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Writing is a heartache

The piece was inspired by Sarah Stup, a young writer with autism and great talent. Her story is our story, our story is hers.

Please share this piece with those who long to express themselves and are ready to accept that some things in life are not of our choosing, let alone easy. And that can be a good thing.

The content of this article may be forwarded in full without special permission, provided it is used for nonprofit purposes and full attribution and copyright notice are given. For other purposes, contact Beth Mende Conny at


Are Your Eyes Listening?
by Beth Mende Conny,

Attribution: © 2002-2009 Beth Mende Conny. Beth Mende Conny is the founder of and the author of more than four dozen books and collections.

Writing is a heart-ache.

The heart truly aches, swells with ideas that don’t seek expression as much as release. The pressure builds with every passing word — the gems of language and insight that we let slip, literally, from our fingers.

And when at last we hold them, mere butterfly wings, our hearts ache again. To be given the chance — indeed, the privilege — to shape and string them into poems and stories is to enter into an agreement not so much with our readers but with ourselves. We agree to let life touch us and let ourselves, like lovers, return the caress.


Sarah’s heart aches. That ache led her to write Are Your Eyes Listening, a collection of poems, essays and insights into the world of autism. It was through the title piece of her book that I was introduced to her work:

Are your eyes listening? That’s what needs to happen to hear my writing voice. Because
of autism, the thief of politeness and friendship, I have no sounding voice. By typing words I can play with my life and stretch from my world to yours. I become a real person when my words try to reach out to you without my weird body scaring you away. Then I am alive.

With writing I reach out to try, and autism or hate or walls of doubt can’t hold me. I am pleased to typing away — typing away loneliness, typing away silence, using paper to hug you and slap you and join you. Click, click, clicking keys are my heartbeat. Listen with your eyes.


Who knows how long it took Sarah to write this piece. Her motor skills are limited, and it sometimes takes hours over a period of days for her to write a few lines.

Her patience and drive astound me and make me feel silly and small. I have no trouble holding a pen, and I’m a pro at complaining about writer’s block. Sarah, however, doesn’t have time for blocks. She only has limited periods in which to work. This has less to do with the physical act of writing and more to do with the required focus.

Autism, she says, is a “naughty beast.” It steals her concentration, invades her sensory system. Sounds become deafening; they are “full freight trains of noise/that empty out in rips of tortured sounds/that won’t stay inside.”

Sights become blinding, faces included, which is why she cannot meet your eye. When sensations get truly overwhelming, she compulsively knocks on walls, touches her finger to her nose, clicks the tops of pens. She begins to pace. It is, she says, “the compass that rescues me.” It keeps the sights and sounds behind her.

But sometimes they catch up. Not just for hours but weeks and months. Her writer’s block is physical. And within it is trapped her heart-ache. She has so much to say, so many thoughts to commit to paper. “The words are there,” she says, “the voice is not.”

I feel for her, writer to writer. I do not have autism, but I know what it is like to have words bottled up, seeking release. How painful it can be.

But while I moan and groan, believing the world is awaiting my pristine prose, Sarah does what she can, as best she can. Time is short, literally. Windows of opportunity close. And so she writes. Not just about autism but love and beaches, lilacs and coffee, family. She also writes about writing:

Paper is how my message gets out…
Paper is the holder of who I am.
Paper is my ticket out …
Paper speaks to eyes that hear.

Eyes that hear … isn’t that what we writers want most? To be read but, more so, to be heard? To know that our words matter because we matter. For paper truly is the holder of who we are. It is paper that holds our heart-ache.

To learn more about Sarah and read excerpts from her book Are Your Eyes Listening? visit