princess & snake, 2010 – ©Dawn-joy Leong

Ophiomorous. Lizard / snake-like.

This little babble will be quite surreal, so brace yourself for it…

I am thinking now of the way one person in my midst has managed to create subtle chaos for everyone, and which nearly derailed a very precious relationship.

Human language is unfair to actual lizards and snakes, of course. It’s not the fault of the reptile that it is a reptile, is it? That’s just how they are. And reptiles are actually very beautiful creatures. It is up to us humans to identify and avoid them if we don’t wish to be tangled up in an unpleasant encounter. They do not seek out humans. So the negative terminology is of course skewed and too human-centric.

But some human behaviours and motivations resemble the superficially perceived ugliness of animals (because we misunderstand animals anyway).

Slithery. Some are venomous when they bite. That’s about all sneaky humans who are labeled “snake-like” really have in common with actual snakes. The rest is just human-like nastiness.

Anyway, about this human… once again my autistic senses were ignored in favour of trying to be ‘fair’ according to a system that is not mine to own or practice in the first place. Mine is the autistic way. When I try to do things the non-autistic way, I almost always end up making mistakes – some small, others really costly ones. But after a lifetime of being told my instincts are wrong and being forced to learn how to exist as a ‘pretend’ non-autistic, I’ve lost the sharpness of my autistic senses, I’ve all but forgotten how to trust myself. And I am taking a hellishly long time to learn how to use this innate gift to my advantage.

Looking back at my first encounter with this person, I remember my senses recoiling and a taste of rotting fruits wafting into my consciousness at a very low decibel level, like a softly buzzing basso continuo of vomit. Our subsequent dealings didn’t go all that well either, they lacked the finesse of spirit and tenderness of touch that I wanted and needed to help me with my work. Strange things also happened with third parties once I left things in the hands of this person. But I blamed myself, as I usually do, just as I was trained like a circus animal to do, because it MUST be me being irrational, being snobbish or being unkind, it COULDN’T be the other person! It didn’t help when I tried to convey my sensory reactions, but was quickly shut down by simple disbelief. Nobody felt that way, not in the least, this person applied a meticulous aura of servitude, a veneer of humility from top to toe, always spoke softly, never dramatic (unlike me), always the bustling caring caricature, so my own senses were shoved aside by the non-autistic world as ‘wrong’ yet again. Socially impaired, I am supposed to be. So, I have learned to keep as silent as possible because it is almost impossible to convince anyone that I am not stark bonkers, wicked, bitchy, snobbish and unreasonably prejudiced. How do I explain the sweet taste of decay and the repulsion making my skin shiver and contract in spasms of white powdery repugnance?

So, I resolutely ignored organic, natural ‘wisdom’. And trouble inserted itself into the fabric of my intricately woven tapestry. That work we did together, which I employed the person to do, was a huge honour, but it was one of my least loved works, one I am least proud of, to be honest. It was, to me, shoddy, sullied by this person – but I ultimately have to carry the responsibility for allowing this person to run roughshod all over the fragile silken threads, don’t I? So I silently bore the shame. I’ve not spoken about it till now. A nightmare I told myself never to repeat.

Yet, I unwisely allowed a rerun of this horror show.

To be fair, this person is not, as far as I am aware, an evil person. They seem very hardworking, albeit not very work-smart – but I use the word ‘seem’ because I cannot know for certain, being unable to pick up the complex cues of the non-autistic. It isn’t about mental capacity either, though some non-autistic people have tried to tell me I am prejudiced because they think I am looking down my PhD nose at people like this one. Far from the truth. To be blunt, I’ve worked with artists with intellectual disability and I’ve found so much sensory and intellectual harmony with them that it can be a topic for a great piece of research. I am thinking about the peaceful, tranquil sensory connection and deep understanding that I enjoyed with one particular artist. We didn’t need to talk much, words got in the way between us, so we just sensed and the work we produced made me beam with pride and joy. There was no sensory felicity with this ‘lizard’ person, though, not one sliver of delight. Every communication with this person was a dutiful effort at people-ing. But it would not have been loathsome at all – merely onerous – if this person had been upfront, honest and straight forward in their dealings with me.

A close and respected friend once said of me, “You do not suffer fools gladly.” He was right. But who are the ‘fools’ that I find really most difficult to ‘suffer’? Sneaky people. Slithery, sneaky, surreptitious humans who do not have the guts to speak truth openly to me, but who’d instead wriggle around the rear alleys to strike a sickly sweet blow to my back. And I am left nonplussed, discombobulated, wondering what it was, that foul odour of necrotised flesh permeating the perfectly arranged flowers in sparkling vase.

This time around, this person’s selfish, furtive, petulant skulking caused someone I trust and respect to make a terrible decision that put me and many others in harm’s way, a filthy deed done at a time when my trusted friend was at their lowest and therefore unable to think clearly – all just to satiate a need for attention and validation. Troublemakers are stereotyped as loud, brash and behaving like bulldozers, but my own experience has shown me that the truth is the very opposite of this clichéd caricature. The real troublemakers are far more subtle, they wheedle, twist, writhe and creep their way around, they work on other people’s mental and emotional frailty, they grab at sympathy with tears and claim to be ‘offended’ or ‘hurt’ by the truth, such that the people they are wanting to wrap around their fingers mistake the truth for unkindness. Poor little me. So misunderstood. I am offended. I feel ostracised. I feel … I feel … I … I … Me … Me … Poor little me. I’ve given so much and worked so hard, but now I am being singled out and persecuted. Blah blah blah blah. On a good day, my trusted friend would’ve been able to recognise this behaviour. On a good day, my friend would’ve nipped it in the bud. On a good day, my friend would never have been so easily bullied by crocodile tears to throw me and everyone else under the bus. But the days have not been good for my dear friend. Overworked and plagued by worry, this human worm (I apologise to all worms, but I am unable to think of any other word and I am very tired right now) almost detonated a disastrous explosion that would have been the ruin of my friendship with the person I trusted. Fortunately, the heavens aligned and got behind me, and saved me from reacting with impetuous haste.

Something made me hit the pause button. A fermata hung over me. And on deeper introspection, I realised there was more to this than I could see. I reverted to sensing instead, my Autistic Sensing, and the dark clouds rolled away.

Well, this shit-stirrer – 攪屎棍 in colloquial Cantonese – is no longer welcome in my midst. I will make sure of that. I must guard not only myself, but the relationships and the people that are precious to me.

Unlearning is a harder process than learning anew. Perhaps, instead of trying to dissemble and unlearn, I should approach this returning to Selfhood and autistic sensing instincts with a spirit of joyful newness after all? Indeed. And this, too, is finding Autistic Joy.

1 thought on “ophiomorous

  1. Pingback: ophiomorous | bunnyhopscotch | dorkFarm

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