This day seven years ago, I got on a flight from Singapore to Sydney to take up my PhD scholarship at the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts, now called UNSW Art & Design.
I was not to know then, as I snapped this photo of my favourite Doc Martens boots with my trusty old iPad, sitting at the boarding gate in Changi Airport, that I was embarking on the most fulfilling and happiest years of my life. And I had no idea that I would finally find the companionship and love that I had searched for unsuccessfully all my life.
When I say that the PhD was the best thing to happen to me, I am not trying to negate or disparage the countless PhD scholars who struggle; I am not scoffing at all those whose PhD experience equate with a kind of specialised torture; or who grumble that they do not “have a life” anymore because of their PhD work. I speak only of my own experience. I had the best quality and quantity of fun and the richest multidimensional pleasure working on my PhD. To me, it was never a grand painful wrangling with the Universe and Self to achieve a lofty academic branding on my forehead and be certified by the normative world as “smart-enough-to-chuff”. Not at all. Rather, the PhD was a beautiful, full-bodied, richly luxurious and a tangible assurance of my dynamically vibrant existence – it made me feel alive in a way I had never really been. At last, I felt ‘natively at home’ within, I was learning, working and functioning inside a Clement Space of my own, where my body, mind and soul found grace and Acknowledgement of Being. The Dean’s award at the end of it was merely the luscious icing on an already delicious cake. I never dreamed of winning according to precepts of normalcy, I didn’t even know such an official honour existed, until I was informed.
My intense struggle during these four years were extraneous, extrinsic and my PhD work was hampered only by what lay outside its provision of Clement Space: finding affordable accommodation, fighting evil real estate agents, and a plethora of little yet overwhelming details of executive function/dysfunction. The greatest torment was having to waste precious energy, time and mental focus on all these things that took me away from my PhD work. For me, coping with the normative structural demands of living life was my challenge, and the PhD was my accommodation. It helped get me through the horrors of normativity.
I entered this realm not to compete – but to Become Me. And it was a full scholarship, so I could hold my head high and look in the jealous eyes of my detractors who find temporary pathetic satisfaction (and twisted forms of validation for their own sorry existences) in their sour verbal debasement.
And then there was Lucy. So elegantly stepping into this Clement Space, and engulfing it with the fragrance of her quiet, gentle Majesty. She patiently walked me andante, dolce into realisation that this kind of love and companionship was what I was looking for all my life, and no wonder I could not find it, because I was looking to humans to fulfil this inexplicable yearning. I never thought to look outside of (what to me was and still is) the desolate dysfunctional human realm.
Today, I remember that day, when it all began. And my heartfelt deepest wish for all my Autistic Kinsfolk everywhere – for we are many – is that they, too, will find their Clement Space, and inside will be that unique Someone waiting for them.