Her blue jacket is beautifully graphic and I lose myself for a moment. The lines of white and grey intersect, forming squares within endless squares to consider and reconsider. Her face, though equally lined, is softer, less mathematical. It’s human. Life has been witnessed, lived and ultimately survived with a quiet dignity.
Having dismounted from an ancient bike, which is possibly older her, she passes through the early morning coffee drinkers. Each is addressed with a low, gentle voice and an open smile. Few refuse this woman, for her poise and grace starkly highlight that life can be far from fair.
Finally, she comes to me. Her smile becomes a soft chuckle and there is an impish, mischievous glint in her eyes. Unlike her back, her spirit is unbowed. She offers me her lottery tickets, fanned out for my perusal. We both know I don’t really understand what she is selling and that I don’t speak the language. However, she chooses to include me in her day and as she looks directly into my eyes I see the kindness of one who has known what it means to be left out.
She remounts her bicycle and cycles away but she has left me behind, knowing that happiness isn’t found in a winning ticket.
We all see the world differently. Perspectives can change with time and place. However difference can unite us or divide us. It is up to us to decide on that.
I am a gay. That makes me somehow different. In my life, that difference has been the source of intense hatred from some and touchingly profound love from others. Being outside, my brothers and sisters showed me what solidarity can look like. Being outside, sometimes I really needed them. My family never cast me out and indeed, love and acceptance has been more of a motif than hate.
Hate is strong though. The power of seemingly isolated incidents can butterfly effect into a tsunami that crushes self esteem and inhibits self expression. I remember so many of the acts of hate, so vividly. Why then can’t I recall the individual kindnesses with the same focus too.
I am going to change my perspective. Acts of love need to be marked and gratitude needs to be both registered within and expressed without. I am surrounded by love, not hate, and the bubble I float in should not be popped by the occasional small prick.
From today I will see the world differently.
We need to smile more. Happiness is everything and yet it seems so rarely mentioned. The trappings of success are cars and houses, boats and planes, trophy wives and empty lives that are full of material things. Corporate lives and corporate jobs may be good for some but I have chosen a different path.
I am not the happiest man alive. I have days that are good and days that are bad. However, the underlying feeling I have in my life is contentment. Life isn’t meant to be lived in constant euphoria and I still have my full range of emotion.
Having Aspergers brings anxiety and worries, but I live with those and accept them as part of who I am. Aspergers also brings many gifts and these are also a factor in the joy I find in life. The Asperger Path, this blog, is a great source of contentment but my writing also allows me to explore and share my perspective on life.
Happiness, this last few years, has been something I have practiced, and I feel I can find it more and more within me. Taking time to think about how lucky I am and the good people I come across helps to remind me that life places wonders all around us.
Recently I lost my wallet. For ten minutes I berated myself and ridiculed my stupidity. Then I stopped. I had lost ten dollars and it didn’t matter. I would still have food on the table and a bed. I looked around and realised that my wallet would most likely be found by someone more in need than me. I felt happy that some person could benefit from the situation.
Every situation is an opportunity. Our lives are amazing if we start looking for happiness. So next time you feel you aren’t successful, look inside and find the many things you can be grateful for and a happy smile will soon be on your face.
Once upon a time there was a man who was happy. He was a humble man who didn’t do much, but as he went through life he sang and smiled at the people he passed by. He had his place in the world and he never stopped to think.
One day he was accosted by an angry woman. “When you smile,” she said, “you only see your own happiness from inside . Why don’t you think about other people.” The happy man stopped and he thought. It was true. All his life he had been so happy and he had never wondered about anyone else. He just sang and smiled at people even if they were feeling sad. He looked around and he saw all the sadness in the world and his smile disappeared. He felt terrible inside because he had never noticed the pain of life around him. Now he had seen it, he could feel it, and he was sad too.
A few days later he was stopped in the street again. “Where is your smile?” the stranger asked. “I see you everyday as you go about your business and your smile makes my heart sing.” The once happy and now sad man recounted the tale of the woman he had met a few days earlier. “That woman was a witch.” the stranger exclaimed. “You give so many people a little happiness with your smile. You are not a bad person just because you have so much joy in your heart that you cannot hide it on your face.”
The once happy now sad man stopped to think again. He knew there was happiness inside him and he decided to let it out. “If other people are unhappy,” he thought, “maybe my smile and my songs will make them happier. Being unhappy too doesn’t seem to help.”
So the once happy, then sad but now happy again man lived on in his own happy world. He walked along with a smile and song, not doing much except giving out happiness to anyone who wanted it. The world was a happier place because he was in it.
In the pouring rain, a boy stands. His t shirt is pulled up over his head. He watches the traffic speed by. My twenty first century existence is locked inside the bus as I travel distances that would make saucers of his dark eyes.
His feet, clad only in flip flops seem unaware of the puddle in which they stand as he waits to cross the national highway. In his hand, that has never held a smart phone, he holds a chain as beside him, equally patient and equally wet, stands a huge water buffalo.
I wonder if that’s his daily task, the safe passage of the buffalo from sodden paddy to equally submerged garden. The house opposite, tin roofed and up on stilts, is more a room than house, but there’s something in his stance that says it’s a happy home. Life, like rain, is what it is. The life in rural Cambodia has a simplicity I cannot imagine.
The land is flat and the wet season is far from over. Perhaps I should find a puddle and stand patiently in the rain until I can accept my life as it is and allow the lives of strangers to pass me by, unnoticed and unimportant.
My life has changed. I was once afraid of someone. They cast a shadow over me, and I could see no escape. I tried to run but no matter where I went, they were just behind me. I was haunted. My self esteem was battered and I sought validation from anyone and everyone. I was desperately seeking a seal of approval in the hope that it might chase the shadow away.
One day I stopped running. I sat down and waited. I faced my fears, and I braced myself for whatever might happen. The truth he gave me was not anywhere near as bad as I was expecting. This man I had tried to evade was strong but he wasn't unreasonable. His demands were fairly simple and I agreed to them.
Now I am my own man. I am in my skin and so happy to be there. I am riddled with faults, yet I am beautiful. I will never be perfect, but I try everyday to be a better person, and, sometimes, I succeed.
The man I had been running away from was myself. So many years I hid who I was, not just from the world, but from me. I was scared of what people would think of this. However, this is who I am. Every piece of grit and glitter, every obstacle I have overcome has made me unique. You can thrust labels on me and goodness knows I like a label. Spastic, Camp, or Aspergers are all worn like Chanel for I am as strong as an ox, as cool as cucumber, and as crazy as a coconut. I no longer worry about what anyone thinks because I have found the key to my happiness is just being me.
Life is full of simple pleasures. I rediscovered one recently and I am loving the manifold delights it's bringing me.
I have always been a walker. From a very young age I would happily pound the paths of Wiltshire with my parents and explore the rolling hills and forests that surrounded the town I grew up in.
A few years ago, having moved from London to Suffolk, I decided to build walking into my healthy mind, healthy body mantra and I fell in love with Suffolk in general and the River Deben in particular. Bleak and beautiful, serene and scary, this tidal river with its constant ebb and flow was both the heart and border of Woodbridge.
Then a year ago I deserted my homeland and I ran away. Sydney was a revelation. Stunning National Parks fringe the city and the bus and train network opened up a plethora of opportunities. As I travelled Australia I realised that every town boasted great opportunities to get out and get my stride on.
Then in 2017 I landed in Cambodia and it all came to a halt. Searing heat and the traffic chaos of Phnom Penh meant there was precious little opportunity for a relaxing, life-affirming stroll. I knew I wouldn't last in the capital and in February I took a job in Battambang.
There are frangipani trees everywhere,here, and there's a magnificent muddy river that bisects the city. On both sides of the river there are shaded paths but the heat meant I never took advantage of the amenities.
Last week a look in the mirror horrified me and I decided to make a change. Now, when I wake at five, instead of bemoaning my fate and lolling like a beached whale till 8, I jump up and I am out the door. I drink a litre of fluids, brush my teeth and I'm gone. Early sunrises, other exercisers and a multitude of birds bring a smile to my face as walk up and down the banks of the River Sangker in the relative cool of the Khmer dawn.
I feel better. I look better. I get more done every day. Life has become a happier place to dwell. All of this I get from going for a walk. I try to do my 10,000 steps because on the Asperger Path we like a target but if I don't, I don't sweat it. I've already done my sweating for the day.
A year ago, with the ink still drying on my autism diagnosis, I waved goodbye to the ugly face of blatant, corporate discrimination. Someone had decided I didn't fit and my professional life became a living hell. I was good at my job and wanted to continue there. I was assured that obtaining this diagnosis would ease the situation and protect me. It did not. After fighting and losing the battle to keep my job, I gave up. I gave up the round hole life I had been living.
I am no stranger to starting again. I have had to do it before. I was once a teacher, possibly a good one. However, I battled homophobia every day in the classrooms and the corridors of London. After a few incidents outside of school too, I decided I couldn't take any more. I lost that fight but preserved my sanity. Years before that, I lost my job in a local authority up north. My boss decided I didn't fit in. She made it clear that she could find no fault with my work. It was me that was a problem. I was a square peg.
I may lose jobs but I am not a loser. Life can be unkind because I am a gay man with cerebral palsy and Asperger's Syndrome. However hidden beneath the labels and the isms, I am just another human being. I may not fit in but that is because I no longer choose to. I am a lover of life and a seeker of happiness. I am a pacifist but will go bare knuckle to fight my corner.
That life I love is now the Asperger Path. Since I set off a year ago I have seen and done things I never thought I'd do. I am travelling very slowly and stopping to look at life along the way. I am exploring whatever I choose. Writing is one way I explore the world. It has become very important to me and I make time to write every day. My thoughts and my poetry will never change the universe, but they are changing my perception of the world and my place in it. It's my way of squaring the circle.
I took a walk along the river today. I wandered down under the shady trees and crossed over on the bridge that usually takes me to work on my bicycle. I stopped for a bite to eat with the barbecue pork lady before heading north. So many times I have walked passed the pagoda there, meaning to stop, but somehow I never find the time.
Today I found I had time to spare. My tummy was full of rice and I was feeling in the mood for a meander. For me the temple itself was not the main attraction though it is undeniably beautiful. It is surrounded by other buildings as most temples are in Cambodia, but in Battambang the architecture always seems just a little more special.
I wandered about and took a few snaps and then headed north along the eastern river bank. It was a cool morning and it’s been a while since I just went for a walk. Up to the bridge that takes Highway Number 5 over the muddy brown Sangker river. I wandered up to the ferry terminal and found myself a coconut to satisfy a niggling thirst then abandoned the river for the frangipani shaded walk east.
My last leg reminded me that this seemingly sleepy city is in fact the second largest town in Cambodia. After my dreamy walk where I felt quite alone with my thoughts I turned south and soon was in the happy midst of daily Khmer life. Psar Boeung Chhouk teems with people. The Psar Nath may be the landmark market hall but Boeung Chhouk market is were people come to shop in droves.
Four months I have lived in this city. It still fills me with wonder, charms me senseless and brings a smile to my face. Sok Sabay I say to almost everyone I meet. Peace and happiness is easy to find in Battambang.
It seemed a little cooler today so I thought I’d wear a really nice shirt. I have always been a bit particular clothes wise. It’s a tad thicker than my normal shirts but the temperature is only 32 degrees (that’s 90 in Fahrenheit). What a silly mistake.
So I get to work and I can feel my back. Can you feel a glisten. I can. The beading crescendos until I can sense the tsunami between my shoulder blades. As I cool, I continue to be a one man sprinkler system with no fire to extinguish. The overall effect, I was hoping for a post modern, post colonial elegance, has been washed away and I look like a sweaty foreigner who isn’t coping with the heat.
My students are kind. They won’t notice. Actually they can’t not notice, but they won’t comment. Soon I will be safely in the air conditioned temple of my classroom. As I explain the rather formulaic approach we are taking to paragraph construction I will become both drier and less self conscious.
So who do I dress for if no one really cares. I dress for me. I shave and shower and trim my beard because I am not just a teacher or a foreigner. I am in the poet autist, and although I walk a solitary Asperger Path it’s important to remember who I am. I have always been a bit particular and a good shirt is worth a little discomfort.