It is a documented assertion that autistic people have a tendency to become attached to objects, above human connection. The more I ponder on this, the more it appears to me, at least in my own case, that this supposed fixation for objects is not so much an emotional bonding to the actual physical (and hence inanimate) object itself, but rather instead a form of poignant association with the dynamism of materiality (i.e. the embedded animate vibrant properties), the nature of which passes largely unnoticed or not properly understood by the non-autistic observer. In addition, all and any embodied symbolisms and memory-interconnections can be extremely powerful to the autistic mind.
Recently, with summer now firmly upon us here in the land Down Under, I took out my two precious pairs of Salvatore Ferragamo sandals from their winter wrappers, and was looking forward to wearing them once more. I cannot express adequately in semantic verbal terms the sequence of emotions that followed upon stepping outside with one of the two the other evening, on my way to a dinner party at my neighbour’s house.
There was a subtle but unmistakable added bounciness to the feel of the wedged base as I walked along. I had not worn the sandals for more than half a year now, but my brain has retained a memory imprint of the tension, tensility and kinetic-wear of these sandals. The feeling this time around was different. Not a good sign. I took a good look at them the next day, and a low, soft, draining sadness seeped into the palpable atmosphere and settled upon me, and I could literally taste this like a fizzy cloud, sinking, then settling in a kind of melting motion deep inside a narrow little well at the bottom of my diaphragm. (There is a physicality to our sensory-cognitive reactions that cannot and should not be brushed aside. The English language is inadequate for its description but the Chinese language actually offers a vast metaphoric vocabulary for this concrete-abstract relationship – the ancients knew all along what we are only just beginning to discover.)
I could feel and see a distinct softening in the cork of the wedged heel, and I knew it signaled the beginning of an inevitable end: the cork had begun to disintegrate, and soon, it will not be fit for wear anymore. Many other precious shoes have traveled along the same route to ultimate ruination.
The two are still there in their little niches, inside translucent plastic boxes, waiting for the right time where I can mentally and emotionally let them go. Perhaps I may be able to wear them once or twice before their demise? In the meantime, they remain, and I shall dream dreams of how to re-purpose them for a second lease of life in a different existential dimension. There are others that still wear their vitality, some embodying meaningful states and others not at all, resting side by side in pockets sewn into one conjoined space, weighted upon and adding visual consequence to my door.
“It’s just a pair of shoes!” (or whatever else they may be – clothes, furniture, pencils, toys etc), many would say (and have said) to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not strongly attached to every single pair of shoes I have ever owned, or to every item in my vast collection of belongings. Even among the significant items, the cogency varies. This is definitely a phenomenon that is very difficult to explain and define. However, when one understands properly this realm of resonant embodied materiality, one may begin to empathise properly with the autistic affection and connection with what may otherwise seem like lifeless entities. There is order, significance, denotation, sensory memory, pattern, sequence, and emotional definition contained inside each valued and valuable concrete substance in our realm of consciousness. Unlike the interpretation from the neurotypical vantage point, it is not really a sentimental relationship at all. It is actually a far more vital and vivacious connection: a blend of awareness of matter as a multidimensional component in itself, as well as a personal and specific containment of associations, symbols and myriad unique non-semantic eloquence.
On the other side of this materiality, different yet connected and no less vibrant, is a sense of sentimentality and symbiotic yearning. I feel this way too, for some of my things, although to me, the feelings are clearly not the same.
An old song I used to hear very often, this version was a favourite of my beloved father’s. And so it is mine too.