Gravity Pulls You In: An Interview With Kyra Anderson

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Seven years ago, when my two-year-old son Leo was declared "autistic," it was difficult to find books about his many possible futures. The most popular 2003 autism books from parents' perspectives -- Catherine Maurice's Let Me Hear Your Voice, and Karyn Seroussi's Unraveling the Mystery of Autism -- were tales of hope, but also of autism conquered and cured. After a couple of years, we began to realize that our son's experience would be different, would be one of more modest miracles like learning to say "no," swimming, and eating apples. So we starting searching for stories like ours, like our son's.

Those stories slowly emerged. Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures told us how to see Leo as a person rather than a project. The parents' accounts at the end of Catherine Maurice's ABA therapy handbook Behavioral Intervention for Young Children With Autism told of children gaining skills instead of shedding labels. Denise Minor shared her astonishment at her son's eye contact and bike riding as a contributor to Because I Said So. Susan Senator permitted Making Peace With Autism. Rupert Isaacson recognized and did his utmost to support his son's strengths and skills in The Horse Boy.

And now we have Kyra Anderson's and Vicki Forman's beautifully written Gravity Pulls You In, a collection of "perspectives on parenting children on the autism spectrum." It is the book I can finally point to and say, "Yes, this here -- this will give you a sense of what autism is really about, why 'autism' has no one meaning, how our families' and children's joys, pain, love, sorrow, realities feel. Yes. This will help you understand. And if you're a parent new to the world of autism, this will light your way."

I have to warn you -- Gravity Pulls You In is an emotional neutron star. It turned me inside out, had me weeping in both awe and anguish, and I quickly learned not to read it in public. While I  mooned over Drama Mama's, Carolyn Walker's, and Emily Willingham's love letters to their children, even the stories that wrung me dry, like Maggie Kast's No Pity, or Ralph James Savarese's You're Adopting Whom? exude love, pride -- and such grace. As contributor Cheri Brackett came to write about herself, Gravity Pulls You In is a testament to parents "valiant and remarkably dedicated."

Here is what Kyra Anderson had to say about her wonderful book:

Where did you get the idea for Gravity Pulls You In? Why did you think it was needed?

I was feeling isolated in my parenting journey. It wasn’t like those of the moms around me. I felt marginalized, left out of the conversation. I struggled to find community, real life community.

At the time, the books I found were either 'cure' books, 'how to' books or 'cup of comfort' books and even though I found value in them, I longed for something more universal.

Vicki and I started talking about putting together a literary collection of writing about parenting kids on the spectrum where the writing was about autism and wasn't about autism, where the stories transported us to somewhere deeper, somewhere transformative. We thought about how many families were affected by autism and all the people whose lives intersected with theirs: extended family, neighbors, friends, teachers, therapists. We knew we couldn’t be the only ones who'd want to read it.

What can you tell us about your publishing process? Were there any surprises along the way? Do you have any hard-earned wisdom to share with writers inspired by your publishing success?

The two biggest surprises were how straight-forward the steps were and how much time the whole process took. We put out our first call for submissions in the fall of 2006, signed our contract with Woodbine in the fall of 2008 and didn’t have the book in our hands until just a couple of weeks ago, early February, 2010.

The most exciting step was gathering the material. I was moved by every submission we received. The most difficult step was writing the book proposal. I had never written one before, had made it the 'forbidden territory,' the place where only real writers tread. I asked Vicki if I could take it on, knowing I clearly had some old misperceptions to unearth!

I put out an SOS on my blog looking for life coaches. I interviewed four, sampled their 'mini-coaching' sessions and chose the one who got me to experience the feeling of success, who got me to visualize the book as already written and out in the world.

So, I guess my advice is to view the process as both a matter of simply following logical steps, and of identifying which steps scare the pants off you so you can gather the necessary troops to disentangle yourself from notions that no longer serve you.

How did your co-editor Vicki Forman become involved?

We met online. She had a piece in the anthology I reviewed: Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press, 2005) edited by Andi Buchanan and Amy Hudock. At the time, I wrote that the book was not just for the ‘maternally inclined’ but for all those inclined to read. The writing stood out for me, lifted me, even when the material was difficult.

My favorite section was Surviving Illness and Loss. I was especially moved by Vicki’s beautiful piece, "Dear Friend" and quoted from it on my blog. Vicki commented and we began a correspondence that turned into a friendship and then, a collaboration. I guess you could say Andi Buchanan's series of anthologies which included two other books, It's a Boy! and It's a Girl! were inspiration for what we wanted -- the It's Autism! version. Writing about motherhood matters. Writing about parenting matters. Writing about parenting kids on the spectrum matters because we peer into the window of someone else’s heart and learn something about ourselves.

Your book features an introduction by John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye. How ever did you recruit him?

Do you know the cartoon character Chickenhawk who spends his days wildly circling Foghorn Leghorn? That was me, swirling frantically round and round John's feet.

Actually, we live in neighboring towns and became friends through his blog. I tell you, it's been my experience that the blogging world connects people in real ways. I love his writing and value his "free-range Aspergian" perspective. Vicki and I were thrilled to open the book with John's reflections on parenting, especially in view of his own journey, raising a son who he came to learn had Asperger's some time after he discovered his own diagnosis.

Autism encompasses such a wide range of traits, experiences, and attitudes -- are you pleased with the way Gravity Pulls You In portrays the autism spectrum's complexity and depth? Did any key perspectives elude you?

There are thirty-two voices in Gravity and 300 million in this country. I’m quite sure we've missed many perspectives.

I will just speak for myself here and say that I am incredibly lucky to afford being home with my son, to afford therapies that aren't covered by our insurance, to afford mats and big yoga balls, to be able to screw giant hooks into the ceiling of our living room so my son can swing inside on a rainy day. I would want to hear from parents who are facing a whole set of challenges that create pressures and choices I cannot even begin to imagine, including cultural perspectives and biases that may not even recognize Autism as the neurological condition it is.

Did any of your authors reveal a side of autism you'd never before encountered?

I think it’s less about not encountering a side of autism and more about being immersed at a particular place in the journey depending on your own child and lifestyle. I’m not an autism expert. I really only know what I can gather from my life here at Fluffy Central, from the kids we've met and the ones I've gotten to know by reading many wonderful blogs.

The spectrum is so wide, encompassing many expressions. There are countless views I've not encountered. I must say though, I was fascinated by the stories of teenagers and young adults, as if I was peering down the corridor to my son’s possible future.

Writing about autism and parenting tends to skew towards experiences with younger children, but you feature several stories by parents of teens and adults. Was this chance or enlistment?

It wasn't enlistment but it was important to us to include stories about kids of all ages. There's a great deal of attention paid to Autism in the younger child but as they move into teenage-hood and young adulthood, they are more or less forgotten. Certainly not by the parents who continue striving, often alone, for the funding, supports, awareness, and opportunities their children need to have the fullest lives.

When you imagine your potential readers -- especially those whom your collection could truly help -- whose hands do you most want to press your book into?

Years ago at an Autism Awareness event, a wide-eyed grandmother pulled my mom aside and whispered, "They get the autism from eating canned tuna fish, you know." That's a moment that could easily have been part of a Saturday Night Live skit. But the woman was sincere. And scared. The misunderstandings about Autism are startling, damaging, and extremely discouraging to parents.

So, I'd like to press this book into the hands of anyone who thinks they know what Autism is, who thinks there is one version, who thinks Autism is either a tragedy or something you can "cure" if only you work hard enough, who insists your child must not have truly been autistic if they get to a place where their Autism is no longer an obstacle, who denies certain accommodations because they are convinced your child can do or say such and such if only they wanted to or if only they tried harder.

I hope Gravity can be one small movement in the larger effort to clear a path through the divisive talk and make a place for curiosity. I hope it could play some part in careful, respectful seeing, to normalize, if you will, the way we talk about the challenges and strengths of raising a child with autism. It’s not the typical journey but it’s not abnormal.

I hope it encourages more parents to tell their own stories and to listen to someone else's, to look for the points of connection. That’s how Autism will shed the language of pathology, one conversation at a time.

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Shannon Des Roches Rosa never ever considered submitting a story for Gravity Pulls You In because, you know, it is literary. She co-edits the Can I Sit With You? project and needs to write more about her son and less about Important Autism News on her personal site, Squidalicious.com.

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