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.
It’s quite a feat. I have been in the same job for 6 months. Three months from now I will have completed my contract. Then, finally, it will be time to move on.
When I arrived in Cambodia I ricocheted like a pinball. I had lost any faith in myself to settle. Even in the ever changing world of English teaching in Asia, I was a wild card. I changed towns three times in two months and had three jobs in the first six months.
Here I am now. Hitting society’s success criteria with my steady job and home in the heart of chaotic Cambodia. Externally it’s all great.
I sold my freedom for the price of the filthy dollar. My job means long hours in the sedentary prison of the staff room. My blood pressure is up because the nine hour days make healthy choices more difficult. I exercise little and, once home, I have no will to head back into the hot crowded streets to forage for what’s left at the closing markets. This cat is getting too fat.
Success is a double edge sword. Society’s approval has come at the cost of my health and, more sadly, my inner contentment. I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of depression. I look at my escape which is a pinhole at the end of a long and dark tunnel.
June can’t come to soon. My feet are itching to roam. So I will say goodbye to success and achievement and return to the Asperger path. Seemingly purposeless, it will meander until I find a place to rest and recuperate.
It’s been quite a feat, but these feet long for some walking boots and a distant horizon. I am the wild card and taming my game has come at quite a price.
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.
My Aspergers is with me always. Everywhere I go, it goes. My life is filtered through a disordered prism.
When the awkwardness hits, or relationships feel dry and unoiled, I know my Aspergers has raised its head again. I analyse what went wrong and pore over the details. I feel like a crazy, eccentric scientist because I know what I seek is simple, and yet it eludes me. My Aspergers is a source of frustration. When you know you have a flat tyre, the road still feels just as bumpy. Knowledge is good but knowledge is not the same as a solution.
But there are days when my Aspergers is almost invisible. These are the good days when I feel that I am just like everyone else. Life ticks over and Aspergers gets no credit.
Yet surely my Aspergers contributes as much to my success as my failure. My brain is still wired differently when I am being brilliant at work, funny at dinner, or helpful to a friend. It solves problems, creates solutions and makes my life, quite frankly, awesome.
I live with my Aspergers every day. All that is good about me is filtered through the same disordered prism. I am the rainbow and my life is lived on the spectrum. It’s beautiful and colourful here. Like everyone, I have good days and bad days, but every day I travel with my Aspergers.
I have talked so much about changing, I don’t think I actually noticed it happening. Yet, last night, I left a bar early, and sober, and with the same man that I had arrived with. There was a time when that didn’t happen.
For some years now, I have argued that there has been precious little temptation in my path, and that has been what’s kept me on the ‘straight’ and narrow. I can’t claim that here, for I now reside in dirty Phnom Penh with its edgy nightlife and minimal regulation. In the big bright lights and small dark bars, alcoholic ex pats mingle with drug dealing locals to produce a nightlife where everything is available, and everyone has a price.
I don’t know if I am growing up or growing old. In fictional 70s San Francisco, Armistead Maupin’s character, Mona had a law that stated “you can have a hot job, a hot apartment and a hot lover but you can’t have all three at the same time.” I don’t know if mine would qualify as “hot” but I like what I have. I hope Mona’s more content these days too.
At fifty, I am coming into my own. Because I am happy in my skin, my glass is far more than half full. So, if you think you need to change, change. Life should be an amazing place in which to live. If yours isn’t currently, then find the source of your discontentment and resolve it. We live long lives even if we only live then once. Don’t live it in misery, for happiness can be found everywhere, even in dirty Phnom Penh.
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.
I travel alone. Perhaps we all do. The universe surrounds us but we are here locked inside our sensory, sense making brain. We see, hear,smell, taste and touch the world. However what I am sensing is totally unique and bears no relation to the sensations my neighbour creates.
I travel alone. I am not frightened of my own company. I amuse myself and confuse myself and can even look myself in the eye. An able contortionist, I can pat myself on the back though the need doesn’t arrive too often. I am my own best friend and yet I am not hermetically sealed.
I travel alone. I have left you behind, I haven’t yet met you or maybe our paths will never cross. I have stopped wanting to be an us and I have allowed myself to be me. I will not be lost in the world of compromise where everybody goes somewhere that nobody truly wanted to see.
I travel alone because I am not the centre of my universe. I travel like the stars, a pattern in my path that I have not designed and a rhythm in my life that makes me part of something greater than myself.
I travel alone and yet I am not alone. I both am and am not. I travel alone and in doing so create hundreds and thousands of micro relationships. Each is real and unique and has the potential to generate energy and change. My energy is diffused and suffused into the world and I receive power from all around me. I am a fraction of so many wholes and I am a million beautiful fragments of the people who have touched my life.
I travel alone with the universe
So I woke up this morning thinking I would not see the more isolated temples I had read about. I was not too upset. The large, and largely overlooked Angkorian Temple at Banteay Chhmar had been a super treat. The homestay property, a wooden house up on stilts, had allowed me a window into daily country living and the roosters’ dawn chorus had ensured an early start to my journey home.
Then all of a sudden everything was possible. There was a driver who could take me, so off we set. Thankfully, I had already found some pork and rice and this, along with an iced coffee, meant I was ready to head even further off the beaten track.
Cambodia is so flat with only the odd rocky outcrop, a Phnom, passing for a mountain dotted here and there. However along its borders are real hills. So with eyes fixed forward,I passed through lush vibrant green paddies, knowing that the horizon was my goal.
Our first stop was Prasat Ta Moan. The driver happily told me as we pulled up that the last kilometre was too steep for his car. Thankfully it was only eight and the road was shady. At the top, the army halted me in my tracks and for twenty minutes I sat looking at a rack of automatic weapons while the soldiers drank beer and smiled. Once deemed open, I was allowed to travel the last twenty metres through the trees. The temple was beautifully serene, and being the first visitor I shared it only with the Thai and Khmer soldiers both of whom guard this disputed land.
Stop two was a drive east with the hills on one side and the pancake landscape on the other. At Ta Krabei I got a military escort, though he would have preferred to have watched the boxing on the TV. He walked me twenty metres through the woods and posed happily for pictures. A different temple, smaller but more intact then my first stop.
I, the eternal planner, have jumped from one unplanned activity to another these last two days. My driver dropped me in Sisophon and I was offered an onward journey back to home at a very good price but it was ‘go now go now’. So now I’m sitting in a share taxi with three Cambodians and a rather lively rooster. All in all, this unplanned weekend has been quite a little adventure.
But you seem so normal. I smile because I’ve heard that one before. I know myself and I know what can be found inside and what can not. Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I fear that I am not a real boy.
The superficial is my home. It’s where I excel. I have a veneer to hides my flaws beneath. So in the first few hours, I can seem charming. I am both interested and interesting. It’s when things go deeper that they go wrong.
People have so many expectations. Friendships and relationships are supposed travel some mysterious path that I have rarely managed to navigate. I fail. There is something that I am not providing. I think it might be me.
I feel an emptiness inside because I give all I have and it isn’t enough. My honesty and happiness are not what was being sought and when I see the pain caused, I take it and inflict it on myself. The hurt feeds the sense of emptiness within and fear hardens the shell.
Am I just a veneer with no substance, or perhaps my depths are now so deeply hidden that they have been lost? Please, tell me I am not Pinocchio. I want to be a real boy.