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.
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.
Is anyone ever really on your side. I wanted someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and they did not. They took a position removed from my own. They were not diametrically opposed but they I didn’t feel that they had my back.
In this world we are all alone. At any time the sensations we experience are processed separately and each of us had a unique perception of the world around them. Sharing is at best a compromise of ideas and at worst a complete subjugation of the self. I have known for a long time that we all die alone but it is living alone with everyone else that is slowly killing me.
I’m not talking about solitude. That lovely place is where I am right now, alone with my thoughts and lost in the most beautiful place I have ever been, the inside of my own mind. It’s the feeling of being alone that others bring with them and unpack as thoughtlessly as some tuna sandwiches on a plate at summer picnic. People laugh and smile and every foray into the light soufflé of society leaves me pancake flat as if there is no air in those cheerful places. The hail-fellow-well-met brigade offer a hearty superficiality that is not concrete enough to lean on.
I want someone on my side. Someone who thinks I am great and supports me with unconditional love. They need to travel with me on the Asperger Path and hold my hand.
Given that it cannot be anyone else I will learn to love myself. Now where is that Whitney Houston CD?
I am always out and about, I mingle and chatter and socialise my way through the day. Every morning I go out and drink a coffee and engage in the social niceties of everyday life. I might go to the market and pick up a few bits and bobs or maybe to the “drink shop” which sells a selection of western food. Then after a quick change into my working clothes I change roles and stand in front of a wild hoard of grade one pupils and attempt to teach for three hours. After work I sometimes have a beer with a colleague or head off to the night market for some noodles. I lead a fairly easy life.
Yesterday I had a day off. I took a day off from everything. I reclused. I pottered around my tiny flat and did not venture forth into the world. A chance to recharge the batteries and have a little down time. I like people a lot but they tire me out. On The Asperger Path I try very hard to be outgoing and interested in the world around me. The social skills I possess are well honed and subtly employed but they are still learnt tools and coping mechanisms. I am not naturally interested in people and in my head I file facts about people so I can remember pertinent questions to ask. This man has a daughter and that woman has started a new job. I follow up on the information I have. I play my role but I need those cue cards
Yesterday I talked to nobody. I had a day off from trying to fit in. Some time spent away from other people expectations. There is no loneliness in soltitude for me. I only feel isolation in a crowd. I read messages badly and the unspoken rules trip me up. When I do say something wrong or inappropriate I shrivel inside and the fear of that creates a lurking anxiety. If I get excited and start rattling and prattling I suddenly catch myself and my awkward unawareness leaves me floundering as I scan faces to see if I’ve overstepped one of the invisible lines. On my own life is much more tranquil.
All the world’s a stage and one man plays many parts. Yesterday I was just me. I had no entrances or exits. I spent my day off stage.
Funny how when I get sick I miss home more. Not that I have a home to miss. Cravings for comfort foods kick in and they seem hard to find here. Maybe the British cuisine can serve a blander dish with more ease than the Cambodians. Or maybe home is more than a place, it is a set of associations, responses and experiences that I pack in my case and unconsciously haul across continents.
I want mashed potatoes and, rather bizarrely, custard. I’m not even sure when I would have last eaten either of those. They were hardly staple foods in my low carbohydrate kitchen. In Cambodia, It will be easier to get some bananas and brown rice and I suspect all will be well. In fact, probably quite a lot better than I would have fared with custard. I’m not really sick, I just feel a bit under the weather but the heat and the solitude magnify things and I’m feeling sorry for myself.
What I really want is a friendly, familiar face to share a cup of tea with. Someone to remind thats everything’s going to be all right. Sometimes writing this blog is my daily cuppa. I share my joys and woes, my insights and my banalities with you. So I’ll say thank you to the potential millions of people that might see this and to the one or two who are actualy reading this.
I feel better already. Fancy a cup of tea?