Big anxiety at The BIG Anxiety Festival!
Some of this narrative was introduced in my previous post, about Food Markers, but this ramble here is a kind of variation on the theme, from a different angle.
This 2017 working trip has been fraught with dramatic ups and downs, and here’s my as-brief-as-possible review of the Grand Experience, months afterwards. Beware, ye grammar-sticklers, I do move rapidly between tenses, because I am unfolding the unfolding as I am experiencing it, in the now, in the then, and in the next. And that, too, is my Autistic Bunny Authentic Experience-ing.
Falling ill the moment I entered the aeroplane… Still tingling in my fingertips even now is that feeling of dread, the enveloping inkling which settled upon my crown as I sat in my seat 37B, curled up in the blankets, that everything is about to go pear-shaped.
Three days of struggling to climb back up… then, just as hope seems to smile, on that fateful evening, I was sent tumbling down, down, down into an even deeper abyss.
Fever, vomiting, fiercely aggressive respiratory complexities took merciless hold after just 3 hours of heart jolting incessant vibrations and overwhelming noise attack. Neurotypical fun and games became my misery.
How did this come to be? Well… THE grand party happening next door was the undoing of all the hopes for a quick recovery. People crashing into my studio apartment uninvited, giggling in drunken stupor. That I was in my floppy T-shirt and knickers wasn’t so disturbing to me as the disordered mess. Loud, incessant booming bass. Chaotic sonic attack. Human screams and shrieks. This is the neuronormative concept of FUN? (I shudder and recoil, just thinking back on it all.)
Who’d have imagined that sensory assault, meltdown, could result in so much pain and excruciating agony?
I was plunged into the Dark Abyss of Despair, too unsteady to even climb the winding staircase up to the loft where the bed was, and had to spend the days and nights on the couch next to the loo for convenience and ease of mobility. After more than two weeks, I was still coughing violently – spasming, curling, writhing and cringing, hapless to prevent the waves when they engulf.
Yet, there have been pockets of grace. Appoggiatura and acciaccatura of clemency, punctuating the aggressive agony…
My friend Rick valiantly dropped in a few times during the worse of it, armed with cough mixture, lozenges, and assorted food to keep me alive.
And there were many other gentle considerations, accommodations from friends and colleagues.
Slowly scraping upwards from the abyss, I wobbled ever onwards into setting up. I was assigned an amazing assistant for the task – on a good day, I work fast and silently, and prefer not to have any interference, but this scenario was a desperate one, and I was very grateful indeed for Nicky’s help. The relief, amidst alarmingly loud and uncontrollable bouts of coughing, soon turned into excitement and a childlike thrill to see the months of hard work coming together.
Chuffed that I can be a part of all this, working hard and loving my work. When I wasn’t deadly silent, I babbled, the brain heavily fogged. But always… A still, earnest gratitude for the unfolding of Being, and a feeling of wonderment to be part of this enormous event.
Food was a bit of a problem. As was transportation. When one is physically demolished, everything becomes a problem, really, but for me, then, in that peculiar situ, the main hurdles were nutrition and getting around. Well, I should actually say, the one monumental roadblock was the lack of sufficient financial resource to address an unforeseen situation such as this.
Should disabled artists be given more funding? I seriously think this should be the case, in order to duly accommodate the intense difficulties we encounter while trying to deliver high quality art within a scenario that is akin to an all-out war zone.
In the case of invisible disability – like autism – the intricacies are so much harder to define, and explaining can too often be misinterpreted as being ‘diva-esque’ or ‘demanding’. It’s one thing saying there ought to be lift access and wide doorways, and that is already sometimes considered an anomaly by an ableist world, now, how do I explain that I need a relatively quiet and clean environment just so I can function without battling sonic and olfactory monsters every second of the day? How do I explain that I need more money for Uber Car transport because I tend to overload inside public buses and trains, such that by the time I turn up at my destination, I am physically depleted, mentally disheveled and emotional displaced (and thus incapable of functioning at optimal levels, if functioning at all)?
Ah, the life of an artist! No pain, no gain? But, for the autistic artist, is sensory assault, nutritional deprivation, and mental torment a necessary condiment for the artistic brew? Ponder away… I have no answers.
Back to the BIG Anxiety Festival anxiety and exhilaration.
As far as I could, because takeaways are expensive in Sydney, and not exactly nutritious, I shopped for and cooked my own meals. The nearest supermarket was almost a 1km walk away, uphill. The weather was fine, warm but not very humid, however, my body was fighting a viciously nasty malady, and in no shape for the happy trek. Nevertheless, the Bunny needed to eat. The cost? More vertigo, more headache, more nausea, and how was it even possible to be any more exhausted?
The Artist worries: is this a good enough job? My mind is wrapped in a thick wet veil, oh, help!
The Autist frets: this is NOT good enough! My body is broken and my senses are decimated, oh, help!
Nevertheless, the Wonderment threaded delicately but firmly through the flimsy, aching fabric and created an experiential masterpiece for me.
The works fell into place. All of them. People were enthusiastic, enthralled, enraptured even! There was good media attention. Friends came all the way from Singapore and other parts of Australia, lending most valuable and appreciated support. I even managed to enjoy the dichotomy of the imposed human encounters in Awkward Conversations.
At the end of it all, there was Lucy Like-a-Charm waiting for me at home, wagging her wiggly butt and half a tail, and snuggling up close in bed, after a month long absence.
Art is wonderful after all, innit? And being in The BIG Anxiety Festival was an amazing experience!