Pirates and Poems

My special interest as an Aspie is language.

At uni it was the language of power and propaganda. That gets me jobs.

At home it’s poetry and prose. That gives me joy.

On stage it’s comedic poetry, wordplay, political statements through satire and parody. That gives me satisfaction.

Yesterday I performed in a Melbourne poetry event – my first since I moved here.

Got to include another love (costumes) with poetry and comedy and got to dress up as a zombie pirate in a dead pirates themed event.

I’ve poetry slammed twice in Alice Springs and was wanting to continue when I moved. Last Dirty Word I did in Alice I did a serious poem about DV. It was very personal and very hard to do. But I’m glad I did.

Here’s one of my more serious poems…

Me as Zombie Pirate.

Autistic Employment Collateral #1

This is the first of a series of posts about the aspects of something I call “Autistic Employment Collateral” and its impact. I hope it’s useful and that the parents of AS young people and AS young people find it validating. I will examine three traits each post through my own experiences and offer the practical strategies I have learned to use.  *nb: all Autistic people are different, but hopefully some of my experience might help others with may have experienced similar.

The last five years I have shifted from denial to acceptance of who I am – and moved beyond the “collateral” that the world claimed from me. I have stress related illness (including blood pressure) from masking myself to make the world feel more comfortable with my autism and I am done with it.  I will do my best not to mask anymore, unless of course I don’t feel safe, and then it may come back up.

I have also recovered from a trauma and associated brain injury that means I have a complex set of challenges I manage daily. I am tired of not talking about it and the world bullying me into a being just a commodity and not a human being first.

Happy to be a human being and a commodity, but on my own terms.

I also need to say these are Autistic (AS) traits. They can’t be turned off but can be harnessed into skills, but they are not deficits.

Many AS people are tired of being “normalised” as though the “unicorn” of normal is what we are meant to be modelled against.  Unicorns are cute, but I don’t want to be one. I would wear unicorn slippers. Probably to work too. But I digress.

I am Jacqueline (Jacci or Jacqui), depending on what context you know me in.

I am autistic. Here’s an example of some the collaterals that the world has taken from me that I have tried to mask and now refuse to mask –

1. Eye contact drains me, and prolonged eye contact distresses me. Yet the western cultural world tells me to look people in the eyes. If I don’t use eye contact, people think I am being dishonest or shifty, when my senses are just overwhelmed and drained by looking at you in the eyes.

When I studied Anthropology, I was delighted to learn that not all cultures think eye contact is a good thing. I ended up being quite comfortable with working with Aboriginal Australians and having awesome conversations where little eye contact was had.  Without the aggression of forced eye contact, the conversations were so meaningful and rich. I dropped the eye contact mask and I now tell people that I am not good with eye contact.

What I say to people now is, “I may look at the floor, or over your shoulder when we talk. But I am listening to you. In fact this is how I listen to you best”.

2. I see the world and process information visually (in pictures), in 3D detail in my mind’s eye first, then I convert them into words. Yet people think my drawing and doodling is distraction or that I am being rude. In recent years my career has become about helping organisations to represent complex systems and charts and visual representations. That is my autistic superpower.

In the past I was given minute taking roles because people thought I was good with words.  There are people who are great at minutes, but I need to record the meeting and do it later.  I am good with words, words are my passion, but it doesn’t start with words. It starts by images and a lot of them. I sort them out using words, arrows, shapes and I process the relationships between the images and through the words I hear or read visually.

But the words don’t come first and often I have frustrated employers who don’t understand that I need to understand the relationships of things before I write and that I am not just a “scribbling monkey” for their own personal use. I need to walk, move, draw, map the ideas before I can write them.

I once was bullied by an employer because I needed to walk the hall and draw the work before I wrote. They thought I was wasting their time and that I didn’t want to work or that I was “slacking off”. When they forced me to stay in my office and “just write”, I nearly ended up hospitalised with mental health issues.

In recent years I have learned to say to employers and even at interview; “I am a visual thinker. I can break down systems into images and representations and words for you, like you have seen in my previous work, but in that order, not the other way around. I need to walk and draw and mind map before I write and design”.

3. I do amazingly well at detail and logic and can focus on tasks for long periods, but people think I am being harsh or critical or nit-picky or, in the extreme example, they “diagnose” me with depression or anxiety. I see the world in complex ways. This is not a problem. I can relax. I know how to relax. I just don’t need somebody who isn’t autistic telling me how to fit in with their way of seeing the world.

In fact, let me distil this down. When you try and force me to lose the detail, you are telling me I am less. You are turning me into a problem. I do then start to develop mental health problems – panic attacks primarily. These are such that I must withdraw from the world and take time off, which can put me at a financial disadvantage and have long term negative health impacts.

The other issue is like the one at #2 in that I get shoved into an office and get too much detail thrown at me, because I am good at it. But it takes its toll and I need to walk, draw and talk to people to stem the constant flow of information in my head – unless it gets too tiring. Think of the matrix, yet you can’t unplug without conscious effort and to seek quiet or nature or meditate or engage in a mind stilling exercise that best works for the individual concerned.

But my mental health problems are caused by the world insisting I should “dumb it down” and that my expression of detail is unwanted. It is a rejection of my very person, my very humanity. When I employed for my detailed analysis and supported, these mental health issues abate, and I operate far more efficiently.

Now, I have learned to say to employers, “I can process a lot of detail for long periods. I can then analyse and distill it down for various audiences very quickly. However it takes a toll on me and I need to break up my duties so it doesn’t exhaust me.  If I am allowed to do this, you will get large amounts of clear and precise work from me. So I am not ‘slacking off’, I am processing.”

Illustration of an isolated line art comic balloon with  a broken shieldFinally, let me conclude with this.

The mask is off. Women with autism have exemplary masking ability. That is because the world expects different standards of us as women to begin with and we are therefore better at it.

The mask is not a lie. The mask is a way of coping with a world that turns us into medical problems rather than see that our “issues” are superpowers when harnessed and valued correctly.

I will not put my mask back on. I have smashed it. It is gone.

On losing count…

I’ve lost count of the days of my little healing blog experiment.  Never mind.

I think that means I am healing.  My mind is going elsewhere – to things I am writing, doing, seeing.

Today I am having lunch with a fellow comedian whose work I very much admire.  So here’s a picture of my favourite coffee cup.  The only mug that came with me to Melbourne.

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Of Spite and Surrender

This afternoon I’m in my temporary living room. Almost everything that is left of my material life is spread out, ready to go back in three large plastic boxes.

Two boxes will be stored in Alice Springs.  One box will go with me, wherever I go next.

I don’t know where that will be and won’t for a while.

There are some strange relics here, much like my strange life. A large vulva and vagina costume I wear on stage. An important shisha, resplendent with purple glass base and floral pink hose, for smoking apple tobacco, a very occasional habit I picked up through several travels through the Middle East.  Three volumes of my book manuscript in very different stages of editing. Chinese language flashcards and note books with my attempts at writing Mandarin.

A burlesque bra. Paints, so many filled note books, so many paintbrushes!

And this note…a note that is the concept behind an abstract painting I want to paint about my old life.

“The familiar meant that happiness was the unfamiliar.”

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Have you ever wondered about the patterns of spite and surrender in your life?
Spite, when you stay in spite of everything and everyone and you don’t know why.
Surrender, when you stay because it is all you know, and you surrender to what seems inevitable.
My life has been combinations of spite and surrender until November 2014.
I went on a trek in the Himalayas – the Annapurna circuit. It was nothing like anyone in my immediate family had ever done. As corny and clichéd as this sounds, I came back changed. I’ve lived in China, Far North Queensland, Darwin and Alice Springs (again) since then.
Creatively changed. I committed to moving away from the cycle of spite and surrender. It’s been tumultuous recently, but so satisfying. My book is at final edits with a publisher and I am exceptionally proud of that. I would never have achieved that in my old self.

I’m not materialistic, I am experiential. Happiness for me is not a mortgage.  Happiness for me is new ideas and engaging thoughts, discussions and debates. It is travel, growth and all that entails – including pain.

When I moved back to Alice Springs it was because it was familiar after being such a wanderer.   I think I was in spite and surrender mode again.

I suppose I thought it would test if I had “settled down”. But no, I haven’t, and I am glad I haven’t.

Whilst I want a stable income and a longer-term employment contract, I am no longer limiting myself career wise. Recently acting in a job where my contract wasn’t guaranteed, and the Northern Territory Government did not provide enough funding to continue was difficult.  It brought me through a stage of morose reflection like I hadn’t experienced for a very long time.

img_1784Losing a job I cared about, made me realise I was falling back into patterns of old, not valuing myself and fighting for something that I didn’t really want. Although the work was satisfying, and social justice based, it was all about other people and their agendas for my skills. Spite and surrender.

So I’ve applied for jobs that fill me with wonder and I’ve had 5 interviews out of 7 applications and it’s too soon to see any outcome yet.

But my gut tells me my next venture could be Melbourne or Darwin.  I am going to write and perform and beg and borrow to survive if I must, until I reach the next destination – whether that be in Alice Springs or elsewhere.

So here’s the new space instead of spite or surrender – spirit.

I’m going wherever I am spirited next.

The Strange Girl’s Dad

Deep in my mind’s eye

I see you, Dad, again

Framed by blue sky

And I’m a little girl again

You look down at me

And take my hand

I look up and all I see

Is that smiling man

No one understood me

I was “that” kid

You were the only family

That didn’t want me hid

They’d talk around me

As though I wasn’t here

You’d try to make them see

That I was standing there

You saw creative clever me

And it always made you mad

That they were too cruel to see

Beyond the strange girl’s Dad

I’ll miss you always

When I struggle too

They’re the longest days

Endless memories of you

I wish you were here

To take my hand

Tell them not to sneer

To help them understand

Those days together

The best days I had

I’ll always remember

My strange girl’s Dad.

On writing and my Hachette mentorship.

The only word I can find right now is “strange” to sum up how I feel. So, I’ll write a story and share it here. A story about writing a book.

“I want to be a writer or a journalist”, said the thirteen year old who had been writing poems and complex stories as early as eight. She had rushed home from school to announce this. Her English teacher had just poured over her work and given her what felt like the first genuine praise that she had ever received.

“Why? Do you want to live in a garage and eat dog food? Cause that’s what will happen”, came her mothers response. She knew, deep down, not to expect any more than this, it was the nature of how her family saw the world. Later in life, her mother would become one of her biggest supporters in encouraging her to finish the story.

But her little girl’s heart craved for “Well then, what courses can we enroll you in? How can we support you?”

Instead she became an aircraft technician, then a hodge podge of other things.
But when she was 26, in the basement of her existence she wrote a short story. It was about a place she had traveled to, for extended periods, when she was a girl. A place in the centre of Australia that her father loved and where he had lived and worked during the 1960’s. The area around Alice Springs.

Finally she became an anthropologist, the main thrust of which, was describing people and things.

Writing. She never stopped writing. But it became technical, functional. Privately, the story written about the desert continued to create itself, emerging in pieces. Always hidden but occasionally mentioned and revealed to a small group she trusted.

She moved to the desert at 35 and worked on country with the people it belonged to. The story grew. She liked this story, but she was terrified no one else would. She didn’t care if it never got published, she just wanted to finish it.

At 44 she committed to finishing it. Only because she had lost everything in her life that meant something, everything except this one story. She worked teaching English for a few months in China and finally finished the story. At least to a point it needed to be seen by someone who knew what a good story was. To have it measured. She knew there was more to be done, but for now, it was where she wanted the story to be (alive).

It was a story not like the writing she did for work. It was historical fiction about Central Australia. It was about themes that were important, but also about being human. About a place and the experience of the people who live there, a place that most Australians do not know or understand. About being fragile. About being real. About the frontier of the past and the now, the frontiers of culture, care and healing. But it was also a piece of her own heart.

It sat. She returned to the Desert at 45 and the place that first birthed the story in her teens. A dear friend sent her the Hachette publishing mentorship links. Just shy of her 46th birthday, she pushed send on the first three chapters, sending it down an internet wormhole to judgement.

In the dark of her living room, she sat and cried. A whole tub of ice cream was consumed. The little voice in her head said “dog food”.

To her complete surprise, the story won the mentorship. 12 months of review and technical edits were awarded to the story. She sent the whole final draft off, the voice in her head saying “garage”.

The first literary agent review came in five months later. Not really the perilous wait you might imagine, as she had convinced herself the story would be rejected.

It was feedback that made her believe in the story. That’s not to say she didn’t like the story. But the fact that an expert did, well that was something.

There is no way to describe how that feels. But it’s not jumping around wildly. She’s still kind of, well, pleasantly frightened.

It still has a way to go. But writing will commence again and the second draft will take some of the characters where they need to go. Some of the work needs to be “less academic” or rather, needs to be as brave as the other chapters.
She knows the story is good. She probably always did. But the makings of a great novel? Those were the words. Great. Novel.

It’s one thing to believe in yourself and your ability (which she does). It’s another thing to act. It’s altogether another thing to rise above those little voices that recite negative messages from our pasts.

But they are just voices. It will take some more time, but not as long as the 20 years it took to get to here. She’s in a different headspace now.

She doesn’t particularly care if it doesn’t make it onto the shelf as long as it continues to grow out of her heart. If it ends up on a shelf, a piece of her heart will possibly leap into someone else’s. Either way, it’s a beautiful, although sometimes confronting, place to be.

Welcome: White Fence.

Creativity, childhood, confidence et. al.

As 2016 draws closer to its conclusion I have found myself reflecting on the most amazing year I have had in terms of personal growth.  The pic in the featured image was my very first stand up comedy gig in May.  I have been writing and performing comedy ever since.

Til I was about 44 I repressed my creativity into pursuits I was convinced were “more productive”.

“What do you mean you want to be a writer? Do you want to end up living in a garage eating dog food?”

Those words spoken to me when I was announcing at 12 what I wanted to be, rang loud in my psyche until very recently.  The arts and anyone even vaguely associated with the arts – were scoffed at in my FOO (family of origin).

You had to get a serious job and pay the bills.  NO room to be creative was allowed.  The irony is that some members of my family still brag how I wrote my first poem at 8.  It was push/pull.

One minute I was praised for my writing and creative ability and the next minute verbally punished.  *I need to make it clear, there is no blame here just discussion. There were positives and negatives with this FOO experience.  My post-war baby boomer parents acted in this way cause this was what you did to ensure your child “survived”. 

So I channelled my creative mind into a “profession” and even though I thought I was in the drivers seat, something else was.

Me.  I was driving and not driving, there was choice and not-choice simultaneously.  From a technical career I hated, to moving into anthropology (which I love); a career that meant I had to observe and comment, albeit in very “dry” terms.  I had to immerse myself in life and write about it for purposes such as cultural heritage management, cross-cultural literacy projects, teaching/lecturing, field work of various applications of my training.

This year I committed to making a living through a day job and a creative life outside (which has three parts, performing comedy, speaking gigs and painting) of work that I plan to build into my full time career in the next ten years.  The day job is still there, but the monotony of it allows me to do the other “more important stuff”.

As I do more stand up comedy and learn to promote myself properly. See one of the head shots below that I just had done professionally.  I found really hard to do cause I was talking to myself like my mother would.  Instead of listen I channelled that negative voice; thus the middle finger on the cup.  However I grapple with this undercurrent of disapproval even to this day.

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As a child I was not allowed to shine, perform, sing or act without encountering considerable negativity.  Perfor ming was considered vain, superficial etc. etc.  I still have significant performance anxiety I have to overcome every time I speak publically or perform.  So many people I talk to, who have seen me in action, find this hard to believe, but it’s true.

However the caution and care that comes from that negative undercurrent of childhood discourse, is a good thing (I have made it a positive).  Because all my work has meaning and is not intended to just benefit me.  Cause I can’t stand money-obsessed “Khardasian” culture as I call it.

In a world becoming incredibly narcissistic it can become easy to label performers unnecessarily.  But there is still a difference between craft and art.  I would like to think I will take this new career on as art – seriously with the intention to give to others, make a living and not become a commodity.

I haven’t believed that phrase “make a living” has to mean a career to merely pay the bills and conform to societal expectations for about 15 years.  I believe it should be an extension of who you are.

So culturally I think we have to bust the “starving artist” discourse.  It just serves to punish creative people and try and put them on a capitalist factory line  of producing tax paying drones with depression.  Lots of people make a living from artistic work (and pay tax too!) and we need to revalue the arts.  The arts provide us with a sense of the world in more ways than we acknowledge and realise.

Here’s the thing.  If you have a creative child and you are not particularly creative, don’t label them.

Don’t let some teacher or doctor tell you it’s a behavioural issue that they seem easily distracted or day dream.  So they are not going to be the Civil Engineer you wanted them to be. Maybe they will become a architect and build amazing structures or a graphic designer or something else.  Creativity and a career don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  Let them find a path that honours their creative mind.

I don’t resent any path I have taken.  Each one has given me experience to get to here and I am grateful. However part of me wishes I had been encouraged to be as brave as I am now – when I was 12.

If you are interested in my comedy agency (my non-day job) – visit http://www.ginandtitters.com.

Early next year I will be preforming stand up comedy at Adelaide Fringe Festival and doing some speaking for International Women’s Day in Alice Springs and Darwin.

Or drop me a line on the contact form below.

 

Walking to work – A short stroll from “Ming to Modernity”

My walk to work is nothing short of magic. 

Guiyang is situated in one of the least developed regions of China, once ruled over by Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis).   It is one of the smallest of China’s cities with a population of a mere 4.4 million.

Walking the 1.5 km to work is, as I have mentioned in a previous post, a complete delight. With each block there is a new sight and experience.

It’s like walking through time in some respects. There are pockets of town like areas still wedged in between modern high rise. Some of the lane ways in between the large modern four lane city streets are like the market towns of old.   You can see the same connection to the old village ways of living even in my own apartment complex.

This morning I walked through the car parks and weave my way in between the two other apartment blocks between mine and the road. I passed people boiling bok choy and Chinese cabbage to sell to restaurants and street vendors out the side of their ground floor apartment. It’s a large fire pot in the lane, the side door to apartment open and the kids rushing in and out. The hot coals under the fire burn red and the bundles of produce are stacked along the side wall.

They say hello to me now, and I always wave at the kids. Of an evening you can often here the group of children from this apartment rushing around playing out in the courtyard/carpark. It’s lovely to hear the sounds of their shouts and laughter as they play.

This morning a man was walking down the lane into the apartment complex carrying a freshly killed (unplucked) goose and a large hare. When I get the 50m out of the complex and onto the road I turn right and pass the dog grooming salon and peak through to see what divinely pampered creatures are there. On the way home they turn on a massive red neon sign that says in both Chinese and English “SPA”; for dogs, not humans.

Then another 30m and the village-like markets I have described. I love walking past these, food carts, fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the outlaying farming areas and prayer beads and some jewellery. There is an entire laneway that is pet products to the right and a complex of low rent shops that I have not yet fully explored that the locals shop at. I figure this will be my regular shopping spot and I have picked up some yummy treats here.

In the mornings, under the highway overpass that covers the market here, there are groups of people gathered sitting on their back baskets. These large baskets shaped to fit on your back are hoisted on like back packs and double as comfortable seats. They await an employer and sometimes there are many waiting and sometimes very few.

There are two areas like this one on my journey and they are the places I dwell the longest. You also see people with bamboo poles across their shoulders with two suspended baskets on the ends full of produce in these locations, a stark contrast from the rest of the walk through modern shopping areas. The food carts vary and there are a few that are clearly permanent and they are the ones I tend to gravitate to. Noodles and a variety of other things I cannot yet name and will describe at a later date – but nonetheless very tasty. A favourite sells delicious bacon and egg omelettes. Next to them is a stall with egg based pastries with a variety of fillings and shapes and sizes.

Some of the shops here sell massive urns with bluestone Chinese glazing with magnificent designs and one shop sells the most diving jade and other gem stone jewellery and statues. These more exclusive shops are tucked away inside the markets where you wouldn’t expect to find them. Unless you are a sticky beak like me! These are the places the locals buys beautiful things to grace their homes, not cheap crap, but things crafted by artisans.

Then within 100m you go from the old to the new and the Hunter shopping mall which is as glitzy as any in any other large city in the world. This is where the street is fronted by Pizza Hut, KFC and Starbucks as well as H&M fashion. In front of the high end shopping are fewer street vendors and I tend to walk more briskly pass.

I will sometimes stop at the Laodongmen relic site (see pics) behind which is the public primary school I teach at on Monday afternoons.

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It has the most divine eatery tucked up the side of it. Rows of little coal grills and they bring you skewers with vegetables and meats of your choosing (and tofu) and you cook them yourself and enjoy the heat of the fire as well. It’s a pleasant spot and I just love the way the seating is arranged, low benches and tables that encourage groups of four to six people to eat and enjoy close conversation. They are in a wide but quiet thoroughfare and are spread out far enough between them to create a leisurely eating experience right in the middle of the city.

In the mornings there is tai chi here and public dancing in the evenings. The rest of the way, the last 700m is largely shops until I get to work and every day I notice more and more. I do love my walks to work.