but not others, it must take in between those two amounts of time to walk to the bus stop.

this is basically the only estimation tool i possess. it only works for short trips from one location to another, with a deadline.

other than that, i’m at sea.

when someone asks me how much time i need to do something, i cannot honestly answer them, because i don’t know. you might say “well, emma, how long did it take you last time?” to which i’d answer, “i don’t know, and it takes a different amount of time every time…” when someone tells me that they’re going on a trip for X amount of time, i don’t know what that means in terms of how long it will be until i see them again. i have a very, very bad case of the “now or not now” syndrome. i truly can only think in those terms. you might say “emma, if you can’t think of anything other than now or not now, how can you ever wait for things?” and my answer would be “the only way that i can actually ‘wait’ for anything is if i can somehow forget that i’m waiting at all.” you might say “emma, how can you actually do basic daily tasks or plan your life if all you think about is now or not now?” to which i’d reply “when you figure that out, please tell me, because i’d love to know.”

i have no metric, no ruler, no timer, no clock inside of my head. i do, however, have one BADASS metronome in there. my sense of what time means has two metrics: one is kinesthetic, and the other is spatial. rhythms and maps.

my brain records intervals between beats as movements, gestures. repeat the gesture, repeat the movement, and you make the beat. i don’t have to tap my foot to keep tempo, because i can feel my body moving even when it’s not, and my brain is often just feet tapping.

and when it comes to larger intervals of time, like days, weeks, months, years, centuries, so on…things get verrrryyyy spatial. there’s a type of synaesthesia (i’ve read everything reputable that you can get your hands on about synaesthesia, i just don’t feel like talking about it right now, so if you want to have “synaesthesia versus ideasthesia” debates go away i’m tired.) referred to as “time-space synaesthesia” which i imagine a great number of people have to some degree. it’s where you imagine calendar time (months, years, etc) as either two- or three-dimensional spatial maps. for most people, this means like, you know, a year is a circle, the months are bits on the circle, so on, whatever. i have time-space synaesthesia on steroids. i’ve actually never encountered an equally detailed/spatial time-space synaesthete in all my perusing of the scientific literature. the closest parallel is with daniel tammet and numbers. i have no memory of ever understanding time without this exact map. it has been the same since i can remember. it is my only way of understanding where i or anything else is in time. if you want me to think of what day of the week it is, i instantly try to picture where i am on my map. it is time, as far as i’m concerned.

here are some pictures i drew for my psychologist of different scales/perspectives on my time-space map (i’m sorry, i will caption these descriptively later for visually-impaired readers, but they’re complicated and i just don’t have the energy to words that much tonight):

IMG_1409Above: What weeks look like from the front. On the Sunday on the left, you can see where I’ve roughly marked where the times of day show up on the fronts of the days.

IMG_1409 - Version 2

Above: This is why I referred to the “fronts” of days when describing the first picture. That whole week-map thing? It’s actually a three-dimensional spiral, like a ribbon curl that goes around and around. This is a drawing of that ribbon-curl thing. The lower of the two sketches is of how the curliness of the ribbon-curl shape plays into the way time is displayed on each day. The nighttime is the backside of the ribbon, literally the part in the shade that from the front you can’t see. 

IMG_1414Above: This is a picture of what the year looks like to me (on the left) and then how centuries line up (on the right). And yes, the year-map is carefully to scale. That is how long those months look in my head, and exactly where they show up on the oval. And yes, the months do go in counter-clockwise order. No, I don’t know why.


Above: So this is what the centuries look like all lined up (from the front). But remember, they’re in three dimensions, right? So this isn’t just a flat, level image. You have to think about the centuries as if they make up a long, narrow sheet of paper that hangs in space. Some sections of this paper are lower than others, and it can curve over. This is an image of the centuries from above (looking down on the wide flat surface of that sheet of paper, with shading to show how at certain points in time, the paper curves down.

IMG_1413 - Version 2

Above: Now, if you were to look at that sheet of paper made of centuries from the side, this is the change in height/curvature/direction that you would see. I’ve marked the important dates that involve curve or direction changes on there as well. 

the natural

i don’t like developmental narratives.

correction: i hate developmental narratives.

developmental narratives are stories about how things get built. about how people, countries, trees, or ideas, are born, grow up, live, and die. developmental narratives are what teach you how to identify the “age” or “stage” of something based on how it looks, or how it talks, or how big it is, or how it’s organized.

developmental narratives tell you that humans started as hunter-gatherers then progressed into either settled, or nomadic pastoral life–tending, herding and living off of different kinds of livestock–and later developed agriculture, then villages, then towns, then cities, then empires, then star trek and so on. developmental narratives tell you that cultures develop oral language prior to developing a written language, and that children talk before they learn to read, and that your brain is supposed to learn to think more and more abstractly as you grow into an adult, that we all start in a state of unbiased and genuine social innocence that is then lost, progressively, as we become fully social and sexual beings. general knowledge 101. obviously.

it’s easy to write off our knowledge of these narratives as simple factual knowledge, or old introductory lectures we sat through at the start of our school terms. but then someone points out that in a single moment in history, different people can live in different ways simultaneously, in different places around the globe–one might live in a village, while another lives in a major city, and some people still migrate and herd livestock. to which you’d probably reply: “of course! this doesn’t mean that everyone goes through these stages at the same time, just that the stages always occur in the same sequential order. it’s part of the nature of how societies and cultures and language and humans and brains and social skills function; each step can only be built if the step that goes before it is already in place.”

sometimes, we’ll try and subvert the narrative, because we see how it could be used to devalue certain people in favor of valuing others. we’ll talk about how much we can learn from people who are still in stages that precede our own. don’t people who live in those “early stages” show us how much simpler and more genuine life can be? don’t they seem to transcend all that normal social claptrap like it’s not even there, and connect with people on a deep, personal level? isn’t it like they live in a world so much more intense and real than that of normal people, unburdened by all of society’s assumptions and biases and expectations?

there is an extremely famous scientist named alan snyder, who has received numerous awards for work that he believes shows that savant skills are latent in all people, and only emerge in actual savants because the “higher” brain areas that normally over-rule the “lower” areas are not working properly. he does tests where he momentarily inactivates those higher areas in normal people, and sees if they suddenly improve in their ability to draw still lives, or shit like that.

every time i read about this man’s research, i have to stifle the urge to set things on fire.

there is nothing subversive about assuming that all autistic people’s talents and positive qualities result from their inability to “develop” further.

there is nothing subversive about assuming that you could have all those same talents and positive qualities if you just, you know, turned back the clock on your own development.

autistic people learn. and develop. and grow. and expand their horizons. and find new ways of thinking and being and relating. and autistic people do this shit all the time. just like normal people. autistic people have savant skills because we are curious and engaged in our worlds, not because we’re so broken that we’re somehow stuck in the “lower levels” of the brain. why is it that when an autistic person is incredibly empathetic, and genuine when it comes to relating to others, people attribute that to them being somehow naive, or unknowing, or childlike, rather than attributing it to them being simply a kind and compassionate person who dedicates their time to caring for others? why is it easy for people to attribute the positive qualities of autistic people to our supposed immaturity, or incapacity?

i feel the need to help others and live an ethical life because, when you’ve experienced hard stuff and prejudice and exclusion, it often motivates you to try and help other people who experience those things as well. to suggest that i want to help others or live well because i simply am too naive or innocent to know otherwise is to belittle my motivations, and ignore the weight and importance of my choices.

you don’t need to tell us how our being lower than you, or younger than you, or earlier than you, or less than you, is actually positive quality, because we aren’t lower, younger, earlier, or less than you. this is not jurassic park. we are not neuroscience’s own personal dinosaur clones, built as a window into the depths of evolution. when we love, we love because we are human, and when we have talents, we have talents because we are human, and when we learn, we learn because we are human. and if you stopped sitting and waiting for us to “develop” for one damn second, you might finally notice that we’re changing and growing every day…we just aren’t changing and growing into a person like you.

* A note: I am not in any way taking issue with autistic adults who describe their experiences as being more sensory, or more in tune with the natural world, than the experiences of the average adult–I’m one of those autistic adults, for heaven’s sake. My issue is primarily with people who feel the need to justify, or explain this tendency to live in a different world by presuming that autistic people’s experiences are just, you know, what normal people would experience if they hadn’t grown up, or learned to be social, or learned to talk, or reached sexual maturity, or gotten an office job, or whatever the fuck. Like, if a person loves leaves, and collects leaves, and draws leaves, and experiences the world in leaves, is it that hard to believe that they might just be a person that fucking loves leaves? It’s important to examine what it is that makes people need to categorize, like, “people who love leaves” as inherently less developed, or evolved, or mature than themselves. Because it’s gross bullshit.


Me, when I’m probably like two or three, in a swimsuit on the beach. I’m completely by myself, and holding a golf club that’s taller than I am, staring quizzically at a golf ball on the sand that I’m trying to hit with the golf club. This picture is a really great summary of how I feel like a large amount of the time. 

accessible language practice

[Edit: After the great comments I’ve gotten, I think it’s important for me to specify what my goals were in terms of accessibility in writing this, since there are a lot of different pieces that go into language accessibility. I basically am good with two kinds of language: very concrete sensory language, and academic jargon that I am very familiar with (and pop culture references…). I am very, very bad at being general, being concise, or being not-conversational. I am working hard to be better at those kinds of talking, but that’s honestly an access issue for me as well, so I hadn’t considered not-conversational-ness or not-concreteness to be goals when writing this. I apologize for my ignorance concerning the nuances of accessibility beyond my own needs, and I hope that for people with needs more like my own (i.e. concreteness and conversationality) this will be engaging! I am obviously still looking for further comment/advice on other accessibility problems, but wanted to clarify the context of my writing this. Thanks!]

i have to write a paper, and i am nervous about it. and so i figured i’d try and write parts of it other places first, because the alternative formats don’t make me as nervous as trying to “write a paper” big-time-style. and i also want to practice writing things in accessible/comprehensible ways, even when they’re complicated and academic or whatever.

in this essay, i want to discuss a book called “the round house” by louise erdrich, that’s about a family living on a ojibwe reservation in north dakota. and i’m writing about how the different ghosts that appear in this book are not like lots of ghosts that appear in other books about native/indigenous peoples. i’m also writing about how louise erdrich writes about ghosts as a way of talking about white people and how they oppress and take power away from native peoples legally and socially.

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