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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Monday, September 24, 2007


Life is a Circus

Adam went to the circus. Cirque du Soleil, that is. Kooza – a story of the innocent, “a naïve but charming clown striving to find his own place in the world. Between strength, fragility, laughter and chills, and turmoil and harmony, the show explores the themes of fear, identity, recognition and power.” I read the program afterwards. I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil and relish the chance when Henry wants to go to Vegas just so I can catch the latest show. The last time I saw O, I knew this was for and all about Adam. For Cirque is about capturing the greatest human attributes of all – imagination and spirit.

Adam was glued to Kooza, which is currently showing in Toronto. Music, optics and contortionists all mesmerized him so much so, he was throwing objects in the air when he came home as if he was trying to juggle, just like a fellow did on stage.

But more than that, all of our human struggles are encapsulated in this marriage of art, multi-media, music and movement – good versus evil, the nature of being human and in Kooza, of innocence. The clown begins flying his kite. I have a picture I cherish of Adam watching a kite fly on the beach, a symbol of our dreams and the scope of our imagination. Adam peers at it flying high above him in the sky – an emblem that we all have something we look up to and aspire towards.

As I reflect two years after I started blogging and even calling this blog the Joy of Autism, I am content, because it is about capturing, or at least trying to capture this innocence, this spirit that is within all of us. As parents, we understand the possibilities that abound for our children despite their innocence and limitations. Our creativity and imagination can render the possibilities, boundless.

In talking about imagination, I am reminded of the Grimm fairy tale, The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear. The father abolishes the young “stupid” one, saying “there is no hope for you.” All the boy wants to learn is how to shudder, as he does not understand fear, while the father tries to teach him more practical things. Since, according to his father, the boy cannot learn, he is expelled from his family home. The boy vows he will make a living from learning how to shudder. He comes across a man who challenges him to go the haunted castle where he could learn how to shudder if he would just keep watch there for three nights. The king promises that whoever would dare do this could have his daughter in marriage and would have the treasure that is guarded by the evil spirits. Many men had entered, but no one had come out of the castle.

It is a macabre story, as the boy bowls with skeletons and exhibits empathy by trying to keep his dead cousin warm. He confronts evil and defeats it, thus winning the treasure and the king’s daughter. But he still complains that he has not yet learned how to shudder. Ironically, the wife pours a bucketful of minnows on the boy during his sleep and he wakes up crying out, “Oh, what is making me shudder, dear wife? Yes I know how to shudder.”

When I read this story, I not only marvel in the bravery of the boy, but also in how the father underestimates him. It is also notable that the boy is also a literal learner, that he only learns how to shudder in the most simple and kinesthetic way (perhaps what is obvious is not what is the first thing we teach). It is laughable that he learns fear only through his wife (this is the interpretation I've read), but to me the point of the story is in how the boy was written-off by his family, and later succeeded by his seemingly purposeless and unprofitable quest, from which he ultimately profits in the end. I am not a fairy tale or Grimm expert, but I would love to hear of any other interpretations of the story.

My interpretation is that it is about what we can imagine. Limitations can still prove to be limitless. I just hope I can be the kind of parent that can continue to nurture Adam’s uniqueness and imagination, despite my own limitations. For all of life is a circus, a stage, and we all have a special role within it.


Anonymous -Brian- said...

Years ago, when I was young, I took such statements as "...all of life is a circus, a stage.." literally. Even the classroom was part of life, and therefore, was part of the circus; I saw no need to be "quiet" just because I was told to be quiet--after all, this was part of the "circus".

Even my parents, particularly my mother, told me that I took things "far too literally". I had no other way to take them, as I could only understand people who said what they meant and meant what they said. Anything else was just in the realm of the unknown, and no one could prove to me that a certain "interpretation" of a "metaphor" is what the author of anything from a phrase to a book had in mind when that author wrote those words. No wonder I was at a loss in English literature, as I could never get the "feelings" of the teacher in his/her interpretation of the book/article/poem being studied, and when I tried to express my own feelings, I was simply told that what I stated was "wrong", period.

I'm not sure how it is in literature these days, but I do hope that no matter how "different" a pupil's version of a book/article/story/poem is from the instructor's, that this pupil will get all the marks for being "different", and unique, rather than the instructor treating anything "different" from his/her own interpretation as being "wrong". How can imagination, itself, be "wrong"?

Sometimes, when I do express my imagination, others react with horror, asking me, "How on earth could you think that way!!!" They just do not understand that imagination, itself, is boundless, and beyond any moral attributes.

6:38 PM  
Blogger kristina said...

Lovely images----and a show I more than hope to take Charlie to someday!

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Elissa said...

Wouldn't the world be a wonderful place if we could all nurture uniqueness and imagination - and may we all find our special role in the circus!

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My interpretation of the story is that as parents we forget what is most important in life and that success can never be measured by what is obviously seen. To have fear limits every possible venue for success in life. When the wife pours a bucketful of water with minnows on the back of the grown boy he learns to shudder. How inconsequential to real courage and fortitude that are not easily understood.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Casdok said...

You sound like just thje parent who is able to do that.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous farmwifetwo said...

Went to meet the teacher last night. My son's teacher doesn't like standardized testing. His comment was "we all have our strengths and our weaknesses and standardized testing doesn't show our strengths". I'm not worried about the Gr 3 testing... but I liked his views on learning.

I'm going to like this teacher. My son has since the first day.


1:46 PM  
Blogger Arwin said...

Hi! I came across your site and I just wanted to double check that I could list you as one of my favorite blogs! I just started a blog on Autism (reviewing journal articles as well as news articles) and I was hoping you could put a link to mine on your site as well.

Thank you!
Tiffany Szymanski

9:15 PM  
Blogger farmwifetwo said...

Do you know what the presentation/workshop involves, that is being presented by the Geneva Institute to all the VP's, EA's etc across the province??

My VP and EA go tomorrow during the PD day.


4:48 PM  

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