I live in a war zone. Not the tragic carnage that causes death or refugees, but more a civil war carried out in the hinterlands of my psyche. Understanding where we have been can help us decide where we are going.
The first phase of my life was cold. I never saw love and so never learnt love. I was missing a vital organ and bleeding but no one knew, not even me. In this emotional Siberia, I learned that doubt can conquer ability and hope is easily choked by regret. My childhood was survived but the scarring was never soothed and the livid welts remain.
The second phase was a stagnant surrender. I gave up my dreams, my happiness and even my sense of self in order to assimilate. A great pretender I thought that if I looked happy, I could be happy. I became chameleon in my eagerness to please. However because my offers were empty, they were rightly rejected. My heart grew dark and seething grudges found homes in the cavernous silence.
Then I thought about reconciliation. I read that an adult hurting hurts others. I was told I needed to break the cycle. This journey was long and torturous. In order to change I needed to move. My life was built and destroyed over and again. Each success was bigger but merely meant the fall came harder.
Finally I realised there was no resolution. I am not a fairy tale prince and I won’t live happily ever after. Once the architect of failure, I have stopped building. I live in a now that is formless and temporary. There is no plan, no great design and no success criteria. I have that learnt that my life will be all journey and no destination. This path I limp along is mine. It was not chosen but neither was it preordained. It has been shaped by my responses. My life will always be fight and flight. I am both soldier and refugee. In flight, I feel a strange power and without love I have become one of life’s fighters.
There’s nothing oriental about this hotel I have ended up in. The inoffensive decor hints at drab aspirations of being international. The four stars are optimistic but the room is spacious and the windows are vast. I woke shortly before dawn and pulled back the curtains.
Nature is a five star deluxe phenomenon. We can try to brutally impose ourselves on her beauty and yet she still outshines our achievements. My ugly hotel looks over a mighty river complex. The Mekong kissed The Sap outside the Khmer Royal Palace and the Delta was born. The Mekong shapes this region as it weaves into the low landscape to form a nine mouthed water dragon.
The sun rises. The darkness is pulled backed like a second, slower curtain to reveal the new day. I lie, lost in the wonder of the ever changing colours. Soon the severe sun will bleach the sky but for now it’s tints are warm and mellow.
Like me this river has travelled far. I too was once kissed in the Kingdom of Wonder. Now we have both moved on. An accidental man with occidental roots who was washed far away. This river flows nine different ways to the sea. There are so many paths to be taken. I am alluvium and I don’t know where I will wash up.
I must orient myself because now, I am here. It’s a new dawn on a new day and I’m feeling good.
Mother Nature is a generous woman and her gifts, though simple, are restorative. I, however, am an errant son. Whilst I could excuse myself because I’ve been on the road, the truth is I have allowed myself to forget the beauty of her bounty.
Today I awoke, congested and hoarse after a fitful sleep. My body has been more brothel than temple of late and the regimen of fast food and strong coffee is taking its toll. Why does it need to get messy before I remember my mother’s love.
The bowl arrived steaming hot and with it came a plate of leaves, sprouts and herbs. The orange juice was freshly squeezed and the ice kept it cool in the morning heat. On a smaller plate was her first gift, limes. These were squeezed into both juice and broth. Then a touch too much garlic was added before the greenery was immersed into the noodles and everything was left for while.
Soon I will be home. Once I am there I can make some ginger tea. While it’s steeping I’ll freshen my living quarters with lavender oil and orange. I am home from my travels mother and it’s time to immerse myself in your beautiful, loving nature.
When I was younger, I was plagued with doubt. I did not seem to fit the mould and I thought that I ought to. I was different in so many ways.
The doubts started just before the end of primary school. I could sense that I was not as popular and it hurt. The happy carefree child that had laughed and danced through the early years started to feel self conscious. Things were about to get worse.
Big school started at eleven and so did the systematic bullying. The daily humiliation of the school playground took its toll. I stopped being me but the bullying continued. At sixteen I was suicidal and anxious and by eighteen I had surrendered my dreams and dropped out.
I often refer to my twenties as the lost years. I battled depression and failed. I bought a house and tried to fit into a suburban life that didn’t fit. As I approached thirty I lost my job and I felt worthless.
I met a woman on a plane. She was an English teacher and she reached out to me. The conversation with her didn’t change my life but it did help me turn a corner. Her positivity helped me see the hurdles I saw could be overcome.
I trained to be a teacher. I taught. I perfected my craft. I took risks in the classroom. I took risks outside of the classroom. I grew. I worked. I became less self conscious and more self aware.
Now I’m fifty one. I do not fit the mould and I ought not too. I am different in so many ways. In becoming me I have learnt that surviving is not living but it is important. I survived and now my life is on my terms.
So, if you are struggling, hurt, bullied or victimised please do not give up. We all have a place in life. The more unique your place is, the harder your struggle may be to get there. Breaking the mould isn’t easy but when you do, life can be anything you want it to be.
The steps are slippery. Wet season has drenched the mossy brick and the heat has not yet steam dried the path. The man’s caution is palpable as he slowly descends from the summit.
He has seen many things and his eyes are grateful for each step taken and each wonder tasted. Don’t mistake his caution for fear, he is a man who merely wishes not to slip on the path.
His smile is generous to those who pass him by. The younger fitter men who bounce through life with a confidence his body has never allowed, cause his emotions to mix. Every now and then a conversation stops him in his tracks and he pauses for a while.
Like his smile, his advice and opinions are freely given. He knows joy and is keen to share that knowledge. For some he is a gift, for others an irrelevance and for a few, an irritation. As a transmitter he has learnt his messages are received differently and after a while he will move on.
Knowing his limits, he chooses to test them gently and ensure the path moves forward with positivity and love. Every now then he slips but caution ensures the falls are few. The Asperger path isn’t easy but the beauty he has found along it has made the journey a life worth living.
There aren’t enough hours in the day. So many people busy themselves careering from one rushed appointment to the next. Lives seemed to be a jumbled clutter of snatched moments.
I live my life differently. I have hours to spare. My life is pared back, though like everyone else I work hard for a living. The difference is I have carved my me time in stone. I enjoy my own company and ensure I have an hour or two to myself each day. I need time to think, reflect and make decisions. That precious time can slow the whirring cogs of my mind a little and provide some respite.
I still meet my friends but I focus on quality time and engaging activities. I prefer to meet them one on one and, if they want to see me, it should be for coffee, dinner or a trip to a gallery. Hanging out just for that sake of it can make me irritable and tetchy, as some poor folk have found to their cost.
Despite my quirks I have a fair few friends. They are good and kind people who see beyond the superficial and love the person trapped by my hyperactive mind. I claim that my Aspergers does not affect my life but how do I know. I can’t separate myself from the constant machinations of my brain. Not everyone allocates their time the way I do. My life is lived differently.
There are enough hours in my day. However I spend my time wisely. If choose to spend some with you it will always be a decision well made.
When I teach, I learn. That’s what Seneca said some thousands of years ago. I used it in an essay at college, but it has stayed with me. This year what did I learn from those 80 or so faces that have sat in my classrooms. What did they teach me.
I suppose the most important message was that teaching should be friendly but it is never friendship. Like a parent, a teacher must be strong enough to make decisions that are not popular. This idea of doing what is right and not what is easiest helps to make a good teacher.
The next message I learnt is that the rich and privileged children I have taught this year are just children. If you ignore the Lexus and the Chanel slippers, you just have a child with needs and wants. A boiling cauldron of hormones and ideas that are not yet quite ready to ladled out into wider society. Children need guidance and help if they are to become the next generation.
Finally I learnt that I am not what I aspire to be. I can be as petty and impatient as my students. I teach bad lessons. I teach mediocre lessons. I learnt that even good teachers are not always good. They have flaws. However, I learnt to keep trying. I learnt to walk back in to rooms where the enthusiasm had died and try to reignite sparks. I built relationships. I sustained relationships, and in doing so, taught above, beyond and around the book.
I hope my students have learned something this year beyond some grammar and vocabulary . I have been taught resilience, acceptance and perseverance and for that, dear students, I am grateful.
The repetition is the hard part. You would have thought I would realise by now but that pattern hits me like an abstract every time.
I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m bemused. A clever little sausage like myself takes pride in his intellect. I can solve puzzles, identify trends and, ironically see the patterns where others see the chaos. It’s a gift.
But not within me. I am a riddle to myself. I have the enigma code embedded in my DNA and I cannot crack it. This means that time and again I am taken by surprise.
Once I got my diagnosis I thought everything would improve. I could solve myself, learn what was expected, and develop an algorithm for living life. I can’t.
People want me to lie. They want me to not point things out. They want a celebration of success that refuses to see the shortcomings. Well I am sorry. The emperor is naked and I can’t stand by and say nothing. On the Asperger Path we speak out and we are castigated for doing so. When bad policies were written, I would highlight the errors. When there were causes for concern, it was me who would speak up in the meetings.
There was nothing wrong with my work. My students were happy and my lessons were well crafted. I was popular with colleagues. I was thanked for my input.
I am not required next year. It was me that was the problem. That is the pattern I never see and I may never understand.
Time does not stand still. It marches along and we humans are the foot soldiers of progress as technology carves out a new era for this planet.
Yet here in Cambodia, life often seems untouched by time. That boat now has a motor but there’s nothing here to say modernity has struck. The rural life, where living just above subsistence is considered good, must be gruelling. The fishermen are whippet thin with dark sinewy bodies that know no fat.
Today my path took me through places where progress has stopped at electricity and the combustion engine. A landscape where men work hard and women work harder to raise children who will leave school too early to follow in their parents footsteps.
There may be dignity in poverty but there is no glamour. I marvel at the simplicity of the life, and yet I am thankful I am not trapped in its net like a fish gasping for the possibility of the wide ocean.
I know that inequality will always exist and when progress ravages this landscape it will not free the fishing families from poverty. It will merely shackle them more efficiently to a newer form of injustice.
I am just passing through and will travel onwards with my privilege intact. For I am truly a twenty first century citizen. My unfiltered pictures are placed on social media, and my friends gasp at the wonders I capture. However I see this world through the bluest of eyes and this inequality is a filter on my reality.
You only live once they say. YOLO says a generation who have not lived much as yet. I feel I have had many lives before this one. Each different, and each separated, so that my life is more like the different scenes of a play than a novel.
Dancing round the garden with a hole in my sock and my 99p sunglasses, I was a happy child who loved his mum. Bright yet wilful, I found it hard to settle at school and as I started to mature I realised that boys like me loved their mums because the world outside didn’t like fairies in the garden.
With my bleached hair covering half my face I declared to the no one that was listening my theory on music. The B52s were great and obviously Talking Heads were seminal. Grace was thrown in as reference to the cool indie gay I thought I was. He bore no resemblance to the plain fat boy staring at me in the mirror who dreamt of dance floors
Once I had a house with a gate and a privet hedge that required more attention than it got. I worked for the council and let out my spare room to meet the mortgage. I hated life and it seemed life hated me back. I was bored and realised, once again, that if you don’t fit you shouldn’t force it. I stopped going out and just stayed in.
Slovakia was an unexpected move. The grief of my early departed mother was set aside and I tried on some wings. I was no angel but sometimes I felt like a benevolent god in the classroom. I accepted life and being a foreigner, allowed myself to stand out from the crowd in so many ways.
Tired of London…
A decade in the capital was squandered in never ending round of parties and nightclubs. My career soared and so did my anxiety. Each promotion fuelling an ever more chaotic social life and an ever darker horizon. When I left London I moved to the quiet gravelled beaches of the east and walked myself into sanity. I found a sobriety and a calm in the flat landscape with large skies. I thought I’d never leave.
I sold it all. Everything I own can fit in a suitcase. I have nothing. I have no one. I have a freedom that makes me dizzy. My past is gone and here I am living in the moment. Inner calm has been hard won and I exercise my mind to exorcise its demons. The fairy has left the garden behind and dances on the world’s stage. Have I reincarnated myself until I have found nirvana or are there more short stories still to come.
As you like it
I run away from who I am or perhaps run towards the who I want to be. I have only had one life but my goodness I have played all the parts. All the world’s a stage, and even in Shakespeare’s day we were allowed to live multiple lives. So to the YOLO generation I say this – you just don’t know what’s coming next and that, for me is the greatest gift. Live life as you like it and if you don’t like it, change it until you do.