What You See is Not What I See

Everywhere around me is music.  I call this music Shadow Songs.  Just as everything around us casts a shadow, everything I see sings its own unique music.  I have published many tracks of my shadow songs.

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Recently I visited New York City with a good friend and my daughter as we were bringing her back from college for the summer.  We visited the 9/11 Memorial Site.  In this retelling of my experience, I try to describe the sensory experience it had one me.

For those of you who have not read my book, I Am Snamuh, I may need to explain a few things.  I have a constant soundtrack and dialogue going on in my mind.  My communication is often interrupted by something I call word muddle, which is my mind shuffling through my entire catalogue of words in order to choose expressive language connected to the situation, the sensory experience, or any emotion I am feeling that day.  It is exhausting and gets worse when I am isolated from people too much.  When I talk about word muddle, I am indicating that I have to fight this process in order to digest and respond to the moment.

Note** Word muddle is written in italics.  

Note** [Descriptions of my mind music, shadow songs, is written in brackets.]


Reflection on the 9/11 Memorial in New York City

There is an obvious pre-tone set by the designers of the memorial as a place of mourning, dedication, reflection, and beauty.  But the pre-tone set by the intellectual meanderings of planners and artists only covers a small aspect of the energy, both musical and extrasensory.

Trees. No leaves. Bending. Sorrow. Mourning doves. Sirens. Lost him.

Each side of the memorial has its own contribution to the sensory experience; as if each of the four winds has a piece of the story to tell.  I could not have predicted this.

[Deep, almost inaudible vibration of noise, as if the earth itself is groaning]

We entered near the South Pool facing North.  The energy was as planned; soft, reflecting, longing, curious, emotional.  Though as my friend said to me, the people standing around effected the energy as they projected their own feelings.  Though I agree, there was still a distinct difference radiating through the clatter of individual energy pulses.

As we walked to face east, the east wind was still and a bit stronger.  It had stayed around to whisper the names of the fallen, like a devoted old pet waiting for it’s owner to return.  Here, I honed in on the shadow songs while trying to allow the energy to pass through me unaltered.

Electric.  Tesla.  Buzz.  Earthquake. Tremor. Passion.

My anticipation of what I would feel was completely wrong, and perhaps marginally influenced by the pre-tone setting I mentioned before. Expecting to hear a choral pieces comprised of distant solitary voices, I was pleased to hear a full symphonic piece.

[deep groans become woodwinds and muted brass]

Facing East and working around to face South, a brass quartet emerges in my minds ear, though to me it sounds as clear as it would if I were approaching a quartet of live musicians.

[quadruple chords, pulsing and progressing in melodic minor]

The music drew in and pushed out in gentle succession like the breathing of a large sleeping animal.  This breathing of the East wind was joined by the clarity and warmth of the South wind, a melody emerged as if it were there to comfort you.

Spinning. Lights.  Trails.

My overstimulation starts to blur and over expose my vision, so I move on.  I am brushed by the West wind, a busy swirl of string instruments unapologetically adding vibrance to the story.  The strings state their wisdom and compassion, refusing to let onlookers forget the fallen were complex people before they became simple memories.

This feeling was rudely interrupted by the confusion of the North wind, lost like a forgotten toddler in the human manipulation of the grounds. To better grasp this part of the story, I ventured through the trees to listen, pointing my hearing towards the North Pool.  Not knowing anything about the memorial grounds before arriving, I did notice one tree singer louder than the others and in opposition to the rest.

[Very faint choral of voices arguing with the voice of a child.  Key changes.]

An injured tree, surrounded by a special rail poked into my peripheral vision.  This tree was intriguing.  It was singing with a wounded soul and the only choral like experience of the day.  The tree with a single child-like voice, told the true story.  Child-like meaning wide open, unbridled, carefree of it’s restrictions.  I found out later it was a loan survivor tree.

The tree’s melody carried me through the grounds until it was abruptly seized by a large, white, fanlike structure that resembled the bones of an animal carcass.   The white building disturbed the energy and was so distracting, I had trouble getting a sense of direction so I could walk another way.  The only refuge came when I stood between two trees, just outside it’s reach, facing the side entry of One World Trade Centre.  The purple and blue lights against the warm colours of sunset rescued some of the momentum that was dispersed by the ill placed building.

[Shadow song fades.  Only child voice remains until it ends in a whisper against muted strings]

What I See

According to my research, most people experience the world visually first and it is then supported by other senses, and often influenced by past experience.  My experience of the world is vastly different.  I am propelled by my sensory perception first, like a neurophysiological processing of the stimuli around me.  My vision and hearing are influenced by that, and my past experience tends to remain cloaked, until it is provoked by negative stimuli.  In other words, I am wide open in a vulnerable, child-like state until I feel threatened.


An idea of how a scene looks to me when I am over-stimulated. Sunglasses, headphones, hoodies or hats can help.

Sometimes the world looks like an over-exposed photo while other times colours are muted and soft.  Sometimes I appear deaf and need people to repeat themselves to me, while other times my hearing is so sensitive that a conversation in front of me is drowned out by the sound of a pencil on paper across a crowded room.  My system toggles from over amped to dulled without my permission.  All I can do is try to control my exposure.


An idea of how a scene looks to me when I am sensory flipped and trying to dampen stimuli. Notice my depth perception becomes exaggerated in the foreground, and flat in the background. At this point there is nothing I can do but wait for my systems to power back on. I may need support from friends or deep pressure.

Many miss this detail about me, mostly because they never ask how I am experiencing a room.  Instead they draw conclusions that I am “not that autistic” because my vocabulary is rich, and I am not flapping my hands about.  This creates an illusion that I am not autistic, or autistic enough to warrant any supports.  So, I continue through life creating my own solutions and structuring a one person support system.  It is a level of lonely that no one outside of autism could possibly imagine.