Reviewed by Rachael Zubal-Ruggieri
Most of the reading I did over the past 20-plus years was academic in nature, necessary for the completion of my college degree. When I read such literature, my mind would automatically shift to an analytical process informed by an academic lens, an experience to which I had become accustomed and that remains mostly comfortable for me. Since graduating from college (a long time coming, no less), I can read for entertainment—a pleasure I had really missed.
Published under the NeuroQueer Books imprint of Autonomous Press, reading Rest Stop, one of the volumes in the Spoon Knife series, provided me with the opportunity to read for entertainment and pleasure, without the need to dissect or question what I was reading—at least not in the way I had grown used to doing. I read this book from my own Neurodivergent perspective and experience; my comments below are offered in that spirit, as a fellow writer.
For years, the rest stops peppering the New York State Thruway were drab, plain, uninviting. They had simply been places to take bathroom breaks; you didn’t really want to linger. One or two had a diner, but those, too, were less than mediocre. Then the Thruway Authority revamped them all. The existing buildings were razed and replaced with large, lodge-like structures, home-like in appearance, with gabled roofs and more of a welcoming vibe. These improved locations hosted mainstream fast food franchises and coffee shops, sold overpriced gasoline, and included gift stores selling expensive ibuprofen and kitschy NYS keepsakes. (And don’t get me started about the restrooms.)
At the time of this writing, many of these rest stops are being rebuilt, yet again, bringing in a wider variety of food franchises. The new buildings are boxy, seeming more like mini-strip malls than home-like enclaves. Which iteration of these American cultural locations is the worst? While I have opinions about which one is best, perhaps I’m mistaken.
The NeuroQueer Books imprint from Autonomous Press serves to “bring some of the best short format works by both established and new writers with a focus on queer, neurodivergent, and disabled voices” and is home to the Spoon Knife series. In their call for papers, editors B. Martin Allen and J. S. Allen sought works on the theme of the “Rest Stop” (caps in original). Allen and Allen asked for works which explored the concept of the rest stop as follows:
…a product of mid twentieth century car culture and the US interstate highway system, a rest stop can be clean and welcoming. Or it might be filthy and frightening. Because you never know until you enter, the rest stop is a respite of last resort.
The rest of the call for papers shared thoughtful call-outs to expand upon the idea of what is meant by a “rest stop”:
Think transitional spaces/times/experiences. The space between where you are and where you will be. Times in which the present has a self awareness of impermanence. If desired, season with dirt and compromise, and garnish with implications of seediness.
Not only does this volume include contributions describing a variety of literal rest stops, authors likewise address and grapple with the many meanings of “rest stop” that are figurative, allusory, and unexpected. A few of the offerings are seemingly purposefully confusing, while likely meaningful to the authors who wrote them. Regardless of the approach adopted, each contribution meets the qualifications of what the editors sought: expecting the unexpected, or as B. Martin Allen shares in the foreword, these works sate his curiosity:
…[about] how people make decisions in circumstances where there are no good options, when the choice is between peril and compromise, heartbreak or danger. How do people behave when picking the least worst option?” (emphasis added) (p. 5, ebook version)
Rather than reflect on each of the 25 contributions in synchronous order, in this review I extol the volume as a whole. Below, I comment on what I perceive to be overall themes interrelated to the exploration of “rest stop,” and how the works address concepts, messages, and situations that I can certainly relate to as someone who is Neurodivergent.
To review this anthology effectively, I had to stop and start reading repeatedly—rest stops, of a sort. As I kept reading, I had to hit my internal pause button many times, shifting from reading to taking notes, or I simply had to close whatever app I was using that day and process. I almost slipped into that old habit of analysis, but caught myself in time to realize how much I enjoyed what I was reading. So why did I take so long to read and respond? I can’t likely answer concretely since I’m still processing. But I’ll try.
I admit my primary reaction was glee when I realized that nearly all of these narratives and snippets of literature were about what-ifs, if-onlys, and alternatives—even when the available choices aren’t particularly preferable or desirable. These stories index the roads less traveled; they underscore the Kobayashi Marus, are the antitheses of Happily Ever Afters, describe the ultimate drawing of straws, and reference imposter syndrome to the max. And, yes, they include people looking into and “running to the abyss” (as noted by Mark A. Nobles in “Everybody Stops by the Blue Plate Diner,” p. 35, e-book version).
While I identified several common themes, perhaps the authors intended something completely different. Some of the poetry I didn’t find relatable. I wondered sometimes if a piece was fiction or nonfiction and would have benefited from having the works described by genre. A few I had to reread more than once. When Rest Stop’s works popped into my head periodically, a few of the stories instantly came to the forefront, Dean Gloster’s story, “Death’s Adopted Daughter,” primary among them.
My absolute favorite work in the anthology is Ian Kinney’s experimental writing, “Excerpts #OfAsh,” likely because I’ve written experimental missives of my own. While I’ve been mostly away from Facebook lately, maybe I need to return, as Kinney publicly tags #OfAsh in his Facebook posts. Does it matter what “#OfAsh” might mean to me or is it more important what the hashtag means to Kinney? He’s tagged this writing for a reason, right? Perhaps some might perceive these posts as erratic and cathartic, suggestive of a language that might mean something and nothing all at once. Maybe these pieces are peeks into existential deep thoughts that shout, “I’m here!” For me, these excerpts land somewhere narrowly between inspiring and encouraging. Or make me feel like I’m not alone. For me, #OfAsh = #FoodForThought.
But back to Rest Stop’s themes. Perhaps we are stronger than we think we are, and if we take a step, a roll, a break, and yes, rest, we’ll be okay. Or maybe not. Perhaps if we vent or relieve pressure in whatever ways help, we’ll meet fellow travelers—our neurokin1—and we are going to be all the better for meeting them, this experience allowing us to make awful situations far more bearable. Or perhaps witnessing the calamity of others’ lives makes our own seem like a picnic. And maybe things happen when we are at our worst, when we have to choose the better or best option among the unthinkable choices we face—perhaps because that choice is the lesser or least of the available “evils” presented to us.
We might indeed encounter any number of fraught circumstances in way stations or spaceships while traversing the Crip Spacetime2 Continuum, or within the plain ole’ cosmos, or in fact anywhere in Cripspace3 where one might adopt different personas, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. Sometimes we need rest from wearing masks, hiding, code-switching, and passing (as Alyssa Gonzalez alludes to in “Life of the Mind”). Then there are the moments when rather than submitting ourselves to energy-draining circumstances (when there are not enough spoons in all known existence), we may need to take deep breaths, come to a stopping point, and then when we can, force ourselves out the door, into the hallways—or back into the cryo pod, à la Matthew Warner’s “Diary of The Cryonic Pharaoh”—even if these moments and situations are ones we truly never want to revisit. Yes, maybe we will end up “running to the abyss,” as Mark A. Nobles might say, but some of us may do so willingly.
Then perhaps we may see someone we know, but become so anxious and terrified to communicate with them, we instead travel to the other side of the street—or the known universe—the one with the unavoidable black holes or those really big mud puddles, facing masses of smelly bodies strolling and rolling past us, or maybe we simply drive on past our intended exit and keep on going (as happens in Brianna Bullen’s “AI: Artificial Interconnection”). We may think about how much of life is all about time—Crip time—sometimes losing, sometimes gaining, sometimes needing to inhabit not only other spaces, but other surfaces and formats—tactile, auditory, lyrical, poetic, or proclamatory, infinite manifestations of all sorts. Yes, like Mr. Spock and others have said, infinite possibilities in infinite combinations and all that rot. And once in a while, we need time to process and communicate the simplest of things. And there are moments when we remain at rest simply because we need better directions, or we are moved into inaction—sometimes suddenly, sometimes subtly.
This anthology also brought other themes to the forefront about coping with subjects and situations that, more often than not, are ableist, trope-filled, misinterpreted, or just plain wrong. Just what is empathy (as shared in Dean Gloster’s “Death’s Adopted Daughter”)? What is restful for one is not the same for another. How might communication involve a rest stop of sorts, hinting at auditory processing, listening, understanding, and communicating (as in “Ambassador” by Bill Bolin)? Indeed, communication can exist in many forms—some more “verbose” than others—as well as be haptic, and alternatively or variously sensorial in nature. Knowing there is somewhere to take a breather, be oneself, and think deep thoughts can be liberating and yes, restful.
Welcome or not, rest stops continue to appear in different ways—in impossible spaces, gaps, and distances. As described above, these rest stops might offer differences (not deficits), and even at times be gifts. Rest stops are (or can be) expressed as existential shifts, unavoidable impossible choices, providing perspective for decision-making, as I mentioned above. Rest stops appear in places that are unexpected (as in B. Martin Allen’s “You Don’t Belong Here”). Rest stops produce, transform, create, enervate, grease the wheels, and produce the pivot we didn’t know we needed, even while reading an anthology of #CripLit. Rest stops are places of discovery, even if we risk pushing ourselves too hard, placing ourselves on the verge of breakdowns, or burning ourselves out (as happens in “Halftermath” by S. Verity Reynolds). We can potentially harness the worst of the worst and learn from such situations.
The works collected in Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop, and likely in all the other volumes in the Spoon Knife series, share how we occupy space and express ourselves in Neuroqueer, Neurodivergent ways, including in the publication of works in Crip-friendly, aut-positive, neuro-welcoming spaces and ways. At the same time, such works do not always explicitly divulge or focus primarily on disability identities and representations. All identity might be read as intersectional. We need to expose others (especially the neurotypicals, the normates4) to spaces and places (and literature) where we don’t have to explain ourselves, because we shouldn’t have to. We can just be.
I also wish to acknowledge and appreciate the last and longest story in the anthology, J. S. Allen’s “Witching Weather.” This story might seem to meander, but it appears that the narrative is written this way intentionally; while restless, it likewise demonstrates how multiple “rest stops,” while transitory, show how some of us can never rest, at least not for long. Nor may we rest in the same way, especially when we have to face that which we try to avoid—and some of these rest stops are pretty dire. Like the character Belno in this story, some of us may actually thrive on “not knowing and not understanding” (p. 220, ebook version). Some of us are forever seeking knowledge, wanting to know more. I myself am a finder, a keeper, a seeker. As B. Martin Allen ponders in the foreword, “where are the other over-thinkers”? I’m one for sure, and I’m right here—and there are others of us out there. And we want to read more.
Title: Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop
Editors: B. Martin Allen & J. S. Allen
Publisher: NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press
- Neurokin is coined by Freya Pinney in her article on Neurodivergent-affirming therapeutic arts practice published in the Journal of Creative Arts Therapies.
- Crip Spacetime is a concept attributed to Margaret Price. Her years-long study, Crip Spacetime: A Re-orientation to Disability Studies, is forthcoming at Duke University Press.
- For more about Cripspace, read se smith’s “Disabling Utopia to Save It” published in The Nation.
- “Normate” critiques the idealization of “normal” bodies and able-bodiedness. The term “normate” was coined by noted Disability Studies scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson.
Read Rachael Zubal-Ruggieri’s poetry published in this issue of Wordgathering.
About the Reviewer
Rachael A. Zubal-Ruggieri is the Administrative Assistant of the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach located in the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University (SU). In 2021, she graduated cum laude from the Human Development & Family Science program at Falk College, with a Disability Studies Minor. Her current research interests include Self-Advocacy, Representations of Disability in Popular Culture, and Interdisciplinary Disability Studies. Throughout 35-plus years working at SU, Rachael has dedicated her career to improving the lives of people with disabilities, including broad-based support to multiple disability rights initiatives on campus, in the CNY area, and nationally, through many grant-funded projects and opportunities and via long-term relationships with community agencies and programs. Rachael is currently Co-Advisor of the Self-Advocacy Network (formerly Self-Advocates of CNY), and previously served as a Board Member of Disabled in Action of Greater Syracuse, Inc. Rachael is also co-creator (with Diane R. Wiener) of “Cripping” the Comic Con, the first of its kind interdisciplinary and international symposium on disability and popular culture, previously held at SU. At conferences and as a guest lecturer, she has for many years presented on the X-Men comic books, popular culture, and disability rights and identities. As a Neurodivergent parent to an Autistic son, Rachael writes and presents about neurodiversity and autism parenting, seeking to debunk and disrupt traditional representations of “the autism mom.” Her poetry has been published in Wordgathering and Stone of Madness Press.