What on Earth has a polytunnel got to do with autism? What even is a polytunnel? What are you talking about? Is this a tangent too far?
All fair questions, and all with answers – tangential as they might be.
I’m writing this from my polytunnel. It’s a ten metre, steel-framed structure covered in some kind of poly-material, for growing plants in. I am sitting in its centre. The wind is flapping at its fabric, the rain is an occasional patter to remind me its there, but it is warm and still inside.
I am surrounded by growth. There are pea and bean and tomato plants all around me. There are optimistic melon plants and a hopeful grapevine that I will regret planting inside by the winter if I haven’t managed to rig up some kind of self-watering system by then.
I’m sitting and remembering how tiny these seedlings were when I planted them out, how I lovingly grew them from seed on a windowsill, how much I smiled as each new shoot appeared.
I appear to have become “one of those people”. I have a confession; I used to hate gardening. I would plant something and then wait, get bored, forget to water it, wander off and come back to something I planted with hope and then murdered with my inertia.
I’m clearly getting old, or wise, or both. I am certainly getting closer to contentment than I ever have.
Last weekend I was a part of the Autism Arts Festival in Canterbury, put together by the marvellous Dr Shaun May. I had a brilliant time and now I’m paying the price for all the travelling and interacting. I spent my energy like I had a fortune in the bank, but really I was just borrowing from tomorrow.
I was there to do a poetry reading to the warmest audience in the world. We laughed, we cried. I did my spiel about not wanting to be inspiring, just wanting to be an artist, and got utterly trumped by a wonderful woman who told me, through her tears, that I had inspired her to start writing again. I had forgotten that there was a pure meaning to inspiration; that to inspire someone actual means something real and it’s not just about someone else feeling glad they don’t have your difficulties. I was humbled by that moment.
And so many more moments; Katherine May, the wonderful writer of The Electricity of Every Living Thing (just a beautiful read) interviewing Laura James, author of Odd Girl Out (so much resonates) was a gentle wander through two women’s autism journey, Filskit Theatre’s piece for children was a visual extravaganza that left me feeling joyous and warm, Sonia Bouè’s WEBworks exhibition was a richness of beauty and meaning, Sarah Saeed of Stealth Aspies brought her incredible open mic comedy and poetry spot, Lava Elastic to Kent, Kate Fox interwove Autism and Doctor Who and poetry and northernness with hilarity and poignancy (a delicate line to walk), and there was so much more: Stealth Aspies, Jon Adams – theatre, art, discussion, workshops – this was a richness of work and culture, this was amplification of art and not the pathologising or patronising of the artist.
I didn’t make it to everything, but I attended far more than I could have at any other event, and now I am paying for it.
I haven’t slept properly for days. I ache, my head is pounding, I keep forgetting words for things or struggling to maintain a conversation, there is pressure on the bridge of my nose; in short I’m tired. Really tired.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m so evolved and mature that I don’t hate this bit. I do hate this bit. This is one of the difficult sides of being autistic, this is the price I pay for being a part of something I love, this is the cost. It sucks, but I need to rest.
That’s where the polytunnel comes in. I was talking about it to Sarah Saeed at the weekend; how I would go home and sit in my polytunnel and poke things, how I would let it heal me, let if refocus me, how we all need our own “Polytunnel” (whatever form it may take for each of us). We all need something that feeds us, replenishes us, something to find the joy in.
I am aware that to some my idea of peace will be their idea of hell – as it would have been to me if I’d done it at the wrong time in my life – we all have to find our own thing that brings us back from exhaustion and doubt.
The first flowers are blooming on my beans, and that is a hopeful thing to see. The wind can howl all it wants outside, I am home and I have found my polytunnel. I can sit and remember being a part of something beautiful. With a little peace and a little time I will bloom again.