Feline Focus

Feline Focus
My latest puma, July 2016


Beloved companion to Sarah, Nov 2015

Window To The Soul

Window To The Soul
Watercolour Horse, June 2015

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
Watercolour Lionesses, Nov 2012


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Groucho Marx

Snow Stalker

Snow Stalker
Another snow leopard - my latest watercolour offering - July 2013

24 December 2012

Autism Is For Christmas, Not Just For Life!

Oh, Ho, Ho, Ho!  I feel a song coming on...

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos...”

Or how about,

“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the tree tops glisten,
And children listen,
To hear sleigh-bells in the snow.”

I can hear Nat and Bing singing in my head right now.  Along with Mariah, Macy, Madonna, and Martin (that’s Dean Martin – I didn’t want to spoil the alliteration I’d unintentionally got going).  Not to mention those perennial seventies English faves from Slade (oh, ha ha ha!  Sleighed!!!), Wizzard, and Elton John.  And not forgetting Shakin’ Stevens, with the exceptionally jolly “Merry Christmas, Everyone”.

Yes, it’s THAT time of year again.  Oh joy!  As if life wasn’t complicated enough for an autistic to get a grip of, they have to go and bung in a festive holiday to add to the dilemma.  What is Christmas about, anyway?  And how, in the name of Santa’s socks, do you celebrate it?  I mean, for crying out loud, I already have enough problems trying to celebrate my own birthday, without the burden of being expected to know how to do it for someone else’s.  And a someone else whom I don’t even know. 

That’s like asking me to celebrate the birthday of the woman who works in the post office.  I technically “know” her – which basically means that I exchange pleasantries with her whenever she serves me; I know she’s the post office woman; and I’d probably recognise her if I happened to see her outside of the office.  But I don’t really “KNOW” her.  I think she seems like a nice person – but then this is coming from a woman who has all the perception of a dead dog when it comes to making judgements about people. 

Had I ever been around to meet Hitler, it’s highly likely I would have thought him a nice person too, if he’d smiled at me and chatted a bit.  Especially if he’d been working in the post office.  I have, in my time, tried to justify his actions as having to be the logical consequences of something or other.  I hadn’t quite got to grips with the idea that a person’s innate personality has rather a major part to play in how they turn out.  I was simply applying that good old autistic logic in order to make sense of what is, otherwise, senseless behaviour.  I’m really very good at it – I get a lot of practice, trying to make sense of my own.

Anyway, the point is, Christmas confuses me.  As do most things in life.  And every year, without fail, I go through the same ritual of trying to make sense of it, trying to find the meaning to it, trying to find a way to celebrate it which doesn’t involve the things that I used to do to celebrate ie drink a lot, eat a lot, buy a lot, spend a lot of time with my family, and watch television a lot - all in the name of attempting to get into the Christmas spirit.  And, surprisingly (at least to me), none of them ever worked. 

Yep, the real problem is that I truly believe all that hype.  Even worse than that, I want it to be true – which is probably why ninety percent of my psyche believes it.  I want it to be a special time of the year, with all of that attendant clap-trap about people being full of the Christmas spirit (and I’m not talking about alcohol here).  I even believe that having a white Christmas will make it more magical – as if Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye might suddenly appear to croon the world into a state of festive bliss.

I think that putting up a tree and decorations, having lots of family and friends for  whom to buy pressies and cards, and to be able to spend the holidays with, will “help to make the season bright” (to pinch a quote from the lyrics of ‘The Christmas Song’).  In fact, it’s bloody ridiculous what I think will make Christmas time special – like the magical thinking of a Santa-struck six year old.

And then there’s the whole issue of Jesus.  Just who was he?  And who decided we should celebrate his birthday?  And why do we celebrate his birthday by giving presents and cards to each other?  And getting drunk?  And stuffing ourselves full of food (those poor bloody turkeys – whose idea was it that they’d get the special ‘privilege’ of being the main course?)  And does ‘season’ (as in ‘the Holiday season’) mean it’s longer than one day (which, in my mind, it does – my Christmas holidays still coincide with the school hols, even though I haven’t been in education for over twenty-five years)?   

And when did Santa and Jesus get combined?  Should we call them Jesta?  Was it a marketing ploy formulated by someone back in the deep dark past, who jumped on the idea of gift-giving (as depicted in the story of Jesus’ birth) as a great way to sell the whole idea of Christmas?  Or perhaps it was designed for those people who don’t believe in Jesus, to give them a reason to celebrate?  And if there was a Christ-child born now, would he be visited by three wise-guys and three car parking attendants?  And for gifts, would he get an iPad, an iPhone, and a Kindle?

Okay, so enough of the really deep questions (I’m being ironic here).  What I’d really like to know is why do I still feel as if I must find a way to celebrate Christmas, when I’ve gradually stopped doing most of that stuff I mentioned above over the last ten years or so?  It’s like I’m stuck in a time-warp, where the only Christmases I remember are the ones that involved family, gifts, trees, and the like – yet I haven’t spent Christmas with my family since 2000.  That’s TWELVE BLOODY YEARS AGO!  And it never made a blind bit of difference to how I felt about the whole thing, anyway. 

Yet bang on cue, every year, you can guarantee there’s a light-bulb goes on in my head (or a set of twinkling fairy lights), and I respond to all of the hype and start pining for that perfect Christmas – like one of Pavlov’s dogs.  (And no, I don’t mean that Pavlov conditioned his dogs to pine for Christmas.  That would be a stupid thing to do.  Much like my pining for it is.  Better to pine for something tangible, useful, and attainable – like sticking to my bloody plan!)

The thing is I have learnt, through the practise of the AA programme, that every day is special, to be celebrated if you choose, and a new beginning.  Life is the ultimate gift.  Unfortunately, trying to override my initial learning is a tad difficult, no matter that I haven’t celebrated Christmas for a few years now.  My autistic brain doesn’t let go of old learning – it just has to be whacked into submission to a new way of thinking and doing, which gets laid over the top of the old. 

My best friend tells me there is an improvement – I only started talking about Christmas around the end of November this year, where on previous occasions it was October, and oftentimes September.  I’ll know I’m really improving when I don’t talk about it until it actually arrives, or not at all, and instead simply experience it as another day - another special day out of the three hundred and sixty-five that God gifts us every year.

So, hopefully, I will be spending my day following my plan.  That would be a tremendous gift – and a bloody miracle.  Perhaps Santa can oblige, since I’ve decided that God’s not doing such a great job of it!

Whatever you do, may you be at peace with yourself, and do what makes you happy.  If you can figure out what makes you happy!

26 November 2012

"I'll Link To That!"

I mentioned, did I not, in my previous post ‘Critical Art Bypass’ that I had been wandering on the web again just recently, looking for watercolour painting sites to help me improve my technique (which translates to mean ‘to help me change the way I paint so that I can stop painting like me, and paint like all the artists whose work I like.’  Bloody well trying to copy, again, aren’t I?!  Bane of my life).

The thing is this is only half true.  Or a quarter.  Or even a third.  Yes, I started out on my web-trawl with the intention of specifically looking for the above information.  Yes, I set out without telling anyone where I was going.  Or why I thought I was going.  So yes, as always when I undertake one of these misguided missions into the murky depths of cyberspace, I ended up wandering around the web for hours, battered and bewildered, wondering bemusedly how I’d gotten from art to armpits.  You read that right – armpits.  Namely, how to make your own deodorant, using only natural ingredients.  And how to make your own shampoo.  And your own perfume.  And your own toothpaste.  And your own...  The list, as I discovered, is endless.  As are the links.

Links?  Yes, links.  You know, those things liberally peppered around websites, enticing you to click and go... off into who-knows-what alternate universe.  They say things like, “If you liked this, then you might want to read...,” or, “What other people are reading,” or, “Related topics.”  Plus, there are the ones that are just the odd word or sentence, usually embedded within the body of the main text, which light up when you place your cursor over them.  Oh, how I love the words that light up – mirroring what my mind does when it catches sight of all those lovely distractions!  And, of course, you just HAVE to click on them.  You do.  Don’t you?

Well, according to my sane and sensible friend (who’s about as autistic as a plastic bag), no you don’t.  Apparently, other people don’t come on the web looking for one thing and, twelve hours later (that's NOT an exaggeration), find themselves still on here, completely lost, not able to recall what they were originally searching for, and having been led by the nose along a trail that’s taken them from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

I mean, who goes from looking up autism to celebrity gossip – especially when they don’t even own a television, don’t listen to the radio, and don’t read newspapers or magazines?  So what relevance does it have to my life?  None.  But in that moment of compulsive madness it becomes the most important thing in the world to catch up on everything I’ve missed out on in the last six months, or however long it’s been since my last trawl took me to this region of web-space; and I find my life inextricably linked (pause for ironic laughter) to that of Britney Spears, Rhianna, the cast of the new Bond movie, or whomever I happen to stumble upon as I blindly click my way to another bout of autistic obsessive/compulsive insanity.

This is what my best friend means when she says that the web is not designed for me.  I don’t do surfing – you know, skimming lightly over the surface, riding the waves of information ‘til I find what I want, blithely leaving behind that which isn’t relevant, and not getting bogged down in the troughs.  I do deep-sea diving, without enough oxygen to sustain me, ‘cos I’m not good at planning, and I never intend to be down that long.  So I end up feeling dizzy and disoriented from the lack of air, and the pressure of all that information pushing down on my head.  And there I get stuck, plodding along in the darkest depths, dredging the ocean floor to make sure I don’t miss anything, and collecting all the crap that other people would leave behind.  Hell, half of it is probably the crap that people have dumped there in the first place. 

Which is how come I end up reading twenty-five different web-sites about the same thing, in case one of the others has a different answer, a better answer, the RIGHT answer.  Not that this does me much good when I haven’t got a clue what the right answer is: so how I would recognise it even if I did happen to fall over it in my manic, skim-reading frenzy is beyond me.  But I keep trying.  Oh, how I do keep trying.  It’s as if I imagine that I’m going to have a “Eureka!” moment the instant I find what I’ve been searching for.  I have lots of them away from the web (usually very short-lived, and frequently duds), but I don’t think I’ve ever had one on-line.  I tend to come off here feeling more baffled than before I came on, having flooded myself with too much information, most of which bears no relevance to my original search query.

“Why do I keep doing it?”  Why does the sun come up every morning?  Why does the earth keep turning?  Buggered if I know.  What I think I know is that I love reading, and I love accumulating information (though I don’t quite know what to do with it once I’ve acquired it), and I get to do both on a massive scale on the web – unfortunately, without restrictions.  I haven’t yet learned to do discernment.  I think it’s a grand idea, but put me in front of a computer, or in a library, or in front of a television, and I will read or watch anything that catches my interest.  And my interest is easily caught.  It’s not picky, and would probably be the equivalent of a cheap date.  I am an internet tart – I get around a lot, especially as my interest is just as easily lost. 

I also have a trigger-happy finger which just itches to click those links.  And I spend the whole of my time with my hand clasped around the mouse in a death-grip (in case it runs away, perhaps, and gets mauled by a cat), which explains why I have recently started experiencing aches in my wrist, which are probably repetitive strain injuries.  My answer to that?  I just use my left hand instead of my right.  That way I get to have RSIs in both hands – but it means I get to keep on clicking.  As you can see, I was born with an abundance of common sense.

So, having admitted to my linking problem, I guess it’s probably time I tried to do something about it.  Controlled linking, perhaps?     

16 November 2012

Critical Art Bypass

So.... I’ve been suffering for my art just lately.... again (claps hand wanly to forehead, and sighs deeply in an affected manner.  Not really.  But I could be doing). 

Every so often I feel myself filled with an over-abundance of self-doubt about my ability - usually when I’m beginning, in the middle of, or finishing a painting.  So that’s approximately every time I pick up a pencil or a paintbrush, then.

But this time I seem to have been filled with even more than the usual amount.  It’s not even as if I’m experimenting with anything different.  No, I did that with the last painting, when I took the plunge and delved into the world of mixed mediums (and no, that’s not a reference to confused spiritualists).  I’m not even trying to paint anything unusual.

Yet, for some reason, I have got it into my head that the way I paint is now no longer any good, and it’s time to move on up the artistic ladder (hopefully not getting distracted and falling off half-way up), develop my technique, and start painting the way other people do it – ‘other people’ meaning ‘proper’ artists. 

You know, the kind who wear smocks and get paint everywhere, who have studios (or at least a space in which to permanently leave out all of their artistic equipment), use an easel, and have a collection of brushes that would have drastically reduced the sable population (or, at least, the tail end, since that’s where the hair comes from, out of which the brushes are made).  Oh, and who’ve had basic instruction in watercolour techniques.  And I forgot to mention the ‘seriously proper’ artists – the ones who live in a garret, and eat, drink, breathe, sleep, and suffer their art.

Not people like me, who don’t wear smocks or special clothes ‘cos, basically, I am the neatest painter in the world.  Even my tubes of paint are clean, and sit in an orderly manner in their original box.  And, given the size of my home, I have to paint at my kitchen table, which means there’s no room for me to leave things lying around – unless I want to risk getting food all over my art.  I guess it could be a new art-form – painting with mung dal.  Mind you, someone’s probably already done it; and it would be so messy (which, as you may have gathered, is something I don’t much care for).

Nor do I have an easel – just a multi-functional, drop-leaf kitchen table.  But then I don’t do ‘big’ art: you won’t find me attempting to paint a masterpiece on a life-size canvas.  Good thing, too, or I’d be crowded out within a month.

As to my brush collection, it would probably be considered a little on the sparse side, and devoid of all the relevant equipment (since I have very little idea as to what I “should” be painting with – other than it should look like a stick with some soft bristles sticking out the end).  The sables can breathe a deep sigh of relief with me around, especially as I’ve recently decided to go the vegan route and buy synthetic instead.  I hadn’t realised that they actually kill the animals for their tail hair, as well as their pelts which are used in other goods.  I really don’t want ANYONE suffering for my art. 

Which kinda excludes me from the ‘seriously proper’ art set: although I do tend to do a lot of suffering – just not quite in the dying-in-a-garret style.  For one thing, I love my food and my sleep too much to give it up for painting (although I can lose interest in the one and be deprived of the other when I get seriously obsessed about something).  And for another, I’m just too flighty and easily distracted.  I’d get bored if I had to spend all of my days just doing art.  I’d want to do wood-whittling, or stonemasonry.  Vincent Van Gogh I definitely am not.

All of which is tediously familiar territory.  I have the same doubts about everything I do.  I’m not a ‘proper’ writer because I haven’t written a book yet; I don’t own an extensive library; I don’t read ‘proper’ grown-up literature (‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ are what my tastes run to: along with an occasional foray into the ebook world of erotic romance literature, with which I seem to have developed a peculiar fascination just lately.)

I’m not a member of a writer’s group; I don’t read extensively (except when I go off on one of my web-trawls, and end up reading anything that pops into my view); and I certainly don’t have a study, with a ‘proper’ desk, at which to do my ‘proper’ writing – something I thought at one time was an absolute necessity, if I was ever going to become a ‘proper’ author.  As if I’d ever get any writing done, sitting in a room surrounded by shelves filled with books from floor to ceiling! 

Now I sit at my laptop, which sits on a desk that used to be a dressing-table, which stands in my living room: and I’m as happy as a seaside donkey wearing a bonnet.

I’m also not a “proper” craftswoman ‘cos my homemade cards look... well... home made.  I think that I’m supposed to be aiming for having them look ‘professional’, like the glossy, mass-produced things that you get in card-shops.  Except then I wouldn’t actually be able to describe them as being either home or hand-made – which kind of defeats the object, really. 

And as for yoga....  I just feel myself to be a fraud half the time, when I refer to myself as a yogi.  I’ve never been to a class, I don’t ‘hang’ or even speak with other yogis, yet I’ve somehow managed to bumble through teaching myself with the sole aid of a book (two books, to be precise, by the same author: ‘Introducing Yoga’, and ‘Yoga In Practice’, by Katy Appleton – beginners, and more advanced).  As a consequence of which, I have probably taken a lot longer to progress than your average yoga student – what with the added impediment of trying to follow a book with an autistic brain ( I mean that I have the brain, not the book, of course!)   

Then there’s the fact that, unlike the ‘proper’ people who do ‘proper’ yoga in their ‘proper’ yoga clothes at their ‘proper’ yoga classes or in their ‘proper’ sacred yoga spaces in their homes, I do mine in my kitchen.  Yes – my kitchen.  That multi-purpose room where nearly everything creative I do gets done. 

My kitchen is my sacred space – a sanctuary to which I can retreat and enjoy the calming influence of yoga... done to the accompaniment of the fridge-freezer merrily gurgling away when it decides to kick into gear; the gas boiler firing up every five minutes; the dulcet tones (I’m being ironic here) of my downstairs neighbour drifting up through the floorboards to gently caress my eardrums, along with the heavenly aroma of his cigarette smoke encompassing me as it, too, insinuates its way into my flat; and the heavy bass of my next door neighbour’s music filtering through the walls, when he has a musical moment.    

And not for me a statue of Shiva, Krishna, or even a Buddha to meditate upon and salute to during the Sun Salutation.  Oh no.  When I bow down, I do so to the ever-present figure of my Hoover Optima Wash System1600 washing machine (they do say cleanliness is next to godliness, do they not?)  And I wonder why my journey is taking so long, when I’m surrounded by such an abundance of distractions?

So no, there’s nothing ‘proper’ about me.  I’m not even a ‘proper’ person, being autistic and all.  But I keep giving it a jolly good try.  And, in an attempt to move myself up into the ranks of the “proper” artists’ set, I have been on a wild goose-chase for the last couple of weeks, surfing the internet, trying to find out how to do watercolour painting ‘properly’, whilst not doing any actual watercolour painting at all (it’s my favourite avoidance technique, looking on the web). 

And you know what I found?  A lot of convoluted confusion, which just added to my anxiety about picking up a paintbrush again.  As my friend frequently tells me, the internet is not designed for me, and the answers are not ‘out there’ on the world wide web.  Nor are they to be found in a book, or on a DVD, or in a class.  The answer is to simply pick up a brush and just paint, and trust the process: stop analysing exactly how do you paint, which does nothing but bring me to a grinding halt whilst my mind kicks into obsessive gear. 

I have nineteen paintings to prove that I can paint (most of them on my walls, and all done within the space of a week – that’s how long I’ve ACTUALLY been painting, when you add up the art time I’ve had in my timetable over the last year and a half): but do I look at them as a reminder of what I’ve achieved, and that I can do it?  Nope.  I look at them and worry that I won’t be able to repeat the process again.    

So now I’m proper pissed-off with the whole bloody world of trying to do it properly, when it turns out there isn’t really a proper way to do anything anyway – just a lot of different peoples’ versions of what they all think is proper.  And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure I know what ‘proper’ means anyway, in this context – other than ‘the way that everyone else does it, which isn’t the way that I do it.’ 

Therefore, I shall go forth and continue to bumble through with my improper manner, and trust that it’ll all come right in the end.  Or not.  As the case may be.  Depending on how you want to look at things.  Perhaps there’s a proper way to look at things that I’m missing out on...?   

29 October 2012

Colour Blind?

There is a certain irony to the fact that, as someone who tends to view things as either black or white, I happen to love colour.  But then you might find it difficult to believe if you saw the way I dress.  I have turned into a monk: that is, I wear rather a lot of brown (or, to pinch a quote from Eddie Izzard, “Brown, brown, fuckin’ brown.”)  And black.  And blue.  The three B’s.  Could be I chose them subconsciously because of the symmetry of them all beginning with the same letter. 

Or maybe it’s just because I have all the fashion sense of a seaside donkey:  I am, after all, the woman who once owned, and adored, a bright salmon-pink, velour, sweatshirt.  Perhaps I was just being rebellious?  A shame I couldn’t do it with a bit more style.  Or even a modicum of taste.  Or the excuse that I really am colour-blind, and I mistook it for an autumnal rust colour.

But no.  The fact of the matter is I’m damned if I know why I did choose them, other than that they appear to be the easiest colours to co-ordinate, so that even I, surely, can’t possibly make them clash.  Or maybe it’s because, as a child, I was instilled with the idea from my dad that brown was ‘my colour’, because of my colouring – I’m a redhead, with pale, creamy-coloured skin, masses of freckles, and dark blue eyes.  Just screams out “brown!” to you, when you put it like that, doesn’t it? 

Well I guess it does if you’ve got no imagination, no colour sense, and you just want to make it easier for yourself when it comes to buying clothing for presents at Christmas and birthdays - which basically describes my dad.  So, I’d get brown, and my sister would get black.  For some reason, only apparent to him, this was the colour that he decided suited her because she was a rosy-cheeked blonde.  Lucky her!

Also, I didn’t just get to wear brown, but live in it.  Yes, my dad’s incredible taste extended to our surroundings, too.  So we had magnolia walls, white paintwork, and carpets in various shades of brown: one of which had a startlingly loud geometric pattern that demanded to be noticed above all else in the room – which it inevitably was.  At least, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it, and it gave me something to stare at when there was nothing remotely interesting to watch on television.  

Funny thing is it would probably be considered the height of fashion now, since brown and neutral shades all seem to be the rage.  Though I don’t think that carpet would ever be considered stylish or in vogue, not even at the time that he bought it.  Someone was probably taking the piss when they sold it to him.  Whoever designed it was probably pissed when they came up with the idea.  Or stoned, and still living in the seventies.

So, having been raised in the land of bland, I took a decided disliking to anything remotely resembling beige, white, or brown, when it came to decor.  Which is rather fortunate since my own first home happened to be fully decorated and carpeted (a real blessing, as I hadn’t got a clue how you went about doing such things): and, apart from the kitchen, which had cream walls and a brown carpet, the rest of it was a mixture of pale greens, pinks, blues, and a splash of lilac on the wallpaper in the bathroom.  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!  I’d never seen so much colour, and with matching carpets too. 

And it made it so light and airy, another thing that had always been missing in the houses I’d lived in with my dad.  It made it almost impossible to ever feel cheerful, inhabiting such gloomy surroundings.  Not to mention the lack of light.  And the ever-increasing piles of useless crap that my dad hoarded, which seemed to take on a life of their own like some living entity, taking over the house, and encroaching on our living space so that there was hardly room to breathe, let alone move about. 

He was a true autistic, unable to resist collecting anything that he thought might come in useful, and unable to throw anything away.  And, unfortunately for us, he had the autistic’s lack of judgement and common sense, being unable to determine what constituted useful or important enough to keep.  So he kept it all, “Just in case.”  (There’s a film called ‘Mozart and the Whale’, which is based on the true story of two Aspergers trying to have a relationship with each other, and the male lives in exactly the kind of home that we had – the film’s depiction is not an exaggeration!)

By the time I moved on to my next home it was time to develop my own taste, as I now had to decorate from scratch.  And so I came up with the idea that I wanted my surroundings to resemble something Mediterranean – all yellows, burnt oranges, sea-blues and greens, and the like.  Just no white, even though it is rather a predominant colour in that region (but hey, this was my idea of Mediterranean, so it was bound to stray from authenticity, and be a bit of a confused jumble).  I’d become obsessed with the area after reading ‘A Year In Provence’ by Peter Mayle, and then developing a special interest in Italian football.  Doesn’t take much, does it? 

In the end I got my dream colour scheme – every room painted in the same colours to give a sense of flow (another thing I’d always wanted).  And I liked it so much I brought the same ideas to my third, and present, home, complemented by a beautiful copper-coloured carpet that also extends throughout the flat.  All a far cry from what I was raised in: and, for a long time, beyond the scope of my imagination, not to mention my practical capabilities, which were nil until my best friend taught me how to decorate, and develop my home-making skills.  I have a LOT to thank her for.

Like now, with the clothes.  Yes, it’s her fault that I am currently contemplating the contents of my wardrobe with a mixture of disdain and bewilderment.  Or disdainful bewilderment.  Or even bewildered disdain.  Take your pick.

How, I ask myself, have I ended up wearing such drab attire?  When did I start dressing in compliance with my dad’s idea of what suits me?  Why do I insist on wanting to follow the crowd, and conform to some unwritten dress code, especially when I don’t need to anymore?  I have to say I seem to have a thing about uniforms.  I really loved my school uniform, which was navy blue and white, my favourite combination.  I especially loved my PE kit, which probably explains why I now spend a predominant amount of time wearing my yoga gear, especially the bottoms.  It appears I still haven’t left school behind me – and I haven’t been anywhere near it for well over twenty years.  And I wonder why they say autistics have difficulty with change.

Of course I wouldn’t be making such radical changes to my wardrobe were it not for my aforementioned friend’s helpful input – not to mention her initial, inspirational, instigative comments along the lines of, “You look drab.  Your clothes are boring and uninspiring.  The colours are awful.  They don’t do anything for you at all.” 

(I must point out at this juncture that, despite how it sounds, my friend is not one of those people who go around offering their unsolicited opinion and advice willy-nilly, blundering forth like an elephant on the rampage, without stopping to consider the ramifications of what she might be about to say.  Nope, that description best suits me.  What she is is honest and straightforward, a necessity for autistics if you want us to “get” what you’re trying to tell us.  There’s no point speaking in code, or hinting at me: I’ll just completely miss the point, and possibly end up taking offence (which I still often do even with the direct approach – nothing’s fool-proof).  This is one of the reasons I like her.  I asked, she answered.  ‘Nuff said.

Which is why I am now the proud owner and wearer (not all at once, mind) of nine (of course nine – one for each day of the week, and two “just in case”) new,ethnic-style tops, in a multitude of bright (but not clashingly so) colours, all of which complement my colouring, and express more truly who I am.  Or who I’m discovering myself to be.  Yet another reason for changing the way I dress. 

I’ve been a yogi for nearly ten years now and I am, in my soul, a gentle, peaceful, sappy, alternative, free-thinking, independent, artistic individual – who still wears combat trousers and big CAT boots, has a hankering for military-style clothing, and sports gear, all left over from my days of being in conflict with myself (especially hated being female), and the rest of the world, from whom I thought I needed to learn to defend myself.  And who would rather have learned martial arts than yoga, thanks all the same.  Not for me all that peace-loving, hippyesque wussiness, and standing around pretending to be a tree.

So it’s perhaps a little long overdue that the outside of me should begin to reflect the inside.  After all, it’s not like people haven’t known for years that I’m really a bit of a sensitive soul, and not the mindlessly combative moron that I’ve ended up trying to emulate and project.  The only person not aware of it has been me.  But then I’m always the last to know.

And, as my friend pointed out when I mentioned that I really love the beautiful orange and red colours that the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan monks all wear, he probably doesn’t keep a set of combat gear in his wardrobe for times when he doesn’t feel so calm and spiritual, and wants to have “a day off”.  Which is, essentially, what I’m trying to do.  I’m dressing two different people.  Is it any wonder I don’t know who I am half the time?  I just can’t decide who I want to be.  And they say yoga is about uniting the whole person.  Guess I’ve still got a lot of work to do there, then. 

But now, at least, I can do it in style and bright colours, so I might cheer up a bit about the whole business.  No more Eeyore grey for me.  At least, not on the top half.  I’ve had to temporarily bring a halt to my wardrobe renaissance, on account of a lack of finances, and poor planning.  But fear not, the bottom will catch up one day, and then I really will be a whole person.  But for now I shall have to remain half and half – the Combat Yogi of Misterton.  

P.S.  You may have noticed that there are rather a lot of links in this piece.  Yes, I have discovered the LINK button, and have, of course, gone rather berserk.  Fear not, I'll calm down when I find something else more exciting to take its place.  But for now you'll have to put up with "The Links Effect"!

18 September 2012

The Trick Is To Keep Breathing

“If you don’t go within, you go without.”
From ‘Conversations With God’ by Neale Donald Walsch

“God is in every breath.”

It’s remarkable how I can completely miss the obvious.  I astound myself sometimes, I really do.  I’d bypass the point even if my life depended on it.  Take breathing, for instance...

The first thing I learned in yoga was how to breathe properly.  And the first thing I forgot was how to breathe properly.  Phenomenal, isn’t it, what an autistic mind can misplace when left to its own devices?  And that, unfortunately, is what I was left to – to try to learn yoga by myself, with only the aid of a book for me to work through and attempt to understand, and no-one to keep reminding me of the salient points: like the need to focus on the breath.

So of course, once I’d read the section on breathing, I promptly forgot most of it in my excitement and impatience to move on to what I viewed as the REALLY important bits – the asanas (that’s postures or poses to you non-yogis).  Plus, I probably knew that trying to rein in my mind to pay attention to what I was doing was going to be a bugger, so I conveniently consigned that part to the ‘inconsequential’ pile, possibly to be attempted at a later date – when I was able to focus better.  Yes, I imagined that simply doing yoga postures, without specifically practicing concentrating on the breath or on what my body was doing, would somehow miraculously teach me how to focus - whilst I continued to let my mind wander wherever it wanted.  This is what I call the autistic version of multi-tasking: I appear to be able to do two things simultaneously, but one of them is suffering badly from a lack of attention – and it isn’t the thinking.

At this point in the proceedings (just over nine years ago) I hadn’t yet discovered that I was autistic, or had ADHD to explain the decided lack of anything resembling an attention span.  But when I did find out, I came to the erroneous conclusion that this explained why I hadn’t been able to attain any measure of control over my mind (thereby completely circumventing the fact that I actually hadn’t tried very hard either, it being excruciating, like trying to keep a jack in a box when the lid’s broken); and that the book was written for non-autistics, so this definitely meant that I was not going to be able to do it at all, thus letting me off the hook.  I thought.

The funny thing is that once I started to progress in my yoga practice, I found myself wanting to be able to attain what was promised in my books, which drove me to make time to include the practice of breathing and meditation techniques.  And, remarkably enough, they started to work.  I actually found myself able to sit still and do nothing, other than breathe and try to focus, for longer than thirty seconds.  Okay, so my mind was still rampantly running amok, but it was no longer dictating what my body should do – a bit like sitting still in the middle of a war-zone, with people yelling at me that I should move out of the way.  Not a lot of peace, but I wasn’t going to shift until I decided it was time.

And then I discovered that, even though I still couldn’t seem to control my mind, which insisted on attaching itself to every thought that came my way (the opposite to what you’re supposed to do, which is to let the thoughts flow in and out – totally not autistic!), I felt calmer, and my mind was quieter: it was like someone had finally managed to find the volume control and turn the noise down.  I wasn’t reacting to every thought that entered my head, trying to analyse and talk myself out of having them.  It had finally clicked that the moment I engaged in any way with my thinking, was the moment when my mind had won the battle to get my attention, thereby diverting it away from what I was supposed to be doing, what was really important – focusing on the breath, and being in the present. 

The irony is that my best friend has been telling me this for years, with regard to the rest of my life.  It’s one of a number of phrases she has to keep repeating to me, parrot-fashion, until I get the meaning.  “Stop analysing, stick to the plan, focus on what you’re supposed to be DOING, and ignore what you’re THINKING and it’ll go away.”  Unfortunately, I was always too busy listening to what my mind had to say about it all, and analysing what she’d said, to actually follow her advice. 

And I basically did the same when it came to reading my yoga book which, coincidentally (or not), contained almost the exact same advice: “Just enjoy what you are doing, give it your full attention, stay present in what you are working on, and keep focusing on the breath ...”; and: “The mind loves to wander to the past or the future; try and stay in the present moment when you practice.  Keep the mind on the breath, observing what it’s doing and how it feels.  By doing this the mind stays in the now.”; and one more time, just in case you missed the point (which I did, repeatedly): “Thoughts will begin to slow down and you will find yourself simply observing their flow, without grasping at them or becoming attached to any of them.”

So, what is it that is so special about the breath?  Well, in yoga they consider it to be the essence of existence, so that when you inhale you not only take in oxygen, but the energy of life, out of which everything in the universe (including us) is made.  Another name for it is God, which I personally prefer: it’s a lot less of an abstract concept to have to deal with, especially when it comes to the question of talking to It.  “Good morning, energy, please help me stick to my plan today,” would make me feel rather as if I were talking to nothing in particular,just a lot of air – or myself.  Whereas the word God denotes that I am talking to a friend.

I also find it amazingly symbolic that in the Bible it tells of how when God created man, He breathed life into him.  Yep, breathing is probably the most effective way of connecting with God (or your spirit, soul, or higher Self, whatever you want to call it), and it doesn’t cost a thing.  You just have to learn to slow down in order to be able to listen, not just talk, otherwise it’s like asking someone for directions to somewhere, and then walking off before they get the chance to tell them to you; which is the kind of relationship I have frequently had with Him.  Fortunately She’s never taken the hump and walked off when I’ve returned to talk at Her.    

When you breathe deeply, into your tummy, you slow down the breath, and when it slows down the mind slows down too.  And if you practice enough you can actually shut it up completely (for a while, anyway): it’s almost as if it gets bored when it’s not being listened to.  But you have to practice A LOT – this thing, this mind with its plethora of thoughts, is persistent, patient, and has had a great deal of practice at running the show: and it requires the exact same attributes in order to take back control.  Attributes with which an obsessive/compulsive autistic, with ADHD, is not exactly naturally endowed.  I can spell them, and I know how to use them in a sentence, but the Three Ps have left me frequently perplexed when it comes to applying them in my life.

Which is why it’s only taken me just over nine years to work out that I’ve been missing a bit in my yoga practice.  That it just happens to be the essential bit is par for the course for me.  And the final irony is that the word ‘yoga’ actually means ‘to unite, combine, yoke’, which translates to meaning that the body, mind, and soul all end up working in unison through the practice of yoga.  Mine have all been doing what they always do, going their separate ways, whilst I have questioned whether yoga is really as effective as I’ve read that it is supposed to be.  After all, it’s only been going for about three thousand years!

03 September 2012

Get Out Of Your Mind

“Be empty.  Think of who created thought!  Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?”

“We should take care not to make the intellect our God.”
Albert Einstein

I would have told you that I loved thinking, not so very long ago.  It was something that excited and interested me, stimulated my mind, and gave me an adrenalin rush - so I wasn’t any too keen on giving it up.  The idea of being empty used to scare the shit out of me.  What would I do with all that space in my head?  What thoughts would I have if I wasn’t the one choosing what to think?  Would I become bland and boring, without a single idea of my own?  And how would I figure anything out if I didn’t think about and analyse things?  What was the purpose of my mind if I didn’t use it?  How would I fill the time that was taken up with it?

And then came the very, very, very gradual realisation that it’s not that I love it so much (at least, not all of it), but rather that I am addicted to the rush, and that it serves as a distraction from what I am meant to be doing.  I could spend whole days just sitting (or wandering around aimlessly), lost in my own inner world, avoiding doing anything in this one: it’s easier than having to force myself to have to focus, and practice discipline and self-control.  And besides, I don’t always care too much for this reality, so drifting off into another world is just another way of escaping. 

With the rush, though, comes the over-stimulation, and with that comes the inevitable crash: thinking wipes me out, physically as well as mentally.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that I am left in a state of such tiredness that I am able to go to sleep for hours on end to recoup: that would be too convenient.  Instead I find myself catapulted into a state of something that almost resembles suspended animation – my body and mind have slowed down so much that I can barely think or function, and yet my whole being is thrumming with an overabundance of nervous energy that makes it impossible for any part of me to be still.  It’s a bugger.

I had also started to recognise a while ago that my thoughts are actually rather repetitive – obsessive I think is the word (God forbid that I should be called obsessive!).  So much so that even I was remembering having had them before (and sharing them with my long-suffering friend), on an all-too-regular basis.  My mind has learned the very neat trick of being able to take the same thoughts and repackage them, so that I never quite recognise that I’m just replaying the same stuff: I’ve had more repeats than you get on television.  Rather than being the free-thinking intellectual I thought I was, it turns out that I am often extremely boring, and my thoughts can be terribly tedious.  I’m bored with them, so they must be bad ‘cos I usually think they’re so riveting, and important, that everyone wants to hear them. Again.  And again.  And again.  And again...

The other, major problem with my thinking is that when it gets going I am controlled by it: I just don’t seem to know when, or how, to stop; and even attempting to slow it down is almost impossible.  And as to imagining that I can control the kind of thoughts I have – it’s a delusion.  It’s as if I am not really choosing them at all: not consciously, anyway.  It’s like plugging into a television set, where all the controls are stuck so you cannot switch it off, change channels, or adjust the volume – I am simply bombarded by the myriad of random images and sounds being projected at me, and it feels like I’m being pinned to the sofa, unable to move, a passenger in my own life.  And anyone unfortunate enough to be around when it’s happening invariably gets steamrollered by my verbiage.

But even when I do get a truly inspirational idea, one that doesn’t originate within the narrow confines of my maze of a mind, but which comes to me from my higher Self (God, as I like to call it, though some people get bent out of shape about the word), there still remains the problem of what I do with it – namely, sit and admire it from every conceivable angle, talk about it at depth, and bask in the glow of wonderment that I’ve finally seen the light (again).  And the moment I do all of that, in order to attempt to control, understand, and keep hold of it, I move into obsession, and off we go again.  Different thoughts, same behaviour.

I have pondered the question, long and hard, of how to deal with this obsessional thinking.  It especially confounded me when I discovered that I am autistic, and that being obsessive is a common trait.  Did this mean, then, that I was condemned to have to live with this constant stream, never having any respite from it?  Was I going to be at the mercy of my ever-cogitating mind?  If that was the case, was it possible for me to choose to be obsessed only with positive things, and to channel that into constructive pursuits?  This appeared to me to be what people like Temple Grandin have done, and she has only two major obsessions, as far as I’m aware.  Was this the answer?

Er, no - to put it bluntly.  Perhaps for some autistics it works, but it hasn’t been a great success for me.  Of course, I have no idea whether Temple Grandin is still plagued by random obsessive thinking, in amongst her consuming focus on her special interests.  All I know is that trying to only be obsessed with my special interests, to keep at bay all that uninvited, negative crap that enters my head at random and then refuses to leave, doesn’t work for me. 

For one thing, I have more than just two particular interests – yoga, writing, art, craft, Sanskrit, calligraphy, reading, and dancing.  Which means that deciding to be obsessed with one of them (writing, for example) simply results in my being distracted from doing the others.  I end up with my head full of story titles and bits of poetry, all demanding to be taken notice of and written down – except that it happens at the most inopportune moments (in the middle of yoga, for example), which means that I can’t do anything with them because that would mean abandoning my plan.  Of course, the minute I get to my writing time the whole bloody lot has disappeared, or I’ve lost interest because they’ve been replayed in my head so many times that it feels like I’m just rehashing an old tale.  And there’s nothing more boring than having to write up a twice-told tale.  Especially when you’ve heard it being retold in your head a lot more than just twice! 

Or, I just can’t make a decision as to which one to go with first because my head has been flooded with too many ideas all at once.  Plus, not only has my enthusiasm for writing been spent, but I’ve also in the process lost interest in everything else that I haven’t been able to focus on doing during the day because I’ve been lost in my head.  And part of the purpose of my weekly plan is to help me practice disciplining my mind to focus on what I’m doing.

So, once I’ve worn myself out with my initial over-enthusiastic ruminations, and got bored with them, my mind is happily primed and ready to assail me with any thought, positive or negative, that happens to be lying around: after all, one obsessive thought is no different to another – as I have found to my cost.  Yep, I’ve basically opened the door and invited them in.

I have realised that I’m probably never not going to think in an obsessive way, when I do think.  I cannot help but move from one theme to the next, in a rigid manner, and to have a relatively limited set of topics at any one time, which I have a tendency to return to regularly.  Spontaneity is not my thing, no matter how much I might wish to be, or try to be – my brain just isn’t designed to be able to accommodate this particular trait, and it’s pointless railing against it.  

But what I’m discovering about myself is that this doesn’t have to mean that I can never enjoy moments of peace; nor learn to be able to focus my mind on what I am doing; or acquire the ability to slow down my mind and ignore my thoughts, and not be at the mercy of it and them.  Can you imagine having peace in your head, and not being overwhelmed and controlled by the constant stream of noise raining down on you, like being in the midst of a bomb attack?  Well, I’ve found a way.  The irony is that I’ve been doing it for nearly ten years but completely missed the point, until now.  And it’s all in the breath. 

29 June 2012

A Bee In My Bonnet

  A Pooh song from “Winnie The Pooh”, by AA Milne:

“Isn’t it funny
How a bear likes honey?
Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
I wonder why he does?”

Probably because someone told him that it’s really good for him!  Alas, they neglected to take into consideration the fact that Pooh bear is rather a sugar addict and compulsive overeater, so the last thing he needs is pure sugar – no matter how healthy it’s supposed to be.  I guess they weren’t into labels (please read ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ for amplification – if you’re interested, that is; and if you don’t know to what I’m referring, of course).

So, what have I got against honey, you may be asking?  Actually, absolutely nothing.  In fact, my only gripe is that I can’t eat it.  At least, not without doing a Pooh.  Put sugar in my system – nay, you only have to put it in my mouth – and I turn into something akin to a rabid dog, foaming at the mouth and ready to tear out the throat of anyone dumb enough to try to get between me and my supply.  And then there’s what it does to my body and my mind ... 

Which is why I don’t eat it any more: but it doesn’t stop me wanting to sometimes when I hear about the phenomenal health benefits to be had from doing so.  And honey – that’s MANUKA honey, ‘cos your bog-standard variety won’t do anymore – is one such thing that is high on the list of wonderness in the world of wonder foods.  You can tell just how wonderful it is because of the price you have to pay for it – a bit like buying a designer dress.  And its popularity is not guaranteed, this being the health industry, which is almost as fickle as the fashion world – one minute you’re in, the next you’ve been relegated to the second division (designing clothes for Tesco’s), and replaced by the next big thing.  Just look at soya. 

But it was the brief mention of Manuka honey that led me to make the rash decision based on a rash of self-will, which resulted in a most delightful reaction – a rash.  Yes, it appears that I am allergic to bee products – not just honey, because of the sugar allergy, but anything digestible which those furry little insects produce.  Having tried to find a loophole in the whole “honey is pure sugar and therefore bad for a sugar addict” argument (and failed), I came up with the brilliant idea of buying some Royal Jelly capsules, figuring I’d be safe with those.  I would get the same kind of health benefits that the Manuka honey eaters get, and I could stop feeling as if I was being deprived of some magical cure. 

And I’d just have to be content with wearing Manuka yoga clothing.  (No, they are not clothes made out of honey: it just happens to be the name of the company who makes them.  And yes, I finally caved in to my obsession with having to have ‘proper’ yoga clothes for my practise, having made do for the last eight years without.  Hey ho!  Strangely enough, it hasn’t made any difference to my practise either: I still can’t do Shoulderstand without having to hoick up my top so that I can get a grip on my back because my hands slip on the material.  And there I was, seriously believing that they were made with some special non-slip material, and that that’s why none of the pictures of Katy Appleton, or any other yogis I’ve gawped at on the web, show them with their t-shirts half-way up their backs!) 

So, Royal Jelly, for those of you not in the know, is NOT the wobbly stuff made from water and what appear to be coloured cubes of rubber, which happens to have been given the Queen’s royal approval (Americans call it jello, I believe, in case there’s some confusion).  It’s the stuff that is fed to bee larvae and, in particular, is continued to be fed to those chosen to be queen bees, thus producing bigger, stronger, fertile bees, with apparently lovely skin.  I’m deducing that this last point must be the case, as one of its supposed benefits is for the skin, and it is also used in beauty products.  Of course, I can’t actually say for certain whether this is true about the queen, since I’ve never got up close enough to notice whether she has any skin.  I’ve always been under the impression that bees were simply furry little blobs who ambled around flowers, buzzing about amicably enough as long as you didn’t do anything rash (cue ironic laughter) - like try to kill them.  Or steal their honey.

As it turned out, I didn’t get the chance to take it for long enough to experience any of the numerous health benefits attributed to it, nor even to notice whether it had any impact on my skin.  Or, should I say, any beneficial impact.  It certainly impacted - like a comet searing the Earth.  I still have a residual trail of rash marks, nearly a month after it appeared.  Fortunately the extreme pain and itchiness have gone, along with the band of tightness around my chest which made me feel as if I were being squeezed to death by a Boa Constrictor.  I had great difficulty in getting comfortable for a few days, and for three nights I was in such agony I was kept awake by it, unable to find a restful position in which to lay.  I have since discovered that it could have been worse – I could have died (seriously, no kidding).  It puts a whole new slant on the words ‘health food’.  And perhaps there’s some symbolism in the fact that bees live in hives?!  God willing I’ll remember that next time I get another bee in my bonnet.  

23 June 2012

Pulp Fiction

I think there’s a conspiracy to get people to eat crap – and I don’t mean junk food.  Nope, this is a whole new, wonderful world of crap: a bizarre twist on the old, familiar version.  This involves eating what’s left over after you’ve made milk.

Okay, just to clarify – I’m not talking about cows here.  I mean, obviously, you don’t actually make the milk, the cow does: it just requires you to go and milk the cow.  And the only thing that would be left over to eat from that particular venture would be the cow.  Which would mean you’d be killing your source of milk.  Not a good idea, really.  Nor does it actually qualify as vegetarian (which I am).  So, no - cows are out.

No, I’m talking about having discovered the wondrous universe of homemade nut milk.  In fact, as I’ve recently discovered, you can make milk from lots of things (rice, oats, soya beans, seeds): which is kind of logical, really, considering you can buy all these different varieties – at a price.  If you ever consider going vegetarian/vegan, and becoming a health food nut, make sure you have a healthy bank balance first.  And for what you pay for a litre of milk, you’d expect that you’d be getting something exceptional: or, at the least, something which resembled the thing from which it was supposed to be made.  Instead of which, the predominant ingredients in most of them is water and some kind of sweetener: and you get approximately 7% almonds (or soya beans, etc).  So paying £3 for a litre of almond milk means that you’re buying a very expensive, flavoured water.

What I didn’t realise was just how easy it is to make the stuff, and how much nicer it tastes (well, some of them, anyway: oat milk is rather slimey).  But I do now.  And my new obsession is with making milk.  I even bought a blender, especially for the task.  It’s great.  I’m in love with my blender.  It also makes wonderfully smooth soup.

But I digress.  So, I have been making almond milk.  I did my research first, and acquired about a hundred different versions of the same recipe.  And, in the process, I discovered that you could also use the pulp that is left over from the almonds.  There’s even a whole web site dedicated to the care and use of almond pulp – almondpulp.com.  Seriously!  Not to mention all the individuals out there who have also come up with their own ideas.

Of course I figured it must be good, if so many people were saying it was – which they were.  And there was the whole question of it being an environmentally good thing to do, with regard to not wasting anything.  So, on my first attempt at making milk, I decided to keep said pulp, and then stick it in one of my own recipes.  It has to be said that it doesn’t actually look particularly appetising – kind of like damp, mashed-up, crumbly cardboard.  And hey! that’s how it tasted.  Perhaps “tasted” is too strong a word for something that actually had no flavour to it, and which was so dry it felt like I was eating a portion of the Sahara desert.

However, true to my persistent nature (when it comes to obsessions), I decided that perhaps the problem lay with my recipe, and that I should give it another go, this time following a ‘proper’ recipe off the web.  I found loads – interestingly enough, none of them suggestions for using it in papier mache.  And, on my next milk venture, I duly saved the pulp (much like Save the Whale), and proceeded to follow two suggestions – one for crackers (which I have been considered to be on numerous occasions), and the other for an alternative version of houmous.

How can I best describe the taste experience which followed?  It truly is difficult to impart the full impact of eating something which, even with added to it a whole host of ingredients meant to give flavour and moisture, is still able to resolutely retain its full character in the face of a head-on assault by people trying to make it into something it isn’t – edible.  Let’s face it, it’s pulp!  I mean, even the name gives away the truth.  It’s dry and it’s bland, and it’s literally the crap left over after you’ve soaked, blended, and squeezed out from it all of the goodness.  I nearly choked on the crackers, and had to throw half the houmous away, thereby wasting not only the pulp itself but the ingredients added to it in order to save it from being wasted in the first place!

Its blandness reminded me of that other inedible disaster of the health gourmet world – tofu.  And the hype for this stuff is phenomenal – they have been able to turn its lack of flavour into one of its biggest selling points, describing it as being versatile and great for soaking up other flavours.  Funnily enough, despite persisting at great length with it (having believed the hype, and convinced myself that I really did like it, and it was really good for my health), I never did discover any way to mask the blandness (except, perhaps, when I mashed it with tinned sardines.  Yes, I said sardines – in tomato sauce).  Fresh, it was like a solid block of taste-free blancmange: frozen and defrosted it took on the texture, and probable taste, of a sponge.  Perhaps someone should come up with a recipe that combines the two, see if they cancel each other out.  It could be the taste sensation of the decade.

Call me fickle, but I gave up on it in the end.  I realised that life’s too short to be eating foods you don’t enjoy, just because you’re told it’s good for your health.  Of course, I have to keep reapplying this maxim because I will keep on forgetting, and insist on trying to include in my diet every new food I’m told has the potential to cure all known ailments and combat ageing.  I swear I’d eat elephant poo if it was marketed correctly.  Who cares about taste, just tell me the health benefits – my favourite words on the web.

You know the real irony of this attempt to avoid waste, though, is the fact that some of the recipes which require the nutritious, delicious pulp to be cooked actually necessitate that it be put in the oven on the lowest setting for twenty hours.  No, you didn’t read that wrongly.  No, that isn’t a typing error.  Yes, I said twenty HOURS!  This is in order that the enzymes left over from it having been blended to death (so, surely, there can’t be that many remaining?) are kept intact, thereby assuring its continued nutritional benefit.  Can you imagine how much energy is being wasted all over the world by all the people following these recipes, in an attempt to avoid wasting a bit of left-over rubbish?

 And now here’s the really ironic bit: you’re not actually cooking, but dehydrating it.  This stuff, which is already as parched as the bleached remains of a dead camel in the desert, is then going to be sucked dry of the tiny bit of moisture that couldn’t be squeezed out of it for milk.  Are these people vampires?  And I’m told I’m bonkers!  Well, hey, I must be ‘cos I tried the recipe – though the version I followed required the crackers to be left in the oven for twenty minutes, rather than hours.  Perhaps that’s why it didn’t taste so good?  Perhaps I should give the longer version a try ... and join the rest of the dehydrating world in wasting energy, and time, trying to come up with useful things to do with pulp.   

So, the moral of this story?  You really can’t believe everything you read on the web, no matter how great a majority of people appear to be saying the same thing.  My friend keeps telling me this (me being the gullible, literal-minded soul that I am), and she also informs me that people are out there trying to sell me stuff.  That’s why they have web-sites.  And it’s not always obvious what it is that they are trying to sell.  But I usually come off there having been sold some idea or other, so they’re doing a grand job.  As for pulp?  I’ll just put it where it belongs - in the bin – and trust that the waste recycling police don’t come and arrest me! 


06 June 2012

Lamb To The Slaughter

Gullible – easily deceived or tricked, credulous. 
Credulous – apt to believe without sufficient evidence; unsuspecting. 
Absorbent – something that absorbs; retentive. 
Absorb – to suck in; to swallow up; to imbibe; to take in; to assimilate; to take up and transform instead of transmitting or reflecting (this last definition is actually related to physics, but it describes perfectly what I’m talking about). 
Naive – overtrusting and unworldly.

This is me.  At least, this is a part of me.  And, if you ask me, it’s a most annoying part which I could well do without, since it appears to be nothing more than one ginormous liability, and to achieve little other than to frequently drop me in a deep pile of poo.  But no-one asked my permission when they were dishing out personality traits, so I’m basically lumbered with them.

So here’s an example to illustrate.

I had a brainwave recently.  At least, I thought that’s what it was at the time.  And when I got it out in the open and shared it with my friend, she agreed that it seemed like a good idea.  Except it transpired that it wasn’t.  A lot of which was to do with the fact that we were, once again, talking at cross-purposes.  And that the third party involved in this comedy of errors turned out to be wholly inappropriate for an autistic with a history of eating disorders, the absorbency of a toilet roll, and the passivity of a new-born lamb.  Lead me on to the slaughter, baaaa ...

This great idea?  I finally decided to go and see an ayurvedic practitioner to check whether my diet really is as healthy as my friend insists it is.  And ‘cos I love yoga, to which ayurveda is generally attached – so I just have to go the whole hog, trotters and all.  Plus, it’s ancient, eastern, and holistic, so it’s got to be good: well, that’s the message I’ve absorbed anyway, and who am I to argue with a bunch of three thousand year old wise men and their collected words of wisdom, not to mention the force of nature that is today’s media hype?  I even had my friend phone the aforementioned practitioner beforehand (sounds like something akin to Magic and the Dark Arts), to pave the way.  So, on that note, what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, let’s see what happens when we approach this from a more realistic perspective, starting with the not-so-insignificant detail of my autism – you know, the thing that sets me apart from my fellow man, and impairs my ability to communicate with, and understand, the world at large?  Ooops!  It seems I’d forgotten about that.  Or I’d decided that this was not going to be a problem because she’s ayurvedic, so we must speak the same language – yogi.  It transcends all communication barriers.  Yeah, right.  I really must stop snorting turmeric. 

Then there’s the equally-inconsequential item which is my ADHD.  Ah yes, that’s that thing which affects my ability to sit still for nigh on a nanosecond, and influences the length of time I can focus on anything before my brain disengages and my mind drifts off into inner space (of which there appears to be an infinite amount, given the number of times I get lost in there).  But of course that’s not going to be a problem when I’m going to be expected to sit still and concentrate for an hour and a half, in the company of a complete stranger, a feat I can only manage for thirty minutes at a time at home, where I’m by myself.  No, not going to be a problem at all – not when she’s got ayurveda on her side.  Makes perfect sense – to a deranged lunatic, high on the combined effects of numerous eastern mystical philosophies.

And furthermore, we have the negligible factor that is my anxiety.  That’s my Social anxiety.  You know, where a person suffers anxiety when out in society – that thing that involves people.  And where I get extremely anxious about going anywhere unfamiliar, in case I get lost and end up having to ask one of those people-things for directions.  But again this is not going to be a problem because this person is an Ayurvedic Practitioner – she doesn’t count as part of that societal thing.  She was going to have a magical effect on me.  Sheeesh!  I really should give up mainlining coriander as well.

Ergo, the question should really be, “What could possibly go right?”

As it turned out, not a lot, really.  First off, she sent me a booklet to read before my visit.  Bad sign.  I was supposed to be avoiding any more reading because my mind is already addled from attempting to understand what is, basically, another foreign language.  That’s why I was paying to see her, so that she could demystify and simplify it all.  Obviously we were already having difficulty communicating, and we hadn’t even spoken yet.

Then, two days before, I had a blinding flash of insight – what the hell was I doing, going to see someone I didn’t know, with everything I’ve got going on with me?  Really augured well.

The experience itself was underwhelming, to say the least.  The person who recommended her to me (whose dietary advice I have frequently followed like an over-enthusiastic lemming leaping repeatedly from a cliff-top) had said that she had an aura about her.  Well, all I can say is that her aura must have taken a sabbatical that day to get recharged. 

The only aura visible to me was that of wealth, and a carefully controlled and contrived environment of calm and spirituality.  You know, where everything is in its place, she’s got all the right accoutrements (yoga magazines carefully arranged on the dining room table, incense burning, the occasional Hindu statue dotted discreetly around the place), the decor consists of thirty different shades of beige (my idea of decorating hell), and her first words are: “Just be yourself”, followed by, “Could you please take your shoes off as we don’t allow outdoor footwear inside.”  Yep, two phrases guaranteed to make me feel welcome and at ease.  There is something not quite right about a person who has to tell you to be yourself in their company.  “House of correction” is what sprang to mind.

So, what did I gain from my visit?  A headache and a feeling that my mind had reached way beyond saturation-point in its absorbency quota for the day.  Were it actually a toilet roll, then it would have had the composition of one that had been dropped down the loo.

Apparently they don’t do labels in ayurveda – which  confused me somewhat when she labelled me a pitta person (it’s my dosha type.  Don’t ask.)  It also made it rather difficult for me to fulfil her earlier wish for me to just be myself.  By the very nature of being autistic I find it difficult to know who my self is (hence the copying), and labels help me in piecing together a picture of who I am, and how I want to develop.  I don’t use them to restrict my growth but to enable it: after all, if you don’t know where you are then you can’t know where you’re going, or whether you even need to go.  Unfortunately this is not how she saw it, so she completely disregarded all my ‘labels’, which I had diligently listed, when diagnosing me and formulating her idea of my food plan.  I felt so valued.

What I did get was the knowledge that the quality of my diet is excellent – BUT...

I also came away with a great sense of disappointment, and my illusions about ayurveda rather dismantled somewhat.  I’d gone with the expectation of it being something great, mystical, magical, fail-proof, totally non-generic, and tailored completely to the needs of the individual: and come out of there feeling like I’d been put in a box marked ‘Pitta Person’. 
This, as it turns out, is not a bad thing (seeing the truth, I mean, not the part about being put in a box), because I finally have a realistic view of what I have been so gullibly enamoured with. 

Of course, how long this view of reality lasts is anyone’s guess, given my propensity for forgetting the truth at the speed with which it takes someone to mention that Manuka honey is the new wonder food, and is highly valued in ayurvedic medicine ...  The wonder of it all is that anyone bothers to eat any of the bog-standard foods any more, when you can apparently gain everything you need from a few specially selected ‘superfoods’.  It’s also a bloody wonder that I haven’t gone bankrupt or killed myself from my dabblings.  Yep, it definitely starts to sound like I’ve been dallying in the Dark Arts: and me the ultimate sacrificial lamb.  God knows the results are just as terrifying ...

Unfortunately, though, there’s been a high price to pay for the knowledge (and I’m not just talking about the expensive consultation fee).  She has planted seeds in my mind - seeds of doubt, which will now take root and grow, no matter how much I take a spade to them to dig them up and discard them.  And I’ll have to keep doing that for a very long time, to make sure I don’t end up with a bloody forest in there, blocking out the light of truth (not to mention sanity!), otherwise I’ll suddenly find myself surreptitiously changing the bits of my diet she said were not ayurvedic, and altering my daily plan.  My mind, it seems, is nothing more than a manure pile just waiting for any random person to come along and cast indiscriminate information my way, to take root in my fertile noggin.  I should have a sign painted on my forehead: “Plant your seed here, free!”   

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
An experiment in watercolour and gouache

Quotes Quota

"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.

"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."

From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Copied from photograph of the same name by Roberto Dutesco

Quotes Quota

"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama

"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Malcolm X

On The Prowl

On The Prowl
Watercolour tiger

Quotes Quota

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C S Lewis