Wednesday, April 20, 2016

From a new thing. A voice from the future of my work.


I equals S. 
I am S. I know myself by this sound-letter. S is yellow like flowers, like the explosive petals of a dandelion. So many, you could count them all at a glance and find yourself lost in the hundreds. S is yellow like a bright kitchen netted from memory, slippery fish of a long forgotten thought is S.
S like the words serendipity and savannah and psoriasis for how am I to know that the disease is not spelled the way it sounds. In this theoretical space of the self, my apparent self, I know some words I have gleaned the lip service of a special school, from magazines left open. From Shakespearean plays, which have permeated the air so that our chest rises in iambic pentameter. Letters are things to be crawled up inside. Letters have sounds and words have thicker sounds and all sounds are a bright flash like a musket fire. I know my letter S tastes like the grenade sizzle of icing sugar on the tip of a pastry. Everything loud and sharp and, even curled down like the S that I am, I am assaulted by sunlight, which feels like a stained glass window sandpapering on my skin.
Lying here open-mouthed I can taste the ocean, only faintly because there are bodies in the way. The house is filled with people.
Introductions are polite
Let me be polite. Polite. They are always telling me to be polite.
Let me introduce you to them, the people in this house. They are now familiar to me. I know them by the letters that stand for them.
Gus is an X, a xylophone, a percussive thump of complex chocolate, a chord but never a single note.
David (E) is the water dripping down the outside of a frosted glass on a hot day.
Sarah is opaque like toffee. She has no letter she is only Sarah. She shatters if you bite her and the sound of her essence expelling from the tooth mark is sliced aubergine, weeping with salt tears.
Paul, our most constant normal, is a double M. MM Like sun on a wooden deck. Paul can be dozed upon, danced upon, but pull him to pieces and you could build him into a fence or a dog kennel.
There are other normal’s too. BB Katherine with her acrylic frowns and grumphs. KK Madeleine watching, and camera snapping, catching us up and keeping us for later and calling us her art, GG Aiden with the waft of pot kaleidoscoping his t-shirt.
And then Gavin. No words for Gavin and I slide over him so quickly he might not even be there in the mix of things. I blank him and he is a blank page. He becomes unwritten and must have no voice of his own. It is a relief to not have to speak of him. I move on without impact.
I open my mouth, sucking in the air and filtering it, trying to taste its component parts. The world is a Magic Eye puzzle book. All the colours and sounds and smells of it coming at me at an equal intensity. I can’t focus on any element with the constant clamour of everything else. It takes an exhaustive concentration and I can only manage this in small, bright bursts. I suck air across my tongue. I am searching for the foam on the top of a breaking wave. I am trying to count the shells washed up on the nearby mud-sand beach, sorting the ones that still have snails inside them, dead snails red and hard on the back of your palate like raw egg, live snails soft as butter. The beach is close enough for me to smell. The shells are a potent part of the strandal perfume. I am an olfactory adventurer. I taste all of the world, even at a distance. And, bear with me, this is hard for normals, but I want to talk to you about time.
You see time as a thin line from one place to another. Time comes at me all at once. I am thick in the fairy floss of time. Because of this, the salt in the air is a beach and the chlorine is a sink scraped clean. All things exist here at the same time, but that is not how communication works. Communication must be fixed in the me and the here and the now. This is what I am trying to communicate with you. Communication is impossible if you pull the toffee of time and trip it up over itself. I cannot communicate. But this is a story and in a story there must be some kind of speak and listen. So let us, just for an imaginary moment, believe that I can speak to you. Lets suspend our disbelief long enough for me to tell you everything in some kind of order that you might understand.  I will start simply. We will work together on this. I push and you must pull a little to stop the rope from tumbling to the leaf litter. I speak. You can speak back to me by taking up a pen and writing your version of events in tiny ant-like letters between the lines on the page. Then it is a conversation. Then it is true communication.  I will begin this exchange by sharing with you my first whiff of him. Make your notes in the margin, use a bright yellow highlighter remembering the hundreds of petals in my single letter but don’t get distracted by the overwhelming spiral of them. Listen now. If I must stick to a timeline, then this is how it begins.
He is a new person. He comes, ducking under the hammer of the neighbour who is shouting. Pound, pound, pound goes the voice and then suddenly he is there and his presence muffles the expletives. He is the smell of petrol, aftershave, nervous sweat. And when I push against it and the door is open I can celebrate his arrival. I am nothing but forward motion. I rollick through a great big bubble of himness. He is new and therefore he is all wonderful potential. He is the musk of his crotch, the collected signals of his gender, collared shirt, shined shoes, short cropped hair, sunshine on sand, seawater soaked in a silk scarf. He is a big male bubble of visual and nasal cues that he is performing subconsciously. All of these cues add up to the aura that spells him, man, specific man, new man. He is an aura to run through on my way to the ocean. The collection of signs that mean him are like a chord. Harmonious. Pleasing to my skin.
He is a perfect chord chasing me and I duck, cat-quick.  I love to run. Scuttle. Crawl. Octopus ooze. Run.
And there is the ocean contained in a square of blue tiles. It is all the oceans. It is the most love, the implement to crack the nut of love. Up then and over the square of solid air. There is an interface between my skin and the sea. A membrane. I octopus through or over or under it. Perhaps it is just my component parts rearranging and finding a new way to be in one body. I am an overstimulation of the senses. I am water. I am love in water. In love with water. Love. Water. And then for a while there is nothing outside of this.
Are you confused? There is a to and a fro but I do not understand your fro-ing. I am just to, to, to, so much to without pause for the response. Just let me octopus through your consciousness and you will find yourself rearranged. We will meet on the other side of the fragile membrane of language and my voice will kiss yours like water kissing my skin. I find all the parts of my body in the water. I am rediscovered in the thick embrace of chlorine.
He dives in. The water moves in response to his body entering. I am the water. His body is entering. His body is displacing me. Small particles of his skin sloughing off him and thumping into me like tiny bullets. His spit in the water. The water in my mouth. This is too intimate. This is sex intimate.  I try to put my hands over my ears and go lalala but I a not sure what my body is doing. I am no longer the captain of this submarine. My body drips its mucus from between my churning legs and he is a part of the water that diffuses it. When his arm curls around my chin it is as if someone opened a container of gorgonzola. Every cubic centimeter of the world is infused with him. I can't breathe without swallowing the taste of him. I can't breathe. I will die. I must find some way to contain him so that he will not consume my blurred edges.
I must name him, to trap him in a shape, a letter.
If I equals S then He equals R.
I name him quickly. I name him as I struggle against him. He has roused me out of the thick soup of everything-at-once. This man, R is singular and linear.
Time is not linear. Time exists all at once and here, now that we have touched, he has been here always and will be, just as my parents are always here, as my teachers, the other kids in the school I was sent to. He is as present as all the letters I have ever come across, the ocean, all here now and always.
He brings the hands of a clock with him. He brings an order to the minutes, which until now, have existed all on top of each other always. In this new age of R-ness, one minute follows another. His hand around my neck lassoes time and traps me in it. I suppose, the romantics might suggest that I am re-born in this moment. He, R, is the essential letter in the alphabet. He makes you into your, bestow into bestower. This single letter dropped in to complete the alphabet. Now sentences can vibrate in a neat line.
This, the romantics might say, is what love at first sight is.
I, S, find myself somersaulting with this new sense of necessity. I roll and thump and there is a tyre on my cheek, rubber R road. R is for siren. R is for arrest. I fling myself at his feet and even this furious contact is not enough. I kiss with my teeth and my jaw and my sunflower yellow sucks spit from him. Beautifully. I speak his name. R. I make the sound that represents a conversation about love. It is a poem that ululates on and on about undying and the undead. I speak the poem. And yet my words are for the deaf. For the dead. For no one.
D-d-d-d-david. David. R David. R.

I embrace him and I am the cold sizzle from a sprinkler. I am life-giving. I am S and all the other letters vibrate against me in their joy of completion. I am I and mine and my selfhood gives rise to the possibility of relation. My I allows for his he. My and mine can now only be conceived of in relation to he and him. This story then is fixed in the here and now and plays out in relation to him and his. This is the beginning of things. This is a narrative unfolding in time to the ticking of his clock. This is the end then of a first chapter in which David R and Vivienne S meet.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Names for Things

I wonder if it is important to name our illnesses. I write this just as I have decided to obliterate all mention of the term for the disability that causes one of my main characters such separation from all others. I removed the name for the condition. Just to be sure I have done a global find and individually replaced every word with another that is less specific.

My character is different from the others. But we can only guess at her diagnosis.

My sister has recently self-diagnosed with autism.  I was skeptical. I am not a fan of diagnosing yourself on the internet, but when I read the articles she had been reading about how women present quite differently from men I realised she might actually be right.  People confuse her. She avoids them if possible. She prefers to be around her beloved animals. She doesn't like being touched. She used to have fits of rage followed by quite frightening 'shut-downs' where she sat still and did not respond to anything for hours.  She is an incredibly talented artist with extreme technical ability. She is fiercely intelligent and yet can not handle personal interactions at all.

I am reading a big thick book on the history of autism called In a Different Key. It is pretty wonderful. Such a great read and says so much about human nature and western society and our relationship to difference. It is also helping me to confirm that my sister was probably right.

If my sister has a form of autism then my grandmother and my aunt definitely have it too. I remember as a kid my mother would be sad and hardly coping most of the time and the other three members of my family would be fighting all the time. My grandmother, my aunt and my sister all hated people. They distrusted everyone. They were obsessive about animals and only happy when around animals. They were isolationists. My mother was different but she was under the hard rule of my grandmother and found it difficult to assert herself. I spent my life trying to figure out how to make everyone get along. I was the peacemaker, trying to distract this angry bunch of misfits from whatever was bugging them. I made them laugh and gave them other things to think about. As a young adult I felt a bit ripped off by my role in the family. I felt like I was always looking after them and no one really looked after me.  With a diagnosis and a term to name it all by it makes it a little easier to understand and to forgive. Names are powerful that way. Names give us a way of understanding things easily. Names lead to forgiveness.

I have removed the name of my character's affliction. Does this mean I have removed an easy way of understanding and forgiving her behaviours?

I have lost the ability to recall nouns.  This is very disturbing to me. Sometimes I look at a thing and the name for it is clear and obvious. At other times I struggle and the word is just not there in memory. An eggplant loses its essential self as I stare at it and can no longer describe it in the simplest way. I can draw it in the air. I can describe it as shiny and black-blue. I can say you can eat it and I can even describe the way to cook it but I can't give it a name. The name has vanished. This is happening too often. I am also losing the names of authors and the titles of books. I am losing the names of acquaintances and even of friends. If I haven't connected with a dear friend in a few months I will go to say something about them and have no name for them. Even a break of a couple of weeks will obliterate a name. I am worried about this. My paternal grandmother died from early onset alzheimers and it is genetically communicated. I may actually have what she had despite the fact that I never knew her and therefore feel like she is something outside my familial circle. It is odd that the names have been lost first. I am losing other things too. I am losing specific memories and I am becoming confused that some memories I do have may be things I was once told rather than actual experiences I have had.

I have removed the name of my character's affliction because it medicalises her. It makes her knowable when she isn't really knowable. She is an individual and different from any other individual as characters are. I don't want people to say 'a person with autism would not do that'. When we write about a father, for instance, we do not say 'a father would not do that'. This is an individual. She calls herself S and everyone else knows her as Vivienne. She is mine. I created her. She does not stand for a group of people. She stands for a part of myself.

A part of myself is vanishing. It is the part that is confident and has very clear memories and remembers people and is very social. I long for the relative safety of isolation that my sister, my aunt, and my grandmother all made for themselves. I long to withdraw from the stresses of socialising. Retreat is in my genetic makeup and maybe I can quietly lose my memory without having to show the world what is happening. If I narrow my need for interaction then I narrow the possibility of demonstrating my failings.

Names are powerful and important. They are a quick way of understanding the world. When I say tree we all see a tree but you can't know the smell of the tree which stands at the front of our place. You can't know how the leaves form a mat in my pot plants, starving them out. You can't see the two owls who sometimes perch in the straggle of branches, and the Indian Minor's who swoop and harass them. You can't see the pair of underpants that flew off the balcony of someone's apartment and stuck fast in the branches, swaying there for months and now beginning to fray like a tibetan prayer flag.

I have accepted the name for my sister's condition and it makes me a little lazy. I understand what I should think about her now. I accept more easily. I forgive all the jagged edges that made our relationship difficult but I have also fixed her in a diagnoses that does not allow for the parts of her that were just sisterly competitiveness and bad parenting, grief from the death of two partners, and lack of love.

I am taking the name of the condition away from my character. I am losing the names for real people and objects. I have named what is wrong with most of my family. My relationship to names has changed on so many fronts. All within a handful of weeks. I wonder what that means, if anything.