It’s been a funny old year, and it’s not over yet.
Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in hiatus? That’s how I’ve always felt. I’ve constantly been waiting for life to begin; constantly holding off for things to happen; constantly thinking, ‘Once I’ve finished this bit, I can start doing that bit’, but that’s not how life works.
That’s never how life works.
Time goes on ticking, life goes on passing by, and if you’re lucky you get to pick up some happy memories along the way.
It can feel like you’re sat on the riverbank, dipping in and grabbing things where you can, but aware that the water is both tempting and terrifying. Holding back from jumping in, hating that you’re missing out on the rush of the water and the freshness of its touch, but scared of being washed away, or suffocated by it all and dragged under.
Waiting for life to begin guarantees a state of being neither use nor ornament. I would be the gnome, perpetually trapped on the water’s edge, with my unmoving fishing rod, and unchanging features. I would be gnomically un-ornamental. I would be appreciated only by lovers of kitsch, who would view me ironically and patronisingly.
I’m not someone who makes New Year’s Resolutions, they are arbitrary, unbinding vows, and I don’t like their flimsiness, but this year I accidentally slipped and made one.
I promised myself that I would try. It wasn’t a big and all-encompassing promise. It was just a small change in tack. I would give it a go. I would put myself out there more. I would reach out for things.
It started well; I found a January deadline for The New Welsh Review’s Essay Competition. I could write on any theme, I could work in my own ways, and although I didn’t have much time, I did have hyper-focus on my side.
In five days I whipped up thirty thousand words, named them, ‘The Wrong Kind of Happiness’, and sent them on their merry way. I only slightly panicked when the auto-response had me entered for the wrong year, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t need to know it was right.
One opportunity seized, and I was only a few weeks in.
Next I decided to try to change the world from inside the machine; I applied for a graduate programme that described itself as wanting to work with my strengths and passions (‘An Open and Fair Interview’). Sadly my passions didn’t communicate well, and it all came tumbling down, stealing my time and my energy.
I got the news that I was long-listed for the essay competition, but the drain that the graduate programme had put on my resources, put paid to my chances to mingle and network. I failed to get to the shortlist announcement. I wanted so much to be there, the people organising it had been so kind in giving me the information I needed, but migraines and overloads had taken their tole.
I worried I had taken on too much. Have I mentioned my five children? I still had a life to lead and work to do.
Oh and then there was the play. My play, The Duck. The voice I gave away last year when the fabulous Jo Loyn asked if I would write a play for the incredible Lucy Theobald.
Little did she realise that hyper-focus meant she would have that play in her hands within days. Autact Theatre was born.
Little did we know how the three of us would turn it into something real. Little could we have hoped for such performances and responses and connections. I cried that first night; I cried when someone thanked me for putting their life on stage. Not at the time, but later. I cried for the purity of the truth.
The Duck’s first performance was in June. The same week as the award ceremony for the Essay Competition. I was mildly relieved I wasn’t shortlisted, and flooded with regret for not taking my place in the audience of the ceremony; of missing out again.
I haven’t even mentioned the public speaking; I said yes to that too. I spoke from the heart about autism; as it was, as it is, as it should be. I spoke of the arts and of workplaces and of support. I found my joy in the word and the explanation. In various places, at various times, to various audiences, I shared my world.
Or the friendships; I said yes to friendships. I have made new and firm friends who are embedded in who I am.
Or the poetry!
There is a marvellous woman – and I’m not sure I can get across quite how marvellous she is – called Sonia Boué. She is an incredible artist (one of her paintings hangs in my living room, and I smile whenever I glance in its direction), but Sonia’s greatest skill is her belief. When Sonia believes in you it is hard not to get swept along in her wake. She drowns out that voice of self-doubt.
Sonia had a dream, an idea, a hope, to bring together different neurodiverse artists, and their different connections, and to create something new. Something based on how we work, something based on us.
And she did it.
Arts Council England funding was approved and Neither Use Nor Ornament bloomed into being (NUNO). This collaboration based on individuality, based on clarity and cobwebs, based on beauty, is an incredible thing.
I am a part of this beautiful thing (Me). I am free to write and respond in my lyrical style, and the inspiration for writing is rich and unfettered. I am honoured. I am believed in. I am connected to incredible artists like Susan Kruse (Podcast of her attempt to get to me in Wales), who are all in turn connected to me. I hope to see more such things in the future. It feels like something new and liberating, because it is.
From the audience for The Duck emerged more; another incredible autistic woman, Susan, stepped out of the shadows and casually offered her support and expertise, as though it were nothing. She threw about options and structures and paths, and shared her wisdom warmly and completely, with someone utterly lost in a sea of her own ignorance.
I’m a writer; I should be alone with a keyboard and the skies. And then I wonder, when it was that I went from awkwardly saying, ‘Well, I like to write a little, that’s what I would like to be, not a child-wrangler, but a writer’, to simply stating that I’m a writer, and feeling safe that it is a complete truth rather than an uncomfortable pretension?
I have all these threads running through me now. I have worried that they will snag and pull me apart. I have worried that the lack of routine, the lack of nine-to-five, the lack of structure, could rip through who I am and leave me empty.
But then I look out my window, and there is my reliable red-kite, cutting the air with its wings. There is my buzzard, circling and calling as it drifts up on the warm currents. There is my nuthatch, sleek in his burglar mask, and I am secure in my routine and my place in the world.
There is more to do; I would like to get my essay collection out there, because I haven’t tried to do that yet. I would like to put a poetry collection together.
I am no longer satisfied with the Emily Dickinson school of publishing methods; I shall not wait for someone to find my work after my death. I have more than enough written. I have more than enough ready. I shall try… when I have the time.
I have three books completed that sit trapped in the dark, because I have not yet decided they are safe enough to release into the wild. I will work on this too.
There is always more to do, but so much has already happened, simply because I tried.
I have failed at times. I have succeeded at times. It has all been a learning curve of epic proportions.
My hiatus is at an end. I am grabbing life by the throat and dragging it behind me. I need to do things my way, and with the army of autistic support beside me, I shall.
Behind the scenes I have a Flo and a Sarah and a Jenny who are experts in the art of supportive mockery. I am bloody lucky.
When asked my special interests I used to always miss out writing. When asked why I hadn’t mentioned it, I would say, ‘Writing isn’t an interest, it’s more than that. Writing is as important as breathing, it’s how I know who I am. If I cannot write, I cannot think, I cannot be me.’ Which is less pretentious than it sounds.
In the same way, when I think about people who support me, I might overlook my husband. He is my rock, as I am his. He is one of the best people I have ever met – with the most impressive moustache. He smooths my path through the world, and cloaks me in an aura of calm. He’s definitely one of my special interests.
Words are my interest. They hold such hope and promise. They can be wielded in so many ways, and if I can find the right ones, then I can pour my world into your ears and fill you up with it.
Words are my joy, and sharing them freely has connected me to so much. I am a clumsy sort, and some days, trying will leave me flat on my face, but that doesn’t mean I shall stop.
I am conquering communication; I am tearing it apart and forcing it to submit to my will. So far I’ve got poetry, prose, theatre and essay in my arsenal. One by one they shall fall beneath my sword and my communication will be perfected. I will never process social communication automatically – I can’t work like that – but that doesn’t mean a deficit, it means a difference, and that can be a powerful thing indeed.
I ended my first blog post, back in April 2016, with the words,
“It’s what I’m striving for. Being a bit more me. Now is the time.
“So today I didn’t hide my hand in my pocket when I needed to stim. It’s the little things.
“Tomorrow I will contemplate world domination.” (Re-Thinking Things Through an Autistic Filter)
As a great man once said, “I came here to drink milk and kick ass, and I’ve just finished my milk.” (Moss, The IT Crowd)
I am all use, I am less ornament, and I’ve just finished my milk.