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

15 July 2015

If You're Happy And You Know It, Flap Your Hands

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness, and the desire to be very grown up.”    C S Lewis

Are you a flapper, a rocker, a spinner, or maybe even a twitcher?  In other words, do you stim?  For the uninitiated it means self-stimulation (think hand-flapping, body rocking, spinning around in circles, etc - not masturbation!)  

I stim, though, up until recently, I didn’t really understand why.  I kind of thought it was just one of those peculiarities attributable to people with autism: yet another example of the difference between us and the non-autistic population.

Strangely enough, given its conspicuity, it’s one thing about myself of which I’ve never felt self-conscious.  Of course, this could be due to the fact that I’ve been largely unaware that I’m doing it (difficult to feel self-conscious when you’re not even conscious); or that it’s considered an odd thing to do.  Why would I?  It’s part of who I am, what I do, so to me it’s perfectly normal.  Plus, having perfected the art of avoiding looking at people (because I cannot read their facial expressions, nor simultaneously listen to, and look at, them), I have no idea whether they are looking at me, or exchanging questioning glances.  

So it wasn’t until after I’d got my Asperger’s diagnosis, years later, that I discovered that people do, indeed, notice what to them is considered to be my odd behaviour.  My best friend told me how some of the members at our local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings would stare and point at me in concern, directing their silent questioning at her to find out what was the matter with me, whilst I remained blithely unaware.  

After all, it was perfectly logical to me to bend my body into a pretzel-shape to make myself as small as possible in order to hide (I also happen to have a problem with sitting ‘properly’, and stationary, on a seat); avoid all eye contact by staring at the floor; and then soothe myself by rocking.  I was astounded to learn that it produced the opposite effect - that I made myself conspicuous, which to some people would even appear as if I was attention-seeking.  Dread the thought.

My particular preferences are for rocking, hand-wringing, stroking (myself, particularly upper arms; and, if available, dogs, cats, soft toy animals, and anything else with a soothing texture), and patting/drumming/tapping (especially my upper chest, which produces a pleasant sensation, and a satisfying noise).  I do these for their soothing and calming abilities, which makes perfect sense - think of how people rock, pat, and stroke babies.  And yet some of those same people think we’re odd.  Have they forgotten how soothing, and effective, such things were?  Perhaps it’s  because they expect us to have grown out of the need for such things: but then they don’t have a highly sensitive nervous system like ours. 

I’m also a bit of a flapper, sometimes, though I don’t do it as frequently.  This I do when I get excited about something - it’s like there’s a surge of energy that needs releasing, so madly flapping my hands helps.  It makes me look like a sea mammal flapping its flippers, so we now refer to it as me doing my seal impersonation.  

Oddly enough, until I found out I’m autistic, and then read about flapping, I don’t recall ever doing it before: unlike the others, which I know I’ve done throughout my life.  It’s like I unconsciously started copying what I’d read.  I did it with stammering, too: never stammered in my life until after my diagnosis (I’ve always been more prone to becoming mute than babbling, when anxious), then suddenly I couldn’t stop tripping over my words!  

Having discovered that what I do has a name, I have become increasingly more aware of when, and why, I am doing it, which has given me the ability to choose whether I continue to do it or not in that moment (for instance, my best friend will sometimes tell me I’m rocking whilst we’re on Skype, which can make her feel a bit dizzy, and be rather distracting for her).  What I have not consciously tried to do, though, is attempt to control it.   And yet it has lessened, seemingly of its own accord.  

I put this down to a number of factors.  One is that, remarkably for me, I have accepted it as being part of my autism, and so haven’t tried to force myself to stop doing it (an approach which has never worked yet).  Another is that the level of general anxiety I experience on a daily basis has reduced phenomenally over the last few years, which means an automatic lessening in the need to sooth and comfort myself via stimming.  You can tell when I’m really anxious because I turn into a restless, rocking rambler again.  

I believe that my improvement is due in part to the practice of the AA programme, which has led to an increasing faith and dependence upon a God of my understanding (spiritual, not religious), one of the results of which is a reduction in my anxiety about the world around me.  Then there’s the practice of yoga, which has taught me how to calm myself, and control my anxiety, through the breath. 

So, this may well sound like it’s a post about how to reduce stimming, which would totally conflict with the title, not to mention a large proportion of the content.  On the contrary, it is, in effect, a celebration of what is, essentially, an intuitive, benign tool for self-care; and the fact that I have recently discovered a socially acceptable way of stimming.  I kid you not.  

Yoga.  Seriously.  

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realise it (I have, after all, only been doing it for twelve years), but it makes perfect sense.  When we stim we are unconsciously stimulating the autonomic nervous system (responsible for, amongst other things, heart rate, breathing, and the fight or flight response).  The practice of yoga does exactly the same thing.  However, it wasn’t until I started supplementing my regular practice with Kundalini yoga a year or so ago that I made the connection.

Kundalini yoga employs a lot of quite vigorous exercises, which are called kriyas - a number of which actually look as if they were designed by autistics!  Truly.  So, not only am I absolutely, positively induced to try to bend myself into a pretzel shape with my usual yoga routine (something I was naturally drawn to doing before I ever came across the formal practice of yoga), but I now also get to spin in a circle, rock backwards, forwards, AND sideways, and flap to my heart’s content (with variations).

So I say flap like a loon if you feel the need; and if anyone questions what you’re doing, just tell them you’re practising yoga!

13 April 2015

I Don't Speak Text

Do you ever wonder whether we, the human race, are still progressing, or that we have come as far as we can, and are now in a state of retrogression?

The question occurred to me the other day, whilst I was compiling a list of words for inclusion in a poem (hopefully, having found myself in a rather rare poetic mood) - wonderful, juicy, full-bodied words to get one’s teeth into, chew over, digest, and enjoy, like a good, solid, satisfying meal; words to contemplate and admire for their simple ability to encapsulate within their singularity whole concepts, and to fully communicate their meaning; words which give a solid foundation on which can be constructed a sentence, a phrase, a line of poetry, an essay, a story…

And whilst rhapsodising thus over the beauty of language, my mind wandered forth onto the subject of text-speak, with its use of acronyms and contractions: a form of language no longer confined within the sphere of mobile phones and computers, but now proliferating like a fungus everywhere words are used - including in books, and other forms of literature. 

From there I was reminded of a poem I wrote, called A Yorkshire Sonnet (it’s on the Poetic License page, in the side-bar), in which I employed a broad Yorkshire dialect.  I have to confess that, whilst I am a Yorkshire lass, born and bred, I’ve always had a love of the English language, which has been developed and expanded through my extensive reading; as a result of which I seem to have been safeguarded from developing a broad Yorkshire accent or speech pattern, despite having been surrounded throughout my life by people who actually say things like, “Does tha know?”; “I were in shop other day…”;  “Gee oar (the ‘g’ is soft, as in ‘go’, and the phrase means “give over” - obviously); or my favourite, “Nayou” (that’s ‘no’ to the uninitiated).  Despite this lack of development of broad Yorkshire, I can employ it when necessary.  Which, funnily enough, is not right often. 

It struck me that there appears to be a similarity to text-speak: two examples of  seemingly underdeveloped versions of the English language (similar to olde English), with their predilection for shortening words, as if the speaker doesn’t have either the time or the inclination to give voice to fully-formed words and sentences - kind of like one step up from our linguistically-challenged prehistoric ancestors.

And then it occurred to me that the advent of text-speak, despite its connection to the world of technology, and therefore supposedly a sign of our intellectual advancement, could be seen as not so much an example of our evolution, but of a devolution: an indication that we’re in retreat when it comes to communication.  People, it seems, aren’t interested in fully or deeply communicating with each other; or they don’t have the time for anything other than shallow, alphabetised conversations, and jargon-laden interactions. 

Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come?  One day, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll all be speaking in acronyms; from whence it’s only one small step back to where we all began - mute, apart from animal-like grunts, and hand signals.  

Well I guess it’s one, albeit rather extreme, way of removing the distraction of words from my life.  Maybe then I'll get something written.

PS It wasn't until after I'd posted this piece that I was struck by the irony of a woman who struggles to communicate at any depth (surface included), despite her extensive vocabulary and proficiency with the English language, writing about the apparent lack of communication between non-autistics.  What do I know about why they choose to interact with each other in shorthand?  I barely understand them when they do speak in complete sentences.  Perhaps I'd actually do better if we did go back to the days before words.  And think of all the stimming we could do without anyone thinking we were odd.

25 February 2015

Weapons Of Mass Distraction

When I gave away my television fifteen years ago, I never imagined that I would one day have to retread the same ground, with what has inadvertently turned into its successor - the computer.  

At that time I had an old, slow, desktop version, which I barely used; and, hard to believe given my present cavalier use of the internet, back then I was loathe to surf the web (barely sticking a toe in), and wouldn’t shop, bank, or do anything on-line which involved money, not trusting at all the safety of such procedures.  I was still choosing to use dial-up when broadband became widespread, and had to be coaxed, cajoled, and coddled into upgrading, which happened only when I bought my first laptop five years ago, and despite my attempts to remain a dial-up dinosaur.

So attached was I to my t.v. that I can still vividly remember the circumstances of its final relinquishment, including the last thing I watched (the Williams sisters contesting the women’s Wimbledon final).  And what is also indelibly imprinted in my mind is the aftermath of our separation.

As the decision to get rid of it had taken months, maybe even a year or more, to reach (involving countless failed attempts to control my compulsive viewing, and deny or minimise the suggestion of it causing me a problem), it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that I felt quite bereft, and lost - though this all occurred ten years before I found out about my autism, and that, as such, attachment to things is an innate part of my being.  

Therefore, not only was I mourning the loss of the activity itself and what it did for me (helped me to lose myself, and avoid dealing with reality - much like alcohol, and  food, for which it had inadvertently become a replacement after I stopped drinking, and compulsively overeating), but also the object.

So, here I was, only three years later, discarding what had been one of my most prized possessions.  The question was what was I going to do with myself now that my primary source of entertainment, distraction, and information had gone?  How would I live without my weekly dose of Buffy?  How would I know what was going on in the world (having also developed a compulsion for reading the teletext pages)?  How would I fill my time, not to mention the physical space which the set had occupied?

I did what any self-respecting distractible, executive functioning-challenged person would do - I started using my much-maligned, and under-used, computer to read up on what was happening in the final series of Buffy, and to check on other things of major importance (like the sports news).  Additionally, I found something else to replace it - the local library, and its endless bounty of books in which to lose myself.  Oh dear.

All of which turned out to be merely the entree, an appetiser to the compulsion which would once more escalate with the purchase of my first laptop (with integrated dvd drive, and large screen - specifically chosen in order to recreate, as much as possible, the experience of viewing films on television; plus my introduction to the world of broadband, and instant internet access); my first Apple product (an iPod Touch, on which I initially discovered the world of on-line book reading via the iBooks app); and the failed experiment of the Kindle (now permanently removed from my life, with no hope of a reprieve.  *Sigh*). 

As to the gaping physical hole which the television had left in my home, that I did not immediately fill (bloody typical).  For the remainder of that day, and continuing on for a week or maybe more, everything remained exactly as it was, except for the rather large space where the shrine to moving pictures had dwelled.  And there I would sit, gazing into the void, imagining my t.v. and the noise it used to make when I switched the on/off button - a solidly reassuring “thtunk” sort of sound.  I can still hear it now…  

Fast forward to the present, and imagine my dismay to find myself once more embroiled in obessive/compulsive technological torture; and to discover that, ever since I purchased my first laptop and launched myself onto the internet, I have been unwittingly attempting to replace the television, using it primarily as a source of entertainment, and a place in which to lose myself.  

Despite choosing to buy a laptop with an integrated dvd drive, and the biggest screen I could find specifically for the purpose of film-watching, it never once occurred to me what I was doing.  Until the most recent manifestation of my compulsion: a hard-drive filled with over two hundred films, for my instant-access viewing pleasure - like locking me in a sweet shop, and expecting me not to eat everything.  Dumb.  

And a fortnight is all it took for what was meant to be a thoughtful gesture on the part of my friend, to be revealed to be yet another error in judgement a la the Kindle.  Actually, it took two days for my behaviour to become apparent (sitting and watching as many films in a row as I could fit into the day, whilst everything else got forgotten), but we were trying to give me the benefit of the doubt, holding onto the hope that the novelty would wear off, and I would settle down and learn to manage it.  That’s what I kept hoping would happen with the television.  It never did.

Therefore, after only two weeks, I had to relinquish the hard-drive full of films to my friend, for her to wipe it clean and send it back to me… empty: to be used for something productive.  Bugger.  *Deep sigh*.  I even checked it in the forlorn hope that perhaps she had left a few on there, by error or design, but she hadn’t.  The only evidence remaining was the title ‘Lisa’s Films’, sitting there on the desktop, taunting me with the memory of what had been. 

So, having diced with yet another weapon of distraction, I can only surmise that if God had intended for me to spend large amounts of time on the computer, I would have been born a technogeek - which I positively am not.  On the other hand, my autistic friend is.  She can spend hours engrossed in playing, and sorting out difficulties, with technology.  She loves it when it develops a problem, so she can spend time sorting it out.  Yet she doesn’t get distracted, like I do.  On the contrary, she’s in her element, happy as a pig in a truffle field.  Her interactions with technology are creative: hence, she doesn’t lose herself on here, but rather connects with the part of herself which is technologically-minded.

Not so with me.  When I try to play I get lost, bored, and end up trundling off to the internet to try to reignite my synapses - which is my idea of playing on the computer, and is kind of the techno version of mall shopping: there’s a whole lot of consumption goes on, but nothing creative happening.  How, in the name of Santa’s socks, does one play with a computer?  It simply doesn’t compute for me.  

I’ve also realised that it’s not just that technology makes me anxious, but it just bores the arse off me.  I’ve tried to get excited about it; to do what my friend has suggested and play with it; to basically copy her; but it just isn’t happening.  The only thing that excites me is surfing the internet (which is not good for me), and typing up my writing (which I happen to be good at, fortunately love doing, and which isn’t difficult to do on here). 

Where I connect with my creative self is in writing, art, and, in a different form, yoga (where I create calm, harmony, and a sense of order, in my body, mind, and spirit - well, that’s the theory anyway, yoga being about the union of the whole.  Can’t say I’ve quite mastered the art yet… but I have fun trying).  And even with these things I’ve found it difficult to embrace the concept of playing, but I understand how it can be done.  

However, to my friend the idea of yoga is as tedious as watching paint dry - the moment I even mention the subject, a fixed smile settles on her face (almost as if rigour mortis has set in), and her eyes glaze over.  Exactly as I do with computers.  See, it’s all a matter of personality: we were not all meant to like, or be good at, the same things.

So I’m having to adjust my perception of the purpose of my computer, and alter the way I use it accordingly.  Which, for me, means it’s primarily a tool for my writing, a means of connecting with other people (which I do very little of), a source of shopping, and a way to play my Kundalini yoga dvds (Maya Fiennes - ‘Detox and De-stress’, and the series ‘A Journey Through The Chakras’). 

I’ve realised that it’s a bit like maths - I can do enough basic maths to serve my daily needs, and that’s enough.  I’ve never found a need for logarithms and the like, nor a burning desire to try to master them.  Yet with my computer I persist in the belief that I’m meant to understand and be able to utilise every app and function, of which I have no need, rather than accept that, like maths, I have enough basic skills for my purpose, and that my use of it is meant to be limited: if it wasn’t I’d have no time to write, paint, or do yoga.  As it is I often have no time to do those things anyway because I’ve got caught up on the web.  Never was there a more aptly-named instrument.

I guess I’m just going to have to find a technology-free zone, and go live there.  So, it’s back to the 1970’s then.      

12 January 2015

Christmas Crackers

So, that was Christmas, eh?  And I hardly felt a thing.

Did you feel it - the Christmas spirit?  And, if so, could you enlighten me as to what it feels like, ‘cos I haven’t got a clue.  (I realise that I am lagging behind somewhat with my dissection of the festive season, but there we go: it’s time I got used to the idea that I’m hopeless when it comes to trying to work to a deadline, so I shouldn’t even bother trying - it’s not like my life depends upon it.  I’m just never fully prepared for any event: so christmas, and new year, have been and gone, and I’m only just digesting them.)

There’s a Christmas song called I Believe In Father Christmas, which contains the line, “The Christmas we get we deserve.”  I used to think it was like an adult variation of the idea that Santa Claus wouldn’t bring you anything if you’d been bad, which I considered was rather gloomy and depressing: but I’ve reassessed the idea, and come up with a different understanding.  And it’s really quite simple (which explains why it’s taken me so long to grasp it).

I think that it’s basically saying that however you have been throughout the year, is how you’ll be at Christmas: the person you are the rest of the year is not going to have a sudden personality transplant and become someone completely different just because it’s Christmas.  All that Christmas does is magnify already existing conditions and emotions, what with all that extra stress piled on top. 

So if, for example, you are envious, competitive, depressive, angry, short-tempered, lonely, greedy, materialistic, etc then that’s what Christmas will likely bring out - an increase in such characteristics, exacerbated by the influence of those sections of the media which target and promote such a negative traits as greed, materialism, and consumerism.  Alternatively, if you happen to be a generally happy, content, sharing, joyful person then Christmas will just be another opportunity for more of the same.  

As for me specifically, it has highlighted things like the fact that I still have a tendency to make my happiness, and other emotions, dependent on things outside myself (be they people, places, or things), which contributes to the desire to want to control said outside circumstance in the misguided belief that that will change how I feel; that I am extremely gullible, naive, literal, and childlike (believing, hoping, that there is such a thing as the magic of christmas); having high, unrealistic expectations, which always lead to disappointment; taking things way too seriously (apparently, there are people out there who don’t tie themselves in such knots about the whole thing, despite the apparent frenzy that appears to go on at this time of year); comparing myself, and what I’ve got, to other people (or what I imagine they have, which is not necessarily their reality), and trying to copy them; and, of course, simply finding myself caught up in, and being distracted by, yet one more obsession.  All of which I do quite happily the rest of the year.  So what’s so different about Christmas?

As much as I hate to say it (and I really do hate to say it), there is no such thing as ‘the magic of Christmas’, contrary to what the media (or my mind) says.  But they’re very good at selling it (both the media and my mind), especially to someone like me, whose gullibility and naivety is just begging to be taken advantage of.  And every year I’m left feeling disappointed - though, I have to say, I have noticed that the disappointment is lessening with each passing year, as I try to accept that Christmas isn’t any different to any other time).

You know the irony of this is the fact that my whole lifestyle now is completely in conflict with everything that I’ve learnt that Christmas is all about - stuffing oneself on turkey dinners, mince pies, Christmas puddings, and other rich foods; alcohol; parties, and family gatherings; presents; cards; Christmas television; carol services; and the birth of Jesus.

I’m a single, non-religious yogi, vegan, alcoholic/bulimic/compulsive overeater with a sugar sensitivity, anxiety suffering autistic with ADHD.  Which, just to clarify, means:-

I live on my own, and have little contact with the family I do still have - so no family get-togethers, and Christmas dinners, and no gift-buying; 

I don’t socialise ‘cos it’s too stressful, it makes me anxious, and I don’t enjoy it - I’m happiest when I’m by myself, which is good ‘cos I’m by myself most of the time;  

I have a faith in a Higher Power, which I choose to call God, but I don’t believe in Christianity, or any other religion, so I can’t honestly claim to celebrate Christmas for its religious symbolism - especially as I know that Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December: a person chose that date, so it really holds no magical significance for that reason: so there go the church services, and carol singing;

I don’t eat meat (so there goes the turkey!);

I don’t drink alcohol (so there goes the mulled wine, hot toddies, and getting sozzled   at parties);

I don’t eat anything with sugar, or sugar substitutes (so there goes dessert - all the chocolate, pies, cakes, etc), or any of my other many binge foods which were once staples in my diet;

I don’t send cards, because I no longer wish to do what everyone else is doing, being coerced into doing the dutiful, but meaningless, thing of remembering people at this time of year, whilst forgetting about them for the remainder.  Plus, think of all those trees;

I don’t own a television (so there goes my Christmas viewing);

And I do yoga, and follow a Twelve Step recovery programme, the principles behind which are in complete opposition to the general excess and mayhem which Christmas seems to have become.

So it’s really rather daft for me to be comparing my circumstances to other peoples’, and attempting to copy the way I see (or imagine I see) them celebrating Christmas, or the way I used to do, when I no longer have the necessary requirements.  But I’m nothing if not tenacious - I do hold onto things way past their sell-by date.  And I think my ideas about Christmas are far beyond outdated.

Of course, I also have a very poor short-term memory, so no doubt next year I’ll be experiencing exactly the same ‘problems’ as this year (and every year prior to that).  But Ho Ho Hopefully it won’t last as long.  At least now I don’t start dreaming of a White Christmas at the beginning of September.

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