About bunnyhopscotch

Ph.D is done, Lucy and I are still flipping pages of imagination, making splotches, humming in and out of tune, dancing around polyrhythmic-chromatic-pandiatonic mental fires, flying and falling, meandering in and out of discombobulation, gazing at pulchritude, picking up sound waves, stroking, caressing, embracing and learning new ways to see. An amazing lifelong journey - What more could anyone wish for?

no business like show business

I read this blog post by the amazing Rhi this morning. “Performing Pain” – about the autistic experience of pain, a subject many autistics are familiar with. Many of us live with ‘comorbids’ that carry a heavy price tag – pain – which are often mistaken for Autism itself but they are actually just leeches, parasitical hangers-on, sucking the life blood from us, nothing to do with autism at all.

There isn’t much more to add to this exquisitely painful beautiful piece of writing by Rhi, but just a few questions, suspended mid-air, nebulous, ominous, diaphanous, whirling and twirling, wheezing and teasing, with no beginning and no end.

What if the “I” here (in Rhi’s writing on pain) is always – constantly without reprieve or remission – in intense physical pain? What if the “I” still has to perform in the grand show, the “I” still has to plough through the thick stabbing fog of pain – daily, nary a minute’s respite – while performing the unnatural as naturally as possible? What if, ultimately, there is no Clement Space available into which to retreat and repair. What then? The screaming is reduced to a constant hum, almost silent, compressed, suppressed and repressed, it has no voice, no outward channel of expression, no ability to reach for human help apart from tiny interstices of raw, exposed impatience and irritation which are misunderstood anyway, and too hastily placed by non-autistic observers into the “challenging behaviour of autistic people” box? Is it any wonder that autistics prefer the company of animals, of elemental connections, instead of the un-empathic assaultive drudgery of inter-human interaction?

Scheherazade’s Sea (2010), Roaring Whispers (2013), Little Sweets (2014), and Sonata in Z (2015) were all tiny glimpses, pianissimo enunciations, mere drops in an ocean of tumultuous booming that is the state of living with pain. No, it’s not autism that fragments and crucifies the autistic soul, spirit and body. It is the ever too present (for many, not all) stranglehold of pain that slowly and surely wears us down. As if coping with normative constructs and harsh alienation isn’t battle enough. We don’t “live with autism” or “suffer from autism” – autism is simply our state of Beingness, a crucial encompassing part of us that lends the pulchritudinous ability to view and experience the world in all its elemental dynamic glory, visceral and intellectual at the same time. If anything, autism is the ultimate saviour, if anything can atone for the wretchedness of existence, crucified at the Cross of Normativity. It is Living with Pain that is excruciating. And ultimately destructive. Autistic or not. But for the autistic with heightened senses, pain propels the Being into extremes from which there seems little hope of escape.

Still… in the words of that Irving Berlin song that wrings (no spelling error here) and writhes in my headspace: “There’s no business like show business” – so, “Let’s go on with the show!”

Footnote: Here are the lyrics in case readers cannot access the youtube video. Apologies, but I haven’t the spoons left to punctuate. Maybe this might give the song that added punch of pain, sifting through a huge volume of words without punctuation. Enjoy the show!

There’s no business like show business Like no business I know Everything about it is appealing Everything that traffic will allow Nowhere could you get that happy feeling When you are stealing that extra bow There’s no people like show people They smile when they are low Yesterday they told you you would not go far That night you open and there you are Next day on your dressing room They’ve hung a star Let’s go, on with the show The costumes, the scenery, the make-up, the props The audience that lifts you when you’re down The headaches, the heartaches, the backaches, the flops The sheriff that escorts you out of town The opening when your heart beats like a drum The closing when the customers don’t come There’s no business like show business Like no business I know You get word before the show has started That your favorite uncle died at dawn Top of that, your pa and ma have parted You’re broken-hearted, but you go on There’s no people like show people They smile when they are low Even with a turkey that you know will fold You may be stranded out in the cold Still you wouldn’t change it for a sack of gold Let’s go on with the show Let’s go on with the show

prepotence

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Propped up by a broom.

A huge ‘hidden’ but acute disability of mine is something that many autistics share: executive dysfunction. Teetering at the edge of a cliff, there is that sensation of falling, and yet one is still on firm ground – if just only by a hare’s breath. The feeling of executive dysfunction, of running out of what they call ‘spoons’, being at the very thin and slippery border, that unstable, fine line between (a veneer of) absolute control and complete breakdown, is a queasy, heart-rupturing silent scream. Sometimes, the tasks can be the most rudimentary, things that people just do, as naturally as any spontaneous activity like brushing their teeth or picking their nose. For example, answering multiple WhatsApp messages one after another upon emerging from a three hour meeting, without mixing up the who, how, where, when details of doing and saying. Then again, most people do not have to do all this while trying to quell gurgling, seething, frothing nausea, sometimes even excruciating migraine headaches and sharp stabbing pain in the eyes and inner ear, all from sensory overload. For the autistic person with executive function challenges, dealing with ‘simple’ chores can often turn into a battle with large roaring monsters, and staying on top of things becomes a colossal full-body, underwater wrestling match with an invisible Leviathan. For me, this is especially overpowering if ‘things’ involve many different human beings who are interacting in ways that seem to my brain to be alien, diverse, fragmented and scattered. The more human interaction is in the pot, the more cruelly exacting the grand performance becomes. Making mistakes is an inevitable and frightening feature in this unmerry-go-round. The ringing of the phone or the pinging of message notifications have become Pavlov bells of agitation and vexation for me. I have a horrible white-hot searing fear of sending messages to the wrong people, or not remembering certain details when people ask questions outside the ‘compartments’ in my mind that I’ve created for them. A person messaging me directly, taking a conversation outside a group chat but asking me questions that (in my mind) belongs to the group chat, can quickly send my brainwaves into wriggling, jiggling, wildly gyrating spams. I panic – why I do not know because it is not logical to panic – and of course I end up replying with either some garbled nonsense, or wrong information, simply because my mind has short circuited.

Even the most ‘expert’ of non-autistic ‘experts in autism’ fail to notice the subtle nuances of executive dysfunction and mental-sensorial overload as it happens in real time. In fact, I have yet to meet a non-autistic ‘expert in autism’ who can actually ‘expertly’ communicate with the autistic me. It is usually I who have to make all the necessary overtures – performing the unnatural as naturally as possible – in order to get any meaningful communication across. And autistics are supposed to be the ones ‘impaired’ in social interaction and reciprocal empathy?

This is how my autistic executive dysfunction plays out. On the surface, nothing is noticed. Not yet. There I am, deep underwater in the miry depths, engaging in mortal combat with that Brobdingnagian of Executive Dysfunction, but people sauntering by throw nary a glance at the pond, and nobody sees the tiny desperate bubbles bursting silently as they make contact with the aerosphere. All is cleverly concealed, until my spent and bloated corpse makes its way upwards, causing a huge blister on the placid surface. Then comes the shock and even derision. The accusations too.

People can be ‘aware’ that autism means a difference in neurological function. People can even be ‘aware’ of the terms “sensory overload” or “executive dysfunction” etc. But people have little or no idea how to identify the actual unpacking of all their ‘awareness’ in real time, especially if the autistic person is labelled by the non-autistic world as “high functioning” (not rocket science to figure out why I detest functioning labels, is it?). All this Autism Awareness with its fanciful labels is therefore as useful to me – an actual autistic person – as Blahblahblahdittydoodada. And this, while mildly comical, is not at all funny.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I am autistic. I love what I love with intense, all-consuming passion. And I am great at doing what I am great at doing – even rather brilliant. But I find the simple activity of keeping track of WhatsApp messages so difficult that I have developed a phobia for the sound of a message notification.

Prepotence in uncomfortable co-existence with decrepitude.

elemental embodiment

2012 red boots

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. Continue reading

snapshots of grace

 

(Above: Rhapsody in Orange – photos of Salmon roe, Salmon, and common wholemeal bread squares.)

Unabashedly photographing food – almost everything I imbibe – as if on a mission. Unlike most, though, my food is seldom fanciful or posh, my captures are not from expensive restaurants or showy, but merely simple snapshots of quite ordinary and mundane fare. For me, each one carries an association – sometimes sensory memories of textures, smells and colourful tastes, other times brief mini narratives of sorts. Sometimes I am captivated by its arrangement, its visual composition framed within the plate or bowl, and the larger assemblage on the table of many miniature narratives.

 

(Above: Visual captures of Lunar New Year fare, snippets of tastes, smells and accompanying sounds – mostly very loud sounds – of festivity and celebration. Individual photos have descriptions.)

When I began this blog, I started out with a simple mission: to document the great food challenge of ‘How to eat on a scholar’s miserable budget”. Musings were deliberately kept light, sometimes whimsical and other times pondering the deeper things via the cogent agency of ‘food-ing’.

 

(Above: Photos of BunnyHopscotch style food-ing.)

My photographs of food are always intimate and personal – to me – and they speak of suspended moments in time and space, taking deep breaths of appreciation, gratitude at each savouring, and wonderment that I possess such intricate senses – all reflections of and conversations taking place in a kind of Clement Space that I inhabit together with the life-giving morsels du jour.

 

(Above: Eating out with family has a different kind of melodic & harmonic structure.)

 

I like the act of documentation, and my senses are natural archives being fed on a constant basis. And most important to me, on a deeper level, food-ing has been and continues to be an agency for gratitude, and the learning to embrace grace.

étude in Z

 

 

In 2015, I created and presented Sonata in Z, from which emerged my now signature concept, “Clement Space“, first installed as its own entity in 2017 at The BIG Anxiety Festival, Sydney, Australia. Thereafter, Clement Space has been installed in different sites and situations, its enduring and developing presence attests to the universal need for respite, especially in frenetic, chaotic cityscapes.

Since then, I’ve been conscious about finding my own pockets of Clement Space too. Most of them are small studies in the state of clemency and grace, little spontaneous moments that bring sparks of Autistic Joy, or miniature physical podlets of rest and restoration found and taken in the midst of fluttering, swirling and trundling through the day – not as large as a sonata, they are tiny études amidst daunting and domineering Wagnerian Symphonic Pulverisations. That chuckling shadow of Artaud does add liberal doses of vim and spice to my struggle with Wagner, but Clement Space – inspired by my beloved Lucy Like-a-Charm – is my antidote.

While helping mother locate a lost DC adaptor plug, digging around her drawers, I found some forgotten treasures that belonged to my late father, which mother kindly let me have.

A kidney shaped stainless steel tray containing various surgical and dental tools, and a minuscule pill-box sized leather case with two Chinese name seals inside.

There is a wealth of history behind each of these, but today is not the day to spin long stories. I am happy inside this mental clement space, this suspended moment in time and place, just from having found these objects which reach back into time, connecting me to the individual journeys that each item undertook while in my father’s possession. He is gone now, but a part of him – known and mysteriously unknown – is embedded within. And they are now mine, from Dr. Leong to Dr. Leong, captured inside this moment that I now call, “Étude in Z”.

face value

Clement resolution has been reached, after a hurried decrescendo from the screeching fortissimo so loudly blatant it still seems incredible that a cadence has been arrived at.

Nevertheless, clemency is clemency, and I generally take people and things at face value – which is different from trusting anyone, because trust is reserved for only those who have earned it, while face value is to allow myself and others to continue along on our journeys together or separately.

In case you’re wondering, I am waffling about the bizarre drama mentioned in my previous post – perfidy – in which I ranted on about a shockingly impudent contract that an arts company had asked me to sign in exchange for a piddly sum of money.

Well, the folks behind this theatrical farce have backed down, signed the contract I drafted and my first cheque has been cashed. I must give credit where credit is due. It takes a level of sincerity – that is, earnestly desiring to achieve whatever it was they set out to achieve and not allow any hiccups to hinder the attainment of original intent – to openly do an about turn, a very sharp and quick one too, I might add. And just like that, we have mended the contractual fence and are going ahead with the project. We both agree on one objective, and this is the important factor: the work we are doing together has value and adds to our separate and common vision. That is enough for me.

I appreciate promptness, efficiency, straight forward communication, no mincing around, no faffing and no cheesy platitudes. They offered none – although they did feebly try to say they had no idea, and those shockingly exploitative terms were a hand-me-down from previous administration – but they didn’t persist with this because I do suspect they know how ridiculous it sounds, no matter which way one looks at it.

Anyway… Usual social niceties do not impress me. Decisive action does. Either I am in, or I am out. I’m not here to make new friends. (I have enough friends, more than I can decently attend to, and I already feel quite terrible to be neglecting them because I just have not enough spoons left for being sociable.) I’m here to do work, and I want it to be good work, as good as I possibly can produce, and I expect the same from the people I am working alongside.

So… let’s do this thing now, then! Tally ho!

clement riffs

 

It is 6.40am as I start typing this. The churning, heaving, hurling and caterwauling, the uneasy prancing around Neuronormative plastic tulips, swimming against the tidal cacophony of insidious agenda and spiteful fear mongering, all while valiantly maintaining expert façade of sangfroid-with-edge. What a week it has been!

The highlight ‘achievements’ of the last seven days?

Rid myself of the Millstone of Inefficiency in a project I am working on – nothing personal, I am not here to make friends, I am here to work and I find it hard to tolerate hindrance.

Emerged from the miry bog Swimming with the Hogs, made a firm decision to take control and issued forth my Ultimate Ultimatum – it’s my terms or nothing at all, I’ve allowed them to snuffle in the mud for too long, time to move ahead or leave.

Not melting down while dealing with Belligerent Entities must of course count as the highest accomplishment of the week. Very proud of this Autistic Bunny. (But of course, I had help from my Canine Angel.)

Now, for some clear lines, like fluid aromatic ink on smooth silk, here’s Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin with a song I love (I learned to play the Autumn Leaves by ear as a wee lass of seven and it is still one of my favourites). Sitting with my Beloved, watching the light slowly seep into the dark sky as a new day asserts itself upon our consciousness.

I am so glad I took the good advice of my Fine Arts Professor (who has now become a well loved friend) during my undergraduate days and chose music as my major. Now that I have made the transition into art, music is still a Clement Space that I return to for sustenance and strength.

A Clement Sunday to Every Bunny!

perfidy

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Frightening mephitic essence of blatant tyranny oozing from every pore. Maleficent, flagitious, mockery of the Sacred.

I am contacted by representative of arts company to re-create my Clement Space installation in one of their rooms, an immersive, interactive exhibition that will run for 12 months. Two overly long meetings. A deluge of talk, talk, talk. Bubbly enthusiasm. Then, one month of anxiety-laden delay. Broken trust. Agreements ignored. And finally, The Contract.

  1. The company demands to co-own (in perpetuity) my Clement Space – intellectual property that has existed for three years as an established signature concept and creative work belonging solely to me, the Artist.
  2. The company demands to literally take possession of the Artist – body, mind and soul – for a period of 12 months, during which the Artist is not allowed to engage in any other creative work, unless the Artist applies in writing for permission from the company.

The payment: $3,500. Read it again. $3,500. No, not even $3,500 per month, which is an insult enough for an artist with a PhD and international experience. It is $3,500 for the entire year. Yes. For $3,500 they want to commandeer a piece of valuable property that does not and will never rightfully belong to them; and they want to play colonial master to the Artist subaltern for an entire year.

An exclamation mark at the end of the sentence fails miserably to represent the shocking impudence and preposterously brazen, flagrant attempt to contriturate the artistic soul.

Hence, I did not put one in.

What manner of heinousness is this? What goes on inside the bowels of these persons’ consciousness? How could they even have conceived of such terms and demands, such high-handed, ludicrous and impudent expropriation? And what kind of arrogance propelled them to put these thoughts into words – an official, legally binding document, no less?

And no, I am not ‘overreacting’ – my lawyer has had a look at it. A serious travesty, no laughing matter.

Of course, I asked for the clauses to be removed. I asked most politely too. Their response was a casual WhatsApp message:

“Good morning, thank you for your feedback and thoughts on the contract- they’re definitely justified, will revert back to you once we’ve deliberated. You have a good day.”

That was Monday. It is now Saturday. Not a hint of an apology. No admission of solecism. And no redrawn, revised, respectful and mutually beneficial contract. Does it really take a whole week to “deliberate” on how to be respectful and fair in your dealings? As if decency and fairness even need to be deliberated on? And how long does it take to strike out two outrageous sections from a contract? Very telling. And most disconcertingly so.

Artists are among the most oppressed and undervalued professionals. The arts scene can be spiteful, exclusive, elitist and ableist, and most artists are underpaid and overworked.

Disabled persons are also among the most maltreated and disrespected people in an ableist, elitist societal culture.

Put the two together, and we have Disabled Artists who are trying to survive under immense odds – compounded. We are asked to work for free, in exchange for “exposure”. Our needs for accommodation and support are brushed off and often even derided. Our requests and protests are delegated to the “Too Hard” tray, while large corporations and organisations milk the “Disability Inclusion” machinery, churning out facetious, spurious terminology like “Diffable”, “Differently Abled” and “Inspirational” – all entrenched in ableist ideology.

Disabled artists in Singapore deserve the basic, fundamental human right to protection against contumelious exploitation and audacious bullying. Enough is enough.

THIS is why we need a Disabled-Led Artists Collective. This is why I have committed my precious time, limited physical energy and scarce resources to leading Singapore’s first, with the support of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) Singapore. This is why, if you are a disabled artist, I’d like to invite you to sign up to join our collective.

To find out more, please email me: dr.dawnjoyleong@gmail.com / dawnjoy@dpa.org.sg

Disabled-Led Artists Collective – call out

 

event call out banner

Dear folks in Singapore interested in disability practice and study,

I am representing the Disabled People’s Association to lead a new initiative to form a Disability-Led Arts Practice Collective consisting of artists with disability.

I would like to invite anyone here who identifies as disabled and is an arts practitioner or is interested in becoming professional or semi-professional some day. If you are disabled and you do some form of art – visual art, music, literature, dance, theatre etc – please register to attend our very first disabled people only meeting this Friday, 7pm at DPA in Jurong Point – please visit this link to DPA’s website where you can find address and instructions on how to get there.

Even if you are not sure whether you may be interested to turn professional or semi-professional as long as you are disabled and practise some form of art as a serious hobby, you are also welcome to register to find out what we are doing. It is a first in Singapore!

Looking forward to seeing you on Friday!

Dawn-joy Leong.

To join us at our first session, please sign up at this link: Registration

magic mushrooms

Quackery and snake oil are very much alive and thriving, gyrating wildly, grinning widely with grotesquely shiny oversized teeth in small twisted jaws, snapping the whip with aplomb and slick, well rehearsed movements, shouting salvation to the ‘lost’ with crafted jargon like pork rolls dipped in oil. The Grand Circus of Easy Fixes. Most appealing to the desperate – and the lazy. Yes, the lazy parents who would rather fork out money – sometimes a lot of the stuff – for a facile promise, a quick job, than to engage in thorough research, spend time to learn how to understand their children, open their minds to eclectic paradigms, and listen to adults who have walked the journey and have wisdom to impart.

Autism. ADHD. Dyslexia. Learning disability. Complex needs. High support. ‘Aberrant’ behaviour. Cure it all. Shed it all (like snake skin?). Recover from it. Overcome it. Reverse it. The EASY WAY.

Thanks to the Medical Model – they created monsters that they could not fix, leaving a huge void that is now being filled by quacks and snake oil pushers.

It is a wearying and soul crushing thing, this advocacy stuff. Trying to teach people to think, hoping to educate, change hearts and minds. On one side are the Medical Model tyrants bearing down with pompous disdain. On the other the clever charlatans. Everything About Us Excluding Us. Round and round and round in the miry seething heaving swirl.

Maybe… I should… try… some… magic mushrooms ?

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