I’ve been reaching for the word “expansiveness” a lot lately in my writing. My world is very small these days — I can easily go a week or more without leaving my house if I don’t make a conscious effort to put my boots and coat on and propel myself out the door. I see the same four people every day, talk to two or three more via text, feel guilty about a half-dozen others to whom I owe replies (depression has had me by the ankle, friends, but I’m trying). So maybe I’m drawn to a notion of expansiveness as a reaction to the circumscribed life I’ve been living.
In my presentation last week I cited a passage from Elizabeth Fein’s essay “Autism as a Mode of Engagement.” I read it for the first time a couple years ago, and it cracked my thinking wide open. It goes:
“The thing I study is more like color than like color-blindness – it’s a thing that happens between sensing bodies and sensuous worlds, in the particularity of each. I have come to think of the thing I seek out as a mode of engagement with the stuff of the world – a way of being with one’s surroundings. In particular, it is a form of permeability, of deep existential vulnerability, to the order of things around us: structured systems, elements in their robust relations, arrangements both deliberate and disavowed.”
Elizabeth Fein, “Autism as a Mode of Engagement.” From the book Autism in Translation (Palgrave Macmillan 2018).
This description of the autistic experience of being captures so beautifully my way of existing in the world, even in the very small world that I currently inhabit. Geographically small, but experientially vast, perhaps? And maybe the expansiveness of the sky at the top of my street as I walk to the drug store for Valentine’s cards and shampoo for my kid is enough?