Friday, December 9, 2011

The Orgasmatron of the 21st Century

Stimming is a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. Stimming is one of the symptoms listed by the DSM IV for autism. Common forms of stimming among people with autism include hand flapping, body spinning or rocking, lining up or spinning toys or other objects, echolalia (the involuntary repetition of words spoken by another person), perseveration (the tendency of an idea, impression, or experience to persist or recur, or of an individual to continue a particular mental activity without the ability to easily shift to another at a change in stimulus, and repeating rote phrases)...and sometimes flapping a pencil in front of your face while gazing at it with awe and reverence and thereby tuning out the entire world and its stresses. 

Instructional aide (me): So, you have any big plans for this weekend?

Nine-year-old (apple-of-my-eye) student:  Ms. Heckscher, I'm going to Stimmy Island, and you're not invited. It's just me and my pencil, baby!"

My student--Apple of My Eye--had a superb week.  We kept an elaborate behavioral chart in which tick marks were made for each stimming incident.  If my Apple did well, he would be rewarded over the weekend.  That particular week, my Apple did extraordinarily well and I thought he'd earned a well-deserved stim.  

A good "shadow" (that was my official title) would have turned Apple's witty remark into a teachable moment to drill in the message stimming is bad, not-stimming is rewarded, and never, under any circumstances, call your teacher "baby."  I, however, laughed and said, "Apple, you are just about the most creative boy I know and I like the way you think.  And I don't know anyone who's worked harder for a good stim behind closed doors."  

Apple said, "Thank you, Ms. Heckscher."

I was laid off because of New Jersey's statewide budget cuts, not because of philosophical differences.

Let me be the first to present this truly original hypothesis--and all of you who practice applied behavioral science as a religion, without question, can go straight to hell:  A good stim is a form of healthy meditation. 

Am I putting a value judgment on meditation--is there good meditation and bad meditation? Omigod, you know what?  I am judging.  I'm just that radical.  You know there's a difference, too, but maybe you're just too dogmatic to admit it.  (Yes, I'm in a pissy mood again.) 

Intention is everything.  It's okay to meditate to de-stress, but not to escape your responsibilities or emotions because they make you uncomfortable.  Sometimes, the fine line between the practice of detachment and the practice of escapism is invisible.  Sometimes, don't we need to check out briefly to "get some perspective" because only then can we return to a problem with a fresh outlook, fresh energy, new ideas?  And sometimes, don't we just call out sick to avoid the inevitable, consequences be damned?  One is good, one is bad. You know it.

I want to go to Stimmy Island--just me and my vibrator.  

Is that so wrong? 

Is it wrong that I'm perseverating on Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House"?  Or that all day long I mutter "When a problem comes along/You must whip it?"    

Or is it healing?

Masturbation is often sneered at or pathologized, even though it's done privately, in the same way stimming (even when it's done privately) is labeled taboo, without consideration for its contribution to personal well-being.  Solitary sex is considered deficient, immature, selfish, embarrassing (even though we all do it), while even the most disappointing mutual sex is something we can brag about.  We don't normally swagger and glow after a self-pleasuring session, but no one ever fakes an orgasm when they're all alone.  Masturbation may be inspired by another person, but it's unabashedly all about numero uno.

Good stimming, good sex, and good meditation share a common trajectory which can be described like this:  tension build-up, single-pointed focus that disengages us from everything else,  release of tension, followed by a sense of communion and a fresh re-engagement with the world.

Did you ever see the old Woody Allen movie "Sleeper"?  The story begins in 1973, when a dorky guy is hospitalized for minor surgery that goes awry and he ends up being cryogenically frozen, and awakens in the year 2173 to a world of total conformity ruled by an evil dictator with the demeanor of a TV anchorman and where bananas are the size of row boats. In this programmed atmosphere, libido has been crippled (except in Italian males) so every house has a proper orgasmatron, a kind of phone booth that accomodates one or two people and induces instantaneous orgasms. People go into the booth looking crisp and starched and come out with messy hair and crooked smiles.

When we're stressed and repressed, we need an orgasmatron in order to function optimally. The orgasmatron of the 21st century could well be meditation.   It's widely socially acceptable and appeals to spiritualists and scientists alike for its measurable benefits, and you can do it alone or as a shared experience, but no one can do it for you.  We're not encouraged to think of meditation (or sex) as being selfish, but ultimately we do it to feel better.

The Apple of My Eye once told me candidly, "Ms. Heckscher, you love to laugh.  Of course, I like to laugh, too, but I like stimming a lot more."

My friend Kim shared a quote from "A Joseph Campbell Companion:  Reflections on the Art of Living,"

As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you.  Don't bother to brush it off.  Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance.  Having a sense of humor saves you.

The value of my vibrator is self-explanatory, but what about my other perseverations?  I may, in fact, be so frustrated that I secretly wish to burn down this house--which should be condemned--instead of fixing it, or step on a crack and break my beloved mother's back--rather than cajole her into our twice-daily physiotherapy sessions.  I'm not exaggerating when I proclaim that the combination of perseveration (on the songs of Talking Heads and Devo) and humor (the lyrics of "Burning Down the House" and "Whip It") are life-saving and energizing for me.  I detach by submerging in music, I may also engage with the uncomfortable truth of my darker, taboo feelings, and the humor and pleasure of the music enables me to integrate, to return, reinvigorated, to the tasks at hand.

Isn't humor another orgasmatron?  The best laughter/orgasm comes from something taboo, something we're maybe a little ashamed of or embarrassed about, something very private that we're rarely inclined to acknowledge publicly.  (Like sex, humor tends to lose potency with critical analysis, but I'm not trying to do stand-up or have sex, so what the hell.)  The trajectory of humor can also be described as tension build-up (our inner struggle with an uncomfortable topic) single-pointed focus that disengages us from everything else (full identification with what is taboo), release of tension (laughter), followed by a sense of communion and a fresh re-engagement with the world.  Some people like comedy clubs, while others prefer more solitary (one-on-one) pleasures.  It's a big world, embrace your own style and your own stims.

Which brings me back to my point about stimming and intention.  As long as the activity doesn't seek to permanently divorce you from the world and rob you of energy--which it can if you stim to excess--stimming, et al., can be a healthy outlet.

Of course, if you're reading this, you're participating in my very own, personal orgasmatron. When you write, isn't your whole attention focused upon a single idea to the exclusion of everything else?  After the act of writing, on completion, don't you feel gratified, steadied, energized for the large and small tasks of the day?  When you read something that interests you, you are also fully engaged.  And if you leave a comment or begin a dialogue on this blog, then there's an explicit communion between us.  Darling.

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