Tag Archives: the always outsider

Songs of the Gorilla Nation: a Book Review

Songs of the Gorilla NationSongs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars ★★★★★

I found it almost impossible to review this book straight away, because there aspects of it I strongly dislike and aspects that I find very valuable.

I think it is an important book: It gives a great glimpse into one person’s reality of coming of age with undefined high functioning autism. Most importantly, it describes a strategy for overcoming autistic isolation. Not a cure but a way to kick start the positive feedback loop of social relationships that social learning requires in order to happen.

Dawn is a gifted writer, and the book has brilliant passages and good integrity. Its structure is meaningful, organised into 3 sections:

Part 1. Dawn’s childhood and youth history growing up with undiagnosed autism, knowing something is wrong with her socially, but unable to figure out what it is. She is severely bullied and drops out of school, becomes homeless and hungry, and later finds a way to make a living as an erotic dancer. The roots of her passion for primates is her childhood fascination with ancient humans; and that fascination runs through her life story as a sub-surface theme waiting to unfold.

Part 2: Dawn discovers the gorillas. She is lucky and gets a job in the zoo, and gets more and more involved with the gorilla family. They become her family, and she learns social skills by observing and interacting with them

Part 3: Dawn’s life post-zoo, with the social skills she learned from the gorillas. She establishes a family, works through relationship problems, discovers the name of her condition and gets a diagnosis, gets on meds, and makes her special interest into her study direction and career.
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A Circle of Friends

Many TV series, books and movies feature cute and fun everyday dramas of a circle of friends. For example TV series like Beverly Hill 90210, Friends, Ally, and The Big Bang Theory.

 

 
I’m not sure how realistically they portray how it works, but a circle of friends seems like a common expectation for a normal social life. For me, that expectation has caused a lot of agony in the past which still lurk somewhere in the fringes, saying your life is not good enough.

 
What a Circle of Friends Is

My understanding of a circle of friends is a group of friends who all know each other well and typically have known each other for a long time; so they are a bit like a sort of family but not usually family. They are usually within the same age range and socio-economic segment. They hang out together often, maybe almost every day, in regular rendezvous locations such as a specific sofa set-up in a cafe or shared flat. They have shared habits, rituals and history together and know what to expect from each other.

A circle of friends typically comprises 3 to 8 members, who may not all go perfectly well along. Just like in a family, members have to be tolerant of each other across even seemingly incompatible differences and find diplomatic ways to cope with incompatibilities. Contained friction is OK (and fictive contained friction tends to be hilarious). Open serious conflicts and exclusions are not OK, since that would tear apart the group.

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Lost in Serenity

 
Thanks to Autisticook for sharing the above video track from the movie O’Horten (2007) in response to my review of my favourite movie, Moon 2009. I haven’t seen O’Horten* (in fact I had never heard of it), but I already love it based on the video and her description:

It’s silly and touching and it has some of the same themes about hope and social transformation and things not making sense but in a way they do. And the music just beautifully enhancing all of that.

Austisticook in comment on Memories (someone we’ll never know)

The comparison / similarity to Moon (2009) seems relevant too. Just like I find the musical-visual-philosophical sequences of Moon existentially meaningful and highly addictive, I find the above short video sequence deeply touching too. It hooked me immediately, and have to restrain myself from keep hitting Play to keep experiencing it.

Musically and visually, it taps straight into the pleasure circuits of my brain; and the existential undertones talk directly into my heart; about the tragic beauty of being a live creature, and how it has a deep meaning that can not be captured in words. How the act of staying alive for a while and connecting with the surroundings in any way is a mighty achievement, and a struggle worthy of great patience and compassion.

 

ohorten
Image from Cinema Enthusiast

 
Something about it remind me of my dad too. He doesn’t look like the man in the video at all, and he doesn’t drive a train. He is a retired ship Navigator, and has been sailing container ships most of his life. But it remind me of aspects of his personality and the work life he chose to live:

The serenity. The dependency on routine and predictability; the love of repetition, of familiar rhythm (a train is a perfect symbol of rhythm and predictability). The technology operation role as a work role and a way to belong in a logical, structured, rule-based branch of the world.

The pragmatic attitude to life: like the world is an insanely strange place, but there is nowhere else to be, so act the best you can. Find a corner of it that can be controlled. The unspoken acknowledgement that a human is just a tiny creature on a big planet, that we’re just a brief moment in the passage of time; dinosaurs and all. But that, luckily, we are free to enjoy our moments as long as they last.

 
(The rest are footnotes)
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