“”Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
I don’t like the seniors’ class motto. Walking next to me is not a friendly act. People do it so we can have a conversation, certainly. But if we’re out in public, I’m trying not to get lost. I don’t have the mental bandwidth to navigate and talk to someone at the same time.
Even worse, people who want to walk beside me often insist on walking on my left-hand side. I don’t notice a lot of things on my left. What they experience as “not looking me in the eye” or “not being friendly,” I experience as “someone’s sneaking up on me.”
When I see the senior class motto on its felt banner at school assemblies, I know I’m being silly. My mother’s voice chides me in my head: “You have NLD and are being literal. It’s not talking about actually leading or following, or walking next to people. It’s a metaphor.” I know it’s a metaphor. That’s why it bothers me.
We have lots of metaphors around navigation, and they assume that everyone’s literal experience of them is the same. The metaphors praise “leadership;” being side by side is associated with equality, following with not being able to think for oneself. And being lost means everything from not existing in some way (“losing one’s mind,” “losing” someone who’s died), to eternal damnation.
I called this blog “Sweet Perdition” for a reason–a simple reason, yet one I haven’t been ready to unpack until now. (I think slowly, and by using lots of words.) The word “perdition”(hell, damnation) comes from the Latin participle perditus, which means “lost.” It lives on in modern Italian (perdere, which still means “to lose” in various senses: everything from a leaky faucet to a missing jacket to someone losing their way.
“Sweet perdition” is pretty much what it sounds like. I have problems with the idea that disabled people are especially blessed or angelic. I like horror movies and video games—things either about Hell, or that media watchdogs see as signs we’re all going there. A lot of scholars don’t think of them as “high art,” (up and down are other navigational concepts that have lots of metaphorical meanings attached to them, as are left and right), but they often reflect societal attitudes in interesting ways. And even when “high art” reflects those things—how disability is used in novels like Heidi or The Secret Garden, for instance—a lot of scholars won’t look at them, either.
I also spend a lot of time being lost. It amuses and annoys me that the English language dumps so many moral meanings onto what for me is a pretty neutral state. This series will examine lostness as a metaphor: what those metaphors mean and why. Hopefully, the series won’t be as heavy as that sentence makes it sound.