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Archive for February, 2010

In my next life…

RPJ#1-2009p11-12.01-2010.without edits

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RPJ#1-2009p5-12-09.without edits

I have a tiny little hardbound book that I got at at the thrift store that I carry with me for drawing, doodling, etc.  It used to have printed pages in it, which I covered over with this extra cheap manilla-colored children’s drawing paper to give me something with tooth for drawing, but also to thicken the pages, in case I decide to paint (which I often do).  It is physical therapy for me, as well as a tool for processing and regulating emotions & stress, and giving me access to my full brain for analysis and problem solving (versus just the controlling conscious verbal parts).  More about that later.

This little guy was a quick sketch that I did one night while watching a movie, just graphite.  He’s a pygmy tarsier, and they are now believed to be extinct and have become extinct during my lifetime.  He was so tiny that what he is gripping in this picture is the joint of someone’s thumb.  I was reflecting this morning on how much I enjoy looking at, and drawing animals and people, but I feel differently about drawing them.  Since I just began to be able to draw less than 6 months ago (I wasn’t capable of writing legibly or drawing anything whatsoever before that time), everything about drawing and seeing brings constant insight to me—little eureka! moments– about myself and the world around me.

 

california condor 020610I started drawing this California Condor last night, also graphite on my new small sketchbook; in fact, this is the image that I chose for the very first page.  It’s not quite finished, and this was also a quick sketch that I decided to detail a bit this morning, and I will do a little more later today or tomorrow.  I like drawing animals because they don’t think about the “who” that they want to let you see; they just are.  When they look at me, they are not judging my value as a human being, not really.  Their lives operate by a set of rules that are very much in the present moment.  They are authentic.  I may not know exactly what they are thinking, but I can connect with their moment, and the things that I know about that are impacting their lives, like human encroachment, destruction of habitats, starvation, sickness and death from pollution introduced by human “civilization” into their habitat.  I love animals of all kinds.

For some reason, I do my best drawing in graphite.  I have done some pieces in watercolor, pen, ink, acrylic, colored pencils & combinations thereof, but it is still difficult for me to see and organize visually in color or cope with complex visual organization (or disorganization).  That overwhelms me, so I focus on what feels manageable, and I am most comfortable with things that are tangible to me.  I feel things about color, and feel pleasure and sometimes discomfort from how color is used in images sometimes, but I feel more "real" communicating visual images as a monochrome drawing.  This represents better the more visceral aspects of how I experience what I see; when I incorporate color, it may add something aesthetically (or maybe not sometimes), but it doesn’t necessarily give any greater insight into my mind, and sometimes detracts, as if I am trying to embellish an authentic message with something to make it more attractive to someone else.  For me, the color portion is uncomfortable, but it is something that I try to incorporate into some of my art to help my brain to improve connectivity.  I know that the "sighted" world mostly sees in color, and since my eyes work properly, I am trying to become more capable in using my visual apparatus to give me usable information, and to be able to integrate this better with other sensory input. 

I’ve got some major hard wiring problems in my brain, from heavy metals and other toxins beginning when I was only a tiny baby living next to Union Carbide plants in South Charleston, WV, and later, from a devastating head injury at age 5 that, by all rights, should have killed me, and, coupled with other damaging events,  I am fighting for my life now, and trying to race against the clock to rewire a brain that is excruciatingly brilliant in many ways, but some of my circuitry is cross-wired and has my brain attacking various parts of my body.  I guess you can say it has developed an "autoimmune complex".    Not all of that adaptive creative electrical engineering was faulty, though, as it worked around some of the damaged areas by hyper-strengthening others, and I have savant-level abilities, it turns out, in multiple areas, and fortunately some functional areas that the injuries didn’t destroy.  Most of my savant abilities until now have centered around verbal-analytical and patterning.  The new growth area for me this year, is now in the visual thinking arena, and growing connectivity between all through is adding complexity to all of them.

I didn’t understand until recently about how extensive my sensory integration dysfunctions have been and are now, or about synesthesia and how it operates with me.  For the almost 50 years before I could really see things well visually and draw them, I experienced visual images more as a tactile impression.  Same is true for movement, like someone walking through the room, or driving my car.  Movement would feel like degrees of touch, from a skin sensation to pressure, to forceful impact (Sound is also something that I tend to experience intensely on a tactile level, as well as auditory).  When I draw, I can feel the contours and details, as if I have touched them, and my hands can draw what I can feel from them. 

I would look at things, people, animals, etc., but only to scan for what seemed necessary, though I couldn’t possibly have articulated why, because I didn’t know that I was different that way.  The only things I knew about were the things that others had discussed with me, like the auditory issues, and even with that, I didn’t really understand what it meant, except that I had tremendous difficulty distinguishing different kinds of sounds, couldn’t hear human speech very well at all, for instance, if the compressor on the fridge came on, and constantly awakened from sleep by the slightest sound.  I knew that I was visually disorganized, and I knew that I was more comfortable looking at other people when they were not interacting with me.  Or rather, looking into their eyes. 

But when I am interested in looking at people at all, I preferred to look at them when they weren’t directly interacting with me.  I realized more about the whys of it this morning when I was looking through a huge book of photographs in a 1981 edition of National Geographic Images of the World that I picked up at the thrift store.  I gravitate toward images of people when they are "unposed," and you catch them thinking their thoughts without interference from the expectations of the observer.  I have the greatest chance of seeing them unedited, and their expressions can tell me a great deal about what they are feeling, and their body language can tell me a lot about their history.  When I was looking at some pictures of a mother with her baby (Andes), and a group of older women (Jamaica), I caught myself analyzing them culturally and psychologically–reading them.  And then I wanted to draw them, and then my mind went to reflecting on how I look/looked at people, what I see, when it feels good to look at people, and when it doesn’t feel good.  I love to draw eyes, yet I spend very little time looking at eyes when I am interacting with someone.  When I was looking at these candid shots and my reaction to them, I got why it was meaningful and comfortable in one context but not in another.  Just an aha! moment, I guess.

Not long ago, I put up a post with a sketch of a horse, and I said that I saw a horse for the first time–really saw it–and that’s what I drew. I was amazed by the details of a horse’s head.  I think that was the first animal that I drew, and it felt as if I had put my hands all over that horse’s head.  It was exquisite!  And if I can connect with something, whether that I see visually, or an image that arises from my own mind, I can draw it.  I cannot explain how that switch came on, but I’m sure the doctors can say a lot more about that than me.  And drawing is creating new connections between emotion and visual thinking that were never there before. 

My sensory integration issues impact me around proprioception (orientation in space), time perception, auditory (can be devastating), visual, tactile sensitivity (skin stroking is terrible, but the right kind of pressure is helpful), temperature regulation, olfactory (the wrong smell can set off a gut reaction–bleeding ulcer, painful lower gut episodes–or completely sensory overload and a pain flare that can take days to subside).  If I can isolate from sensory input for a little while, I can get the overload reaction calmed down, but the other SNS reactions (gut, pain & spasms) don’t settle down as quickly.  Ideally, get in a dark, quiet room, with a weighted blanket, and that is fastest.  At my old job, they gave me a little room about the size of a good storage closet, with a sofa, in which I kept a heavy blanket and pillow, and I would go there and lie down till it subsided.  That helped to reduce my absence from a lost day of work to an hour or so.  I didn’t know what was causing it then, but had stumbled on this solution.

To throw out a few labels for perspective, I am autistic, and my brain has been altered further by injury, or, more accurately, by its aftermath.  The impact itself isn’t what pulled things apart; the aftermath of the injury, both the pressured internal environment in my head, and that provided by caregivers afterwards, did the majority of the damage and what resulted in the challenges that I face today.  The emotional intensity was mostly around when I discovered the truth of what happened, and what my actual condition is now, both in terms of grieving what happened to me, and relief over finally having the answers *before* my death.  I knew practically nothing about autism, outside of stereotypes represented in TV & movies, and never felt the need to study it for myself..yet.  When my doctor first broached autism with me, in fact, it didn’t even register properly (auditory memory with me sucks, at least on a conscious level), but somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard her say it, at least, and it did bubble up to the surface.  I did some research, though, and realized the truth of her observations.  That was a shocker for me, but now, I am just trying to understand what that means for how I can help myself to make my life work better for me.

And the bit about fighting for my life–that’s really the result of what my doctors refer to as the "perfect storm" that constituted as my childhood.  But that’s for another post.  For right now, I am learning about myself and my world through new eyes, or at least, the graphics on my mental computer are allowing me to see it anew.  Wow, what’s next?  I can’t wait!!

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