January 26, 2017 § 13 Comments
Diagnosis for autism was a surprisingly unequivocal call for my psychologist.
Ever since I’ve been filling in the gaps. As we approach February I’m shocked to find I’m almost a year old (diagnostically speaking). March 4th will be my birthday.
The other night I had a powerful dream that I was interviewed on national television about being autistic. To articulate what this means in public was clearly wish fulfilment of a kind. I guess I’m tired of being on the margins where I’m invisible and expected to be a good quiet autistic who continues to resemble the neurotypical person everyone (including me) thought I was.
You see I’m learning something important. I don’t want to be that person – one who has to work against my nature and cultural affinities.
Part of this is speaking up and out about everyday matters and expressing my preferences more assertively. One tactic I’ve developed is to describe my experiences online (as in my dream – a way of being public about this) and also directly to source. I’m no longer afraid of addressing organisations, for example, when autistic perspectives are absent.
Yesterday I took on the embedded assumptions of my profession via my super supportive and friendly artist’s network a-n in a post called, Autistic artist seeks professional development.
I’m just so very tired of the fog around social codes creating barriers to access at every level. Those who grow up disentitled know no other. Pernicious fog it is indeed which comes in the way of any fundamental understanding of a process which constantly denies you. Imagine a lifetime of that and the shift required to break through it.
My job now is to develop clear autistic boundaries – which will also mean deciding to leave certain activities and environments behind me.
I only have a finite set of resources for each day – I plan to use them wisely.
Diagnosis is a springboard. Watch me dive.
January 18, 2017 § 7 Comments
I am floating. This is so very pleasant, though I know I need to feel sharper to get through my day – float is what it is. The float brings with it anxiety. Anxiety of the – I shouldn’t be doing this – kind.
Times like these are when my body takes over. I’m working. Working in my studio – spending long hours getting back to my art practice after a long break. This is where I pick up the threads.
I’m also viewing the world (through my fingers) as it shifts towards uncertainty. Trump has Putin standing on his neck says Paul Auster on Channel 4 News. Nothing brings home our global predicament more powerfully than this image. I let it drip feed into my brain to avoid too much panic.
But these are not the only lanes in the superhighway of mental activity and agitation.
I’m also processing autism. My autism.
I learn so much everyday. Mainly a growing awareness of the radical nature of autistic difference from the neuro-normative. It’s so profound, so vast. This way of being is immensely free.
I see many, many occasions, so many circumstances in which neuro-normative culture insists on conformity, and fails to conceive of the vastness outside of it’s parameters.
This makes it hard to see our way through the preconceptions.
This makes it easy to feel constantly in the wrong. (Anxiety provoking in itself)
So the trick as I see it is to float and banish that anxiety. The float isn’t what’s wrong. So embrace the float. Survey the vastness in this region of perception and sense it’s utter correctness for our brains. These are our spaces. Akin to flow.
Inhabit this zone and you begin to feel energised.
You can’t fill this space or harness it – it is simply immense.
I learn it’s a mistake to call this disconnection.
Float is the highest connection I have ever known.
January 3, 2017 § 4 Comments
John Berger died at 90 yesterday.
What can I possibly say of interest or relevance to add to the acres of words which will be written about him and his influence on his passing?
Exactly, so I won’t try.
Except to add an autistic perspective.
I first met John Berger in 1980, on a compulsory reading list for a degree in history of art. And I still have my copy of Ways of Seeing, which I bought in the tiny (on campus) Sussex University bookshop. Back in the day of free education at University level. My campus rent was £12 a week all in, and no tuition fees to be paid. The maintenance element of the grant was means tested, with a parental contribution exacted or not depending on income. End of.
John Berger was that rare and exciting thing. An artist writer.
I was decades away from knowing that I am autistic and also dyslexic/ dyscalculic.
Things I knew back then:
There were so very many perilous authors with a penchant for specialist language (the incomprehensible). Elitists! We raged – as a student group we were (I remember) angry young things.
That I was inexplicably and painfully shy in circumstances others navigated with confidence (this felt deeply mysterious and yet somehow inevitable and entirely my fault).
That I had an unreliable brain (on-off, there and not there).
My main job was to camouflage the oceanic scale of my perplexity – but this was (I believed) because I was an utter fake. A stupid person who had faked my way to university. I had to admit it was odd but autism as an idea for myself would be light years away.
When it came to visual culture I was less stupid it seemed. But still it was uphill in my first year, before I hit my stride. Geekery of course (as now I know it to be) pulled me through.
John Berger somehow cut though all of this. Ways of Seeing wasn’t a breath of fresh air – it was an oxygen mask. He detonated all my previous schooling at A’level, and visually I began from scratch. Yet for me it mattered less how much of what he wrote could be absorbed by the intellect.
The thing to grasp was quite other and better sucked through a straw than read. In drawing back the curtains of cultural assumption Berger also appeared as a magician – signalling alternate layers of perception. Autistic people inhabit liminal spaces it seems to me, often intuitively absorbing their environments. Seeing patterns, which other people can miss. Navigating with an unerring logic.
When I watch Berger now on YouTube I don’t want to claim him as autistic. That’s not what I mean. No way.
It’s just that there’s a certain cross over in the depth of his perceptions. Ha! Ways of seeing and ways of being, if you like.
In a long conversation with Susan Sontag on YouTube (1983) Berger says,
“I’m not very verbal, I have no facility with words.”
Sontag: “I don’t believe you.”
Berger: “It’s true, it’s true.”
And he explains that he’s talking about the unsayable – that which is beyond words, he goes on to insist. Like a melody, or a pattern of colours or a geometric form. And that the struggle is to recreate that in words.
His hyperawareness of the primacy of experience above language (I now realise) chimes in with the autistic condition as I have come to know it (I use the term condition as in state rather than as per medical model).
Words for Berger (he says) must be as close as possible, but they are never close enough to the primary source. They can’t touch the non-verbal, the felt intuitive experience.
And we’re there.
This is my realm. I must feel my way. In all senses. The knowable is not always the sayable. We need gestures and babble sometimes – it’s all good. In fact it’s delightful.
What I recognised back then (without knowing it) was validation. From a man entirely connected to the primary sources of experience. A conduit, gifted with the ability to translate visual (and intuitive) perception in it’s highest forms into a language that was crystalline and egalitarian in spirit.
I recently viewed the Art of Looking a documentary about John Berger regaining vision after cataract operations (though it was so much more than this). Spending an hour in his company was to be transported back to this time, when University education was free.
As charismatic as ever at 90, he did that trick again of connecting me to myself and reminding me that there is so much good in the world. For 2016 – that was no mean feat.