Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"God's Girl"

An absolutely amazing speech given in Australia in 2008 by Gianna Jessen, the survivor of a late-term abortion.  The second part of her speech is also on Youtube.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Suffering World

I have been pondering the place of suffering in the Christian life a great deal lately, as I have been experiencing suffering myself with more intensity than usual.  How is it that Saint Paul can exhort believers to "rejoice always," when Christ has commanded us to take up the cross?  Christ Himself by no means rejoiced on the road to Calvary, after all.  I try to offer my own suffering for either the general or the specific needs of others, and I wish fiercely that I might be allowed to know that this offering is efficacious; not knowing causes me to grieve more, in what seems like an endless cycle.

I found this blog today.  It is written by a doctoral student in classics at Oxford, and beautifully explains theodicy, the paradoxical permission of suffering by God, who is nonetheless all good.  I am going to be reading this blog regularly, and thought perhaps some of my readers would like it, too.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"You that shall cross from shore to shore years hence . . . "

I'm still a member of the union that represents adjunct teachers at the university where I taught and received my doctorate, and I still get the union paper.  It came in the mail yesterday, and featured an article on urban studies, an interdisciplinary field that uses the the suchess of the city itself to teach various subjects.  I loved reading about an English professor who teaches a course called "Literature of the City" (wouldn't you love to take that course?) and leads her students on a foot journey across the Brooklyn Bridge when the class reads "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry."  She said about one such outing:  "The students felt connected to [Whitman] through crossing this water. . . They felt like they were walking in his footsteps.  They were ecstatic and smiling from ear to ear."

The park at Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn has a series of railings inscribed with the text of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry."  The professor described her students' reaction to seeing Whitman's words made public and worked into the architecture of the place where the ferries used to arrive and set out:  "Students were incredibly moved by seeing his words -- words they had read -- there on a wall . . . they ran their hands along the words as if they were somehow Whitman's own imprint, evidence of his having been there."

I thought this was incredibly moving, too.  I will be in Brooklyn this weekend for a family gathering, and may try to make it over to the Fulton Ferry Landing park.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When I Am Weak

It's been a hard day, and a hard time in general, I suppose.  I am everywhere conscious of my inadequacies and my loneliness.  I know I was supposed to rejoice with my Facebook friend over her status: "I get to snuggle my newborn. I get to chase my 1 yr old. I get to watch my 3 year old practice cart wheels & I get to teach my 4 year old how to read. On top of that I get to be married to a loving, faithful husband. Praise God!"  but instead it made me want to roll my eyes a little (um, that's a euphemism).  Does anyone deserve such happiness?  No.  But so many of our problems, whether we have such happiness or not, stem from the simple fact that we keep forgetting that we don't deserve it.

Today I felt overwhelmed by loneliness and frustration, and I asked God to show me He was thinking of me.  I turned on the radio and heard . . . Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.  Well, I love it, of course; but if God had really been thinking of me, the tune would surely have been something very specific, a duet, say, by Schumann or Brahms, not a symphony by Beethoven.  He could have been thinking of anyone at all to that soundtrack.

I had made a promise to Padre Pio on his feast day today that I would go to the hospital chapel that is in walking distance of my house and sit in silent adoration.  But I kept putting it off and putting it off, until finally I had a window of about ten minutes for it.  That's when I went, and I sat and cried.  God knows I'm angry and frustrated with Him, but I begged Him to give me some guidance through the Bible before my ten minutes with Him was up.  I opened to 2 Corinthians 7-10: "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."  Um, no, God, that's not what I had in mind.  And besides, it doesn't describe me at all.  I was thinking something more along the lines of my friend's Facebook status.

Then I came home, and there was a message from a reader of this blog, who said that reading it had helped her through a very dark time.  I was amazed.  And then I thanked God.

Music and Memory, Part 17: Old Wine in New Wineskins

Does anyone really believe T.S. Eliot about April being the cruelest month, "mixing memory with desire"?  The very presence of desire in the mix would seem to me to add a dash of hope to April's ethos.  But in the early autumn, no such hope -- of rebirth, resurrection, renewal -- is reflected to us in nature; just desuetude, dénouement, and fading away.  Schumann wrote a stirring setting of a poem called "Herbstlied" -- song of autumn -- which goes, in translation:  "The tender summer leaves fall from the trees;/Life with its dreams decomposes into dust and ashes . . . " (If you would like to hear a sample of this marvelous duet, go here and search for "Herbstlied," where you will find the redoubtable Peter Schreier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at it for a few seconds; unfortunately, I couldn't find a free download).

I am preparing for a gig in Boston at the end of the year which will require me to sing the kind of virtuosic repertoire in which I used to specialize, but which I haven't sung in almost ten years.  In the past, I used to use an elaborate, time-consuming methodology to learn florid music and work it into my voice and kinesthetic memory, and I will have to drag it again out of my body, mind, and memory.  But ten years ago my life was so very different from what it is today, and I wonder if I will be able to discover a new methodology, one that allows the singer to integrate old music into the new person.

This repertoire meant something different to me back then; it was my tool, and my ability to sing it well was my secret charm, my magic weapon, my mojo.  If other girls seemed to have lives so much better and easier than mine, or better apartments, or prettier clothes, or fantastic boyfriends, or happy marriages, I would console myself by reminding myself that they couldn't do what I did.  In my heart of hearts, I believed that my ability to sing was the only thing I possessed, and that my way in the world would be carved out through its use.  I would protect myself, keep myself safe and warm and afloat, by my abilities as a singer.  I believed this so strongly that, during my first marriage, my singing, that totem, always held its shining place first in my heart, and I considered my voice teacher a fractionally more important person in my life than my husband.

But then again, everything had become associated in my mind at that time with everything else.  My singing was my mojo, it was all that I had; I felt that with particular keenness after my abortion, which was also the time I began studying with the very influential teacher who was the most important person to me.  I remember how, right after the abortion, I realized that everything in my life had gone too far, and that it now had to stop.  It was a sunny Sunday two days later, and I left my then-just-barely-sort-of-boyfriend's apartment wearing my pajamas, feeling like I had to get out of there or die.  But I was so tired that I didn't make it to the subway, only to the park about a block away, where I fell asleep on a bench for a couple of hours, before heading for home as the sun was just beginning to set.

If my life in all its excess had hit the wall then and there, I would have to chisel my way out.  The only tool for that, as I had always believed, was my singing.  I began studying with the master teacher A.B., just at this time of year, and things began to appear to have more coherence.  He understood what I was trying to do as an artist, and he saw that I didn't have the technique in hand to do it.  He gave me that technique, and he showed me how to release the stream of artistic ideas -- musical phrases, sentences, whole conversations; creativity in collaboration with the composer -- through my voice, my intellect, and my body.

Then M. asked me to come back and live with him.  I did.  It was all I'd ever really wanted, anyway.  We got married a year later, and, as I see it now, that marriage was doomed from the start.  I never forgave him for sending me for the abortion, and we never, ever discussed it.  As Leonard Cohen sang, "Should rumour of a shabby ending reach you/It was half my fault and half the atmosphere."

Around the time I was last performing the music I'm going to perform in Boston, my marriage to M. had recently ended.  I was desperately trying to make someone else love me and stay:  the kind but pathetic Stoner Carpenter, the well-intentioned but ultimately weak sober alcoholic.  And I was having the busiest few seasons that I've ever had in my career before or since; I had management, some small recognition, a lot of gigs, and the belief that more would come.

Since my life in the ensuing ten years has turned out so completely differently for so many reasons, I am wondering how to relearn my old music.  We know from the Gospel that you cannot put new wine into old wineskins, lest the latter burst.  But what happens when you put old wine into new skins?

Friday, September 17, 2010


Today is the birthday of William Carlos Williams, the New Jersey doctor and great modernist poet, who wrote in his autobiography: 

I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather that it was my very food and drink, the very thing which made it possible for me to write. Was I not interested in man? There the thing was, right in front of me. I could touch it, smell it. It was myself, naked, just as it was, without a lie telling itself to me in its own terms.

Here is the poem that appeared today on the Writer's Almanac in honor of his birthday,  I had never read it before, and it affected me the way great art across genres usually does, like a punch to the gut.

They call me and I go.
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
perhaps vomiting,
perhaps laboring
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one gold needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Music and Memory, Part 16: The Gardener

When I was a young soprano, I studied with a teacher who had herself studied in Germany with the great post-war coloratura Rita Streich.  My teacher said to me once in a lesson --it must have been a particularly good one -- "You sound like Streich!" to which I replied, in proper soprano fashion, "Who?"  She proceeded to tell me about the great Streich, adding, as an aside, "What a Nazi."  I later found a recording of Streich, somewhat in her dotage, singing a concert for French radio of duets by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms with the Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester, who died earlier this summer.  This recording, sadly, is now out of print, but it is at the top of my desert-island list (in fact, I've already listened to it three times today).

This recording was very important to me for a number of years.  Not only is it wonderful -- the pared-down honesty and simplicity of expression demonstrated by these two singers, both of whom were past their prime at the time of the concert but whose artistry remained at the highest level, is both instructive and deeply moving -- but it also accompanied me during a very painful time in my life, a time of wrenching loss and longing which, while it lasted, was nonetheless beautiful, and still glows a little in the light of memory (the loss and longing that were to follow for me were far less lovely).

One song I particularly loved was the Mendelssohn duet "Gruß" (Greeting), set to a poem by the Romantic poet Eichendorff.  In a translation by Jakob Kellner, it goes thus:

Wherever I go and look,
in field and forest and plain,
down the hill to the mead;
most beautiful noble lady,
I greet you a thousand times.

In my garden I find
many flowers, pretty and nice,
many garlands I bind from them
and a thousand thoughts
and greetings I weave into them.

Her I must not give one,
she is too noble and fair;
they all have to fade,
only unequalled love
stays in the heart forever.

Eichendorff's sentiments nicely captured the longing in my own heart for a distant beloved, and Mendelssohn's setting, lyrical and at the same time pulsing with an energy which subtly undermines, with its freshness and optimism, the sadness of the text, provided a wistful soundtrack to my heavy heart in those long-ago days.  Here is a recording (sung in English) by the great British singers Isobel Baillie and Kathleen Ferrier.

It was at this time of year exactly that I began to see my own life as both illustrated and illuminated by this particular song.  And then, a few years later, I found out that Eichendorrf's poem was not in fact called "Gruß," but, rather, "Der Gärtner" (The Gardener), and that Mendelssohn had left off the last verse, which goes:

I seem to be of good cheer
and work to and fro,
and, though my heart bursts,
I dig on and sing,
and soon I dig my grave.

The last verse is the crux of the poem, and catapults it from wistfulness to heartbreak.

Brahms set the entire text in an early work for women's choir, harp, and two french horns; here is a rather lovely recording of what appears to be a Chinese (or Taiwanese, or Singaporean?) girls' choir, singing it in English.

Danse Russe

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,—
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

-- William Carlos Williams

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saint John of the Playground

It was a beautiful, clear day in Northern Appalachia yesterday, which made me think of that beautiful, clear day nine years earlier when the lives of everyone I know changed forever.  My little son and I walked to the playground, which is in the center of a large park planted with hundreds of tall oaks.  When he saw that no one else was there, my son began to cry.  "I thought there would be children here," he wept. 

I started to cry too, thinking of how I've been unable to give him brothers and sisters, of how lonely he is, and of how lonely I am.  I'd been praying that God would send me a good friend -- a spiritual friend -- but, even if He is so good as to do so, I know it'll never be like the old days, when Retired Waif would pop upstairs for a cup of tea any time at all,  and every other day or so I'd get on the downtown train and go hang out with Really Rosie.  The emptiness of public spaces here, even on a beautiful fall day, is striking, and if other people on my block are home during the week, I wouldn't know it.  It also struck me as poor parenting that, as my son sat on a horsie mounted on a metal spring and cried, I sat on the adjacent elephant mounted on a metal spring and cried with him, mourning the fact that there is so little I can really do to alleviate his own loneliness, or my own, or anyone else's.  Should I distract him with a game, I wondered, or would that just be dishonest, since loneliness is such an unavoidable truth of our human existence?  

And then I thought, Oh God, why can't You just speak to me in a language that I can understand?  Why can't You give me some clear direction about what You want me to do?  Why can't You allow me to feel that the things I profess to believe -- the communion of saints, for instance -- are really true?  For I'm no saint, able to withstand the spiritual darkness that Saint John of the Cross called "nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing."  If not a friend on earth, can't You at least let me know that the saints I pray to are indeed praying with me?  I know I'm asking for my blatant materialism to be confirmed and satisfied, but sometimes I need a symbol, something sensory, just some teeny little phenomenon to let me know that I'm not totally, irredeeemably mistaken about every single thing in my life. 

Soon enough, a little boy toddled up with his mother.  The boy was black and his mother was white, pierced, and heavily tattooed.  She sat on a bench and got on her cell phone, laughing, screaming, cursing, and discussing a friend's seven-year prison sentence for possession of "a pound of weed," while I helped her little son (who told me his name was King) and mine on the monkey bars.  I see many mothers like this in my comings and goings around town -- if I lived in the suburbs, where most mothers of my class and education appear to live, I never would -- and I'm inclined to judge them.  And I wouldn't doubt that they're inclined to judge me -- ethnic, no make-up, sitting on the ground with the kids, wearing a sweater and clogs, with a young son who is not quite like other little boys his age -- as well. 

Eventually, though, King's mother came over, and we got to talking.  Her son's father, it turned out, had recently been deported to Haiti, in spite of the fact that his parents had brought him to America when he was two.  He'd grown up on Long Island, and had been sent back just in time to lose his leg in the horrific earthquake.  Had she seen an immigration lawyer, I asked.  Yes, and even marrying him would not have made him legal, she said.  He was going to try to apply for asylum in Canada.  My heart went out to her, and I told her I'd pray for her.  She soon left, yelling at her little boy every step of the way for having wet his pants, and I walked home with my own son, who was now happy for the chance he'd had to play with another child.

I suppose King and his mother were the sign I'd been railing at heaven for, though I would have preferred a more lovely and gratifying one.  Please, readers, pray for them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I am really posting this video for the second of the three songs played by Pete Seeger and Judy Collins, Bob Dylan's "Farewell," which is really his adaptation of the traditional song "The Leaving of Liverpool."  Judy Collins's recorded version of the song is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, but, alas, it's not on Youtube.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Small Talk

I loved today's poem on the Writer's Almanac, by Bronx-born poet Eleanor Lerman.   It seems to me a good poem for the birthday of Our Lady.

It is a mild day in the suburbs

Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
dinner. The bread, the meat

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history.

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins

-- "Small Talk," by Eleanor Lerman, from The Sensual World Re-emerges. © Sarabande Books, 2010.

Above:  "Red Kimono on the Roof" by John Sloan (1912).

Monday, September 6, 2010

"I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud"

It's nearly time for the annual interior orgy of nostalgia that autumn brings, and there is no better way, to my mind, to start it off than with excerpts from one of the greatest poems in the English language, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" by Walt Whitman, a poem which, by projecting the author's voice into the future from beyond the grave, has the groundwork for nostalgia inlaid in its very structure.  

This time of year, too, I always think of the years I spent in Brooklyn, because the maritime light refracted through the oxidizing leaves in the neighborhoods there is so very beautiful.


Flood-tide below me! I watch you face to face;   
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.   
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you
          are to me!   
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home,
          are more curious to me than you suppose;   
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me,
          and more in my meditations, than you might suppose. 

. . . . 
I too many and many a time cross'd the river, the sun half an hour high;   
I watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls—I saw them high in the air,
          floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,   
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and left the rest
          in strong shadow,
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south.   
I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,   
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,   
Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light around the shape of my head
          in the sun-lit water,   
Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward,
Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,   
Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the arriving ships,   
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,   
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops—saw the ships at anchor,   
The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the spars,
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender serpentine
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-houses,   
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the wheels,   
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sun-set,   
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the frolicsome crests
          and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls of the granite
          store-houses by the docks,   
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flank'd on each
          side by the barges—the hay-boat, the belated lighter,   
On the neighboring shore, the fires from the foundry chimneys burning high
          and glaringly into the night,   
Casting their flicker of black, contrasted with wild red and yellow light, over
          the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets.   


These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you;
I project myself a moment to tell you—also I return.   
I loved well those cities;   
I loved well the stately and rapid river;   
The men and women I saw were all near to me;   
Others the same—others who look back on me, because I look'd
          forward to them;
(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)   


What is it, then, between us?   
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?   
Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not.   


I too lived—Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters
          around it;   
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,   
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,   
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.   
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution;
I too had receiv'd identity by my Body;   
That I was, I knew was of my body—and what I should be,
          I knew I should be of my body.   


It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,   
The dark threw patches down upon me also;   
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious;
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
          would not people laugh at me?   
It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;   
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;   
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,   
Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,   
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;   
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,   
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,   
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.
But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!   
I was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men
          as they saw me approaching or passing,   
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh
          against me as I sat,   
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never
          told them a word,   
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Play'd the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,   
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,   
Or as small as we like, or both great and small. . . .   
For an online critical edition of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," go here. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Messiaen and Suffering

I am reading (or, more accurately, trying to read, being interrupted by many distractions of a loud nature) a review of several new books on the great French composer Olivier Messiaen that were published in 2008, his centennial year.  The article is by Messiaen scholar Robert Fallon, and appears in the new issue of the Journal of the American Musicological Society (to which, unfortunately, I can't link here). Messiaen was noted, among other things, for his expansion of his mystical Catholic theology into his musical lexicon and for his use of bird song in his compositions.

Messiaen's widow, the organist Yvonne Loriod, is quoted by Fallon as saying that her husband "was a man who suffered greatly," which causes Fallon to muse over the fact that, since

many of [Messiaen's] works can be read as autobiography, the notable lack of anguish in his music at first seems puzzling.  But I suspect an answer lies in Messiaen's favorite biblical passage, the Last Supper discourses in John 14-17, where Jesus tells his disciples:  "You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy" (John 16:20).  Messiaen, it seems, followed his faith and turned his grief into joy, which he expressed musically through ecstatic dances, tenderhearted melodies, and jubilant birdsong.  "In Saint François [d'Assise, his only opera]," he said, "there is a tight imbrication between sorrow and joy.  But where sorrow is present, where it is greatest, I have always placed the song of a bird."

Here is one of the movements of Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus (Twenty Gazes upon the Infant Jesus) for solo piano, no. IX:  "Première Communion de la Vierge."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Diagnosis Imitating Art

If we hadn't left New York, it might have taken much longer to notice that there was anything clinically atypical about my son.  I would most likely still be teaching part-time at the university, during which time my son's babysitter, who lived around the corner, would be looking after him in our home.  There was a private preschool in our old neighborhood, but it probably would have been too expensive for us; and our district school (New York has a complicated system of decentralized school districts, the result, in part, of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville teacher strikes in 1968) did not have Pre-K.  It took experienced teachers in the preschool he began attending in our new city to alert me to the fact that he might not be developing typically.

My son was a late talker who spoke only about five words before he was two.  I enrolled him in a language study conducted by a doctoral candidate in speech-language pathology at my university, who ran a full battery of tests on him and concluded that "he's just one of those kids who's a late talker and we don't know why."  I did not sign him up for Early Intervention because he began talking exactly on his second birthday, and in three months was speaking in complex sentences with clauses and antecedents.  His potty-training experience was similar:  he started late, but mastered it almost immediately.

The speech-language pathologist ruled out autism for my son, because he made great eye contact and his cognition was clearly unimpaired.  However, I had noticed unusual things about him as a baby and toddler:  for instance, he never had the tight grasp on your finger that most infants have (my woo-woo homeopath and former friend claimed that he didn't need it, because he felt so at home in the world; whatever), and he didn't point at things until he was almost three, though he did indicate things in other ways.  He also avoided drawing and cutting activities like the plague, so I didn't push him in those.

We started the evaluation process in March of this year, and my son was given an IEP in June.  He's going to be attending an integrated Pre-K in the fall in which there are four teachers in the classroom, and half the students are typical and the other half disabled in various ways.  But he still doesn't have a diagnosis, just a collection of symptoms and behaviors; he will not get an official diagnosis until he sees a developmental pediatrician in October (the appointment was made in May, and we will have to travel over a hundred miles for it).  Nonetheless, reading between the lines in the evaluations, I anticipate a diagnosis of Asperger's or another high-functioning autism-spectrum disorder, which I confirmed with my son's occupational therapist.  In some ways, he is absolutely textbook for Asperger's, and, in addition to his delays and behavioral problems, he also has certain prodigious gifts, which is not unusual.  I am anticipating that after kindergarten I will be homeschooling him, because I fear that there is no school program we can afford that can teach to both his gifts and his delays.  Public schools are required to address disabilities and provide growth for students who demonstrate them, but not to provide enrichment if those same students also exhibit giftedness; private and parochial schools are not required to do anything for children with disabilities.

I really only started suspecting Asperger's last spring, however, when I picked up the book Tobin Learns to Make Friends, by the Northern-Ireland-born social worker Diane Murrell, from a library book display.  The book is about a little train (trains are a common obsession for kids on the spectrum) who exhibits classic signs of Asperger's, and has various scrapes learning the rules of making and maintaining friendsips with other trains.  I cried when I read it:  In the stories of Tobin's misadventures and difficulties with his peers, I might have been reading about my son.

And then, on Retired Waif's sporadic blog, I read about an unfortunate incident that sent shockwaves around the autism blogosphere earlier this year, when Smockity Frocks, one of those funny, witty, self-deprecating Christian-mom-of-many bloggers, wrote about her trials at the library one day when a little girl my son's age was behaving very, very badly and the child's caretaker did not respond in the way that Smockity thought she should have.  Smockity's truly cruel mockery of a child obviously on the spectrum made me cry again, because, once again, that stimming, perseverating little girl could easily have been my own child.  And even worse were the congratulations of most of her commenters, and Smockity's defensive response to the ones who suggested that the girl might have autism and that Smockity might have shown a bit more sensitivity (not to say charity) towards difference (after the ensuing pile-on, Smockity took down the post, but it can be read in cached form here).

Because of all of this, I'm in some ways very glad that we have moved away from New York, in spite of the fact that there is a much greater variety and amount of services available to children with disabilities there.  In New York, I would have been far more caught up in teaching and scholarship and my other historical concerns, and it might have taken me even longer to cotton on to the fact that my little boy has some special needs.  And I'm extremely grateful to Retired Waif for her friendship back when we were neighbors in the Bronx.  She's a gifted scholar and an excellent person all around, and l have learned a great deal from her approach to disability.