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

30 November 2013

The Wonder Of It All

"Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world."   Albert Einstein

Do you ever wonder how we got by before someone decided that we needed them to tell us how to do everything?  Or what we should think, feel, believe?  How did we manage before the internet, television, cinema, radio, newspapers?  Or before the advent of the ‘How To...’ books?  Can you imagine Michelangelo being approached to write a book on how to paint ceilings, or sculpt marble?  He could have made a fortune.  ‘How To Paint Like Michelangelo, In Ten Easy Steps – with full colour illustrations’.  Or ‘You Too Can Be A Poymath!’ by Leonardo Da Vinci.

And what on earth did we ever do without teachers, coaches, gurus?  Schools, colleges, universities?  Counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists?  How did the cavemen and women manage without someone to teach them how to speak?  Where did the first person/people to communicate get the idea to try?  Was there a stone instruction tablet lying around that they just happened to stumble upon?  Who told them how to kill animals to eat?  In fact, who told them what they should eat?  How did they manage without a nutritionist to guide their food choices?  How did they manage without Tesco’s?  Or, God forbid, a high-speed blender!!

I’m not saying that all teaching is ‘bad’, or that it’s not useful to know that you can go and find out how to do something that you really don’t have a clue how to do (like car maintenance), from someone for whom it is a natural ability – that’s called sharing information.  But, of course, there’s the down side to all of this ‘sharing’.  For one thing, it can make people (like me, for example) believe that they have to have someone else to tell them how to do stuff, and compound the idea that there is a ‘right’ way to do things, therefore making them dependent on other people, rather than risk the possibility of experimenting.  It also stops people from being individual and innovative, using their own minds, thinking for themselves.  Why would you bother when someone’s already done it for you?

And then there’s the fact that so much of this ‘sharing’ is actually about making money.  It’s not freely given.  Sure, they might give you samples, but it’s designed to hook you in, so that you’ll then want to buy the rest.  It’s like someone has discovered that they have something that other people want, which means they have to then continue to fuel the belief that it’s something necessary that people need, that they can’t get anywhere else, that they can’t provide for themselves.  And I’m a sucker for that crap.

So I wonder if Michelangelo, were he alive today, would have ever got round to painting the Sistine Chapel, or whether he would never have bothered because of the health and safety regulations he’d have read about?  Or ‘cos he’d be too busy surfing the web, reading about how to paint with watercolours/oils/acrylics like a ‘professional’ artist?  And what is a ‘professional’ anything anyway, other than someone who’s figured out how to make money from their gift or interest?  Good thing God wasn’t charging money when S/He decided to give us our gifts in the first place.  Or selling them on offer: 'Buy one, get one free.'        

14 November 2013

Advancing Backwards

“I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”   Thomas A Edison

Sometimes you have to go back to the beginning in order to be able to move forwards.

I really hate having to do this.  It feels like a failure, like time wasted, like all that I have done so far has been pointless.  This is the belief that I have acquired but, like all beliefs, it doesn’t mean that it’s true or right, merely that this is how I’ve chosen to view things; this is the message that I have absorbed.  And now it is time to check whether it serves a useful purpose, or whether it needs to be discarded in favour of a new belief.

In this instance the answer is a resounding no, it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to view going back as a failure.  It condemns me to continue on to the bitter end with my present course of action, with my refusal to accept the need to abandon it, thereby allowing me to start over, choose differently, learn from the mistakes that I’ve made.  Doing this allows me freedom – freedom to choose, freedom to grow, freedom to not have to get it ‘right’.  And freedom scares the shit out of me.

I have no idea why this is, but I know that it does because I have the material evidence – why else would I refuse to give up and start over?; why would I continue to punish myself by continuing on with a course of action which causes me pain (whether physical, mental, or emotional)?; why would I keep trying to live my life according to someone else’s rules and beliefs?;  why would I persist in copying other people, looking to them to tell me how to do everything, seeking out the ‘right’ way to do a thing?; why would I avoid thinking for myself?

The fact is that starting over is not a failure at all – it’s a god-given right, and one of the only ways of learning.  How else will I learn except by first experiencing what doesn’t work (the way that Thomas Edison beautifully describes in the above quote)?  But is it any wonder I fear this when I have placed such constraints, attached such harsh judgements to the whole idea?  And, again, I am abetted by a society which places such high expectations on the idea of failure and success, which rewards only those who succeed in ways that have been determined by someone else (failure to pass exams at school, failure to pass tests, failure to get a job, failure to come up to someone else’s definition of what it means to be a successful, healthy, well-balanced, popular, attractive, productive person, etc).

The only ‘failure’ is to refuse to risk changing direction; to decide that, rather than go back, I’d prefer to blunder on, whilst ignoring the continued chaos and damage I’m doing.  Or come to a complete halt, and refuse to do anything at all, but simply give in to the defeatist attitude of “what’s the point?”  And sure, I might need to take some time out, to regroup, take stock, and determine a new course of action based on what I’ve learnt, in order to avoid simply blundering off and retreading old ground.  This is called being sensible, taking in the bigger picture – two things I’m not known for doing.  But hey, I can learn.  I may be autistic, but my human ability to change is not defunct – no matter what some people might misguidedly believe.

Starting again is part of the experience of living, so why would I try to avoid it?  Why would I constantly aim towards this unattainable goal of perfection, the one that demands that I never get anything ‘wrong’; that I have to get it ‘right’ first time, otherwise it proves that I am deficient in some way, and especially if I keep repeatedly making the same mistakes (which is a talent of mine)? 

According to the spiritual truths that I profess to believe in, the world is already perfect as it is, even in its imperfection, because that is how it was created.  God never creates anything without there being a reason for it, without it already being perfect, and S/He/It never makes mistakes.  The problem comes from man having to then make a judgement about everything, having to define what’s perfect and what isn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good and bad, etc.  

Perfection, as I understand it from this skewed point of view, is all about everything being flawless – like the air-brushed pictures of models and celebrities you find in magazines.  The fact that this kind of perfection can only be achieved through unnatural means, through force of will, is actually a sign of its imperfection.  Anything which goes against the natural flow, which seeks to distort that, is imperfect – to use a man-made definition.  It has to be – it’s the opposite of how it was designed.

Step Three in Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.”  The relevant part here is ‘turning it over’ – which means looking at the other side, seeing the opposite of what I believe, if what I believe in is not working.  I have believed one definition of perfection; I have believed that making mistakes is a bad thing; I have believed in the concept of failure.  I have believed in a man-made definition of all those things, and more.  I am now choosing to turn that over and see it from the other side – from a spiritually directed perspective, God’s will for me, not mine.

So, in light of what I wrote yesterday about my yoga practice having become more like a punishment rather than a joy due to my approach to it, I have decided to go back to the beginning, and start again – having taken stock of where I have gone ‘wrong’.  It should be an interesting and, hopefully, enlightening journey.  And the journey is what yoga is all about, not the destination – which is why I believe that I was brought to it in the first place, because it has so much to teach me.  I just have to be willing to learn, which requires that I have to let go of the idea that I already know everything.  And, based solely on the evidence of my experience with yoga, this is patently not true.  So, with that in mind, I now happily sound the retreat.         

13 November 2013

A Force Of Nature

Just lately I’ve been thinking, and talking, a lot about the need for me to learn to go with the flow of life, rather than banging into it, like walking into a brick wall.  And I was thinking about the analogy of water, which is so frequently used when describing the best way to approach life - and with good reason.  Water has the incredible ability to get everywhere, and to dramatically shape and transform, but with very little effort.  Just look at the Grand Canyon, an amazing testament to the power of water (and wind), to make astounding transformations over time.

Whilst in the middle of my yoga practice yesterday, it struck me that the reason I still keep hurting myself in yoga (and in life in general) is because I don’t flow like water: I flood.  Not for me the gentle trickle of a babbling brook or a gurgling stream.  Nor the soft, feather-like caress of a light breeze.  Nope.  I don’t flow, I flood.  I am like a dam breaking, or a hurricane sweeping wildly across the plane of my existence, leaving in its wake more damage and destruction.  I approach life like a whirlwind, attempting to flatten all obstacles in my path, ‘cos I’m in too much of a hurry to get to the other side – a force of nature, trying to force nature to bow to my demands.  I should come with an in-built tornado warning device so that I can at least prepare myself for the approaching chaos.

My yoga practice is a perfect example of my impatience in action.  I began doing it ten years ago, for the simple reason that I needed some form of regular exercise because I wasn’t getting any, but it had to be something which didn’t buy into my eating disordered mind’s obsession with weight loss and body image.  So I chose yoga, because it’s gentle, and spiritual – well, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

At that time I had poor posture (from permanently slouching in an attempt to hide myself from the world), and such a weak back that I couldn’t sit upright without needing something to lean against.  I didn’t find this out until I tried sitting cross-legged on the floor to do meditation.  As I practiced yoga, though, both my back and my posture improved dramatically, and I gained other benefits.  But then impatience, and goal-setting, reared their ugly heads.  I wanted to move onto more advanced stuff: I wanted to be a ‘proper’ yogi, someone who could do handstands, and headstands, meditate perfectly, and float serenely through life without a care.

So the steady, gentle stream turned into a fast-flowing river, with regular flooding (the days where I would push myself over the limit because I’d been too impatient to slow down enough to identify what my limits were, and end up hurting myself yet again).  I was constantly driven by the storm of emotion that said I had to keep pushing harder or I’d never get ‘there’, to the goal, to the end result, to the pinnacle.

The result of this whirlwind approach is that I have now acquired a whole new set of exciting injuries, to the same parts of my body – my weak areas, which I have managed to weaken even more.  So, my back now hurts, but in a completely different way – it is stiff and unyielding, and I have back pain on a regular basis, and a delightful feeling as if it’s on fire, burning up on the inside.  And my knees, of which only one was slightly on the dodgy side, giving me the occasional twinge, are now both knackered because I insisted on forcing them into full Lotus position before they had become pliable and strong enough to do so.  Lovely.

To top it all, I now approach my yoga practice with a great deal of trepidation, as if I’m about to go into a lion’s den, wondering what new injury is going to befall me.  It’s a long way from the unbounded enthusiasm and excitement that I used to feel; I no longer leap from my bed in the morning, eager to begin.  If anything, I now find any excuse to avoid it.  This is not good, on a number of levels: one of which is that I am so worried and tense about my back that I find it difficult to relax – and relaxation is central to the art of yoga, it’s part of what stops you getting injured.  Relaxing and going with the flow, not coiling in on oneself, then unleashing it in a spiral of dammed up destructive energy, like a tornado.

So I have decided that I shall try to be more like a stream and less like a flood, and maybe then my life won’t frequently resemble the aftermath of a cyclone.  Just an occasional heavy rainstorm, perhaps.

30 October 2013

Write On

“On action alone be thy interest, never on its fruits.”  Bhagavad Gita

I have recently realised that I need to do more writing, that I WANT to do more writing, that I really love writing, that writing for me is really important and good for me, and as such, should be something I do on a regular basis – namely every day, the way I do yoga, meditation, and prayer (which are also very good for me);  but that I have been fettered by my own beliefs about writing, and being a writer. 

I have been obsessed with the idea that the whole aim is to become an author, to write and publish books, that this is the epitome of writinghood (no, it’s not a real word, I know, but who cares?  All the words in every language in the world weren’t ‘real’ until someone first made them up: and even then some of them are a bit suspect).  And so I’ve believed that each thing I undertake to write is merely fuel for the fire of authordom, that it is simply the means to the end of becoming a ‘proper’ writer/author, and that I need to get my skates on if I’m to reach that elusive goal of one day writing a book.

I am abetted in my misguided aims by the society in which I live which is chiefly concerned with the acquisition of things – wealth, possessions, prestige, power, etc.  And the teaching of this credo starts in school, a place where learning is not about simply taking pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake, but as a means to an end, the end being that you’ll be able to use it in order to pass your exams in the not-too-distant future, thereby assuring yourself of better prospects of a good job. 

Is it any wonder kids hate school, having to live with that kind of pressure, and being taught stuff they might have no interest in, but because it is what society dictates will be of use in their future lives?  And me?  Why, of course, I have dutifully copied that which I have absorbed beautifully from our society – I abandoned art because it wasn’t considered useful, and I took Maths (a subject I loathed, was hopeless at, and failed every time I sat the exam, which turned out to be thrice) because I took it literally when I was told that we would need it and English if we were to have any hope of getting a decent job.  And hence still being driven to prove that I am a writer by the fruits of my labours, and the lure of money and possible prestige and fame if I manage to become a published author of novels.   

Then, as the consequence of a conversation with my best friend, I came to see that, contrary to this belief, I am actually not novelist material.  I am a writer, and my strength lies in writing short pieces.  I guess, to use a sports analogy, I am the equivalent of a sprinter in the athletics world, rather than a long distance runner; some of which is undoubtedly shaped by having ADHD.  I don’t have the stamina to last a marathon or a ten thousand metre run – I cannot sustain my interest.  But I’m a bloody good sprinter, working well in short bursts.  (Ironically, I really was a good sprinter at school, and had hopes of being a professional athlete – which also did not come to fruition, it not being considered a viable career choice either.) 

So, rather than lamenting the fact, envying all those people who can and do write novels, and insisting on aiming for the impossible, I’ve decided that it’s time to accept, and adjust to, what my strengths are, be grateful for the gift that I have, and bloody well get on with practicing them, rather than continually giving myself a bad time (not to mention yet another reason for procrastination) by comparing myself, and compounding the lie that I could write a novel like everyone else seems to be able to do if I tried harder.  But where would be the point in that if, in the process, I simply ended up emulating everyone else, fitting myself to a genre, and, more importantly, didn’t even enjoy doing it?

So, as part of taking action to do more writing, I decided that I would do some every day, no matter what I wrote – I would try to stop restricting myself; stop being focussed on, and obsessed with, the outcome (the now ingrained belief that it has to be something that is going to be read by other people, otherwise it’s not worth the effort), and simply get into the process.  Because, ultimately, it’s the process that counts, not the end result.  It’s actually doing the writing that makes me happy, not having my eye on where it’s going.

Also as a consequence of becoming audience-focused (which is basically about feeding my ego), I have ended up, inadvertently, restricting myself to mainly writing for my blog (with the very occasional poem thrown in, which also gets published on here), because of my resistance to simply exploring an idea on paper and seeing how it develops.  Instead, I make the decision beforehand, so I basically set my own limitations.  And, being autistic and having difficulty with being inflexible, I have got locked into doing only one thing, and so become rigid about the way I write. 

My blog has ended up becoming the sum total of my whole writing experience; and, as such, I use it as the place in which to practice things which really don’t belong here, because I have denied myself the opportunity to do them anywhere else due to the limitations I have unconsciously set up.  Instead of being the place in which I primarily share my thoughts, ideas, and experiences, it’s become somewhere for me to practice my grammar, and the art of writing – so no wonder it often can seem so dry and heartless. 

Plus, it takes me so long to write one article because I’m so busy crafting  it, then editing and re-editing it, until it’s polished to my liking - all skills which really belong to a different mode of writing.  By the time I’ve completed an article, whatever I’ve written about is old news in my life, and I’ve gotten bored with it anyway.  There’s nothing spontaneous about my blog, except for when I get the titles popping into my head.    

So now I’m trying to do things differently.  The last article I wrote was a miracle – conceived, written out, typed up, and completed within the space of two days.  And I’ve told myself so many times that I can’t do it like that, that I can only write one way, the way that I’ve described.  Obviously that’s not true.  Ten years ago, before the advent of blogging, I was writing short stories.  Now I tell myself I can’t do that anymore because I struggled in the interim with writing anything at all. 

And, having acquired the magical label of autistic, one who struggles not just with social stuff but imagination, it’s as if I have taken to heart and absorbed the idea that my imagination is limited in all areas of life, including creativity.  Which, based on the evidence, is patently not true, nor logical.  But, as the saying goes, “What you believe you become.”  And I have become a rigid writer.  

Now I have to believe differently, and change what I do to come into line with the new beliefs.  And, I have to say, I feel rather excited, and hopeful, about it.  No more labouring under the illusion that I have to, or even want to, write full length novels.  Thank God for that!  My brain was on the verge of meltdown from the effort of trying to conceive an idea that I could string out over the length of a whole book!           

27 October 2013

Soup, God, Writing

“When you wake up first thing in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh.     (From Winnie the Pooh, by A A Milne)

This is the order of importance in which my mind regularly places things – food first (and/or numerous variations -  computer, reading, yoga, etc), then the state of my soul, and creativity last.  Often it’s more a case of food first, last, and all the time, which just represents the level of my obsession. 

I would like to tell you that this isn’t true, that like a good, recovering, spiritual person (the one I aspire to be) I actually do put God first.  But that would be a lie.  And what would be the point of lying anyway?  To impress other people?  To appease my conscience and God (which suggests that, contrary to what I supposedly believe, or tell myself and other people that I believe, that God is still synonymous with punishment, fear, and a demand for absolute obedience, who will withdraw all help if I don’t get it right all the time)?  To compound the illusion I have created for myself, which would enable me to continue in this way - placing my obsession with, and dependence upon, food above all else, especially God?

My aim is to put God first, especially as my life goes a lot more swimmingly, and I feel so much better, when I do follow Good Orderly Direction: and sometimes I do manage it.  But, as with all else, I never get it perfect, which is as it should be (though I’m hard-pressed convincing my rigid mind of that fact a lot of the time).  So I often start the day really connected to God, and then drift off, and then come back, and then drift off...  It’s a bit like a dance, where I keep forgetting the steps and letting go of my partner’s hand, or wandering off to dance with other people, with whom I find myself distractedly fascinated, but ultimately incompatible (they keep treading on my toes, or bumping into me, and taking up way too much of my personal space).  Or, just as likely, I gravitate towards the refreshments, where I can be found stuffing my face with, or looking with longing at, all the food that’s on offer.

But it is ‘progress not perfection’ that I aspire to practice (to borrow from the Big Book of AA), which in this case would mean spending more of my day consciously aware and in contact with God, so reducing the amount of time I fritter on my favourite occupation, procrastination – something at which I excel, and have developed into an art form itself.  Plus, being guided by God (or conscience, or soul – whatever you want to call it) is far better, and more conducive to a stress-free, productive, joyful life, than being driven by self-will.  Kind of makes me wonder why I don’t try it more often.        

09 October 2013

Kindling Hope

Kindle – to inflame (eg the passions); to provoke, incite; to be roused

Does the phrase “lose yourself in a book” mean anything to you?  Well it surely does to me, and in the very literal sense.  I believe that the actual saying is “lose yourself in a good book”, but I’m not choosy.  I can lose myself completely in anything - all sense of who I am, what I believe in, what I feel.  And not just for an hour or so, while I temporarily drift off into a fantasy world, and get caught up in the story, and someone else’s life.  When I return to reality (IF I return) then it doesn’t stop there. 

The book may have ended, but the story persists...  at least in my mind it does, where the characters continue to exist as real people.  So, not only have I lost myself but, in return, I have breathed life into a bunch of ostensibly fictional individuals – my life for theirs.  I still exist, but that’s about all I’m doing, while they thrive and grow: and I come to resemble the living dead.

And I could have been mistaken for a zombie, just lately - all because of my love of reading.  Or, more accurately, because of my resistance to being chained to this thing called reality.  And then there’s that other peculiar characteristic I have of becoming emotionally attached to objects.  Books and words, in this instance.  E-books, to be precise.  On a Kindle, to be even more specific.

Yes, I recently joined the multitudinous ranks of Kindle owners.  And, just as quickly, I became a disowner: though, hopefully, this state of affairs is only temporary, until I learn to become a responsible owner who doesn’t abuse their Kindle mercilessly!

It was given to me for my birthday in July, the shortest-lived present I’ve probably ever had.  By August I had to give it back, for safekeeping.  Safekeeping from me, that is.  In that short span of time I managed to download nearly a hundred and fifty books (possibly more, with the ones I had read and removed before The Great Purge), most of them free, and chosen from the romantic fantasy section, which encompasses countless sub-genres (like steampunk; urban fantasy; historical; vampires and the rest of the undead, etc) – my taste is nothing if not eclectic.  And I’m not picky.  Well, not about books, anyway.  Unfortunately.  It is this regrettable lack of discernment, when it comes to reading matter, which has got me into trouble.  Yet again.

Before the Kindle, it was reading ebooks on the computer.  It was for this reason that my friend bought it for me, in order to save my eyesight from the strain it was suffering, due to the all-day reading marathons it was being forced to endure.  And in the hope, perhaps, that my compulsive reading would be found to be directly attributable to the stimulating effect that the computer seems to have on my brain: and that it would, therefore, dissipate when confronted with the non back-lit screen of an e-reader, which more closely resembles the experience of reading a real book.  No such luck. 

It is an unmitigated fact that I have been having trouble with reading since long before I acquired a computer.  Libraries and bookshops used to be my favourite places in which to hang out.  I would spend hours loitering with intent: so much so that on one occasion, whilst lingering in the local bookstore yet again, I was accosted by the slightly disgruntled salesperson, who seemed to take offence to my habit of flicking through the pages of the books during my weekly visits, but never actually buying anything.  I didn’t have any money, and I just couldn’t stay away from the shop, but I couldn’t explain that to her.  I just loved being around books – rows and rows of lovely books.  Heaven!  And, in the library particularly, I felt safe: it was a haven of peace amidst the clamour of the world, a home away from home.  In fact, it was often preferable.  And now I’ve discovered I can recreate the same experience, hanging around the virtual bookshop that is Amazon’s Kindle store!
The truth is I love reading.  I always have, and I have always had a prodigious talent for it.  In books I found not only a source of information, entertainment, and stimulation for my brain, but also a means to escape the realities of life.  And it is my use of it with the latter intent that now causes me grief, especially when combined with my lack of sagacity and discrimination in my choice of reading material.  In short, I don’t care what I feed my mind, just as long as it serves my purpose.  And my purpose has always erred a little on the side of the nebulous. 

Back then there was good reason for wanting a bolthole - living, as I did, a drab, mundane, limited existence, imbued with fear, anxiety, and an ever-increasing sense of hopelessness and confusion.   But that was back then.  The value of that particular reason for reading is now defunct, and yet I continue to employ it.  What once was habit has turned into compulsion – a driving force that resists all logical reasoning to assuage it.  

And so to the present, bypassing my sundry attempts to control my progressively intractable obsession (including giving it up entirely for a while).  And the advent of that amazing reading device, which allows access to hundreds of books instantaneously, without ever having to leave the comfort of one’s home.  What a marvellous invention - when used responsibly.  I guess that would be the bit that I've been missing, then, yes?

As a consequence, my life has been put on hold whilst my compulsion has raged free and unabated, until it has become necessary to make a choice – a real life, or a fantasy?  Living my own life, or reading about someone else’s, while I slowly slip into a spiritual, mental, and emotional coma – the body still functions, but that’s about all that’s happening.  There’s a light on, but everyone’s vacated the premises in favour of the Kindle store.

Therefore, having placed my Kindle in the safe custody of my friend, until such time as I have been restored to some semblance of sanity with regard to my reading behaviour (and my dubious choice of literature), I am sticking to reading my ‘real’ books for now: the kind I used to read, which engaged my mind, lifted my spirit, and imparted words of wisdom, often from unexpected sources (have you read A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh?  Or The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett?)

This is in preference to employing my classic manoeuvre of going from one extreme to the other, and deciding that I’m not meant to read anything at all.  Instead, I’ve come to the long-overdue conclusion that it’s not the fact that I read that is the problem, but rather what and how – much the same as with food.  When I read the literary equivalent of junk food, I get the same result that I do with food – I set off the compulsion for more.  I have never yet found myself driven beyond reason, and sanity, to keep reading Winnie the Pooh, or The Chronicles of Narnia.  Nor will you ever find me bingeing on broccoli, mung beans, or rice.  Somehow they just lack that certain je ne sais quoi.

And so, having been de-Kindled, I find that hope, and the possibilities for change, have been rekindled.

31 July 2013

More Than This

“As an aspie, autism makes me who I am, but doesn't stop me being who I want to be.” 

“As an aspie, the "Asperger's" label is to aid understanding. It describes me, but doesn't restrict me. It doesn't scare me either.”    Leigh Forbes 

Have you ever noticed how many labels get attached to you throughout your life?  Or, for that matter, how many you seek out and voluntarily apply to yourself?  I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel like a piece of well-travelled luggage. 

If I believed in an actual place called Heaven (which I don’t), and the human personification of God as some ancient, white-haired, Father Christmas-type bloke floating above the clouds (which I also don’t), then I would imagine myself arriving, covered in labels, at the pearly-white gates, where God would proceed to remove them from me in order to get a clearer view of just who was hidden behind all this extraneous  detail, and return me to my true Self, that which cannot be categorised because it is All (God is All, All is God, I am part of the All that is God: nuff said!) 

It would be like the luggage area in an airport – those about to depart (gives a whole new slant to the phrase, “Dearly departed”), and those arriving.  Instead of luggage, people would be sitting on the conveyors, waiting to be claimed (by God, or His minions: the ultimate baggage handlers), or to be launched out into the ether, on their journey to earth.  And then there would be the lost baggage department, for those who don’t know where they are, or where they’ve been, and who end up going back down again for another go – the reincarnated lot, who don’t stop long enough to take stock of the last life they led, so are likely to end up repeating the same mistakes ‘cos they can’t remember any of it.

Of course, when I arrived here on this planet, and this plane of existence, I didn’t have a single one.  At least, not that I was aware of.  But, even before I was born, the rush to stick a label on me had begun – the first significant one being “It’s a girl!”  And, based on that, the race to compartmentalise, and treat me like ‘a girl’, began.  I was going to be dressed in pink, because that’s what girls like – and, for those unfortunates who can’t tell the difference between a male and a female, it helps identify which is which, of course.  Pink for girlies, blue for boyos, and yellow for the undecideds.  And I’m sure that someone, somewhere, must have come up with a theory to explain homosexuality, and other such gender ‘issues’, as being due to the confusion produced by being dressed in yellow at birth. 

And frills, of course, ‘cos girls really love all that frilly stuff, apparently - no matter that it might make you look like an enormous, multi-tiered wedding cake on legs, or itch the arse (or tits) off you, the way my first bra did – AND it was pink!  (And no, I didn’t get to choose it.)  And be given dolls, tea sets, and miniature cookers and washing machines (already being primed for the role of mother and housewife, eh, just because I happen to have a womb and ovaries?), and other such ‘gentle’ toys.  What a shocker it must have been for my mum when I arrived – boisterous, rambunctious, unmanageable, and chronically averse to being ‘girly’.  Anything but gentle.

So, labels, I have discovered, have a major impact on me (tell me something that doesn’t).  They are a double-edged sword; on the one hand, had I not finally found out that I am autistic, and been ascribed the label Asperger’s, I would have continued to blunder my way through my life, with nary a clue as to why I couldn’t get very far in my attempts to change and progress, all the while becoming more and more frustrated with myself.

On the other hand, because I tend to take things rather literally, seriously, and personally (after all, who else could they be talking to?), I have since found myself becoming impeded by self-limiting beliefs based on the attendant information and myriad opinions that I have read, a great deal of which are along the lines of how limited autistics are due to their illness/disease/disability/impediment/disorder/handicap/ailment/affliction/malady (delete as applicable). 

It’s not intentional, nor am I even aware that I’m doing it most of the time.  It’s part of that sponge-like ability I was born with, to absorb everything around me, especially if it’s negative.  It’s taken a long time to recognise what’s been going on, and then to actually accept that this really is true of me in order to become conscious of, and try to curtail, the very behaviour that propels me into this mess – going in search of other peoples’ opinions of what autism is, and what they decide I can and can’t do.  And ditto with ADHD, obsessive compulsive, being an artist, a writer, a yogi, a crafter, single, childless, a redhead with blue eyes and freckles, a female...

Labels, I believe, were primarily intended to make things simpler, an aid to identifying and understanding.  Unfortunately, due to the tendency for human beings to complicate things, they often end up adding to the confusion because people will redefine the original interpretation, adding on extra bits, and using the terms indiscriminately. 

And rather than viewing them as the starting point to guide you in the most productive and effective ways to help you attain your goals, and to grow and change, some people use them as the defining parameters with which to keep people boxed in, reinforcing the idea that this is 'The End’ result, rather than simply the beginning.  (It’s the name of a song by The Doors: that’s why it’s in capitals, in case you were wondering).  I have to admit to being one of these people, having drifted in and out of this category during the last three years since I got my diagnosis.  I’m hoping to put a stop to the drifting now ‘cos it makes me feel a bit disoriented and rootless, like a piece of fluff, blowing in the wind.   

It’s true, being autistic is always going to influence the way I view, and interact with, the world – but so what?  These are the raw materials I was given by God, to build and create with as I please: I can either build something akin to an outdoor toilet (affectionately known as a brick shithouse in certain parts of England), or something beautiful (and a little more pleasingly fragrant).  Or I can refuse to build anything at all, but just leave the pile of materials there to rot and disintegrate.  

And the great thing is that God allows me the right to choose to do any or all of these things, without punishment.  S/He’d probably like it if I progressed toward building something beautiful, and that I did it sooner rather than later in order to alleviate my suffering, and give me longer to enjoy the wonders of life on this mortal coil – but it’s down to me how long I take.  Which is a relief, considering how slow I am to change.

It’s rather amusing to note that the label ‘Asperger’s’ is now, apparently, defunct in America, where the American Psychiatric Association have deleted it from their diagnostic manual.  So, according to a bunch of people who are not autistic, I no longer exist as an Asperger – I now have ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).  Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily, does it?  “Hi, I’m Lisa.  I’m an ASDer... an autistic spectrum disordered person?”  It’s not designed to make my life any easier.  Figures. 

Which goes to show that you really shouldn’t place your dependence on labels defined by other people, to determine who you are.  Our labels are not the sum total of who we are – they are a man-made invention, developed for convenience.  I don’t believe that God sent forth Her/His creations with name-tags attached.  In the world of the spirit I am beyond my labels, my capacity for growth is limitless; I just have to believe it, and stop reading those bloody depressing, limiting articles by people who can’t see beyond the boxes they keep constructing for me.  I am, and can always become, more than this.  Bloody good thing, too, or it could get very tedious down here on this planet.  And you know how much I hate boredom!


09 June 2013

Twitter Ye Not

I fear I may have inadvertently become an internet stalker. 

I’ll try to keep this short and tweet. 

What began as a bit of loitering, has gradually progressed into lurking, only to finally evolve  into stalking.  I am talking here about having discovered the world of social networking – Twitter, in particular.

 As I may have mentioned before, I have this ‘thing’ with the internet.  ‘Thing’ being a mild way to describe the driving desire I experience when I come on here without strict guidelines and a specific goal in mind.  Otherwise it’s akin to sending a lone child off into a sweet shop, with a credit card – don’t expect me back any time soon, or without having bought or eaten everything in sight.   

Apart from my insatiable desire for seeking out information on any topic which randomly distracts my mind, I have a particular ‘interest’ in reading ebooks – an extension of my love of reading the real thing.  This unfortunate turn of events came about as the result of acquiring an iPod Touch a while ago, when I was suddenly catapulted into the world of apps. And, being of limited imagination when it comes to using technology, my attention was drawn to the familiar and comforting world of books – available instantaneously on my iPod.  Oh joy!  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.    

Then, oh double joy, I found that they were also accessible to me on my computer.  All this time and I hadn’t known I’d got an instant library at my fingertips.  Out of my mind went the tiny detail about why I had given up going to the real library (because it’s full of books, and I would bring as many of them home as possible, and promptly get lost in reading them all, whilst neglecting other areas of my life – like sleeping, eating properly, getting dressed, and suchlike.  You know, the trivial details). 

So I failed to make the obvious connection between an internet library and the real thing, but instead made up for what I’d been missing out on, promptly going berserk, reading round the clock, and probably doing untold damage to my eyesight, and my brain, in the process.  All attempts at controlling it didn’t work, due in part to the fact that I couldn’t think of anything else to use the iPod for, other than to listen to music (which was the original purpose for buying it).

In the end I did the only sensible thing – I got rid of it.  However, a monster had been unleashed, and now demanded to be kept fed - the love of on-line reading.  I’ve always been a voracious reader, and here I’d found another way of doing it, with access to a whole world of literature I’d never have otherwise encountered, or wanted to pay for.  Or wanted to be seen in the company of.  This way I could have access to books which I would not consider checking out of a library, or buying from a bookshop, because of the embarrassment.  I have my image to maintain, don’t you know.

In the process I discovered a particular author whose books I found I liked.  That would not have been so bad had I not also discovered that she has a blog, which I proceeded to follow.  And then I found ‘THE LINKS’ – yes, there they were, sitting innocently on the page, under the heading ‘Want to get social?’  And, of course, the social butterfly in me (yeah, right – she sits alongside the maths genius, the computer geek, and the musical maestro), she piped up and insisted that yes, she did, that she’d like to stretch her wings a little, and that it would be okay just to have a little look.  Really, it would only be a peek.

And the rest, as is so often the case, is history: meaning a repetition of the same old thing, with the inevitable conclusion - I am now a Twitter obsessive.

However, this does not mean that I have joined the ranks of the Twitterers, and am now gaily interacting with the inhabitants of that strange on-line world.  On the contrary, I merely sit on the sidelines, reading tweets, feeling a familiar sense of detachment, whilst being fascinated with the conversations taking place.  It actually feels like I’m reading a book, or watching television (another medium which I had to rid myself of, ‘cos it was sucking the life out of me).  I begin to live vicariously, whilst my own life gradually fades into the background, eventually almost ceasing to exist. 

I have gone so far as to calculate the time difference between the countries of said author and myself, in order to be able to work out when I can next expect new tweets to appear.  This is on account of the fact that I initially spent a great deal of time checking and re-checking every few minutes, only to be frustrated to find there was nothing new to read: until I realised that it was the middle of the night in America when I was doing most of my twalking (a new word for tweet stalking).  Yes, it’s got that bad.  If I carry on like this, I’ll be plotting out her day!

I feel a bit like a voyeur, which is faintly disturbing, even though there’s nothing sexual in what I’m doing.  But then our world has become quite voyeuristic, the way we are able to read about or watch what’s happening in other peoples’ lives, via the news or reality television, newspapers and magazines, and the internet.  Me, I find myself strangely fascinated and enthralled by the way people discourse with each other.  I imagine this is how an alien would feel, peering through a microscope at an entirely different species, studying how it works.  

Or perhaps it’s ‘cos it’s a bloody effective way of avoiding my daily routine!

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Tweeting is bad for my health, and I think I should leave it to the people who can do it without abandoning the rest of their lives.  And to the birds.  Tweet tweet.

22 May 2013

Missing Inaction

 Oh, hello?  Gosh, it’s been a while since I last posted anything here.  If I don’t do something soon people might get the impression that I’m inconsistent.  Though why they should think that about me, I have no idea.  It’s not like it’s a part of being autistic, or having ADHD... is it?  It is?  Did I miss something there?  Oh.  Is that why, despite all of my best intentions, I have not been able to stick to my initial goal of writing at least one blog post every month?  Seriously??  And here I was thinking it had something to do with me being lazy, self-willed, and just plain contrary.  After all, what else would it be, when I say I really love writing, am given the opportunity to do it, but then don’t, choosing instead to sit and trawl through the virtual world of the internet.  And, laughably, seeking out, amongst other things, blogs about writing, in the vague hope that they might fire up my brain and imbue me with some motivation. 

Amazing how time flies when you’re busy doing ... well, nothing in particular, other than being distracted.  But despite the fact that I have been obsessed with looking on the web (not a good thing in itself), and have trawled through a lot of not-very-helpful stuff (like writer’s blogs, and sites devoted to the art of decluttering and minimalism – which are not designed with autistics in mind, but I can’t tell the difference when I’m locked into one of my obsessions), I did search out something of value and relevance to myself, and found in the process some interesting stuff about ADHD, which has helped shift my perspective somewhat. 

In fact, that’s probably a bit of an understatement – it’s more than somewhat.  I think it may have radically altered my whole perspective on it.  Though let’s not get too over-excited here, counting my chickens – after all, it’s highly likely that I’ll completely forget this earth-shattering revelation in about a week, in the midst of some other world-redefining epiphany.  My brain’s like that, you know; something to do with being autistic, and having ADHD...

But, in light of the last article I wrote where I lamented the fact that I couldn’t seem to figure out how to accept my Asperger’s (and the rest), or apply the AA programme, or find a place in life where I fit, I do feel like I’ve had a major paradigm shift, rather than simply one of my all-too-frequent light bulb moments – you know those things, where the light goes on for a moment, and then it goes off.  On, off, on, off, on, off, on...  Kinda leaves you feeling a bit dizzy, not to mention fuzzy-visioned ‘cos you don’t get the chance for your eyeballs to adjust and focus for very long.  Sounds familiar...  Oh yeah, I think that’s how my brain works. 

So, (extended metaphor moment continuing) in the light of this new information, I can see how pointless and futile it is for me to keep trying to fit myself into a neurotypical mould, and to continue to view myself from this perspective, in a misguided attempt to ‘fix’ what I see as being ‘wrong’ in me.  Of course, true to my nature (read brain-wiring), having the realisation and then using it to change what I’ve been doing, in order to bring it into line with the new perspective, is a slow process.  But here’s one of the really important things I’ve learned over the last month from what I’ve been reading – people with ADHD (and autism) don’t do transitions very easily. 

What?  You don’t say?  That’s it?! 

Yes, I know: it’s hardly earth-shattering news, is it.  At least, not unless you’re completely new to this whole thing, in which case it could be wildly exciting.  But consider this: if, like me, you have a very literal mind, and words are very important to you, then that statement is news.  What I’ve read, heard, and said myself, hundreds of times, is that autistics don’t LIKE change.  What I haven’t heard is that we don’t DO change very well, or why.  

‘Like’ and ‘do’ are two completely different words, in my world – ‘like’ is an emotional/psychological word, and ‘do’ is an action one.  The context of the sentence changes dependent on which one is used – at least, for me it does.  But to other people who don’t think like me there is often no real difference, and the words are frequently used interchangeably.  This can often cause confusion.  It can also lead to being classed as someone who is just being picky about semantics.  Well, I’m not being – not intentionally, though it may look like that to a non-autistic.  And it has done – caused confusion, that is.   

You see, the fact is that my experience does not concur with the statement that, as an autistic, I don’t like change.  But, because everyone seems to say that this is the case, I have taken it on board and made it my own – like the good, absorbent Asperger that I am (I really would make a great toilet roll, you know.  I could give Andrex a run for their money).  If I don’t like change, then why is it that I cannot stick to the plan I have, but seek instead to tweak it at every opportunity?  Why is it that I have on there a list of activities so long that I almost don’t have enough time in the week to do them all?  Why is it that I have to have a variety of different things to engage my attention, otherwise I just lose interest?

Because I like change.  Sometimes I even lonnnnnng for it.  I cannot bear things staying the same.  If I didn’t like or want change then I never would have set off on the journey of recovery that I embarked upon nearly twenty-five years ago.

No, the problem isn’t that I don’t like it – though, over the years, I have come to feel anxiety and fear about it, and to not enjoy the disruption that it brings because of not being aware of what it was, or would entail.  There was no-one to guide me, to reassure me that it was okay, that the world wasn’t about to come to an end.  Instead it felt more like I was constantly plunging into the depths of the Amazon rainforest - before anyone even named it the Amazon rainforest.  

The problem is that I have been looking in the wrong place to find an answer –approaching it from the traditionally psychoanalytical point of view, and looking in my mind.  But the ‘problem’ is actually in my brain – it’s in the very fabric of my biological make-up, just like the colour of my eyes, or my gender.  You can’t counsel or analyse it away, though you could, perhaps, convince me that it isn’t real and I’m just making it up, or that it’s actually something else entirely (which is the delusion I’ve been living with for the last twenty-five years, the idea that it’s all to do with being an alcoholic).  No, the truth is my brain really is different.  And it’s my brain that cannot cope with change very well: it’s not wired up to be able to deal with it easily, or quickly.  But I insist that it should be able to, ‘cos where’s the big deal?  After all, I’ve analysed it, and come to the conclusion that there’s nothing to fear about change. 

Yet here I am, still seemingly displaying resistance to it.  Except that resistance is in the mind, and for most of the time I cannot find any when I look in there.  So I offer up the age-old explanation I’ve learnt in recovery – I’m in denial!  In fact, I’m so far in denial that it’s buried deep, deep, DEEEEEEP within my subconscious (or unconscious), and requires more thorough investigation and analysis. 

Well, I have to tell you, I’m a world-class analyser, and I have analysed everything to death ‘til there’s nothing left to analyse.  But still I’ve analysed the nothing, just in case I missed a bit.  Sometimes it really isn't "all in the mind".

So, now I’m tired of doing it that way, and not getting very far.  Therefore I’m going to try this way, and see what comes as a result.  This way?  Yes, it’s the one that involves embracing (rather than disgracing) that which makes me different, and trying instead to adjust the way I live my life to make it ADHD/autistic-friendly, rather than attempting to squeeze the life out of them in order to make myself fit into a long-held vision I’ve had of what it means to be a well-recovered, well-balanced, happy individual.

From inaction to action, hopefully with a bit more speed now that I’m heading in the right direction.  Perhaps tortoise-pace, rather than slug’s?  We can but hope.


23 February 2013

Dis-Integrating Into Society

“To be nobody but myself, in a world which is doing its best night and day to make me everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”
EE Cummings

Do you ever feel like you don’t belong?  Do you ever feel like tearing your hair out in complete frustration ‘cos, no matter what you do, you never seem to get anything right?  Do you sometimes feel as if being autistic in a predominantly non-autistic world is God’s idea of a joke, one S/He came up with whilst tripping on some particularly potent mind-altering substance?  Or, perhaps, some kind of punishment for sins committed in a previous incarnation?  

Do you ever wonder what the fucking point is of being autistic?  After all, it seems to attract nothing but criticism for the fact that it makes me incapable of behaving like a “normal” human being, and constant attempts to get me to behave in order to fit in.  Not to mention all that research people do in order to determine what’s “wrong” with my brain, and how to fix it: or, at least, wipe out the gene or whatever it is that caused it in order to make sure that no-one else has to “suffer” from it in the future.  Is it any wonder I view my autism as a curse, when I’m surrounded by such stuff?

And cursed I feel myself to be, at the moment.  Happy, joyous, and free I ain’t.  If God has some purpose for me, other than to experience the misery and frustration of being constantly on the outside looking in, then it’s lost on me.  I’ve even come to the conclusion that, despite what I read and hear about God being all-powerful, everything, and everywhere, the one thing S/He is not is autistic.  So S/He doesn’t understand me, and I don’t understand Her (which explains why I can’t interpret the signs that I’m being sent half the time ‘cos He’s communicating in neurotypical language).  

And, once again, it’s down to me to have to try to bend my brain into a fucking pretzel to attempt to understand what it is that S/He’s trying to tell me, ‘cos He’s not about to kowtow to one measly autistic who’s refusing to try to understand and change the way she thinks (at least, that’s how I see myself).  Trying to understand God is like trying to translate Sanskrit – and I should know, ‘cos I’ve been trying to learn the fucking thing for the last three years, and I’ve hardly got anywhere.  (Don’t ask me why I’m trying to learn another language when I can barely understand the one I was born to!)

I’m angry right now (can you tell?)  It’s been nearly three years since I was diagnosed as having Asperger’s, and I still haven’t accepted it.  And, what’s worse, I don’t know how to accept it, despite having a Twelve Step programme which is all about acceptance and change.  This just makes it even more fucking frustrating, ‘cos I don’t know how to apply the bloody thing to my autism.  How do you accept the unacceptable?

I desperately want to be a spiritual person (it’s one of the main reasons I do yoga), but I just can’t seem to get that right either.  The problem is that I think there’s only one way to be spiritual (of course I do, I’m fucking autistic and everything is black or white, right or wrong), and it’s the non-autistic way – which means embracing and understanding concepts like the idea that there is no right or wrong, there just is; and that God is in the all and the nothing.  

I’m re-reading the book 'Conversations with God' at the moment, which talks about all this stuff, and I’m trying desperately to understand it.  And sometimes I think that I do, intellectually, but I fear that I probably don’t, but that I’m just trying hard to do so ‘cos I think that’s the only version of spirituality there is: and if I don’t get it then I’m fucked.  After all, I’ve never yet read anything spiritual that embraces the idea of rigid thinking (which is what I’m “blessed”, or “cursed”, with) – other than religion.  And I do so hate religion.

Sometimes I think that God doesn’t want to talk to me, and that’s why He makes it necessary for me to have to have an interpreter.  As my best friend frequently says about other things (like the internet, and books), it’s not meant/written for autistics – and I fear sometimes that neither is God.  Perhaps I should seek help from an inanimate object instead?  A teapot, perhaps?  Or a toy rabbit?  Mind you, I’m sure I could find a way to misinterpret that too.  It’s something I’m highly skilled at doing.  Like missing the point.  And complicating everything.  And falling into deep, dark, dank, dungeons of doom on a regular basis.  And never, ever, wanting to be where I am – like now.

So I’m off now to find somewhere else to be.  Or perhaps that should read, I’m off to find someONE else to be?


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