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”.

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!

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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lo-hei !

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(Online Exclusive – click here.)

lo-hei” – A toss for Happiness, Blessing, Abundance, and, well, all things good! This is the Cantonese term that describes a tradition begun in Singapore of sharing a large salad and raw fish / seafood dish called yusheng“, usually during the Lunar New Year. Everyone joins in with gusto, quite a bit of vim and vigour, to stir and toss the salad into a blended mix. The dish is delicious, a delightfully composed orchestration of lightly piquant, sweet, savoury and ‘umami’, the dish often includes ‘auspicious’ sounding fresh vegetables, pickles, raw fish, highly prized seafood, such as abalone, crab, shrimp/prawn, bound together with a sweet-sour sauce.

This Autistic Bunny is a foodie, and how absolutely, fabulously fortuitous to have a brother-in-law who was a top professional chef and now a food scientist. Never a dull meal when we’re with this chap. Always happy tummies too! Well, folks, the Lunar New Year is almost upon us, so it’s time for food-tasting, reviewing and just enjoying the goodies galore. Some of the dishes are new concoctions and others are variations on a traditional theme. This year, my brother-in-law has developed a new and superbly tasty variation of the traditional “yusheng” salad dish, and we’ve had the good fortune of several previews, in the quest to make it just perfect. Continue reading

reflets dans l’eau

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stille nacht

2018 was unexpectedly obstreperous and brutal. A vast, swirling, seething, somewhat inebriated ominous monstrosity ingurgitating every attempt at hopeful rejuvenation, each ounce of vim and vigour slowly inhaled into its impenetrable mucilaginous dark cavern, leaving limp, brittle skeletal remains crackling in the sizzling heat of unrepentant tyranny, unrecognisable construal of once fierce passionate and spirited determination.

Advocacy has extracted its ponderous price. What irony, for one who never set out to be an advocate anyway. It is too arduous and violent for gossamer wings, too loud for tender ears, too rough for quivering fingertips.

Yet, where there is life, there remains slithers of flickering hope. And my life is not yet over, albeit saved time and time again by a Canine Angel whose existence beside me surpasses all reason, all logical apologia.

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whispering hope

My minuscule whisper to the grand cosmic gyration for 2019? Time to reflect, rest, and retreat gracefully into Clement Space: art-making, embracing pulchritude, tasting each nuanced fluttering of time moving rhythmically through wordless interstices.

a clement Christmas

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Clemency is hard to find. Clement Space is an ongoing quest. As is the Endeavour of Empathy.

Looking back, contemplating crashing fortissimo and lifting appoggiatura, soul crushing depletion and spiritual strengthening… Artaud and Wagner, humour, beauty, gritty determined ‘dogliness’… Lucy has once again carried me through yet another year with her gentle, wordless steadfastness of spirit and embodied grace.

It’s Christmas Eve. I recall with gratitude and fondness, the most precious Christmas gift from our sojourn in Paddington, Sydney. It was 2013, a quiet Christmas Eve, early morning when the summer air was still cool and crisp. Those roses, tossed out by someone, still fresh and beaming with a brilliance I’ve never yet seen nor witnessed again in a bunch of flowers. Put into my hands with a gruff greeting, from our friend Michael, an eccentric old man who lives in a rickety van. We met when Lucy and I were out walking, Lucy chose to say hello to this elegantly dressed solitary figure, smoking and reading the newspapers on the park bench just by our grass patch we call “dog patch”. I miss Paddo. I miss our neighbourhood, our friends, and I think of them often. Especially Michael. I hope he is well. One can never be sure. Michael comes and goes. Nobody knows where and when. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. He was choking back tears when we last said goodbye, too proud for a hug, we did not even make eye contact. But I hope he knew how much we would miss him.

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This Christmas Eve, Lucy and I are ‘home’ with mum, my baby sister and brother-in-law, their two little furry children, and our helper Nula. Lucy has over-eaten again, too many treats and a giant lamb bone from her aunt who thinks she is too thin. (Though I keep reiterating that Lucy is a Greyhound, they are naturally lean.) We are waiting for Christmas Eve dinner – yet another private gastronomic feast by my amazing brother-in-law. The over-fed Canine Angel is asleep in bed, next to me. I can hear her rhythmic breathing, and she opens her sleepy eyes occasionally to check on me.

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I reflect on Christmases long past, and I realise how peaceful it is now. Without any more pomp and ceremony, no more need to dodge snide remarks and undercurrents of bitchery or witchery, no competition for whose gift is the most expensive or who has achieved the most success in the year. Those are now distant memories, and juxtaposed with our recent ones, they stand as reminders of how much goodness has come along since I walked away from all that mire.

We had our pre-Christmas dinner with extended family and friends last week. It was a very merry one, noisy and overloading but not at all emotionally or mentally exhausting. A pleasant, happy, kind of overload. And, of course, the food is always delicious – how could it not be, with a top professional chef and two F&B professionals in the party?

This year, I slogged away all week to finish my handmade gifts to mum, baby sis, Mini-B and Tiny-T. A welcome restfulness of spirit and blessedness of mind – taking time away from a surfeit of advocacy work, campaigning and proposals – just to touch, feel, and flow with the patterns and variations so clement to the senses. ‘Making’ is a beautiful activity for me, calming and restoring. I’ve named my jewellery line “LaLaLouBelle” – after Lucy and my childhood nickname for baby sis. Every piece is made up of vintage and antique components, collected through my early years of avid travelling or handed down to me from mum and granny. Each one a narrative of love and filled with meaningful history.

Oh, yes, and Little Mini wee-wee-ed on Lucy’s bed yesterday, so I’ll have to buy Lucy a new bed. Mini is a spunky little (fat) button, with a penchant for Lucy’s bedding.

We’re all set! I’ve put up a miniature tree, with tiny lights and trimmings. Our presents are all ready for the ritual tonight. – we open ours on Christmas Eve.

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A peaceful and clement Christmas Eve wish to all from Lucy and me!