March 22, 2020 § Leave a comment
My top tips for surviving and thriving online.
We’re all at sea with this coronavirus pandemic, and for freelancers in the UK it’s also been a body blow to learn that (the the time of writing this) our Government has failed to support our incomes in line with employees. With so much creative industry work cancelled (for the foreseeable future) we’re entitled to feel hung-out-to-dry.
We know that world health matters most, but meanwhile we need to make a living, and find ways to “stay calm and carry on” from home.
It’s wonderful to see so many rapid responses to this crisis. A-N have created guidance and information for artists, Disability Arts Online have responded by creating new commissions, and Mathew Burrows recently launched the Artist Support Pledge. It’s all good. We will refashion our working lives.
But in all the uncertainty, there’s one blinding truth. Abled freelance creatives who’ve taken mobility for granted can no longer do so. We don’t know for how long, or in what ways the coronavirus will impact our future working norms. With self-isolation our new reality, and lockdown round the corner, we will all experience the same level of dependancy on the online world for communication.
So I want to say, welcome! This is where we (the variously-identifying stay-at-home freelance veterans) hang out and do our business. We know that you’ve enjoyed these spaces too, and found them a useful support to life and work. But this is a whole new level of habitation.
You’ll quickly connect to this next level but it can be overwhelming. I’ve spent 10 years building a career online, and this is what I’ve learnt about how to avoid the pitfalls and thrive.
- Ignore social hierarchies that shame online interaction. It’s not shameful to be seen to be a regular online user.
- We can break through social isolation by daily sharing. Regular sharing builds networks.
- Sharing and responding is important. You don’t have to respond to everything. Promote the voices you believe in without expectation. It’s not a given that they will like or share your content in return.
- Sharing quality content is key. This includes process and context for your work, as well as finished works. Visual artists especially, the quality of your images is important.
- Sharing is also the work. Online is also the work. You’re constantly building.
- The pace of online connection is different. It can feel and be instant at times, but deeper connections take more time and patience.
- Share for you, not for likes. You’ll find your own level. It has to feel good and useful to be right for you.
- Don’t worry if no one engages with a post. This isn’t failure. There’s an avalanche of information to process online. It’s not personal.
- Only tag contacts into posts if it’s likely to be useful/relevant/interesting to them. Repeatedly tagging contacts can be off-putting.
- Boundaries can get blurred. Remember online sharing is publishing and subject to publishing law.
- ‘Oversharing’ can be a hazard of spending more time online. This is what the Direct Message (DM) function was made for.
- People respond more to positive messages. It’s okay to share negatives, but a consistently negative message can be off-putting.
- Be true to the core of your creative practice online. Don’t try to be all things to all people, but do link what you do to others, and to what’s topical, when relevant.
- Using hashtags is an important networking tool. Researching relevant hashtags is time well spent.
- In 2020, filtering, muting and blocking options have become an essential part of the online freelance toolkit. It is your right to inhabit and work in a positive and conducive environment. This is now also useful information for safeguarding your mental health online regarding coronavirus anxiety. You don’t need to stay away, you can filter trigger words on some platforms.
- Online platforms can be overwhelming. It can take time to find out what works for you. Follow the people and organisations that interest you, but with multiple contacts it’s wise to use filters. Enabling notifications for key contacts is also a great tool for keeping in touch.
- A watched kettle never boils. Follower numbers are the same. Network for the joys and benefits of connection and your numbers will grow themselves.
- Adopt what works for you, you don’t have to do it all.
March 1, 2020 § 2 Comments
A blog post about exploring new language through visual research.
I’ve written a lot about my autism over the past 4 years, but that’s because discovering you’re autistic late in life can feel like a page-turner. With an introspective disposition and a bent for self-analysis the plot twists keep on coming. I’m glad of this. Who doesn’t love a good story and, let’s face it, there’s nothing more gripping than your own. I don’t minimise the inner struggle for autistic self-knowledge, but dull it isn’t!
Discovering autism can quickly become an identity quest. For a late-diagnosed person the self-image of a lifetime can suddenly feel like a case of mistaken identity – there really are no words to capture the magnitude of this. There follows a process of adaptation for which there is no guidance and little if any formal support. We must work things out as best we can, and for many of us this can mean a lot of online activity, including reading and writing blogs. Wherein autistic adults are amassing a truly wondrous resource, which also serves to document both an important cultural moment and a movement for social justice. Good times.
Access to a collective autistic wisdom, absent for a lifetime, is a powerful force. Through it we can discover the language and concepts we need to ease our passage towards more congruent identities, but there are no emotional short cuts. Truly understanding and owning autism is something which evolves, I’ve found. Where I was last week is not where I find myself today. In a recent blog post I considered ‘social disability’ as a useful term. Right now my eureka! is a post-it note on which a version of me seems to have written, I have a neurological condition. The me who wrote it must have been the schoolgirl me trying hard to please at handwriting practice. The note pictured above was written (left-handed) by the artist-advocate me who wants you to know that my neurological condition affects my handwriting. This blog flows directly from my visual research.
My post-it phrase also featured in the blog post about ‘social disability’, but sometimes we bury the lede. I must have written my post-it as an aide memoire. It was waiting for me yesterday on my return from a 12 hour working day (including travel), and today I’ve struggled. This is not ordinary tiredness, this is the ache of overload which I now understand to be neurological at core. So much so that I realise my post-it contains the message I must now front-load, not least to myself.
And with these words I am reminded of all the binaries we seem to peddle in our online lives, in which my lovely post-it could be seen as a pathologising message about autism. This is not my intention, and autism as a cultural identity is something I will also uphold to my final breath – I see no conflict in this duality. I continue to be joyful, and to celebrate my autism unreservedly, but I must develop the means to communicate more effectively about my autistic needs. What’s required is clarity of thought and vision. We can’t truly know what we need until we learn what’s holding us back. It’s all a work in progress.
I’ve worked with many artists and I know how challenging it can be to seek to make autism visible when the narratives surrounding autism remain skewed and contested, but I believe it to be important and fertile ground. For example, I intend to talk and practice more self-care as a result of working on the image above. The act of creating it conjured the idea that one simple thing could have improved my yesterday and can help me in the future. My yellow post-it! I’m now excited to discover what happens when I carry it with me – both literally and metaphorically speaking.
I’m loving this phase of my becoming. My post-it isn’t designed for sympathy, no, no! For me this is a powerful image, brimming with ownership. I’m all for that!
February 15, 2020 § 2 Comments
I’m a late-diagnosed autistic. The more I learn about myself the more I recognise unwitting social ableism. As a cohort of emancipated autistics at loose in the world we can can be vehicles for change. We need both inner metal and moments of respite because it’s not easy (and it’s not for everyone). We can only work to capacity, and move forward without judgement, because this is painful work.
In my travels I often encounter casually displayed social prejudice embedded in seemingly benign comments, which are rarely maliciously intended. In most cases it would feel wrong to interrupt and say…excuse me, what did you just say?! These are not yet the social rules.
So it would be awkward and seem rude, and yet – there it is! A social ableism which not only hurts and offends your ears but holds back the kind of culture shift we desperately need – not only for equality, but to save lives.
Autistic people die by suicide because they can’t perform as non-autistics. Autistic people also die in social care.
There is urgent cultural work to be done. Yet, faced with such a moment I often fall into a familiar mental fog.
Where to begin?
This is the question autistic people report facing with many even ordinary every day tasks. I’m finding it useful to think about this as a form of ‘brain fog’ which affects my ability to join up facts, marshal arguments or take action in a conventional expected/demanded linear fashion. Invisible barriers descend and conspire against us – and sometimes we haven’t even left the house.
People often use the term ‘procrastination’ to describe such delay in coordinating action or response, but I find this inaccurate and pejorative. It’s not as though we have a will in the matter.
So I want to talk about brain fog as a neurological condition and use fog as a metaphor to think about my disability and my art practice. Logically, I feel, the way my brain works will show itself in my creative method – an obvious point but one rarely analysed in mainstream arts.
It couldn’t be clearer. Procrastination suggests there’s an alternative involving non-procrastination. Namely that I could speed up if I just moved directly into tackling the ‘task at hand’.
I challenge anyone to move swiftly and directly in a dense fog. No. The sensible thing is to adjust your ETA, slow your speed and find a fog lamp. You literally have to inch your way.
Brain fog (I find) can be made up of two categories:
- Too much stuff – options, information, thoughts, hostile demands (which go against brain type)
- To little stuff – lack of relevant information, coded information, not enough working memory, dissociation, loss of focus.
It’s a hugely complex picture as our fog-prone brains are also our best friends. Brain fog seems to be a feature of an expansive and holistic thinking style, and I want to add that it’s not a permanent state which finds a wonderful counterbalance in hyper-focus. We can be incredibly focused when conditions allow.
Also a fog prone environment is a treasure trove of intuition, capable to a fault. This line of thought helps me to understand the kind of learner I am – I have to experience something to learn about it and feel my way.
It also helps explain the methodology of my painting practice, which flows not only from brain-type but also from the origins of my painting practice in an experiential painting group during my art therapy training.
My most recent (obsessive) tomato paintings couldn’t illustrate this fact more perfectly. My method has been to coax my painted tomatoes (signifiant symbols of a very specific childhood memory and location) onto a series of canvases through a process of trial and error. As though themselves emerging from a fog, they’ve come in and out of focus, been marked in and erased countless times along the way. A vital part of this process has been checking my work against the harsh studio lights. If the tomatoes weren’t ‘ripe’/right I pushed them firmly back into the fog. Painting in oils has felt almost like sculpting in clay. Importantly I’ve revelled in sharing my process on Instagram – knowing now that what I’ve really wanted to say is look at my brain! This is how it works…
What’s vital to my process is the to-ing and fro-ing – the freedom I give myself to experiment without judgement and begin again if I’m not happy with the results. It’s so not a linear process. What counts is the visible and concrete nature of this exploration – this is my kind of research.
What I hope to do in my practice is begin to show more of my process so that I can carry on exploring these connections more publicly. Working with a fog-prone brain is truly wonderful (I wish you could try it if you don’t have one!) until I’m forced to complete a linear task in a linear fashion, or I’m not able to access missing data. Feeling my way as a method is vital to my ability to function, stay well, and at times excel. What many of us need is support to make our way in a world not yet fit for purpose, and which forces us to work against ourselves.
And so we return to the start of this blog post and the desire for culture shift, and the needs for resilience in the face of social ableism.
I’ve written previously about reviewing where I am 4 years on from an autism diagnosis – I will be 4 on the 4th of March 2020 autistically speaking. I want to use my practice to talk about accommodating brains that are ‘other’. Our multifaceted, beautiful neurodivergent brains, with which we can be the useful ‘aliens in the room’ (a recent phrase I’ve heard used to talk about innovation).
It’s important to feel useful to stay alive. It’s what I want for us all. We must all feel that we have agency over the things which matter to us. In my studio I know that my tomatoes will dance, sing, and play with me, until they’re ripe and ready to emerge as talismans for a way of being that can’t be silenced – it is too joyful and beautiful.
Okay, I know I can’t effect culture shift with my tomatoes! Though I can add to the growing conversation in the arts sector. I’ve recently been inspired by a colleague about to think about the power of silence as a defence against social ableism.
I’ll be holding the possibility of using silence in any future encounters with unintended social ableism. Let’s see what opens up in the gap.
You can see more tomato action on @s_boue
February 6, 2020 § 5 Comments
A blog post in which I talk through some new thinking about the term ‘social disability’.
I love an epiphany!
God, being autistic is sometimes an absolute blast. I get to peel back layers of a life time’s accumulation of faulty learning and go, wow! so that’s how it really works…
Recent adventures have got me thinking about ‘social disability’ as an important addition to the terms I can use to help articulate accommodation needs. This could be a sensitive term for some, so here comes the bit where I make the usual disclaimers. As ever in my writing I only speak for myself, and please remember that when you’ve met one autistic you’ve only ever met one autistic.
The point is (however) that each autistic has to work things out for themselves. We mainly have no such thing as aftercare following an autism diagnosis. I’ve been through many a recalibration of my identity since my official diagnosis in March 2016, but my love for the word autism has never wained. I was luke warm on the term neurodivergent for the longest time, but have recently cosied right up to it – it’s so useful and brings much needed solidarity with a wider group. I’ve got a lot of affection for the term invisible disability, but rarely remember to use it (note to self to do more of this). But in almost mint condition is my sudden mental adoption of the term ‘social disability’ which I’m test-driving here. I’m excited by it mainly because I feel the need for clarity and specificity. This is about refining and recalibrating where I am 4 years on from my diagnosis and readying myself to meet new challenges.
It’s taken 4 years for me to absorb that I can never fully compensate for my autism with workarounds, accommodations and self-care. There’s no magic neurological catch-up or compensation that can level out the playing field (ergo it’s the playing field that needs to change, by the way!) I HAVE A NEUROLOGICAL CONDITION ( which affects me in many ways) as well as an identity to forge – and for me the two must go hand in hand.
The penny has finally dropped. It doesn’t matter how much learning I do, or how much I am accommodated, I will remain at core disabled by my hyper intuitive and sometimes scrambled navigational systems. This insight, by the way, does nothing to negate my autism positive position – I see autism as both disability and identity, and find no conflict in this position.
I feel great joy at being me, I love myself and my autism quite fully, right up to the brim in fact. But I will forever spend my days in hostile environments following norms I can’t ever hope to understand. I will always need to use my native intellect and find the will to be assertive and seek adjustments, but I need more than this. I NEED IT TO BE UNDERSTOOD THAT I AM RADICALLY SOCIALLY DIFFERENT – AND THAT I DON’T WANT SUPPORT TO APE YOU OR OPERATE LIKE YOU (if you are a non-autistic reader). This is not rudeness on my part, I’m talking about neurologically based social orientations and needs.
I do a lot of writing, thinking and advocating about autism and the arts, and I encounter a lot of artists who are autistic and struggle with the question of how to place themselves in their professional lives, and in the art world as a whole. There is no such category as ‘autistic artist’ that would fit us all – as stated above, once you’ve met one of us you’ve only ever met one of us. So what kind of beastie are we, and where do we fit, if at all? What does it mean to be an autistic artist?
We return to the conundrum of extreme diversity within divergence, but I believe we can perhaps haul some commonalities out of the possibly infinite variety of minds, though once more I can only truly speak for myself.
A social difference that’s disabling and is life long means the building blocks of learning have been (and will continue to be) different. THIS DOESN’T GO AWAY. Our thinking can run so counter to the non-autistic that we can feel alien even when we appear to be joining in and on side. We’re conditioned to mask our difference and often don’t know how to drop this adaptation. We can also find many points of joyful and genuine connection, but it takes colossal effort on our part to ‘make it’ into the room. Once there, we may well have no idea how to network and ‘makes things happen’. We can learn some of your tricks though kindness and information sharing, but THIS TOO DOESN’T GO AWAY.
So what’s my vision, and what does focusing on the term ‘social disability’ gain? I feel this would be suitably radical and risky. Talking about social disability is usefully uncomfortable and revealing. We reward neuro-normative sociability with popularity and power and we judge those who can’t perform it. In doing so we must sometimes confuse neurology with personality – neither should be judged, but disability is a protected characteristic and requires positive action.
Accommodations are vital, but so is culture shift. Please understand that I don’t want a leg- up to join the ranks, I want to break the current neuro-normative socially biased mould. I feel social disability as a term enables me to pinpoint a very particular aspect of my struggle as an autistic artist. At the forefront of articulating and carving out autistic space and power is where I want to be.
October 26, 2019 § 4 Comments
Well, I try. The last time I used this line (in a poem) I was met by guffaws. My children find me hilarious, a fact I often find bemusing but welcome. I don”t think my head will ever get too big while they’re around to remind me that I sometimes risk being pretentious if not risible.
In my art practice I’m building up to new works, and am encountering new ideas in my other work too. I have many jobs (or many projects more accurately put) to which I can now bring a lifetimes experience of the kind that matches, when so often in the past my experience has been out of kilter. I’ve also been given a creative opportunity which has over the past year blown my practice wide open. These two related events are working a strange kind of magic on me.
We are a sum of all our parts, it’s said, but for autistic people it can be hard to experience the parts as connected. I certainly didn’t until quite recently. This feeling of fragmentation is something I’ve written about before. I think about evolving as an autistic person since my diagnosis in 2016 as a series of incremental steps towards a feeling of congruence. I believe the mechanism involved is the unlearning of unhelpful coping strategies and exploring new more suitable ways of navigating the social world.
With my relatively newfound anthropological lens on life even my mistakes become opportunities for learning. I’m no longer mortified, feeling (quite rightly) that I can’t help being ‘blunt’ at times. I’ve decided I really would like a t-shirt which says, congenitally tactless! I feel it might go down well at parties I will never go to and be quite fun to wear. I’m not the first to notice that people like it if you get in first with the joke and don’t mind having a good humoured chuckle at yourself. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For some autistics this would feel very alien advice and so I don’t share it as advice (because for many of us being the butt of the joke all our lives has been bad enough without any own goals in this department). I share it as an observation (from a self-confessed privileged vantage point), and because I’ve found that opening up about my areas of struggle enables others to come forward too. This is revealing and, I think, important – I remain convinced that there are more ND people in the world than the world currently knows about. Also that in accommodating our needs we accommodate others. So privilege and path-beating go together.
As I continue my journey towards autistic congruence, I can’t help thinking that the high incidence of hostility to social difference in our culture can block our ability to experiment and learn early on in life. Accurate perceptions about autism in the non-autistic population are also equally stymied it seems to me. As I’ve said so often before, if the welcome isn’t right we can (unsurprisingly) become contact averse. Like so much misperception about autism this process (in my experience) is an ongoing social dynamic whereas people tend to think of autism as a fixed state of being. This is not to say that I think we need more encouragement to adapt to the neuro-normative society we find ourselves in (this is not what I mean) – simply that with the right knowledge and conditions we can all learn from one another across neurological types.
The discouragement that an autistic person might receive over a lifetime can perhaps be seen as an incremental force in the opposite direction to the one I’ve found myself travelling in since 2016. This is a truly terrible thought. Okay, I’ve always ‘worked on myself’, but it’s become clear I was working with the wrong information. As I said quite recently to a friend – it was like I was paddling along in a canoe and suddenly I was given a turbocharge engine.
I can’t talk about my new work yet, but it makes my pulse race and spurs me on even as we face the tipping point of winter (my life long nemesis!) What I do want to do is offer encouragement to others, wherever you may be in your journey to congruence.
This is why I make myself visible, because in the words of Soweto Kinch on BBC Saturday Live this morning (about 20.40 mins into the programme), you can’t be what you can’t see. This too I want on a t-shirt.
October 9, 2019 § 1 Comment
The painting you see before you is literally buzzing. It’s a good representation of my brain right now.
I painted it with great emotion, inspired by a piece of classic Spanish cinema called The Spirit of the Beehive (1972). Bees swarming. Having a bee in your bonnet. It’s all connected. But what do you do when the bees are inside your brain?
Such is the sensation sometimes with autism (I find). I qualify this because it will feel differently to others. We don’t need a bunch of bee-brain theories (or pea-brain theories, to be honest).
That’s why it’s hard to write about the less comfortable aspects of autism – you don’t want to fuel the ‘bad autism’ beast. See! Naughty autism got you, they might say, but I won’t let them. It’s not the autism that’s naughty. I guess I should blame the sillies who tried to tell me I was slow (for example) when it’s quite obvious I am fast (too fast at times). But I won’t do that either.
Increasingly, I’m inclined to believe that these people and many others just don’t know about brains, probably because they’ve never had to think about them (or their brains in relation to others).
Thinking about our brains (and what’s ‘wrong’ with them) is probably the sole preserve of the ‘misfit’. Majority brains don’t have to bother. In my view this labour is advantageous and our ‘misfit’ brains hold many advantages too.
It helps to identify the volume of traffic caused by the bees (ideas), and they don’t always swarm so. They also connect parts that other brain can’t reach.
What interests me about the mark-making activity documented in the painting above is that it narrates the impulses of my mind via the movement of my arm (and hand). The movement of my whole body indeed (because it was suitably frenetic – you won’t know this but I just typed frantic in error.)
I have therefore (in a way I can relate to) shown you the inside of my mind, without recourse to any words. You will see it. You will see my joy and my rage. You will also see my freedom. You have even seen my autism as it is. Dynamic, rhythmic, capable of control (for I have stayed within the picture frame and given you a harmonious dancing surface to gaze at.)
I want to show you more.
December 5, 2018 § 3 Comments
I’m still processing.
This is a phrase commonly heard among a particular cohort. The group in question is a network of autistic women (I’ve come to know) who’ve been diagnosed autistic late in life.
What I’m processing (to get back to it) is a first ever experience of sharing my practice as an ‘autistic artist’. Previously I have only ever had cause to share my practice as an artist, period. Let me tell you, there can be a huge difference!
For the first time, I understand the fear attached to being labelled.
Perhaps to no surprise, it turns out that outing yourself (to people who don’t know you well enough nor have an evolved understanding of autism) closes down the shutters of perception. It can even dictate (it seems) what is considered fair comment – the like of which I don’t think would be tolerated for any other minority group in the room. We probably occupy what is currently the last frontier in minority rights. Others will emerge, I’m sure.
When I share as the usual art me – Sonia Boué specialising in postmemory work relating to the Spanish Civil War – I feel understood. I never fail to be met with respect and often even a gratifying interest in the many layers of my practice. Hurrah!
It is also understood that I have a track record, that I’m a professional person who has worked hard and gained significant experience in many areas of practice. So far so brilliant!
I have always felt included and certainly never felt ‘othered’. What I now know of as privilege.
I wish I could say that I was afforded the same respect when presenting my work as an autistic person more recently. Ableism klaxon!
With hindsight I can see that it was my fault. Doh!
I had tried to broker any misunderstanding of my practice head on. My work is implicitly autistic (because I am) but autism is not my subject, was what I went with Keep it simple, is a motto I try to live by.
But I had opened a crack in the door for ableist comment and aggression to pile in (unwittingly, it has to be said).
Do I exaggerate? No, not really.
Autistic people are subject to aggression and disrespect all the time. It’s just that I’m masking and passing usually.
A code of practice?
For me this has highlighted a particular need for a code of practice when sharing our work as autistic artists, which I feel moved to think about more deeply – and process a little more.
It shouldn’t be needed and perhaps won’t be in all contexts – but until we make more progress on autism I’m for being ‘share ready’ or indeed not ready to share. I think this is about being more boundaried as individuals but also about pooling knowledge on how to highlight and protect the needs of a community of creatives that is now coming forwards.
A great deal of what I encounter in my mentoring and consultancy practice is a gaping hole around ‘mindfulness’ where diverse neurologies intersect. I’m not talking about a buzzword version of mindfulness. I’m referring to slowing down to a speed at which we can ALL process more effectively. I ‘m talking about (where we can) controlling the parameters of our engagement. This is my ambition for my cohort.
It is an absolute myth that good work happens at speed or that those who are quick are also more effective.
In my minds eye I see a giant hand. The palm is out-turned, signalling stop. It is gentle but firm – not a deity but rather a traffic signal.
I am secretly enamoured of the road sign and street paraphernalia that controls the flow of traffic. I long for tee-shirts with stop and go symbols! No entry! One way! Dead end! All beautifully simple and clear as means of communication.
You can’t get a license to drive until you’ve learnt the Highway Code for a very good reason – you’d kill or get killed pretty quickly without it.
I like the idea of a nice laid out set of rules for engagement. I like rules.
My ideal beginning for sharing my practice as an autistic person would be; STOP. LOOK. LISTEN. (responses on a post-it note ONLY)
Now where have I heard that before!