Day 64: Obscured

WP_20151116_10_10_12_ProMany of my posts during this transition period seem to be preoccupied with the events which led up to Dylan going into residential care. I keep replaying the narrative, recounting critical incidents and revisiting the unexplained. At the crux of my ruminations, quite often, is the transformation in Dylan from anxious and aggressive to happy and calm. How could the shift from home to residential care bring about such change? What meaning should I make of this?

I suppose in writing about this process I am attempting to understand it. I have suggested three aspects of Dylan’s residential provision, for example, which seem to have been particularly helpful in settling him. I have also begun to explore aspects of Dylan’s home life, and day care provision, which may have been unhelpful; in yesterday’s post, for example, I suggested that a lack of boundaries in Dylan’s day care may have contributed to some of his anxiety.

As well as helping me to make sense of the past, writing is part of the process of coming to terms with Dylan leaving home. It helps me to reconcile my feelings and assuage any guilt or anxiety I might feel about not being able to care for Dylan myself. I think this explains my preoccupation with the narrative and my attempt to bring order and meaning to it; I need to reassure myself that I did everything I could for Dylan while he was living at home.


I’ve been thinking about ethnographic approaches to research enquiry recently and revisiting classic and contemporary ethnographies. It’s a methodology I’ve sometimes referred to in relation to my parenting of Dylan. Living with autism, I have suggested, can feel like ethnography; I walk in Dylan’s shoes in order to see and hear and feel the world the way he does. In this sense, perhaps, living with autism is a form ofย  ‘culture-studying’.

One of the articles I read today focused on the role of the researcher in ethnographic research. However deeply immersed you are in the world you are observing, the author noted, you cannot disappear; your assumptions and beliefs will be present in your observations and in your records from the field.ย  As well as being observer, therefore, an ethnographer is part of the text. In living without autism, however, I am the text: this is my auto-ethnography of loss.


A module I teach which focuses on cultural representations of education requires students to view selected films. Today, as I was setting the lecture theatre up for a screening of Dead Poets Society, I lingered at the top of the stairs. A detail I hadn’t noticed before caught my attention. What was that dark shape? The outline of one of the boys in the Assembly Hall perhaps? I hadn’t noticed such a camera shot before.

The shape didn’t move as the scene progressed, however. It couldn’t possibly be part of the film, I told myself. The dark shape made no sense to me at all. I tried to think of technical explanations. Dirt on the lens perhaps? Something blown? I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t possible to show the film like this, I decided: the students would complain. As I turned to go, the dark shape dipped and disappeared. I realised, with shock, that it was me; I was not just observer, but a shadow actor on the screen. How many times, I wondered, have I been in the way of what I could see?


8 thoughts on “Day 64: Obscured

  1. “I need to reassure myself that I did everything I could for Dylan while he was living at home.”

    what purpose does it serve but to promote more unhealthy rumination.

    the blot on the screen
    if i try to arrange and to control everything, even by ruminating on it after it occurs I get no now, and my need to control grows because I am always what if-ing what already is done, meaning i miss now and lose further feeling of control of myself.

    how does a parent know when ones issue is not being able to focus on own life and living that, rather than what we call a letting go? i for one, have stepped back and forth across it.


    • Hi Elisa – I realise rumination might not be helpful to some people, but it serves me. Writing through things – watching them closely, framing and re-framing them, transforming my understanding – is probably the healthiest I get ๐Ÿ™‚ Other people will have their own strategies for moving on, but mine is pulling things apart then putting them back together again. I realise that this means other aspects of life are a bit ‘on hold’ for me at the moment, but there is a clear date for the end of this: 21st December! After that, there will be no more of this. These 100 days are my vigil with myself, letting myself look and feel and make sense. I am hoping that, long term, this will be healthy – rather than me just rushing off and gallivanting around in an unruminative way ๐Ÿ™‚

      The blot on the screen? I thought it was hilarious that I didn’t realise it was me in the way of the projector beam. So typical of me. As I’d just been reading about observers affecting what they were observing, it seemed apposite…


  2. Lovely, profound post, Liz. The observer as shadow actor is an interesting idea. As an actor you take part – but as director you are in charge of the whole film. That makes me wonder if the observer is an actor, is the author the director?


    • Yes! I have never seen such a concrete representation, before, of how the observer becomes part of the text. I love your film analogy for the roles of actor/observer/author. I think that is really useful – so perhaps when we move from being observer (taking field notes) to representing our notes (i.e. reporting them) we switch from actor to director? I like it ๐Ÿ™‚ It all felt serendipitous!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Day 71: Living In The Brackets | Living with(out) Autism

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