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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

FROM SMIRK TO SMILE

Roger N. Meyer

Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

 

 

     I've always disliked having my picture taken.

 

     My personal discomfort didn't prevent my parents from chronicling my history in family photos as well as a couple of tastefully shot portraits taken at early transition periods of my life.

 

     Although I fill my home with tasteful art -- including some wonderful photography of the human condition by Edward Steichen, Robert Maplethorpe, Imogen Cunningham, Berenice Abbott, and the collections of photos by Desmond Morris -- I've been conditioned by years of feeling badly about my appearance to avoid having photographs taken of myself.

 

     Three years ago I had my picture taken by a professional photographer in response to a request from my publisher for a back cover photo.  I chose two shots from two rolls of contact prints.  One depicts me in "formal clothes," as the professional I've become, while the other shows me in my "uniform" of Pendleton plaids for which I am equally well-known.  Both show me with something of a smirk on my face.  Three years ago, I didn't know "how" to smile, and it shows.

 

     When shown all of the shots, I was disappointed that none of them depicted what one could really call a "smile."  My upper lip was definitely in a "turn-down" expression.  Whether such a visage suggests pain, discomfort, or general dissatisfaction with life, the moment -- many moments of that single photo session -- was captured with unmistakable honesty.

 

     Photos don't lie, do they?

 

     Years ago, when successively undergoing one kind of "fix-me" therapy after another, I chased after baby and childhood photographs in an effort to "understand what went wrong."  I didn't like what I saw.  Each photograph I selected to "make a point" to my therapists depicted confirmed a squirming, uncomfortable, sad, brooding little boy and adolescent.  I still have those photos, carefully removed from seven volumes of our "family book."

 

     Before my diagnosis with Asperger Syndrome now nearly six years ago, I was clueless.

 

     Searching after some deep, dark secrets of my childhood and upbringing and never coming up with "anything" after revisiting our family's voluminous collection of my parents' writings and family photographs written and "snapped" during my childhood, adolescence young and middle adulthood had me convinced that "this is the way I am."

 

     Between my college graduation photo with professorish pipe in hand and now, I shied away from any picture taking.  I gave up pipe-smoking in the middle of my cabinetmaker's apprenticeship.  Too much fussing, really.  What was really going on was that pipe smoking was getting in the way.  It was a "stim" that had gotten in the way.  Of course, I didn't know about stim behavior at the time, but I did have to make a decision.  Either I played with the pipe or I learned to work with the tools of my craft.

 

     That wasn't a difficult choice to make.

 

     Pictures are something else.  I still squirm when asked to be in a shot.  I don't mind taking them.  Then and now, I'd be in charge.  As a matter of thought, that's where I usually was even when being photographed.  I had a mind's eye view of the whole scene that I found to be both uncomfortable and of a "I'm-not-really-here" variety.  The few photos that have been taken since that time have been with family members.  I relish those images of my parents and my two sisters.  I think anyone would.  I've kept them not for what they "do to me" but for how they capture the likeness of my closest family members.

 

     Five years ago, it was likely that I considered even these close family members more "objects" than people.  The photos captured them, frozen in time.  It was easy to study them, but not to understand them because I didn't know how to see them.  I could look, but I could not see.

 

     I do now.

 

     And now I do understand.

 

     Those professional photos taken just three years ago:  no wonder I'm now uncomfortable with them.  Maybe it's too late to change the one I chose three years ago on my current brochure.  To do that, I'd have to go through the discomfort of another photo session.

 

     But, really, that's a small matter, isn't it?

 

     The other night I attended an event celebrating the near-fourth anniversary of an activity group for Asperger Syndrome children and their parents.  It's a special group with a very special mom who started the monthly event four years ago because her nine-year-old son enjoyed a perseverative activity so much, and was so without friends that the mom thought, "Why not?"  What better a way for him to at least not feel threatened or merely tolerated when he enjoyed his interest in the parallel play company of others?  So Game-Club was born.

 

     Her son is now thirteen.  He's in a different place.  I haven't asked the mom "where that is" exactly.  There's no need to ask.  I could see it in the faces of every child the other night.  And on their parents' faces, too.

 

     One parent I had met at a previous all-parents' event sidled over to me during a lull in conversation and remarked upon my smile.  She said an "eligible woman" attending that evening had noticed me, and for a moment, the thought flashed across her mind to "fix me up."

 

     This was the first time I've taken such flattery and unassuming reporting seriously.

 

     It felt good.

 

     I felt good.

 

     Imagine that.

 

     For a couple of years I've let loose with tears in movies, and I don't care who sees me.  I've always gone soft with great music; now I go weepy, and it doesn't take much.

 

     I am touched by good, complex role acting in the two TV programs I wait for, weekly.

 

     Somewhere along the line of time, the constant smirk has gone.

 

     Come to think of it, I've been smiling a lot lately.

 

     When I go shopping or just walk down the street and see a baby or young children just enjoying the world, I smile.  I smile when watching people really "into each other.

 

     I haven't checked out my face in a mirror lately.  No need.

 

     Because others tell me so, I know I'm smiling.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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