I have had moments of self-recognition prompted by the sharing of someone else’s experience, just like Katherine May, the author of The Electricity of Every Living Thing. While hers came as she listened to an interview on the radio, mine came when reading an autobiography – Someone Somewhere, I think (by Donna Williams). But the recognition was the same, in that that we both identified with another who described their life and personhood as an autistic.

Even so, I am reluctant to self-identify as autistic because just like Donna Williams I feel deeply that I have outgrown so many of my neurological differences.1 I have had several experiences of coming out of the dark, into the light, in retrospect and in real time. It was this aspect of Somebody Somewhere – the attainment of self – that especially resonated. I cried in waves while reading it; it was cathartic to acknowledge, name the pain and especially to see it as past, to let it go. This reading was not the only discovery of my emergence, there have been many more. Awarenesses surface periodically, like epiphanies: I am not lonely anymore, I can enjoy a party, I can genuinely like other people, anxiety is mostly absent. In fact, I feel so normal now that my preferred self label is the Meyer-Briggs Indicator INTJ, which I find more resonant and satisfying in its holism. But Katherine May reminds me that I still function/run/operate in a different place – a different space-time if you will. Which overlaps and intersects and resonates with the neurotypical world in many ways, increasingly. But not 100%, not congruently, not yet.

The title of May’s book drew me to it. It was included in an article she wrote for Aeon (more about that later), offered by my RSS feed. I was curious and compelled by the title’s words – electricity of every living thing – because I too sense a great electricity, an energy from every aspect of the natural world. It turns out her experience of living-being electricity is different and more negative, but for me I cannot be in nature without resonating in its thrum.

I rarely resonate with people though, alive as they may be. May relates this common fact of us plainly and openly, describing the excruciating unease/discomfort/boredom/irritation/frustration she feels in the company of her child, whom she loves beyond words. Omg, yes … the last place I ever want to be is in a child’s world.

May wrote her book because she felt that autistics were misrepresented in general culture, especially in print – like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which she takes special issue with – because we autistics are being written about by others. Neurotypical others. Who get it wrong, because they are outside looking in. She feels one result is that autism (and Asperger syndrome) is now a meme, a trivializing go-to explanation for every and any social difference neurotypicals encounter. Her book is another attempt to tell our stories, in all their individuality, from the inside out. As is this issue of MUSE.

I found The Curious Incident more satisfying and truthful and helpful than May did, if only for the reason that it is a bridge between the typical and atypical worlds. I feel it fosters acceptance. And I found many of Christopher’s traits and experiences familiar. I could relate, not only from my personhood, but from that of the person closest to me, my husband Bruce.

Bruce is neurologically atypical too, a fact I first became conscious of while watching an episode of the television show Ally McBeal. In this episode a very, very capable attorney is denied partnership because he shuns the social situations and protocols expected of corporate leaders – schmoozing, glad-handing, ranking on others, assertive (aggressive?) self- and company promotion etc. His worth to the firm as a scholar and researcher and expert legal reasoner is recognized, but the office culture just can’t get over itself enough to appropriately value and validate him. I always felt Bruce was professionally under-appreciated, but I only made the autism connection as I recognized a tic common to him and the character – thigh-patting. My heart nearly broke on Bruce’s account as I felt the lawyer’s isolation, loneliness, and invisibility. We talked about the episode a bit, and there was a new awareness and comfort between us, but no real insight about ourselves, or each other. That only happened after I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

I had found the book in Hamburg, Germany in the most unlikely of places – among a pile of architecture books in a condemned building squat – and I picked it up to read because there was just nothing else around that offered me a temporary mental break or escape from the immersive live-in community design workshop I was attending. While the other participants were out clubbing and socializing, I turned to the book. Within the first few pages I was in tears, pulsing with every thing Christopher experienced and felt, on Bruce’s behalf and my own. Later that summer, at home, we read it aloud to each other one night in bed, taking turns and exclaiming “omg that’s you omg that’s YOU omg that’s me.”

Omg. It is the two of us.

And it’s OK. We found each other, and have made a place in the world where we are happy and comfortable in ourselves.

We hope you can be, too.


  1. maybe in part to my rigorous gluten-free diet (necessitated by celiac disease)? See the link to an interesting article about mental illness and immune system/gut biotics in News and Notes.
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