We met under a fig tree, one unusually sunny Sunday in September, and over the course of three glorious hours Alex revealed herself to be exactly as she is in her blog, yet completely and utterly different. As in all my virtual to real time encounters, I found real time Alex in one sense to be the same FaceBook and Twitter Alex I had come to know, and yet so much more vividly so than her online presence could ever suggest. I suppose that this modern phenomenon of meeting online friends is something like I imagine the experience of a favourite character from a book coming to life could be. It’s quite magical and surprising. There’s a heady blend of familiarity and discovery, a rounding out of impressions. How I longed to meet Anne of Green Gables and Mrs Pepperpot as a child! Now I was meeting Alex.
Over the past two years Alex and I have developed quite a bond. She has been incredibly generous with her time in viewing and supporting my online projects, contributing poetry and insightful comments along the way. We’ve followed each other’s neurodivergent blogs and recently cross-blogged, sparking off ideas for posts about writing and compassion. Sometimes we meet often online, but there are also silences. Respect and clear boundaries also mark our friendship.
Viewing the exhibition with Alex (it’s a group showing by twelve artists) was a wonderful opportunity to see my fellow artists’ work in greater depth. One of the frustrations of such a disparate showing over the building and grounds of the beautiful Abbey at Sutton Courtenay has been my limited ability to fully grasp the detail behind the other artists’ work. We worked quite separately on our pieces in the run up to the show, and at the private view I was largely with guests who wanted to see and hear about my work. Being with Alex was an opportunity to make sense of it all together. Detail is not my thing, but detail is something Alex excels at.
Alex is a powerfully visual person, whose mind effortlessly grasps pattern and connection familiar to her. Immediately we happened on a major difference between us. While I am a highly visual person, I am almost pattern/system blind. The carefully prepared (not by me!) booklet about the show listing each artist seemed to me to have no particular order. Alex immediately saw that it was alphabetical. Hmm.
I found it fascinating to observe how intimately connected we appeared (and felt) in our common bonds of sisterhood on the spectrum, and yet how divergent our methods of data collection and processing seem to be. I enjoyed recognising her gift (one other family members also share) and revelling in the confidence it inspires in me. I love being with people who can read systems and are willing to share their knowledge with me at my level and without judgement.
The ability to scan and process certain information is one thing, but associative thinking is another, and it was in this sweet and fertile meadow of associative thought that we were able to truly meet and play together. Alex’s brilliance crackles all around her and she brings such careful perception to the surface in conversation that it’s a deep pleasure to be in her presence.
It’s clear Alex has a vast store of knowledge to draw on, making this kind of associative play rich and insightful – we were especially drawn to some enigmatic photographs and an intricate piece about the historical figure Empress Matilda (granddaughter of William the Conqueror). We spent time with artist Kate Hammersley and, with Alex’s help in focusing on the booklet I understood it’s brilliant reference to a painting by Magritte. We sat together in an immersive sound/video installation and eventually produced some responses with the materials provided for this purpose. I observed Alex’s geometrical tracing of surface patterns created by the play of light on water in motion to be like David Hockney’s explorations on this theme.
The gorgeous location, brimming with architectural interest and beautifully kept and bountiful greenery helped to make the day exceptionally enjoyable. But, of course, it was Alex’s company which sealed it as a most memorable occasion. It’s not every day you get to meet someone with such a powerfully gentle personality, or such polite brilliance. Thank you Alex for being so generous with your time.