beautiful calm coast dawn

Mini-NonFic Monday: Processing Noise, Seeking Stillness

Genre: Nonfiction

In the stillness there is contentment. Less processing of sound and more flow of thought. I’m more at peace here, devoid of noise. Although I have no idea what totally quiet means. Even when voices aren’t present, there’s the hum of the fridge, the lamp timer softly ticks, and the fan of our furnace is constantly having an opinion.

Even so, amid the ever-present sound, I can sometimes feel the stillness. It comes from my own self. I like to communicate quietly. Someone in my past told my parent I was mute. I had to learn to be boisterous, feeding on the energy of my extroversion, copying the delivery I heard from comedians. Discovering what stuck and what bombed. Eventually, my humour was my own. I would be the life of the gathering. People got excited when I entered a room because they knew I would be entertaining.

I never had the chance to know what it would be like to be a non-vocal extrovert. For some reason, speaking out loud is important to so many people.

I would have loved to have learned signing as a child. Then, I could express my humour while being silent. The lack of voices would have made me feel calmer too, and I’m sure the banter would have been amazing.

I don’t understand ASL, but even without knowing the signs, I love watching the movements of the conversations. It soothes me. The facial expressions make me feel so engaged. Where I live now, they speak with their vocal chords and almost completely free of emotion. It makes me feel sad. I guess I prefer quiet communication with loud emotions.

My relationship with sound has always been complex. It can seduce me or repel me. I can be hard of hearing and acutely hearing at the same time. Voices often elude me. They get buried underneath all the other noises in the room.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. But I can love the drums yet go into a panic over repetitive patterns. Perhaps controlling the beat and varying it with riffs and rolls makes it okay in my brain. Whenever I was in a band whose musicians didn’t bother listening to each other, I felt tormented by the ghastly intersecting of sounds that didn’t go together. I would often lose my temper or beg them to stop playing, not understanding how they could be so calm amid the chaos.

Today though, I’m alone. It’s my day to control how much noise I hear. I don’t have to speak out loud for hours. This is paradise. A temporary visit to Innisfree. My only regret is that time is passing too quickly, and I will have to use my voice soon.

I wish people understood, even in my own family, how much stillness I need.

Because it dials everything back.

There is beauty in still moments.

If only they didn’t have to be so fleeting.

Processing Noise, Seeking Stillness © 2023 Cait Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Cait Gordon.

A greyscale close-up of me, standing in front of a blank background. I am a white woman with short silver hair cropped closely on the sides. I am wearing dark metallic rimmed glasses with rhinestones on the side. I’m wearing silver hook earrings with flat beads and a plaid shirt.

Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’CosmThe Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too. 

Featured photo by Pixabay on

Cait Gordon

Masking: The Fine Art of Faking Being Neurotypical

I’m autistic.

You don’t know how freeing it is to write that. Every single time I do, I feel like a little more of that burden I’ve been carrying for decades is being lifted off my shoulders. I’m one of those cases (as happens to many autistic cisgender women) where I only discovered this last year at age 49. Yup, I went my whole life knowing that my brain operated in its own way; not much at all like my friends or teachers at school, nor my work colleagues as an adult. I had a unique way of perceiving my surroundings and often wondered why people didn’t get where I was coming from.

I was on the fringes in school—the misunderstood musician. I was loud and passionate (yay for being extroverted and neurodiverse), but I didn’t understand many social constructs. If social rules made no sense to me, I dismissed them. And I’m talking about ridiculous made-up things that cause the exclusion of others. I also rebelled on a religious level at age 15. (I am not really into the adulation of “human heroes”—I don’t care how famous they are. So, I never went to see the Pope in Montreal in the mid-80s. My Catholic parents were shocked, but they didn’t stop me.)

Sensory overload and the need to withdraw into quiet spaces has probably always been there with me. With the invention of the Sony Walkman™ back in the day, I found solace in listening to music, so I could focus on a singular, comforting sound. Even today, I rarely go outside without my headphones on. However, I’ve not worn them at crowded events. The onslaught of noise from cons, for example, can make me feel like someone is beating up my brain from the inside. Last year, I had to flee, in what felt like desperation, to a place of solitude in a less populated part of a hotel at a writers’ convention. I was shaking from The Overwhelm. It never occurred to me that I needed to upgrade to noise-cancelling headphones as an aid in sensory crises.

Cait Gordon
I need my space opera, but I also need a quiet space!

This type of overload, accompanied by the brain fog associated with fibromyalgia, takes over my ability to concentrate and hear. I cannot pick out human voices very well. One time on a writers’ panel, my friend had stated their pronoun was they, and when I immediately forgot (I’m like Dory the fish), they tried whispering it to me, and I couldn’t hear it until my other friend to the right cried: “They!” How embarrassing. I have now learned the ASL for the word, by the way. And at home, the Closed Captions are always on. Human voices have been a challenge for me, again, for decades.

Most of my life I’ve pretended to hear words when I could not. Most of my life I’ve tried to blend in to the constructs around me when I figured it might be easier that way, but I could not mask that long, and my true self always came back. Sometimes I’d completely burn out from just “trying all the time.” I also cannot often accept the status quo and/or injustices. A Québecois expression roughly translated is: I don’t keep my tongue in my pocket. (Thanks to my friend Nate for that one.) It’s really difficult for me to say nothing while myself or others are being excluded, and these days my passions are focused on accessibility and the inclusion of all the humans who identify with the Disabled/Deaf/Neurodiverse/Spoonie/Mad culture.

If you meet me in person, there might be a good chance my words might seem disjointed, or I have a difficult time collecting them. My brain is constantly processing the load of chronic pain stimuli, as well as trying to navigate speech through whatever is going on with my neurodiversity on that particular day. I’m just saying this as a fact—not to incur sympathy. I do not feel sorry for myself in the least. I know I’m intelligent and that my voice matters, regardless of whether my brain is fully braining or out of spoons.

There are people who might not want our voices heard, or they want them curtailed to fit into neurotypical boxes or even into ableist perceptions of how we should be. Don’t subscribe to that. My internalized ableism has held me back for so long. It was responsible for me waiting years to get a mobility device, and it kept me masking my neurodiversity.

You can’t really fake things. Faking puts such a strain on a person and you’re basically living a lie. I totally get sometimes we mask for survival, so I won’t judge anyone who still feels they need to mask. I’ve been in that place, too. Be safe, by all means.

But if you feel you can, do connect with other autistic and neurodiverse people. There are so many on Twitter, for example. And for the most part, they are extremely supportive.

It feels good to remove the mask.

And these days, instead of faking it, I’ll say a phrase my BFF uses a lot: “My brain isn’t braining today.” That expression really works for me. Perhaps you have one that suits you even better.


Cait Gordon, in a black and white digital sketch
Cait Gordon

Cait Gordon is a disability advocate and the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers (September 2019). When she’s not writing, Cait’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She’s also teamed up with co-editor Talia C. Johnson on the Nothing Without Us anthology (September 2019.)