I’m back to blogging, just in time to wish you a happy autism awareness week. What are you doing to raise awareness? Last year I shared seven poems (one for each day of the week) written by and about people on the autism spectrum. I’ve not done much to celebrate this year, thanks to various work and family commitments. However, yesterday I did “come out” as an Aspie to a group of adults I work with at Specialist Autism Services. I was amazed by their reactions! Some were baffled, some thought I was joking and some had already figured it out. All in all, I felt we really bonded, and I hope I encouraged them to talk about their own experience of autism and Asperger’s.
Anyway… I wanted to update you on what I’ve been up to during my break from Seeing Double. The last few months have been filled with lots of difficult changes, including Jane’s death, my being made redundant from Bradford Autism Support and starting a brand new, wonderful job with Specialist Autism Services. Last week we scattered Jane’s ashes on a windswept, rainy beach on the Scottish Island Skye, and that gave everything a sense of finality. Here’s a snippet of poetry I wrote about that day, just to prove to you all that I am still (occasionally) writing:
Coral particles crunch underfoot
Like the bones of a baby bird.
Clouds swell, pregnant with rain
They open up to birth
Thick grey droplets of water
That pockmark the glassy surface of the ocean
With a million tiny holes.
I am stood on the threshold
Where land meets water,
Death meets life,
And the earth moves in circles so large,
That to us they are almost imperceptible.
I’m doing my best to move forward from Jane’s death, to continue with various Seeing Double projects I’ve left half finished, fulfil my role as a skills mentor with Specialist Autism Services, and figure out how to talk to people my own age outside of work.
When Jane went into the hospice, in one of her more lucid moments she made me promise not to give up on Seeing Double. It sounds like a line from a cheesy movie, but it’s the truth. My mother, on her death bed, was still thinking about how I could organize my job. Because that’s the kind of woman she was. To be honest, Seeing Double doesn’t make much sense without her there to proof read my articles, organize the financial paperwork and suggest ideas for workshops and projects. But I’ll make it work somehow.
What I want to focus on first is the launch for The Poetry of Autism: Eyes of Perspective, a hand bound book of poems by myself, Andrew Smith and Joshua Williams. I finished binding the books (and recording an audio book version) mid January, and I’ve been putting off booking my venue for far too long. The launch should take place at The Bradford Playhouse during early June, and will include performances from all three writers, a Q and A sessions and an opportunity to buy a copy of the book and have it signed.
Another project I’m excited to tell you about is The Shoddy Project, which I became involved with through my role at Specialist Autism Services. The Shoddy Project is a disabled artists textile exhibition organized by Gill Crawshaw. She has her own blog on the project, which you can read here:
In the words of Gill:
‘The starting point was the original meaning of shoddy: new cloth made from fibres reclaimed from woollen waste fabric. This early version of recycling was invented just beyond Leeds’ borders, in Batley, around 1813. The shoddy industry was subsequently widespread in these parts. The use of textiles by all the artists in this exhibition makes a direct connection to the textile industries, past and present, in the UK, and particularly in Leeds and the surrounding area, where the exhibition takes place. Many of the artists have recycled fabric and other materials that might otherwise have been discarded, linking us back to the origins of shoddy, and finding value in what others have cast aside. This exhibition is a timely celebration of that strength and of the value of disabled people’s contributions. This strength enables disabled people to challenge exclusion and fight for our rights.’
The exhibition includes a piece of textile art by members of Specialist Autism Services, which I supported members to produce in my role as a skills mentor. However, I cannot stress enough that it’s their project. They’ve produced some beautiful work and have very insightful, empowering things to say about their own experience of Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism.
The project started with the theme of labels, specifically the idea that autistic people are often labelled by neurotypicals, and these labels should not hold us back or be allowed to define us. We are so much more than a medical condition or a stereotype. The textile art includes a backpack made from ‘shoddy’ recycled fabrics with some beautiful hand stitching. If you open up the back pack, you’ll find dozens of labels that have been hand decorated with more shoddy fabrics, each one containing a quote from an SAS member about their experience, identity and how they’ve been affected by autism.
The Shoddy Project also includes textile art by Home Farm Trust, Leslie Illingworth, Katy White and many more. The exhibition is based at The Live Art Bistro, Leeds, and open for viewing until the 16th of April. If you’re in the area, I strongly recommend you visit the exhibition. It’s a great way to broaden your understanding of disability, and includes some fantastic artwork. I’ll be visiting the exhibition myself next week, and I know the SAS members are excited to see some of the other artists work too.
I hope your all well. I’ll be back next week with an article on the theme of autism awareness. In the mean time, wish me luck while I try to juggle all these projects!