You have to love Diana Ross. Well, I guess you don’t have to but I do. She was with me at breakfast this morning and asked if I knew where I was going to. Hell no as Oprah Winfrey replied in the film version of The Color Purple. Luckily, not being black or southern, I did not receive a beating for my strident response. Diana just went on, almost as if she hadn’t heard, to ask if I liked the things that life is showing me. This time my answer was a life affirmating smile that wasn’t covered by hand but shared with the morning muesli.
I am starting to believe that life is a gift. Like all the other gifts and talents I possess, it benefits from a bit of practice and honing. I am just past fifty and feeling fabulous. I have created a life that, right now, plays a rather gentle hand. My skill sets and strengths have been carefully balanced with my, let’s call them, eccentricities, and life is being lived in a contented manner. I have a home far from home and I have found friends far from friends. There have been a few hairy moments over the years but my diploma from the school of hard knocks looks dusty in the bright sunshine of easy street.
Diana might be worried about my lack of destination but this life is easing on down the road. On my slow journey away from Oz I seem to have found myself a rather comfortable window seat. My name is not Dorothy and I will not surrender. I am somewhere, over my rainbow, living my spectrum disordered life one day at time.
Do I like the things that life is showing me? Hell, yes Diana! Hell yes.
When I was young I never really knew what I wanted to be. I was a good all rounder academically so I was not encouraged to make any decisions. People told me I should keep my options open and not specialise to early. I never committed to anything and, as I have made my way through life, I never really have.
So here I am. At fifty I am still drifting through life and wondering what and where is next. I fell into teaching more than twenty years ago. It was more about escaping the drudgery of life at the town hall than finding a vocation. I now appear to happily richochet between the two, though teaching is my preferred choice.
My current incarnation, a teacher of English in Cambodia, is going rather well. I am enjoying the challenges and there are plenty of them. My current path has taken down some very new and different teaching avenues and might almost tempt me to stay a while. I have already been here six months and it’s starting to feel like home but then there are so many other countries and they are so close.
I am a restless soul. I roll and I drift and I don’t gather moss because I can’t keep still. Some researchers say that ADHD and Aspergers are closely linked. I don’t know if it’s true but certainly I can switch my focus from one thing to another fairly easily. It’s what I do best. After all I am a good all rounder. It seems a bit daft to settle down to something at this point. So I will continue along my rather chaotic Asperger Path, passport in hand, and no doubt find some activities that will divert my attention. The only deficit I can see is the judgmental way society labels and classifies its dazzling differences and distinct diversities.
Everything is relative. Am I rich or am I poor? Maybe I am both and it depends on how you view my position.
So if everything is relative does truth become less absolute and honesty then a much more subjective concept. Perhaps the problem lies within relativity itself. If you look at something in relation to something else you are, fundamentally, making a comparison. You are trying to fit something into a bigger framework where things can be judged as being within or outside of parameters. You can calculate a standard deviation from the norm and label and classify.
I don’t so much mind my wealth being measured. My emotions however are something else. I view myself as a happy fellow. I live my rather unremarkable life with pockets of joy which I find, for me, in quite the most expected of places. A random chat with a stranger or a piece of music can lift my mood. The brilliance of the dawn or dramatic descent of the sun can captivate me and leave me feeling awestruck at the grandeur of the natural world.
So I must admit that I don’t really like relativity. I have found my happiness and I hope that you find yours. My happiness isn’t greater or better it’s just different. I hope only that my happiness is not at the expense of yours. This is my truth and this is my honesty. Is it relative or absolute? Maybe it’s both and it depends on how you view my position.
I lead a very small life. I get up and go about my business and to most I am an unknown. I am a nameless stranger on the streets of a city whose language I cannot read or speak.
Yet, everyday I feel welcomed. When shopping, the generosity of a smile, when I struggle to communicate, calms me down. The old ladies of the market laugh at me but I can see the kindly twinkle in their eyes as I stumble through buying my vegetables. The toddlers, standing on the footplate of their parents’ scooter even shout hello as they go past. So I may be unknown but I’m not unnoticed. As a foreigner, a barang, I stand out. I am tall, even by British standards, so here in Cambodia I feel as if I’ve come down a bean stalk. I sail around the town on a big old fashioned bike, having eschewed the ubiquitous motorbike, gathering smiles.
In my small life, these seemingly meaningless interactions are anything but. Each one contributes to a sense of happiness. Here in Cambodia people are shy but they are not wary. Having come from Europe where the single adult male is shunned as potential stranger danger it is lovely to receive happy waves and carefree waves and hear parents encouraging their children to say hello.
I will never change the world and I have no aspiration to do so. Nor will many of the people I see every day. However, a cheery hello or an open smile can change someone’s day. I know this because the good people of Battambang share their small city and their kind, friendly nature with me, making my small life a happier one.
I met a man the other day who blew away the cobwebs that had gathered in forgotten corners of my mind. Through his conversation he gently reminded me of lost passions and interests that have lain, unvoiced, in the hinterland of my consciousness. He was travelling at light speed through South East Asia. However this cosmic hare paused for breath before zipping past me, the earth-bound sluggish tortoise.
We talked of things from home mostly. A trip back to the familiar which was less memory lane than a base touch with my own culture. The politics of the left and the left out was discussed over one too many beers and the world unable to righted was dispaired over. We shifted our focus to love and relationships and discovered much in common. We both believed in the openness and flexibility of love. Seemingly polar opposites, the more we discussed the broader out common ground became.
When he left I knew that I would never see him again. I wish he were a tortoise because I could have travelled and talked with him forever. How easy life would be but I don’t fall in love with tortoises. I fall in love with hares and so I wake up with spiders rebuilding their homes in forgotten corners.
It came through post and there it was in bold black type on white, official headed paper. I am different. I have always struggled with relationships and rubbed people up the wrong way and now I know why. Asperger’s syndrome can be frustrating to an onlooker. A good friend told me I shouldn’t worry about my diagnosis and that I was over analysing it. I explained, in far too much detail, that worry and analysis are how I am wired and they help to create a hard concrete logic that underpins my life. I could see her patience starting to ebb as she suggested that knowing this, meant I could change it. I changed the subject instead but it left me thinking. Life nearly always leaves me thinking.
When it comes to mental well being there’s a deficit model that seems to focus on what people lack. I understand that. It’s the same model my logical brain applies too. However we need to think about the positives of neurodiversity. I think I manage my Asperger’s syndrome quite well. Some people don’t notice it at all. It’s part of my design
and it’s all the good and wonderful things that I am. It is what makes me a writer and a poet. It is what makes me, me. There is a stark architectural brutality to my mind that some people think is hard and ugly. Some people are quaint country cottages with roses round the door. Others are smart Regency terraces with geraniums artfully tumbling from window boxes. My inner life may have a jarring, angular modernity but my clean asymmetric, concrete lines don’t lack roses or geraniums. I’m just a different type of beautiful.
In Britain, 1977 was The Queen’s Silver Jubilee. There were street parties, lots of red white and blue and every pupil in my primary school got a commemorative mug. Society was changing and Britain was emerging from a recession and would soon dive into another. There were punks on the television with black leather jackets and brightly coloured hair. The dissatifaction they represented was lost on this happy child. Ironically the death of disco coincided with my mother noticing that her younger son was more a sexolette than a sex pistol. I certainly liked to get dancin’ in the garden in my 99p aviator sunglasses. Such happy, long, summer days when I was old enough to be somebody but young enough not worry what that might mean. I danced like no-one was watching and my mother hoped if they were that they weren’t noticing. It was my last summer of innocence.
The storm clouds of puberty were gathering and whilst my hormones didn’t rage too much, some my peers were getting angry. By 1978, I was aware that having hair that looked like an outraged chrysantheum was an anecdote best not shared and that junior school’s eccentricities were big school’s weaknesses. I was the boy who was different and people were not afraid to show me how much they valued conformity. My mum, who liked punks more than The Queen, let me be myself. She supported the outlandish haircuts, the asymmetric earrings and the fashion disasters. She had enough punk spirit to allow her germ free adolescent the freedom to become a happy, well adjusted dancing queen .