In response to Claudette’s weekly writing challenge #12: Inspire
About fifteen years ago, when my middle daughter was still in high school and working part-time in the evenings, she came home from work exhausted, one night, and was complaining that she had to watch a video for her sociology class the next day. I volunteered to stay up and watch it with her, and perhaps discuss some of it so she’d have some ideas for the next day’s class.
I had no idea what the contents of the video were. It was about a young girl, age thirteen, who had been discovered after being isolated in an upstairs back bedroom since her birth. She had spent most of her days tied to a potty chair, and her nights tied into a sleeping bag in a crib that was completely enclosed by wire mesh. Her father had decided that was the best way to deal with her after doctors told him that his newborn daughter might be retarded.
She had not been taught how to speak, walked with a strange gait, and was a dark-haired pixie who looked about eight years old. The video was her story and how she became the center of a dispute between linguists and researchers over the idea that children, once past puberty, couldn’t learn language. I was completely captivated.
I had recently committed myself to a daily writing regimen. I had done that many times over the years, but always, at some point, dropped the commitment when life became too busy or complicated to continue. Genie, so named by her caregivers, became the inspiration that kept me on the page, kept me writing day after day, week after week, and still doing so after all of these years.
Back then, I already knew that researchers had found that an infant who fails to bond with a parent figure, did not flourish, and many died because of that lack of bonding. It fascinated me that this child, without any form of regular stimulation had survived at all. She hadn’t flourished, but she had survived. And her presence inhabited my daily pages for months after watching the video.
Obviously, I began to relate and identify with her and her story, exploring some of the psychological issues that arose around her person. I love language and communication. Here was a child that had been utterly deprived of both, and yet she continued, albeit, in a somewhat stunted manner, but her eyes danced with intelligence and an eagerness to explore her brand new world.
While focusing on Genie, I became aware of other similar stories reaching back in time. Mythology tells us about Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded and built Rome and, we are told, were fed and raised by a female wolf. The Wolf Boy, in France of the 1800’s. And even more recently, last week, the report of three Austrian children kept in a basement with their mother for over twenty years.
They, and Genie, are defined as feral children, thus The Wild Child. Their prognosis isn’t a good one, and their stories are sad and painful to read. Completely cut off from the socialization process, they develop coping mechanisms that have little to do with living within a community and everything to do with moment to moment survival. The movie Nell, starring Jodie Foster is a fictionalized version with at least a somewhat happy ending.
My major question, in the midst of my exploring, was what did Genie do to survive? How did she exist from one moment to the next in her silent tied up world? The only tool she had was her own mind and her imagination. Did she create a world separate from this one and go there in order to pass the time? I think that is exactly what she did.
But, Genie is now in her fifties, and although she did learn some language skills and sign language, she was eventually passed through several foster homes, sometimes abused, and finally ended up in an institution for adults unable to care for themselves. You can read more about Genie and other feral children by simply googling Genie or The Wild Child.
As I said earlier, I did eventually relate and identify with Genie. Especially with the idea of using the imagination to create coping mechanisms. Some of my own experiences, related in past posts, include aspects of my own adventures in that arena, especially in the area of spontaneous imaging. I not only incorporated them into my own life, but once I started teaching, used many of them in my classroom.
Here, within this blog, I have written several articles about the Wild Thing that lives in each of us. Those pieces and parts of us that get silenced or cut off during the socialization process. Many of which actually form the basis of continued creative energies seeking some form of outlet. If allowed to speak, they can and do provide a richness to the texture of our lives that might otherwise never be explored, let alone utilized. And, perhaps more important, may become the gifts we can share with our world.
I have also written here, of friends who are Multiples, suffering from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), or what used to be defined as Multiple Personality Disorder. These individuals are dealing with life as did Genie and all other feral children, by creating coping mechanisms that allow them to survive in a world that is often hostile and brutal. And like Genie, they have much to offer for inspiration.
Genie’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, like that of Nell. But it does point out the very real fact that there is much to be learned from taking the time to explore and investigate these very real stories and how they pertain to all of us as human beings. What we find can change the way in which we perceive and interpret our own little pieces of reality.
For me, Genie will always be a cornerstone of inspiration. She has taught me a great deal and continues to do so. There are those who might define her as somehow invalid. Of no value to society or to herself. I would strongly disagree. Personally, I find her story, her very existence, absolutely priceless.