Barking Sycamores is the creation of N.I. Nicholson, a writer, poet, and autism self-advocate who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in late 2010. Their strong belief in art (in particular, the written word) as a means of communication and expression for neurodivergent people motivated the creation of Barking Sycamores in 2014. Their fiancé and fellow artist V. Solomon Maday joined the editorial staff in late February 2014.
What’s in a Name?
The American Sycamore tree sheds its bark in larger chunks than other trees, which often leaves this tree with a pale, skinless appearance. Similarly, autistic people can often feel like the world — in both sensory and emotional data — invades our being, as if we have no skin to protect us.
Secondly, an HDFT brain scan of Dr. Temple Grandin as shown on the television show 60 Minutes appears very tree-like, with her neurological connections reaching higher and farther like branches — so it’s easy to picture a tree of nerves, growing in one’s brain. (Note: HDFT stands for high definition fiber tracking.)
Last of all, the word “barking” is itself a play on words, as we think of not only the tree but a reference to possible perceptions of communication by neurominorities as well as the act of communication itself. Just like there is debate about whether dogs communicate anything meaningful by barking, there has also been debate about the nature and meaning of neurdivergent communication and the easy dismissal of some of its manifestations as being without function or meaning. For example, one might think of such phenomenon associated with autistic people like hyperlexia (the precocious ability to read without prior training before age 5) and echolalia (the repetition of others’ vocalizations). However, when one shifts one’s perceptions to see these behaviors in a different light, then something like hyperlexia can be understood as a way to gather information or take in the communications of others, or echolalia as a way of learning to communicate or to understand the nature of speech itself.
The desire to communicate is as natural as breathing. For neurodivergents who express themselves through the written word, it can be frustrating if one’s work is dismissed as either as an unlikely fluke, a savant ability, simple products of eccentricity or insanity, or meaningless gibberish when, for God’s sakes, one is communicating! In light of this, it becomes very important to provide a venue for neurodivergent artistic communication. This is where Barking Sycamores comes into the picture. We are skinless trees, speaking ourselves into the universe, and “barking” means that we thumb our noses at the idea that what we say is meaningless, mere imitation, or of less merit.
For more about the kinds of poetry, short fiction, artwork, and essays we seek, please visit our submission guidelines page.