Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Interview with writer Anlor Davin

Writer Anlor Davin joins me today to chat about her memoir, Being Seen.

Anlor (from Anne-Laure) Davin is autistic. She was diagnosed at age 46, a life-changing, and life-saving, event she traces to her Zen practice of the years preceding. Anlor is an immigrant, born in France in 1964. During Anlor’s childhood her native France was in the grip of oppressive and now discredited theories about autism. Anlor instinctively knew she had to flee France in order to survive.

Upon arrival to the Unites States in 1987, Anlor lived in Chicago, Illinois, were she married and had a son. The ensuing eighteen years of child-rearing, a tremendous challenge for an autistic mother, overwhelmed her and her life slowly but surely unraveled. Forever searching for answers to the challenges of an undiagnosed autistic life she moved to San Francisco, California, in 1999. There she started a Zen practice while she eventually became very ill and “hit bottom”. In March 2000 a painful and debilitating movement disorder appeared in her left upper body.

Anlor was finally formally diagnosed in 2010. With proper medical care and many other supports her life improved unexpectedly and dramatically. This healthy outcome and Anlor’s later fullness of life give her a secure place to stand and reflect with greater clarity on her journey. She now lives near San Francisco with her partner, her son living nearby.

Please tell us about your current release.
In the words of a reviewer: “Anlor Davin is an author, teacher, mother, French immigrant and a Zen student. She has recently published her book, Being Seen, a memoir about an autistic woman struggling not only to be seen but to be understood and respected.

Today Anlor works daily to help people understand autism of the kind that she experiences, and to let people know the value of basic meditative practice in living, and thriving, in autism."

What inspired you to write this book?
When I was ill, one of my symptoms was pressured speech (Wikipedia definition: “a tendency to speak rapidly and frenziedly, as if motivated by an urgency not apparent to the listener”). I indeed wanted to urgently share about my illness, its chronic pain and the sensory problems I experienced, which all were rooted in my history, all the way back to childhood. Two friends I knew from my zen practice thus encouraged me to write a book. I hoped to tell about autism a little bit, this misunderstood condition; it might be better understood in some circles nowadays, but the public at large may still often have misconceptions.

Excerpt from Being Seen:
The school’s midday break lasted two hours. This meant that after lunch in the cafeteria I had ninety minutes of unstructured time before resuming classes. It deeply hurt that I was not accepted in the little groups of students that were scattered on the grounds, with Marie in one of them. At first I huddled in hidden places to read but eventually I developed another obsession: I kicked a pebble over and over around the yard. I tried to keep the same pebble day after day, noticing where I left it at the end of the lunch break so I could use it again the next day. I counted how much the pebble traveled, wondering if it had made it to China yet.

Would I ever be able to travel thus?

It is no surprise then that the school requested I no longer eat lunch at the school’s cafeteria. Instead I went home and my brother followed. As was the custom in France my mother also had a long lunch break during which she had barely enough time to come home and cook. It may have been an added responsibility for my mother as it increased her already full load but to her credit she never made me feel guilty. At home during lunch my father, my mother, my brother and I were now together, which I liked much better than the school’s cafeteria. The problem with a child not being given reasons for changes like this is that then she may think it is her fault, as I did.

I took much pain to hide my different perceptions and the ensuing behaviors. Not being diagnosed autistic as a child was my saving grace. Had I been dragged to doctors, I may have been labeled and looked down at. An autistic diagnostic label can be cause for troubles, and especially at that time in France. Many teachers and other support staff feel superior to their diagnosed charge and opportunities are denied, which can be perceived so overwhelming by an autistic person that we may fall into the abysses leading to mental illnesses, medical drugs, institutions, or suicide and other problems. When autism is thought to be a disease that must be cured, the fragile and nervous child might be destroyed by inappropriate treatments. We are often so sensitive it is as if we had an insincerity meter, and the smugness of the people around us (who are often completely unconscious of it) may seriously rock us. On the other hand I have now met many younger autistic people for whom being diagnosed autistic has had several positive effects on the individual. As a teacher friend told me, “How can I help if I do not know the child has a challenge?” Allowing access to the now much improved services can obviously be very helpful, the answer to the situation is not simple at all, autism has many facets and I certainly do not have all the answers

What exciting story are you working on next?
I don’t know yet.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I saw how this book had an impact on others.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do not write full-time, as I write above one of my major interest is my daily zen practice, which I try to bring to others, especially those on or near the autism spectrum. I started to facilitate a monthly zen meditation group for people on the autism and neurodiverse spectrum, in a university, and once a year my partner and I organize a meditation retreat, and these are most important to me these days. You can see more about that on the website autsit.net

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
That my native language is French but I write in English, may be?

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
This has often changed, depending on what was my passion at the times…and I have had many passions, which is often an “autistic trait”.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Be well my friend.

Thanks for being here today, Anlor.

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