Sunday, April 18, 2010

Born on a Blue Day

A few weeks ago, I read Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet, a memoir written by a high functioning autistic savant. It was quite an interesting read, mostly because it read like it was written by an autistic person! Which seems pretty self explanatory...but if you ever have spoken or had prolonged contact with somebody with autism, you know the typical mannerisms. The absence of emotion. The focus on minute details. A seeming tendency to put the same amount of weight on all events, no matter how large or small. The monotone speech. (Think of Spock in the original Star Trek) And now picture a memoir written in the same vein.

I felt that this made the book more powerful. The catch phrase was "Inside the extraordinarry mind of an autistic savant". And the flat, almost emotionless style definitely accomplishes that.

One of the most fascinating aspect of Daniel Tammet's condition is his overwhelmingly vivid synaesthesia, which is a phenomenon where stimulation of one neurological pathway involuntarily stimulates another, unrelated pathway. Thus, people with synaesthesia experience things in a multi-sensory way. So, for instance, Daniel experiences dates as colors (hence the title of the book...Mondays are blue) and numbers as shapes. Moreover, he experiences numbers as emotional, with personalities, as well. (At one point in the book, he relays how he was trying to relate to his peers more closely, he pictured certain numbers in his mind in order to conjure up the emotion he intellectually knew he should be having)

This pronounced synaesthesia is closely linked to his amazing ability with numbers and language. Daniel is able to instantly perform complex mathematical equations by picturing the numbers' shapes and then combining the shapes to form a new shape. He is also able to memorize huge sequences of numbers by lining the numbers shapes up in his mind like a landscape and "strolling through the landscape". In this way, he recited from memory pi digits to 22,514 places as a charity challenge for the National Society for Epilepsy. (His autism is believed to have been triggered by an epileptic seizure as a toddler)

I have read quite a few memoirs and I enjoy the genre. I find them entertaining and fascinating. Sometimes because they demonstrate life fraught with obstacles and the uplifting tale of somebody overcoming adversity to succeed. Think: Running with Scissors, Cherry, Prozac Nation. Some tell of a fascinating, once in a lifetime event (mixed with soul searching). Think: Eat, Pray, Love. Some tell of an amazingly different life than one I will ever lead. Think: Three Cups of Tea. This memoir was quite different in that it told the story of somebody who was able to live an ordinary, unassuming life. Daniel's extraordinary condition made achieving an ordinary life a big feat.

On interesting note, I passed this book along to a coworker who has suddenly been tossed into extraordinary circumstances of her own. Two family deaths within one year have left her taking care of 5 kids...2 with autism and one with developmental delays of a different sort. I thought it may help her with the days that she says push her to the edge "with the counting and the clapping and the counting and the clapping and the flapping and the counting" I sure hope she's keeping a journal because I'd like to read HER memoir one day.

1 comment:

geekhiker said...

So, have you started writing your memoir yet?