Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Game of my Life

Have any of you read The Game of My Life? It’s a memoir by J-Mac, Jason McElwain, the autistic Rochester high school student who shot all those 3-point baskets at his Senior game a few years ago. He’s still all over YouTube and his book is here:
http://www.amazon.com/Game-My-Life-Challenge-Autistic/dp/0451223012/ref=pd_ts_b_1?ie=UTF8&s=books

The book is sort of divided into three parts. The beginning is written by co-writer Daniel Paisner. The middle is told by J-Mac himself, and the conclusion is in Daniel’s voice. The heart of this tale is J-Mac’s own story, which we get to early on. His story is interspersed with occasional passages from friends, parents, and coaches but the bulk of the tale is in his own words.

I really enjoyed J-Mac’s voice. I will say, you may have to be a basketball fan to enjoy it, but I loved the innocent voice he has. I loved the way he just told his story. People say there are no bad guys in my writing. Well, I say the same thing about J-Mac. It’s a nice story.

Actually, his voice reminded me of the voice of Perry, the fictional figure in Pat Wood’s novel Lottery http://www.amazon.com/Lottery-Patricia-Wood/dp/0399154493/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202694901&sr=1-2

One key difference between this story and Lottery, though, is FOCUS. That, of course, sets many of us on the spectrum apart from others like Perry. And J-Mac has a total focus on basketball. Many of us on the spectrum have our special interests, and J-Mac’s is clearly basketball. We relive the game and the seasons with him, second by second as we move through the pages. I’m not a huge sports fan, but I enjoyed this because his hopes, hard work, and simple joy come through so clearly.

J-Mac’s story ended with a wonderful triumph, the story of the team’s basketball season. Frankly, I think the book would have been wonderful if it ended there. But it didn’t. When we moved into Daniel’s conclusion, I felt the tone took a nose dive. We went from wonderful triumph to dry facts, Daniel’s interpretation of J-Mac’s future and his life today. And they way Daniel described this made me sad.

It also made me realize something else.

As an autistic person – even a real high functioning specimen – I really don’t like the way I feel when I read what some Nypicals write about us. There’s just too much “poor them, they’re so impaired” in some writer's tones. And that's what I felt here, analysing his present and his future. So what if he’s working in a grocery store! He’s working. And that, for him, is a major, major triumph. It’s not “JUST a grocery store.” Reading it that way, it feels demeaning. I know no one meant it that way, but I heard that stuff myself, when I was younger, and I really don’t like it.

I guess even at 50, Aspergians like me can still be sensitive to stuff like this.

Not all Nypical writing about people on the spectrum is like that. Some actually makes me feel good. Oliver Sacks and Tony Attwood come to mind, for examples. I can also take/enjoy moms writing about their kids, because I understand where they’re coming from. But this ghost writer – at least in this example – didn’t feel right to me, adding his two cents to this story.

I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, and I feel bad because I don’t want to belittle his contribution, but I just did not like how that ending made me feel. I’m sure Daniel contributed a lot, getting J-Mac’s part of the story assembled and set down. To me, that was enough.

That said, this is a book any parent of a kid on the spectrum could take inspiration from, as could any young person. I can recommend it for that without reservation. I learn something new from every book like this that comes along.

Here are some photos of my own basketball team in action - the University of Massachsetts
http://www.pbase.com/robisonphoto/basketball

Finally, I got my copy downloaded to my Kindle, which I really like.

* * * *

And in other news . . .

I will be attending Kathy Dyer's class at Elms College this Tuesday at 5:30. I'll bring pizza and entertain the students as best I can.

18 comments:

Michelle O'Neil said...

I posted about this young basketball player today too. He'll be on Larry King on Thursday.

kyra said...

i'm sure the class will have a ball!

i feel the same way about the demeaning tone when discussing those on the spectrum. well, maybe not the SAME way since i'm NT or whatever but i hear it and it makes me cringe.

Bill Starr said...

What is a nypical?

John Elder Robison said...

Bill, a Nypical is a neurotypical person, someone who is not autistic or Aspergian.

bonbon momma said...

I saw him speak on the Today show last week. He was so well spoken. His mom was sitting next to him and she kept talking about him as if he wasn't there. She kept referring to him as being 'low functioning'. First of all, I didn't think it was fair of her to talk about him as if he was invisible and I really didn't understand why he needed to be categorized. I thought he did really well with Matt Lauer.

John Elder Robison said...

It's that tone that troubled me at the end of the book. You could see that clearly, in him "only" working in the store while his school friends were off doing other things.

Stephanie said...

Hi John!
I just wanted to say that I finished reading your book and it is excellent!!!
I am a music teacher/director, and I think this will be so helpful for me to understand students that previously may have bewildered me a bit.
I still remember one kid that was in my children's choir who had autism, and he was the most joyous and enthusiastic singer ever!

God bless you and yours, and thanks again for such a terrific book!

Sincerely, with best wishes,
Stephanie Younis

Kanani said...

I really don’t like the way I feel when I read what some Nypicals write about us.



Well, that's why I've always said, the world needs more voices of those who walk the path to come forth. I found Kaye Redfield Jamison's book on what it is to have bipolar disorder extremely valuable into gaining an insight into those with it.

I've also enjoyed reading your book, and watching Temple Grandin on DVD.

My girlfriend's daughter was hospitalized with anorexia last year. I'm looking for a good book in order to gain an understanding.

Sometimes I'll come upon a parent's blog about their experiences, and while I have a lot of empathy, I also hope they know enough to give their kid the privacy he or she needs in order to forge their own identity as they mature.

The Anti-Wife said...

It might have been prudent for the author to have someone like you proofread the manuscript prior to publication. He might not realize how his words would sound.

Trilogy said...

I had not seen this kid before today - I must be the only one... great story of course and inspring too. There are of course many gifted people, nypical, asd and otherwise bagging groceries all over the world. I personally know a brilliant artist who washed floors for 18 years to pay the rent. I see him every morning.

Nothing wrong with bagging groceries. I agree with you Mr. R.

I agree also on the writing point you make, but my guess is that nypicals have much to learn.

John Elder Robison said...

Anti Wife, that's an obvious thing now that you suggested it, but it would never have occurred to me.

Frankly, if I were the ghost writer, I don't know if I'd have thought of it either.

I felt bad even saying it because I'm sure he didn't mean it that way, but that's how it felt to me.

ChristineEldin said...

Thanks for your insights about this book. I don't know anyone else who has read it, so I like to hear opinions beforehand!
I agree with AW.

Polly Kahl said...

To play devil's advocate, I think it's important to not assume that someone's making a value judgement when they may not be. For ex, the Aspergian I love has a genius IQ and a few interests that he is extremely knowledgable about, but he hasn't been able to channel those interests into ways to make a living. His functioning is very low and he is always in the hole, living from paycheck to paycheck. I would say he is "only" working at his printing press job. It's not that there's anything wrong with the job. It's an honorable, honest way to make a living. But the fact is that with his brilliance he could excel at something much more higher paying and make exceptional contributons to society if he could get his social skills together. He would also be happier doing something which challenges his intellect and is interesting to him. Not to mention not being in chronic poverty.

piglet said...

i've been wondering about the kindle "do-hicky"...

what do you like about it? does it make your life any easier?

John Elder Robison said...

Piglet, the thing I like about the Kindle is that I can get current bestsellers for $10, and I can carry a bunch of books in a small space. I read it at lunch, where there are no pages to flip or hold; on airplanes, and in hotels.

It's really good for travelling.

Lili Marlene said...

Mr Robison, you wrote that you like the writing of Oliver Sacks. I've got to say that I'm not completely happy with the way he has written about autistic people. In his classic book "The man who mistook his wife for a hat" Sacks describes a pair of autistic savant twins as "moronic and psychotic" in character (on page 199 in my copy), which hardly comes across as respectful or complimentary. I read that book myself when I was just a young lass, and I was fascinated. Writing like that very much formed my own idea of what "idiot savants" and autistic people are like, and that negative image of autism that I had for much of my adult life is possibly the reason why I never realized that I myself am on the spectrum, till I reached my 40s, when I stumbled across some much more positive and less sensationalist writing about the autistic spectrum by Prof. Baron-Cohen.

I finally read your book, and it certainly is a top read.

lobe mom said...

Tom -
I'm a mom of a high functioning asperger 12 year old boy, and I just read your book. Nothing has helped me connect with him better than your book. Your comment about the tone of the NT writers struck me. We struggle horribly with the tone of most of his teachers and even SpEd teachers. They expect brilliance and treat him, in his words, like he is retarded or something. He wants the way he processes and works and jokes (prankster king!) to have a place in the school - besides in ISS or the Behavior Disorder Resource room. How do we address "the tone" at school?

Otherwise Unavailable said...

Hi John,

I have not read the book in question. But I was just researching Jason's life and could not find anything about what has happened to him since that game, besides telling that story over and over.
It seems like he is being recognized as a carnival freak more than as a basketball player. It makes me sad. When I last heard about him (AANE conference 2006) it seemed that he was being courted by NBA teams. Now I guess that's finished and he just relives that one game, over and over. It's irrelevant whether he is a grocery bagger or a politician. He should be playing basketball! Why isn't he? Did the book explain? I realize you have better things to do than summarize other peoples' books for me, so I understand if you don't respond. I can check it out of my local library. Anyway, I think it's sad that I work at a hardware store instead of using my superhuman AS skills (now quickly depleting themselves), and I understand how one would think the same thing about Jason. Obviously, the ghost-writer could have other condescending statements/thoughts that support your point.

p.s.
I know a kid who wants to work at your shop. He is closer to Boston than Amherst, so I don't know how this could work. He would be great, though.