Monday, February 6, 2012
The BZ and Miriam Wedding Skit
Aspergers are often accused of suffering from "mind blindness" and lacking a "theory of mind," a notion that other people think differently. I see this as a more general problem with the human mind. Aspergers, having the misfortune of being born with minds that are more different than most, simply are likely to reach a crisis moment in their mind blindness far sooner than most. It is possible for the neurotypical mind to spend a lifetime with neurotypicals of similar economic and social class and of the same creed and never realize that in fact other people are different. It is easy to intellectually say the words "everyone is different," but to, at a subconscious level, believe it requires work. A simple test to see if you suffer from mind blindness is to ask yourself if you believe that you are capable of forming empathetic links with others. If you do so despite the fact that human beings lack the means of engaging in telepathic communication then you need help not just for mind blindness, but for a general lack of consistent rationalist thinking. If you recognize that your sense of other people's feelings is merely your fantasy of what other people might be feeling, albeit a socially useful fantasy, then you can congratulate yourself for your hard won rationalism in the face of societal superstition. (See Neurotypical Menetal and Emotional Handicaps.)
I believe that everyone, Aspergers and neurotypicals, needs to work on their theory of mind skills. In addition to having logical and scientific reasoning integrated into one's daily life, another helpful method I have found is theater. In this I must admit a debt of gratitude to Dr. Anthony Beukas of the Yeshiva College Dramatics Society, from whom I learned this. There is something to be said about spending weeks and months in someone else's mind. You walk into the theater, from the moment you are first handed a script to the final curtain, you are someone else. Being a good actor does not just mean memorizing lines and blocking. The character needs to be a "real" person to you with a complete history full of thoughts, desires and motives that go beyond the script and inform every line spoken and every glance. To do this properly requires one to recognize and accept that the character being played is fundamentally different from oneself. One needs to take a step back and allow oneself to fade into the background to allow the character to come into existence as a true person.
Despite the fact that Miriam and I both are Aspergers, we are both different people with different interests and ways of reacting to the world. What being Aspergers gives us is a sense of being different from others and a recognition of a common set of developed survival mechanisms. For example Miriam is much more socially outgoing than I am, much better at starting conversations and making friends. Meeting Miriam forces you to discard the stereotypes of Aspergers as cold and anti-social; she is anything but that. While our outward methods of social interaction are different, we both consciously work from a mental checklist of lines to deliver to people. In a way social interaction for us is just another type of theater in which you play a part. Above all else what we have in common is that we both learned a long time ago that the only way we were going to survive navigating through society is if we verbally explained our thoughts to others, instead of just imagining they would intuitively understand us, and had others verbally explain their thought to us, instead of imagining we could intuitively understand them. Miriam and I have a good relationship and understand each other fairly well not because we are so much alike, but because we are good at talking to each other, particularly about our differences.
Drawing from my theater experience, little game that I invented for us, as a means of thinking about our relationship and explaining how we relate to each other to others, is the BZ and Miriam skit. I play her and she plays me. She tends to play BZ as dour with a penchant for monologuing. I tend to play Miriam as jumpy and ecstatic with a touch more common sense than BZ. When we first gave a public performance of a BZ and Miriam skit at the kiddish her parents sponsored in our honor, BZ ended up lecturing the audience on the differences between ritual murder and blood libel charges with Miriam asking him if this made him happy and if he could please do the dishes while he talked.
Here is the BZ and Miriam skit from our wedding on October 30, 2011. For some reason I failed to notice that the wedding was scheduled at the same time as the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the New England Patriots. Even more mysterious is the fact that the sizable contingent of Steeler fans in my family came to the wedding and missed what was probably the highlight of the Steeler season. (Congratulation to New York Giant fans on beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl.)