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Literally?

Literally? Figuratively? Rhetorically? When it comes to 'lys' there are lots and they all have their attractions. For me, though, Literally is the one I am drawn to the most. Literally gets me and I get Literally. We know where we're both coming from.

I have this problem with other 'lys'. They always seem to be trying to catch me out and make me look stupid. You can be having a nice chat with someone and they tell you something shocking. You react and they laugh - they didn't mean it literally! You laugh too, most of the time. Just sometimes, you feel hurt. Not by them, don't get me wrong. They hardly ever mean it unkindly. By yourself. Hurt by yourself - again.

Why can't I tell when someone is being rhetorical? Why can't I tell the difference? I mean, I can do most things in life; I don't need looking after. I function as an almost-normal human bean, for heaven's sake! And I'm not so literal that I don't know the difference between being told to take a running jump and actually doing it.


The problem is, I'm just literal enough to make life difficult. It all comes down to belief.

If someone tells you something outrageous, like they want you to go jump off a cliff, you can tell it's a cliche, and is not (usually) meant literally. Sometimes what they say can be audacious and so you train yourself to question it. As a child, you don't have the audacity filter though.

As a child, if someone had told me to jump off a cliff, I would have refused but I would suspect they really wanted me to do it. But other, slightly less audacious things, got right past me.

I had an auntie who was always on a diet. She told me once, in all seriousness (I thought) that when she was really ready to lose weight, she would come to our house and live in a cage in our living room, and I could feed her food through the bars, so that she could never over-eat. Yes, it was a joke and also a descriptive way of telling me she thought it was almost impossible to lose weight.

I spent weeks, if not months, asking her when she was coming to live at our house in the cage. Eventually, my mother told me my auntie hadn't meant it. I was flabbergasted! So, why did she say it? I asked. It was a joke, I was told.

Then, you relay the idea of a joke past yourself a few times. I was only 8 but I knew a joke was meant to be funny and when something is funny, you laugh. I remembered my auntie laughing every time I asked her when she was going to live in the cage - so I realised then that she had found the joke funny. I also realised I hadn't, because it hadn't been a joke to me. I was upset about it. I was also annoyed - how in heck was she ever going to lose weight then? Did she not care about it anymore? (You see, even though the cage idea had been a joke, it still hadn't occurred to me there was any other way for my auntie to lose weight as she told me she had tried Everything).

It's at this point that we aspies, girls or boys, start to distrust humour. When jokes and laughings and happy hilarity enjoyed by others has tripped us and made us fall flat on our faces (sometimes literally, school is a cruel place), you start to think you don't like jokes. I actually still don't like jokes. I LOVE humour and comedy, I love subtle innuendo and slapstick. And I like puns, because they're using words I know in a different way, so you know they're not going to bite you on the bum. I don't like the kind of joke that pretends to be real, though.

I guess what I really don't like is the joke being at my expense. Not in the way of friends teasing you, or laughing when the cat eats your chicken - all that is fine. But not when your aspie-ness has reared its head, yet again, and singled you out as a joke-free zone.

I think the real problem is, when being literal and being truthful, all blend together with how people present themselves. An aspergers adult presents themselves they way they have learned is best for the world to understand them, not shout at them, not prod them with sticks and not question their sanity.

It's other adults I have most problems with. Most people, kind or unkind, don't say what they mean. I do wish they would. I much prefer grumpy sour-pusses who spit out the truth, than smiling assassins who act as if they're your friend, speak as if they are and pretend an interest in you, then drop you as soon as they feel like it. If you are in dire need and your life is spiraling out of sight into the toilet bowl, it's always the grumpy sour-pusses who turn up at your door with a pot roast and that all-important question: Tell me what you need.

Not to worry, though, as making and keeping friends is something an aspergers person can be good at - in the longer term. In the short term, our awkward way with strangers and our easy way of accidentally insulting people, can lose us the type of people who value the way something is said, rather than the meaning behind the words.

In the longer term, our stable of friends tends to consist of the kinder, more accepting types who make the world a better place, as well as the grumpy sour-pusses who exclaim 'What do you mean, fat?!' when we've said the wrong thing, so it all gets straightened out.

And then there are the other aspies. Yes, you know who you are. How easy it is to be friends with an aspie. They may get the wrong end of the stick and feel briefly insulted sometimes, but then they doubt themselves, replay it and decide we probably meant something else. Or they ask you to say exactly what you mean - that is so useful! Also, other aspies have been dealt many unkindnesses and so they tend to want to be nice to other people, as they know how it feels to be hurt by those words spoken flippantly by the general normality.

Literally, it can be hard to make friends and influence people. We're not so much separated by a common language as by a common misconception, that all humans are basically the same. Actually, we're not, on any level, be it literally, philosophically or even genetically. We may come from the same dna sample dropped into Mother Nature's green-goo-stew, but that's where it ends.

And believe me when I say, it's good to be different. Just, for heaven's sake, say what you mean!

Amanda




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