My teacher says that writing too much is a good problem to have. “Most people,” she tells me, “have to flesh out their ideas. That’s much harder than having to cut things out.” She doesn’t understand why I can’t just do it, and I, at fourteen, am no help. It will be years before I go to conferences and see other people with my diagnosis freeze when asked to summarize things. It will be even longer before I realize what my having a “good problem” really means.
I am the break from all the other students, the ones who make teachers think about doing their jobs. Junior high English teachers liked having me in their classes because “I don’t have to worry about you.” A science teacher once told my mom that she often forgot I was there, and meant it as a compliment. When they find out I’m not the student they wanted, I am the lemon and the shady used-car dealer that sold it to them. “The only reason you get As in English and Cs in math,” my third-grade teacher tells me, “is because you’re lazy.” (She tells another girl that she is stupid. “Don’t you know how to read?” It is the girl’s fault for sullying her class with her imperfection, for being nine years old. It’s not the fault of the registrar, who meant for her to go into the slower reading class but put her in the advanced class on accident).
Crap. I’m lost in my own hedge maze of words again. Hang on.
My teacher was right. Language problems like mine were indeedgood to have–for her. She didn’t have to help me flesh out my ideas; perhaps wished she would’ve had such a problem in her own writing. Her attempts to get me to see how good I had things had nothing to do with me or with any of the other students whom I was supposed to see as “worse off” than me. It had to do with her. My types of problems with writing aren’t better or worse than anyone else’s; sometimes they are just different than what someone else expects. The same is true of any needs any of us have: they might be different, they might even be more or less compared with someone else’s, in certain areas or in general. But they are not better or worse.
I once wrote something about how my impairments and skill set mesh with the sorts of video games I like to play; bemusingly, several gaming websites picked it up. Most bemusingly, WanderingGoblin introduced the piece this way:
For those that are feeling especially bad about themselves right now; maybe you lost $20, locked your keys in the car, you’re living in your parents basement or had to pay a ton of dough to get your dog out of dog jail because he ran away for the 17th time, this story is for you.
“Wait,” I thought. “I have days like that.” Having a disability doesn’t magically keep you from sleeping through your alarm clock or prevent your dog from digging in the cats’ litterbox or protect you from a power outage in the middle of the final-final-final boss fight in a Square-Enix game. And in my experience, it does not make those things suck any less. The flaw in this type of logic, this “putting things in perspective,” is that the people you think are “worse off” than you may not be.
“At least I’m not as bad off as __” thinking is a selfish act. It is the Oppression Olympics in a different form, turns people into stepping-stones on one’s journey to spiritual enlightenment. You don’t exist to make me feel better about myself. Yes, society privileges certain types of people and oppresses others. No, I cannot pretend to understand to understand what lives without my privileges (some of which fit into subtle hierarchies) are like. Still, telling someone who is not privileged in ways I am: “At least I’m not as bad off as you!” is not helpful, not insightful, and not true.