“I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.”George Orwell, Why I Write
Roughly a year ago I published my first blog post on Atypical Perspectives.
In that blog I talked about ‘making connections’. How as an autistic person I tend to see how seemingly unrelated factors in life like my passion for honesty in journalism, with my aspirations to try and be constantly honest about my abilities. That making connections idea has underpinned all of my work since – even my last blog post was an attempt to draw a comparison between our emotional instincts and our ‘logical’ policy decisions.
Much of my work has focussed on trying to make people understand and care about the politics of disability and show how it effects our day to day lives. The ‘grief’ that comes from a distinctly human response to pandemics and ecological issues, telling us that understanding what our decisions do to people emotionally matters in how we shape our systems and institutions. The obsession with ‘normal’ underpinning the devaluing of disability in aspects of medical policy, and the routine assessment of autistics in order to determine how well we fit into society and how deserving of support as a result. Even my love of music, my confidence, and my issues with mental health are related in the sense that each is influenced by the other.
If you’ve read one of my blog posts you might get a snapshot of me as a person, or of my views on my autism, and even if you read all of them you’ll still only have the vague sketches of me, based on the ‘personal brand’ I’ve cultivated through this blog. I have no qualms with telling people that I started this blog as a means of giving me something to commit to during the pandemic, at a time when my mental health was at a detestably low point. However, over the course of a year its grown into something more than that. A lot of the stuff I’ve written here has been stuff thats been nestling at the back of my mind for a very long time indeed, but that I didn’t know how to articulate. On a base level, talking about my issues with needs assessments, my problem with terms like ‘retard’ or ‘high functioning’ and even my discomfort with the original name of my condition – ‘Asperger Syndrome’, is almost cathartic. I surprised myself with how much I needed to get some of this stuff out of my mind and on to a page.
However, its much more than that – its me trying to get to grips with what the philosophy of ‘normal’ does. Not to sound incredibly cliché, but if you’ve ever been perceived as ‘different’ or ‘weird’ and felt that impact you throughout your life – through applying for a job, through your social interactions, through ways of looking at the world feeling out of sync with ‘the way things are’, I can relate. Indeed, if you have gained greater understanding of how all this stuff is connected and how the use of phrases like ‘abnormal’ of ‘strange’ are indicative of an economic and political reality that rarely welcomes diversity in either identity or in our analysis of social problems, me too. I think its a common misconception that writers have everything in thier head before we start writing: in reality we just have some hastily scrawled observations and an ability to improvise.
I won’t pretend I’m not harsh on myself as a writer – generally, when I’m writing I tend to go through a process of thinking my next blog post is going to be brilliant, thinking its going to be terrible while writing and then realizing at the last minute that its actually okay. Even then, I look back on some articles in an embarrassed way – I stand by a lot of what I said in my blogs on ‘canceling’, the history of autism and ‘the atomic theory of communication’ but theres parts of them that are confused, where I’m not sure what argument I was making or why I’ve put things in the way I have. And while I know that all of my work marks part of my progression as a writer, there’s another side of me that naively believes that perfection is even possible. This is despite the fact that ‘perfection’ is a flawed concept and I know as someone who loves to analyze music and film, that the best pieces have flaws which make up part of thier identity and character. After all, you can’t have a work with the stated intention of relating to people on a human level, and not have that work be as flawed as you and the people your speaking to are.
Like a trap, we’re back to this. The idea that as humans we can have ‘perfect’, we can have ‘normal’ and we can have people and art without any flaws is a toxic one. Whether its in beauty, art or work it creates an artificial standard that’s impossible to achieve, and forces many autistic people to burden themselves with the promise that if they work hard enough they can reach the plain of neurotypical acceptance. At an individual level, if you take one thing from any of my blogs I want it to be that your flaws, your imperfections, aren’t wrong. They are a vital part of being human, of being part of a world that requires all kinds of minds in order to function. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever try and work over your issues – I have resolved many of the problems with my writing and its all the better for that. However, rather than dread or resent those aspects of us which are called ‘odd’ or ‘different’, we should aim to understand them, so they can be embraced or worked on.
In that sense, I would now like to stop publishing as often as I do. Like I said, I started Atypical Perspectives as a means of coping through lockdown, and so a commitment of one blog every Friday made sense for the circumstances. However, its not a commitment that makes sense anymore and is only going to leave me emotionally drained and burned out. After all, the quality of my work is not going to be determined by how much I do but how I do that work. That’s why I’m not enforcing any set timescale for my blog posts anymore. They won’t become too infrequent but I will not create an ideal vision of what I should be doing and then try and have everything in my life bend to that vision. That would make me almost as bad as the practices I deride.
If you’ve empathized or related to any of my blog posts over the past year, then thank you. I hope they have aided you in finding peace in these difficult times and defying the demands of normality to chart a course that is your own – one that is perfectly and unashamedly ‘atypical’.