When I look inside myself I am constantly disappointed. I want to be a better person, so why do I fail? Surely at 51, I should be who I want to be.
I suppose I should contextualise this. I am not a bad person. I teach in secondary school and I am considered to be a fair teacher. I am not popular or cool, but I think most of my pupils view me as a kindly soul.
Outside of work I am not an axe murderer. I have a few good friends. I don’t steal, and I am as honest a man as you are ever likely to meet.
It is this honesty that is my downfall. Because it is combined with an analytical capability to finely dissect the events of the day, each day’s weaknesses are laid bare. My Aspergerian compassion is applied with its usual “could do better” assessment, so I judge myself, over and over again, as lacking.
Though I claim not to aspire to sainthood, I indulge in this mental flagellation over my inability to epitomise perfection. I have hurt myself over the years and at times, withdrawing to lick the wounds I try to keep hidden, have hurt those who tried to comfort me.
I don’t know if I can change. However this is my start. My biggest weakness is not that I don’t accept others, it is that I do not truly accept myself. If I say that out loud, perhaps it will scare me less. If I acknowledge it perhaps you will scare me less when you notice. If I am not scared perhaps I will allow you to help me.
I will never be perfect. I may never be a better person than I am now. Accepting that, however, might just make me a happier one.
Living in Phnom Penh has made a capitalist of this small town boy. Happier of late on my funny little path because I have realised that life in the big, bad city can be managed. I have put in a few kerb stones and carved out routes to make a personal village within the metropolis.
Limitations, like safety barriers, protect me from the harsher realities of the twenty-first century. What you might see as a padded cell I simply regard as well upholstered space. Cambodia can be chaotic and Phnom Penh is a city of violent change, where the extremities of life are laid bare. Wealth drives roughshod over the bones of the poor. I am both outsider and part of the status quo. I sip my iced coffee and observe the dirtiness of the everyday being transacted from my bespoke, gilded cage.
I am already supposed to be elsewhere and yet here I remain. Sane within the craziness and standing still in the constant traffic the Asperger Path is on a detour. The rolling stone is mossed. I have a home, a job and a somebody else to soften the urban loneliness of this brutal capitalisation.
He stepped into my private life and had a look around. I hadn’t invited him in and yet there he was. This sort of intrusion must be something I wordlessly offer, for this is not the first time I have been invaded.
I like good conversation. I like to dip my toe in muddy waters and ruminate about the endless possibilities and probabilities that life throws at us. The paths taken, and those forsaken, make good fodder for the random chats I so often have along the Asperger Path.
My public life is lived quite publicly. I am out there, on air and on line broadcasting to my meagre audience. My voice, loud as it may be, is lost in the curiously furious mumbling of the wide webbed world. The chaotic cacophony ensures a bizarrely public privacy. My wood would not be seen for the trees are forming a barrier of popularity I will never hurdle. Judgment is something different. When he judged me, asking why this pattern he has identified repeats, I retreated. His opinion, given as concrete fact, was dropped heavily on my toes and I naturally stepped back. My answer was stony but solid enough to build a wall. Be careful, dear reader for whilst my life is set out before you in the market place I choose what I hawk. What I write is public, but my feelings remain on my side of the counter. Stay if you want or leave, but spare my dipped toes the weight of a crushing opinion.
I try so hard. I fail. I try and fail and try again. Between me and who I want to be is a lack of loving kindness. I exercise it and yet my anger remains. So here is my apology.
Yesterday I fell. Not metaphorically but literally. Getting out of a boat that just beached itself proved too much. Getting in, I had explained I have mobility problems and was kindly helped from the jetty into the boat. On arrival I was left to my own devices. No ladder to aid me and my wonky imperfect body, and despite asking for help my language skills were not enough to secure it. The fall was spectacular and the pain intense.
After falling I had to get back on the boat. Islands can be tricky like that. For this, a ladder was found and after some delays I headed back with no smile on my face and no thank you uttered.
Once on dry land I was told politely that everything was my fault. I should have understood that at my age and with my disability I shouldn’t have got on the boat. My anger flared and I was left hurt and hurting to make my way back to the hotel.
Loving kindness and gratitude are so easy to demonstrate when all is going right. What I need to learn is how to maintain it when things go wrong.
I am safe. My injuries are superficial. I am not on an island. For these things I should have be grateful yesterday. My anger achieved nothing except causing hurt and pain to myself and others.
I try and fail and try again, no matter how painful the lesson.
It was the sort of café one ends up in. A place that no one would choose, where time is wasted before something better happens. They were sitting at a table, four Europeans, with unloved luggage left carelessly on the forlorn terrace.
Smoking heavily, they must have been travellers on their way to the next awesome experience. Shorts that mismatched t shirts hinted at uniformly alternative new age leanings Long gaps in their millennial conversation were adequately plugged by the WiFi that comes free with the mediocre coffee.
It was fifteen minutes before I noticed her. A girl of no more than five years, who must have spent more moments than just these unwanted. She came from nowhere and talked to the group but no one seemed able to look up from the internet to respond. One or more of these slightly grubby people must have been her parent. A small blonde girl with blue eyes was bored in Asia and no one seemed concerned. So conspicuous and yet unacknowledged by those who have a duty of care.
Cigarettes were finished and butts were squashed underfoot. Backpacks were swung into position and the four travellers were ready to depart. The girl’s hand was taken wordlessly as if she were just excess baggage and off they set, towards the next adventure.
What untold want do you have, little voyager, whose parents have set sail to seek and find? What memories of childhood will you create? How must it feel to be incarcerated on the backpack trail of someone else’s escape?
The way I do things not my fault. Or is it? I should know by now, surely, that when they ask me what I think, they don’t mean it.
So I have given my view bluntly and with the full force of my honesty. Tomorrow I must revisit the scene of the criminal faux pas, because another day another dollar is my mantra. My manager may or may not hate me. My colleagues might not think I’m weird. However, previous experience tells me that, after three months, the Asperger is beginning to crack through the thin normality I have endeavoured to veneer on myself.
It doesn’t matter if I fit or not, really. I feel like a misfit and I can create an awkwardness from thin air. Once it’s there I wrap myself in it like a safety blanket of bee stings. Being stung I retreat and my cycle pedals furiously into its inevitable descent.
Soon, I will pack my bags. The runner who can’t face the unsure and yet dives headfirst into the unknown will lurch into another incarnation. A new me, contrite and certain that I can hold back, will set forth with an all too temporary trepidation.
If only I could say nothing, how different my life would be. How few opportunities I would have needed. How few avenues I would have ventured down. How few mes I would have needed to create.
My life is my fault. My faults are my life. I should know by now, surely, that the Asperger Path is just the way I do things.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost invisible. The world is transacting around me and I am there, in my bubble, untouched by the commerce of life.
Get your friendships here. How about a lovely bit of bonding. Who fancies a nice little chat. They buy and sell their time, love and care like market traders but I never quite feel that the offer is aimed at me.
Here in Cambodia, I am used to not understanding. My life is lived in one language, while daily life is transacted all around me in another. The protocols and customs are based in a culture that I understand only superficially. I know that I miss messages and mix messages. Yet, my life has always felt as if I am somehow apart from culture rather than a part of it. The lonely otherness of the traveller is second nature on the Asperger Path.
I enjoy the market place. The overload to the senses is a shock but life, even observed from a bubble, is marvellous in its mess. So I will buy my bits and pieces and play my role. I’ll take a small smile and a bunch of happy being me, please.
I lose myself sometimes. Within that loss I find another me. Forgetting all my traits, I just exist. The bubble is takes me high and then, pop, the euphoria dissipates and I am my real self again.
But oh, those moments lost in music. The rhythm takes me gently before I take the rhythm and we counterpoint on the floor. The music mutates in my head and my body expresses itself without thought.
I feel a smile on my face and it spreads like the sweat on the back of my shirt. Delirious, I care about neither, I just want to consume the music and expel the joy that is swelling inside me. I am alone among a thousand people. Unaware, I dance for and by myself.
An hour can pass or sometimes two before the magic is lost. A different beat brings a sudden reawakening of my self consciousness and I am left, old and sweating. The man who lost himself suddenly finds himself surrounded and the jarring lights of reality are an unwelcome illumination of the scene.
Reality is where I live and I am mired in it, but isn’t he also real. That man who syncopates the floor with his feet and draws heaven to the earth with his arms is not a fantasy. He is just ecstatically lost, lost in the music, lost in his mind and found in the moment.
Live everyday as if it’s your last.
How irresponsible would that be. I am not going to die tomorrow so I’ll make sure I’ve got food, a roof over my head and clean underwear. It’s good not to over plan and we all need to roll with punches, but I hope there are thousands of days between this day and my last.
Live everyday as if it’s important.
Meh. There are the occasional sofa days and duvet days. Don’t let rainy days and Mondays bring you down because they happen with alarming frequency. The ups and downs of being human are not circadian but life repeats and life revisits. Live your life as if you are important. Allow yourself the down times so that when you soar you are truly astounding.
You only live once.
Hell yes. We are born and we die. In between we lead may lives and are many people. I am a friend, lover, teacher, writer, traveller and survivor. My current incarnation is the result of many creations and much destruction. I am an architect and I will continue to strive to be as well constructed as I can be. If today is my last day, I spent it well. It was just an ordinary day, full of living the great and the small.
Travellers on a journey we have happily coincided. This Emerald City is where we three live and teach. We were talking about Aspergers in the classroom, but my colleagues were unaware that I am the Tin Man. Thinking my knowledge was purely professional, the questions came flooding out. Questions reveal so much more than answers.
Do you think he knows he is different? Is he aware how others see him? Why can’t he adapt? Why does he look so sad?
Each question was given to me to answer. Such difficult heartbreaking questions to hear because each was so personal and yet I couldn’t say it. Why couldn’t I tell them? I guess because I fear their observation. I choose to remain a colleague.
I know I am different, but I forget until it slaps me in the face. I am unaware of how others see me. In fact most of the time I assume that they don’t see me. When they do, it usually another slap. I do adapt. I live in the world and I pass for almost normal in almost all situations. The sadness you see is when the world treats me badly. Sometimes it comes crowding into my carefully constructed spaces. It judges and points fingers in my face.
Those questions flooded me. The third person was not a barrier thick enough to deflect them. They told me how “other” I might be labelled. Until I’m brave enough to say I am like him, people will see us as not them. Aspergers might make me feel like a tin man, but sometimes I am just a cowardly lion.