Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Brief History of Stimming"

This poem came out of the May 1, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mama_kestrel and elenbarathi. It also fills the "betrayal" square in my 5-1-18 General card for the Pro Wrestling Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony Barrette.

Warning: This poem talks about repetitive motions that have been increasingly stigmatized over time. If that's a touchy topic for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read.

"A Brief History of Stimming"

It was there in the beginning,
at the dawn of time when
hairy apes first slipped
down out of the trees
onto the savanna.

They stroked the grass
as they walked, gathering
the grain by handfuls.

They whacked rocks together,
making sparks and sharp edges.

They poked pointed sticks
into tough termite mounds
over and over again.

They made puddles of
red mud and wiped their hands
on the stone walls of a cave.

They braided flower crowns
for simple celebrations, bent
over raw animal skins and
worked them into leather.

They rubbed sticks together
to see how hot they would get --
for hours, sometimes -- until
the fire bird opened its wings.

As humanity grew, the tools
and tasks grew more complex.

There was milking and churning
to be done. There was shearing,
carding, spinning, knitting, weaving.

There was the endless shelling
of peas and beans, threshing of grain.

The years turned, and people grew.

From dawn to dusk, idle hands
were the devil's playground.

And then it changed.

There wasn't as much work
to be done every hour of the day.

Somehow, it stopped being
work or play and became fidgeting,
and fidgeting was a bad thing.

The hands that had brought
humanity out of the bush were
slapped and admonished
to sit still, to be good.

And then it got worse.

Fidgeting became stimming,
no longer merely bad manners
but actual pathology, a disease
to be treated with harsh therapy.

More slapping, and sometimes
candy or cookies as a bribe, and
always the nagging chant of
quiet hands, quiet hands.

Stimming, fidgeting, handiwork --
it's all the history of humanity,
the little manipulations that
lifted us up out of the past
and into the future.

The persecution of
stimming is nothing less
than a faithless betrayal
of evolution and those
whose restless hands
got humanity this far.

* * *


Historic crafts and tasks took a long time and were essential to survival. Making red ochre paint for marking on cave walls is very tedious. I've done it by rubbing a red ochre nugget into a small pool of linseed oil held in a stone mortar; it makes excellent paint, but it doesn't go very far. Starting a fire with sticks can take hours; tanning a hide takes days. Shearing, cleaning, carding, spinning, and weaving wool is an exhaustive process. Notice that every person in that picture is doing something with their hands.

"Idle hands are the devil's playground" is a later Christian saying to encourage people to work all the time. It used to be the case that people almost never sat down to socialize without some sort of lapwork: drop spinning, embroidery, knitting, crochet, etc. I remember sitting around cracking black walnuts or shucking corn, and everyone would be chatting or telling stories while we worked. If I know I'm going to have people talking in the living room for hours, I want to have a simple sewing project in my lap, and we keep fidgets on the coffee table.

Fidgeting has a variety of evolutionary benefits, among them floating attention to watch for predators and a pleasure-reward for continual hand motion that would once have focused on survival tasks. Someone who liked tanning hides or shelling peas would have a higher reproduction rate than someone who quit. It has modern benefits too, from aiding focus to stimulating blood flow. Alas, fidgeting is stigmatized and people are discouraged from doing it.

(Some of these links are intense.)
Actions classified as stimming are even more stigmatized than those classified as fidgeting. The distinction is often little more than "normal people fidget, autistic people stim." However, stimming is normal and healthy for people with a variety of neurodiverse features. Some stims are more socially acceptable than others. Stress toys are specially designed to meet this need in the least bothersome way possible.

(Some of these links are heinous.)
Quiet hands and applied behavioral analysis are cited as abuse by autistic people who have survived them and can describe the harm done. Everyone has a right to communicate, and to solve challenges in a way that works for them. There are ways to tell if a type of therapy is harmful. Autistic adults are banding together in projects like Loud Hands to fight against the abuse.
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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