I have just spent two full days in a hothouse setting trying to learn a skill that I feel quite hopelessly incapable of mastering because some key elements require a high level of social agility which my autistic embodiment just cannot muster, try as I might. Sitting in my chair and trying to look engaged with the subject matter while weaving in and out of lucidity was about all I could achieve. My brain felt broken while my body was hollering unhappy slogans. It’s the kind of scenario where people who don’t know me well would look at me, incredulous, and say, “But you have a PhD, how can you not understand such simple concepts?” Um… well… You see, it’s not the concepts that I don’t grasp, it’s the ‘knowing-feeling’ that I cannot execute or bring to life these fundamentals that cause my brain to short-circuit, and thus my Being rejects the entirety while in the process of imploding. Continue reading
The Dress Code for the event says to wear Yellow. I like dress codes. I like codes. I like structures and frames. They do not limit creativity, but rather create important space within which to be creative. These parts of social interactivity do not bother me, in fact, these are the ‘railings’ that help me to craft my spontaneity. Yes, you read that right. Improvisatory music is not something that is spewed forth willy nilly by ‘talent’ alone, it consists of years and years of finely honed, well practised and internalised riffs, sequences and phrases. The beauty of improvisation is the ‘how’, the ‘style’, the way the musicians brings forth these snippets of minutiae to form the whole, which is what the listener hears. Performance and performing are part and parcel of the joy of engaging in one’s Passion, interacting with it, and expressing it to others.
Anxiety is a different thing altogether. This, and other pressing matters, kept me in a state of restlessness all night and early morning. Well, actually, Anxiety has been pretty rapacious lately, devouring mind and body. I lay in bed, engulfed within an all too familiar nauseating sensation of slurping and sloshing viscera inside fragile cavities, with Lucy’s warm, pulsating presence my only comfort and solace.
Lucy is unwell, and I will not be taking her with me to the event today, even though this place (the National Gallery) is truly one of the most progressive inclusive public spaces in Singapore. Her bright yellow mindDog vest would’ve been just right for the theme.
My brain found this composition at around 4am (ish), and I laid it all out later in the morning after breakfast. Doing this helps resolve the tension in my mind, which occurs when I have a complete concept ready to be executed but have not yet arrived at the time and place for doing so.
OK, so the lime green handbag – a gift from my baby sister – isn’t yellow, but I think it’ll provide some gradation of sensation and I love the fun, cheeky sequinned motif on the front. I shall wear my gold embossed Ferragamo ‘Audrey’ shoes with this ensemble.
Shoes are of grave importance to me, I have had many a battle, some quite fierce, with footwear since an early age. It hurts to wear these things, but they are a necessary evil, to protect against other even more nasty evils that lie in wait to ensnare, cut and graze my sensitive feet as soon as I step out of the safe confines of home. I love the feel of soft fresh grass underfoot, and I still remember the delicious sensation of running around barefoot in the garden of my childhood home, but I live in an apartment now, and I don’t trust grass that isn’t ‘mine’.
Much ado about nothing, you might think? Perhaps, to the normative world, it may seem so, but this ‘nothing’ is actually filled with so much minutiae, detailed connections, intricate complex constructions, rhythms, patterns, and systems, that it really does demand much to do and feel and think about – if you notice it all, that is. This is my ‘normality’ – an integral part of this particular Autistic Female’s quotidian ‘mundanity’, which is anything but humdrum, to be sure. The price Autistics pay each day of our existence is a high one – sensory anxiety is just one small facet, there are myriad other eclectic existential quirks that possess both enthralling beauty and powerful terror at the same time – but I would not exchange this for a life cushioned inside a bland, insipid and pedestrian existence.
I am quite exhausted from the whole exercise, so I shall have to rest a bit before launching into the Grand Mêlée later in the afternoon. Actually, I’m really looking forward to it, despite the gripping anxiety and energies spent on planning and creating order from the chaos it (anxiety) has created. I only feel unsettled at having to leave Lucy at home, because she is unwell and I cannot be there to watch over her. It’s a small thing, mild runny tummy, a bit of reaction after Thursday’s cartrofen injection at the vet’s for her arthritis, and I know she’ll be more comfortable at home, and mum will be there, so Lucy will not be alone. I refuse to work Lucy when she is not feeling top notch, even the slightest thing matters to me – yes, a disabled person with a poorly cared for assistance dog has called me “dogmatic” but I don’t mind that label, because it means I care deeply and passionately.
let’s all walk on water
while we sink beneath the sand
let’s all dance on water
lips sewn up with rubber bands
let’s all walk on water
“it’s good for you”
Tumultuous ocean, churning depths. Underneath pomp, ceremonious circus, lies dark churning death. Extirpating the soul inside writhing grief, bursting through blessed gratitude too copiously applied. Such ponderous agony, ‘neath layer upon layer of colourful luxury.
Executive dysfunction is a very real phenomenon – not to be scoffed at. The veneer of steadfastness belies gritted teeth, foaming nausea, weeping silently, hapless, atop mighty pedestal. Who sets the heights, lengths, and breadths for performativity? The Autistic in a constant state of unstable flux – crushed, tossed, fluffed, buoyed, then crammed into discomforting contortions – seeks determinedly for clemency of space, breathing in every small fleeting moment, as if a last and final breath.
Too much struggle brings chaos to sensory reception – hyper senses become all the more acute, but yet bizarre in rhythmic jaggedness. The brain seems to switch off some signals, while others hurtle along as if out of control. A multi-dimensional existence, so markedly conflicting, it is a wonder that there are not far more collisions and collapses.
Demons screaming at the door, thinly veiled agony that nobody sees, nor ought they to be cognisant of in case of unknown, volatile consequences.
Lucy came with me to the Arts & Disability International Conference today. It was a huge blessing to have her with me, well worth the small ‘inconveniences’, like having to take her outside for potty each time we had a break and thus missing out on food and beverage.
When we first arrived, I made the mistake of choosing to sit in a busy area where people were walking or wheeling back and forth, standing around chatting, and even striding over Lucy, who was laying on her mat next to me at my feet. The lights in the rooms were confronting, to say the least. Lucy took it all in with grace and quietude, and she kept a discreet whisker out for me all the time. I began to feel nervous and agitated from the constant noise, movement and frenetic energy buzzing round and round, and Lucy got up to indicate that we should move to a less busy spot. She led me to the far corner on the other side of the room, and we settled down comfortably there, until lunchtime. Continue reading
It isn’t true that autistic people do not know how to work in a team. We just need clear instructions about what is expected of us, and consistency in interactions. The autistic person is just as willing as any other to perform as a team, it’s just that the autistic mind functions somewhat differently, so better understanding all round is necessary.
Today, I was reminded again how amazing the people I work with really are. Continue reading
Work in progress…
It’s been more than a week battling this cold and cough. My voice is all but gone. I sound like a constipated frog (do frogs really constipate?). Been through the dramatic works, the wailing, flailing, fainting and vomiting stuff etc, and now finally on the mend. Still coughing alarmingly – feels like the guts are all going to spurt out at some point or other – and noticing some pretty aghast looks being thrown my way, through the tears in my eyes while attempting to blow my nose. Too much multitasking, being sick is unpleasant for anyone, but being sick with hypersensitivity cranks up the ‘horrid’ volume manifold levels … and over and over. I am missing my Lucy. A lot. Clement Space was inspired by Lucy.
Nevertheless… I have been building clement space… in little ways, struggling valiantly, and in the more ‘official’ manifestation, of course, the exhibition. The show must go on, and so it shall! Continue reading
I spent the last few nights and days in this sofa, positioned right next to the loo. For safety, because I nearly fell down the winding stairs connecting to the loft bed. And for convenience, in case I had to throw up. A good thing I am short, but still, I have not laid down properly in a bed, stretched out, for this entire time. Continue reading
Yesterday afternoon, a friend took me to a little nooky cafe, tucked inside an industrial estate. A former hardware shop, the entrance decorated with eclectic vintage clutter served as a thematic introduction to the atmosphere within. As soon as we pushed open the creaky door, I felt a draft of musty, humid, cool air blow directly into my face, then wrap around me like a nebulous mouldy snake. My skin tingled, as my olfactory senses picked up the various miasmic odours emanating from each visually charming piece of history on display.
The waiter ushered us towards the back. Slipping within a split second into a bubble of wordlessness, I followed obediently, semi-somnambulant, my sensory system already engaged in a (routine) contrapuntal wrestling match with the onslaught of smells, sights, and sounds. As we were about to sit down at the allocated table, speech suddenly returned, and words fell out of my mouth like marbles, tumbling down and bouncing sharply against the concrete floor.
“I don’t want to sit here, it smells funny. I don’t like the smell here.”
Photograph description: Lucy Like-a-Charm creates Clement Space wherever she goes. The above three photos show how she appropriates her Bichon-poodle cousin, Bizcuit’s, bed, which is a tad too small to contain her massive Greyhound body. In the first photo, she tries to pour into the bed, but her Greyhound butt falls off the edge. In the second photo, she lays her head down, she decides that she is content, and settles down for a snooze. The third photo shows Lucy sleeping, butt on floor, legs and head on the bed.
Lucy is a major influence on my concept of Clement Space, especially the idea that we can create mental and physical spaces of grace wherever we may be. Momentary respite. A place in which to repair and replenish sensory equilibrium.
Sometimes, to the casual observer, it may look awkward, seem uncomfortable even, or appear bizarre. However, Clement Space is ours, it is intimate, and we should feel safe to own it.