This essay, “On having no head” (here’s the whole thing), blew my mind when I first read it as a teenager, as part of a collection called The Mind’s I. Essentially, it’s an elaborate discussion of how you can never look directly at your own eyeball. D. E. Harding writes:
… a picture of me-with-a-head is no likeness at all, it is the portrait of a complete stranger, a case of mistaken identity.
In response, Douglas Hofstadter, one of the compilers of the collection, talks about how we are able to figure out that we are, ourselves, human (and mortal, which is supposed to be the scary part), because we must, to some degree, resemble all the humans we can actually see:
…people are by far the best at the piling up of new category upon new category. This capacity is at the core of human nature and is a profound source of joy.
After 46 years of not recognizing myself, it’s going to take me some time to find this joy. For now, clarity will have to do — a category: Autistic. An explanation. What’s happened is not just a series of arbitrary and self-inflicted shitstorms — those shitstorms now have context.
Late diagnosis, grief, adjustment, shock, relief, layers and layers of unwrapping and reframing. Mirrors facing one another at an angle, creating twisting images of the same shrinking figure, further and further away, me still bending this way and that, trying to get a better look, always obscuring the complete view. Mirrors are no good. I still can’t see myself.
But I can see you.
And so, to all of the thoughtful, articulate, creative people who’ve shared and continue to share their stories: I’m so glad to know you’re out there. Thank you.
I’m not sure what I have to add to this conversation. I have the reflexive habit of remaining on the outside of the circle quietly watching, never knowing the right time to join in.