My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. ~ Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
"Escape from Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross is about a girl who is labeled “special” as a child and how that label affected her. I was never given that specific label but I was held back a grade in elementary school and I did have many of the same experiences. Like her, I could never finish my work on time-I still struggle with that. I have always found it so frustrating that people put such emphasis on finishing by a certain time when we are all different people who work in different ways. How in the world can someone know how much time I need to finish a project when they are not me? We are all on our own time tables and I wish that our society recognized that truth.
The book is about the author’s childhood, which was spent mostly worrying about what people thought of her. While I know that that must be a pretty universal experience, it was still sort of freaky to read all of the similarities. I also was pulled aside by some friends right before high school and told that I could no longer hang out with them. I guess I wasn’t deemed cool enough but really how could flautists have a chance at being cool anyway (we were the four flute players in the middle school band - not exactly the cool crowd.) It was an experience that I will never forget.
The book is essentially about how someone deemed special in a bad way was actually special in a good way. Melissa really was special because she questioned authority and she spoke her mind. She was talented, funny, and she questioned all the rules and boxes that public-school tried to put her in.
*sigh* I remember that feeling so well.
I questioned the way things have always been done also. I would straight up ask my teachers why we learned more about men than women. I even wrote to the health book company in fifth grade because I disagreed with Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs. (I thought that love and acceptance should be the most important level on the pyramid - the foundation to survival, for without love, there is no other reason to live. I cited documentaries and news articles in my letter! I still stand by what I wrote.) Clearly I was not stupid but I also was not smart in the way that the other kids were.
I did not know how to conform well enough.
I thank God now that I am not a shallow person but it does make it hard fitting in at school. As I was reading more of the book I kept wondering how it was going to end as the storyline was really just a series of vignettes of the author's elementary and middle school years. Fortunately, the ending was not an epiphany about boys or the possibility of romance-it was not about becoming more popular or prettier but it was about her becoming more self-confident and sure of herself.
I am not sure if self-confidence is all that realistic for a middle school teen but it was nice to read.
I doubt if anyone ever truly gets to a place where they are absolutely and totally done caring about what others think. The epiphany of realizing that I am special in a good way and that I really do not need to care about what other people think is something that I know will need to happen again and again and again until it finally becomes a part of myself that I can trust. Perhaps the realization she has at the end of the book is the time when she has the first inkling of her own importance and self worth. There are people who never become that self-aware or deep- I am glad that I possess the gift of self-awareness.
I am thankful today for the intensity of my emotions-I am empathetic and that is a wonderful thing. (I could do without the panic attacks though.) I can take a long time to finish projects because I am so thorough and because I care so much about the quality of my work. Those are not bad traits but they are often misunderstood.
I wish the word, “special,” did not have a derogatory component to it. I don’t think the solution is to remove the word from our vocabulary but to stop saying it when meaning a person is awkward or is less intelligent or does not fit in. We are all special and we all deserve that to be acknowledged.
I struggled with finishing on time in school and I cried during math class about every other day. I felt that I was just stupid and that I was special in the bad way. I am still angry that not one teacher brought it to my parents’ attention how much I cried. When a kid is that distressed and they cry that much in a certain class it really should be assumed that there is some kind of underlying issue going on.
I should have had some kind of early intervention by the school but we all know that culturally girls are universally thought to be stupid at math anyway, so what was really a learning disability was dismissed all too easily because of my gender. Fortunately, my parents were able to pay for a math tutor growing up, but I wish I could have learned some mindfulness and distress tolerance skills too, along with the mathematics.
I wonder when was the first time in my life when I realized that I didn’t care about what other people thought of me? Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had that experience!
For me, I don’t think it is so much that I don’t care what other people think as much as I feel like I need to say some my truths anyway. I care, but not enough to let it stop me. Audre Lorde came to the same conclusion many years ago in the essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”- ever since I read her words that, “your silence will not protect you,” I have felt her spirit within me. One day I will get that saying tattooed on my arm. It is a sentiment that I believe in whole heartedly.
It is better to speak up than to be silent even if it means that there will be unpleasant consequences. As Lorde says, even if I do not speak, people may still find out the truth so I might as well say my truths out loud now. This insight has been my saving.
Just like Gross, I am special and that is not a bad thing. I am disabled; I have strange, mystical experiences; I have experiences and ways of looking at the world that is out of the ordinary-I could easily be judged as crazy or difficult. Yes, I care about what other people think but I do not let it stop me from speaking my mind because it’s not just only about me. When I speak up, then I give permission for others to do the same. We must speak out if we are ever going to change our system of oppression.
I recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled with not fitting in, with questioning authority, or with thinking differently. It is for anyone that has struggled because society labelled them as different or special. The older I get, the easier it is to brush other people’s concerns aside but I think I will always care to a certain extent. It’s nice to realize that I do not need to let my quest for validation compromise my values. I believe that we all have more to offer outside of the box rather than in. Furthermore, that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is also the source of our greatest strength. As Lorde writes: the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. (42, Sister Outsider) Let us not be silent, but speak our truths for the world to hear-our voices are needed if we are ever going to truly smash the patriarchy.
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