I’m a self-proclaimed book-worm. Mind you, I haven’t read James Joyce. I haven’t read a lot of things listed in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. As a writer, sometimes I forget how to spell a word. I find many mistakes in my writing. I care not much for perfection, but process.
I do read, perhaps, too many books at one time. If one really captures my attention, I may hold on to it from start to finish. Lately, I read them all at once, picking up chapters and paragraphs here and there that still all seem interrelated. I learned that there are many ways to read a book, and it’s not always cover to cover.
As I am now alone in the world taking care of my son Adam, books are the friends and lovers that remain. Ready and loyal, they await me. They care. They give me guidance when I need it most. They are there when I need them and stand with allegiance, even if they agitate me with their sage or simply stupid ideas.
When I was first separated from my husband last fall, I turned to When You’re Falling Dive.
The book, by Mark Matousek, was well timed at a point when I was falling, but not yet diving like I meant it. Then I think, it is fine to write about the Joy of Autism, and I suppose we all find that falling-point in the beginning, but there I was last fall, suddenly alone and I had to eat my own words about joy and acceptance, because let’s face it, when something happens that you are not in agreement with, it’s more difficult to accept. Here I was (and still am) at a critical juncture where I can dive to live, or get stuck in the purgatory of despair. I choose the former.
So Mark’s book was like a special visitor who came at the right moment in time. Quoting from Ram Dass, the Dalai Lama and others in the midst of terminal diseases, he taught me that it is actually these very rough times that teach us how to live and be alive; that it is only in crisis when we become awake again. It is an opportunity. “Terror can be the door to enlightenment,” he says. “Terror is fuel; the wounding is power. Darkness carries the seeds of redemption. Authentic strength isn’t found in our armour but at the very pit of the wounds each of us manages to survive.” To translate the words of the Dalai Lama, we have to learn to walk joyfully through hell.
Terror and change can be the beginning of metamorphosis. Meta, from the Greek meaning to alter, or occurring later than or in succession to; and morph, meaning “form.” So, to alter our form is something that comes from within first, to without, second.
I really hate the idea used with autistic children – that they must morph into something else – coming from without their “cacoon.” I prefer the idea to be applied to all of us – that we have the capacity and the will to stand up to adversity not with armour, but with an open heart in order that we learn and change our form as the purpose of why we are here in the first place.
I consider the books I read part of my journey, so I had an idea that I might as well write about it! There is the outward struggle and the inward coping and managing. But there’s even more to adversity. What does it have to teach us?
Of course, no metamorphosis cannot occur, for me anyway, unless we also turn to creative acts and ideas. I turned then to Twyla Tharp and her book The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life.
For any writer or creative person, I highly recommend her book. I was reminded again how artists of all kinds must wear their hearts, so to say, “on their sleeve.” I learned that if you cannot transcribe the daily aspects and truths of your existence and what happens to you, you can easily be an artist-liar and churn out a bunch of crap. She says:
“The way I figure it, my work habits are applicable to everyone….My daily routines are transacational. Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my internal world. Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity.” (p.10)
The artist or writer, very much like the person, changes and sculpts the raw material into the finishing piece. We people, like art, have to take away our experiences and make sense of them. Victor Frankl, who writes Man’s Search for Meaning says that our suffering ceases to become suffering once we find meaning or tell it’s story. Creating and telling our stories is a must.
Be it losing my husband, or losing an expectation of the child we all think we’re supposed to have before we receive that autism diagnosis, the former idea is an extremely valuable point in the process of acceptance. We have to have the time to figure out our story. And it is time I need and am taking. It is way too early to tell certain aspects of my personal story – which is why I only allude to it within these blog posts. It is what we often call being “too close” to something to see it clearly. My mind, however, as is my spirit, are changing.
That said, I had to turn to the book On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt, just to make sure I wasn’t creating some of my own. I am not a fan of delusion. Not only that, I have certainly discovered that there is plenty of quackery and humbug to go around for all of us to choke on. Frankfurt quotes Longfellow’s verse who, he says, Wittgenstein used as his motto (remember that Wittgenstein is purported to have been autistic):
In the elder days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part
For the Gods are everywhere
Frankfurt concludes on this that,
“The point of these lines are clear. In the old days, craftsmen did not cut corners. They worked carefully, and they took care with every aspect of their work. Every part of the product was considered, and each was designed and made to be exactly what it should be. These craftsmen did not relax their thoughtful self-discipline even with respect to features of their work that would ordinarily not be visible. Although no one would notice if those features were not quite right, the craftsman would be bothered by their consciences. So nothing was swept under the rug. Or, one might perhaps also say, there was no bullshit.” (pp. 20-21)
Conscience. I like that word a lot. I think that many people delude themselves of the truth, but the conscience continues to nibble away as a messenger of the truth. If we are lying to ourselves about the true nature of something, we might try ignore it until we become agitated, ill or simply stuck. So as my guide, my conscience is there as I sit alone now in the dark of the four o’clock morning, reading these books as I am a woman soaking up solitude; working through every motion, every fear, every hope that solitude now has to offer.
Marion Milner, British psychoanalyst and writer of A Life of One’s Own is quoted by Florence Falk in On My Own: The Art Of Being a Woman Alone, which I bought right after my marital separation, but couldn’t bear to read right away until it nibbled for my attention. It reminded me of what Bette Midler said in the film The Women, where she tells a devastated Meg Ryan (who discovered her husband was having an affair), to be SELFISH.
Sitting back in a yoga-retreat where the fridge is padlocked in the middle of the night, Midler finds a joint from a worker and shares it with a highly dedicated, hard-working, high-profile Meg Ryan, who can’t figure out how she could be so betrayed after all her dedication. In Milner’s, and it seems Midler’s view, SELFISH is not a dirty word. It means uncensoring oneself “agains the verdict of [one’s] harshest internal judgement…For if selfish meant finding out what made her feel alive, well, then selfish she would be….[Milner’s] quest for happiness is what touches us most; for as time passed, and as she allowed herself the solitude to watch, to take in, to simply be that is so necessary for such an undertaking – all the while living an active life – she discovered, to her great surprise, that the ‘best things’ in her life had nothing to do with ‘successes, either in friendships or work or play,’ but were related to ‘very small moments’ when she let her rational mind fall away and was able to take in the world intuitively. In her pursuit, her ‘worst sin’ was to let herself be pulled in blindly in all directions so that she had no vitality left for needs that belonged to her personal self.” (pp.173-174)
I had to laugh as Meg unravelled in such conservative ways. She reminded me of myself — trying to be everything to everyone. Trying so darn hard. Of course, Midler’s advice was the turning point for Meg in the truest Hollywood sense. Meg’s character begins to write lists “What do I really want?” to determine the path to her future and turns a passion that she was chastised for, and didn’t really honour. She spent time filtering herself, distilling her life and her thoughts until her creative process lead her to become a mind-blowing designer.
How often do we criticize the “nonsensical” play of autistic children only to call it inappropriate or not really play at all? How often do we do this to ourselves?!! And yet, it is all play – these moment-to-moment experiences of living that are so vitally important. We seem to fail to SEE them as we get caught up in other things. I see it in Adam in how he plays in order to discover on his terms. I see it in my play as I huddle under the covers with the moon shining in my eyes in the early morning, beckoning me to read and be alone (which is not to say lonely as being alone is taboo in our culture), until I push out this stream-of-consciousness type of writing that is actually leading to another place.
You see, it’s all play, it’s all valid, it’s all part of the creative experience of living. I am transacational in the moments of my existence – from waking up to moonlight, to feeling the stark pang or the sudden sucking in of my breath as I awake to realize that I’m still, for better or for worse in these difficult moments, still alive (as if waking from a bad dream); to realizing that the bed, save for me, is empty and the house is unusually silent. I have taken the course of focusing on stability for my son – my beautiful autistic son and myself in order to rechart our course. I savour the last moments in the house we built for Adam (or that backyard at least) before we must leave it, the floors and walls that will vaguely remember our names, and then forget us forever as it is inhabitated by new strangers. It is all these threads that I will tie together to render a beautiful story.
W.G. Sebald once said, “ I think fiction writing which does not acknowledge the narrator himself is a form of imposture which I find very very difficult to take.” (p. 4). In James Wood’s, How Fiction Works, he talks in his early chapters on the omniscience of the author in fiction writing. “As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around the character, wants to merge with that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking. A novelist’s ominiscience soon enough becomes a kind of secret sharing; this is called free indirect style.”
Hmm. So it is inescabable – the SELF, that is, as we write stories, paint pictures, create characters. We are always there, orchestrating, making sense, be it for ourselves and for others.
Acceptance is a creative act. It is a process. It is filled with stories, characters, moments of beauty and sadness. In recognizing the duplicity in all things, at that point alone, we can begin to accept them.