So what’s it like spending a weekend camping at a Fringe Theatre Festival, when you’re autistic?
Tiring. That’s probably the word. Tiring both physically and emotionally. I am so glad that I went, and so frustrated that I didn’t have the energy to do more, to see more, to connect more.
I hadn’t been to Barnstaple before, but Cornwall and Devon are the places of most of my childhood holidays, and there is a familiar edge to everything. Like a long-lost memory of a dream.
The sun shines and it brings out the warmth in people. There’s a relaxed atmosphere, a gentle joviality. Everyone is a little bit too hot, a little bit too sweaty, a little bit physically uncomfortable. Everyone is inside my comfort zone of perpetual discomfort. It feels like a connection.
People want to talk to me about something I’m interested in. That’s one advantage of writing a play about your own interests; it becomes people’s default small-talk. Meaning small-talk drops out of existence.
Three performances over three days is hard work, even when you’re not the one up on stage. I lived each moment as the words were spoken… as my words were spoken.
The Duck is a metaphor. A metaphorical duck. It amuses me how many duck-based metaphors there are. Perhaps my marvellous mind had made that connection already, when it came up with the theme of my play.
Water does not slide off this duck’s back. It puddles and pools, and weighs me down.
I am weighed down now. I am walking through treacle. People say things, and they slide off me, like some kind of relevant simile.
The campsite that was our base for the weekend, was beset by 3am car alarms and dawn choruses. There was no escape from the heat, and my great love for humankind was tested.
I don’t like packing, it tests the parts of my mind that are not my strongest. It takes energy, but I smiled when my husband said, “Bring that brain of yours over here. Make these things fit into the boot of the car.” And my autism looked out through my eyes, and visualised and Jenga’d our belongings into space, creating a Tardis-like moment.
Today, the rain chose not to fall, until the final peg was packed away, and it could break that oppressive heat with its clean reflections.
Today, ‘Nice weather for ducks’ was the truth.
I almost didn’t make it into the final performance. An hour before I was struggling with an emotional and sensory response that I wasn’t sure could be tamed in time, but a good friend brought me back.
I wanted to be there. I feel honoured by everyone who attended, and I wanted to make that connection with the audience, because when they connect with my character, they are connecting to me.
Connections helped me a lot. Old friends, newer friends, a community of connections.
And now as I sit in a queue of traffic, watching a butterfly bumble over the cars, oblivious to our need for lanes and lines, I can’t help but feel relief.
I have borrowed energy from tomorrow. I have stolen time from my future self, and soon the doubts and fears will knock at my door, but I have an arsenal with which to chase them away.
I shall remind them of the Ducks who saw their reflections and felt understood. I shall remind them of the bridges I built in understanding. I shall remind them that what I did wasn’t easy; that it wasn’t an everyday thing, and that I shouldn’t expect an everyday reaction.
It won’t shut them up completely, but I wouldn’t be a duck if I coped with social affairs effortlessly.
Tomorrow I shall be home again. In a sensory world designed around me, in a cocoon of kindness and understanding. I will refill my well, I will restock my stores, and then, well, then I might look into taking flight.