Category: Blog

Healing Blog 2

One new breakthrough – clearing up something that’s bothered me ever since I turned down the sacristan job at boarding school: what do people mean by spiritual? 

I was looking through Amazon’s recommendations – they’ve come up trumps before so it’s worth a look – and saw ‘Your Spiritual Almanac’. Looked at the sample, as one can with a Kindle book before buying. Decided against – a bit expensive and ‘daily lessons’ don’t appeal. But I did see one gem in the introduction – I paraphrase: ‘Spirituality means different things to different people but here we just use it to mean connection’. Bingo! I can handle that. Fits with Jeremy Lent’s ontology perfectly. Quite the opposite of monotheistic grovelling to a judgemental universe begging for personal favours. One more barrier dissolves away.

Anyway, that was while looking at books on personality change as a prelude to getting a handle on spiritual growth. After a couple of false starts with the Big Five personality traits, which I find very depressing, I finally settled down with: 

Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization by Scott Barry Kaufman, John Murray Press, 2022 (Kindle Edition)

It’s an overview and update of Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. Kaufman has modified the usual pyramid (which he points out that Maslow never actually invented) into a ‘sailboat’, with safety, connection and self-esteem comprising the boat and exploration, love and purpose comprising the sail. It’s neater than the pyramid, more expansive and in many ways more reassuring. We’re all working on all of these things all the time. There is a further distinction between ‘deficiency’ needs and ‘being’ needs. If you’re focused on what you lack, there’s less room for openness to new experiences, joy, awe and the like. For me, the big takeaway was the reassurance that we can all move towards growth and that we are all always changing.

And indeed I’ve noticed some changes. Recently I encountered a challenge and I was able to deal with it. Some old friends are coming back to me. And I’m not getting bothered by tiny nuances in the same way as I was before.

I think the best strategy is to be conscious of the process but not too deliberate about it. Just nudge it along. And choose the things to be mindful about.

By the way, if this all seems really quick, it’s only because the whole business has been fermenting in my poor old brain for decades. It’s good that it seems to be finally settling into place.

Current State

Spirituality just means connectedness – what a relief! And there’s me thinking all these years that I’m somehow born spiritually disabled, not completely human.

That holy grail – self-actualisation – is actually quite common, not just one saint every century. It’s not a destination, it’s an ongoing process. No one is complete, but anyone can work towards wholeness.

Maybe it’s finally time to look at Tyson Yunkaporta’s perspective.


A couple of people have asked for more detail about the Trout. I wanted to avoid sinking into a catalogue of woe, but I suppose some detail does help to visualise it, so I’ll tell you the gist: my mother’s milk was insufficient and she had bad advice. I don’t know how it took so long for anyone to insist I should be on the bottle, but one detail is that I was a pound under birth weight at four weeks. It was a maiden aunt who insisted on the bottle; whether that was before or after we had gone home I don’t know – I don’t know how long my mother was in the nursing home before being discharged.

But it’s interesting that I’ve had trouble with healthcare professionals all my life. Really inexplicable hostility, especially from nurses. Again, I’m not going to catalogue them here.

And I’ve had trouble with groups, from the school playground to the Quakers to those ‘safe to be yourself’ therapy groups. Something deep inside me expects to be ignored or rejected, not heard. I know this is an issue faced by a lot of people, but yelling my head off for four weeks to no avail while the brain is trying to form connections can’t have helped.

Sometimes, even now approaching my eighth decade, I wonder if I have a self-cancelling voice.

Now a word of advice. I know it’s awkward being around a person who is going through something you don’t know a lot about. This is partly why I’ve decided on this sabbatical. Not that it makes a lot of difference; I don’t go out much anyway. But I have messaged some friends about what I’m doing and there’s been almost no response.

So the next time you encounter a person with an embarrassing problem like this, my advice is: a simple ‘good luck’ or ‘hope you feel better soon’ goes a very long way.

Healing Blog 1

Looking at the neurobiology

Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score is a harrowing read and I did skip quite a lot of it because I don’t read quickly and a lot of the material is about helping with the clients’ horrific conscious memories of the trauma suffered.

There are plenty of memories that make me wince, but now, in this new way of looking, they are secondary to the original pattern laid down when the brain was still preconscious. At that stage I was mainly what Jeremy Lent calls ‘animate intelligence’, which we share with all living things. Basically, it boils down to feelings.

Jeremy Lent’s book had explained that I am not a unified entity. Neuroscientists now think of the self as a society of different minds with different levels of maturity, like a family, which is a perfectly good metaphor and is the basis for a form of therapy called internal family systems therapy (IFS).

So it’s perfectly reasonable for me to see this tiny, preconscious newborn as a very real part of me and my project now is to be kind to her. 

Let’s call her the Trout, cos that’s what my mother’s mother called me. A trout in a fish basket. Well, it’s a word.

Thinking about it, there seem to be two different aspects to the Trout. I’ve been sort of assuming that the howling and the sadness are just different degrees of the same thing, grief I suppose. But the sadness (call it Trout S) drains energy out of me, whereas the howling (call it Trout H) has a lot of energy behind it and is the one that does the most damage in interpersonal encounters. 

Hope for the future

I can see now how trauma cascades through communities, and there is hope in van der Kolk’s epilogue where he talks about working in the US with schools on new ways of dealing with disruptive children – to listen to them, take them seriously, and give them choices and safe space if they get upset. That should help to nip a lot of unpleasantness in the bud before they go out into the world. As van der Kolk puts it, we are becoming a ‘trauma-conscious society’. 

So what next?

I can now ‘own’ the feelings when they crop up because I’ve discovered the source. In this I have two things to be grateful for: 1) that I only have to manage the residue, not the memory of the episode itself, and 2) that I was told the story, albeit in snippets, because if I hadn’t been told I would never have guessed. 

I can also extend gratitude to the woodturning club for bringing Trout H into my awareness. 

So the strategy now is to find ways to be kind to the patterns that were laid down.

Trout S

Taiji or yoga maybe?

People say try yoga, or qigong/taijiquan. Van der Kolk has a section on yoga and also uses qigong techniques. 

But he also mentions that the trauma imprint involves the vagus nerve, which has been hitting headlines in places like the New Scientist lately. Qigong and yoga work on freeing up the vagus nerve, and trauma patients find that this can bring it all back, because it triggers the fight-or-flight response. 

And indeed that is what I found. Taiji practice, which I’ve been doing on and off for 45 years, often makes me want to cry. And now I know why. When it comes to pursuing the ‘internal arts’ I have to tread carefully around the vagus nerve. 

So, while I shall return to taiji and qigong classes when my sabbatical is over, I’m doing a bit of isometric strength building, which carries no threat to Trout S.

The BROH trick

Trout S has had a lot of help over the years from the BROH trick (see the main menu above) which I wrote back in 2000. It’s a case of remembering it’s just the Brain Running Old Habits, and it shortcuts a lot of the ruminating.

There are, of course, things to be sad about. Some of them, obviously, are beyond my control, but some have coalesced into a pattern, a sort of ‘oh no not again’ and these need to be addressed somehow. However, I’ll work on that when Trout S  herself feels properly cared for (by me).

Trout H

Trout H is a tougher nut to crack. The new therapies, it seems, are enabling new narratives to be formed around the traumatic situation. Not that van der Kolk says so exactly, but it’s almost as if the accuracy of the new narrative is secondary to the relief it brings.

So, like I said at the beginning, the project is to find a narrative that fits well enough and to internalise it.

Trout H is full of words, and so it’s much more a case of dealing with the residue, all the misunderstandings that have haunted me for so long and, it seems, still happen. It is charitable enough to put nearly all of it down to misunderstanding. That can include what a friend referred to as a ‘visceral dislike’ that people can feel about an autistic like me. We all know the feeling of disliking someone on sight. The gut instinct is not always reliable. And the original trauma was a misunderstanding. It could not possibly have been deliberate. I was the wrong gender, but that doesn’t account for it. I haven’t been haunted by resentment about that.

When it comes down to it, the people I blame, and hate with a passion, are the people who should have known better. The worst ever were the therapists I tried, and the faith-based groups. I can blame them easily enough and feel no shame about that.

That’s it for therapising for now. It brings all the bad memories back. I feel the need for more ontology.

Back to Jeremy Lent and his Web of Meaning. In particular, the understanding that we share what he calls ‘animate intelligence’ with all living things, including plants, but we also have the conceptual, purposeful consciousness, which I now understand is not a single entity but a ‘family’ of different patterns, or ‘natural attractors’.

With that reminder to hand, I’ll now look at something that dovetails very well but is also quite different.

Next stop: Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, 2019.

Current State

When Trout S meeps, I can tell her, in words, that it’s OK, it’s over now, and give her a mental cuddle. Get to the point where she can cope with the vagus nerve. No big hurry. Give her time to find an honoured place in the cortex. 

Trout H is fierce and it will be good to have her on my side. I’ll have to persuade (if that’s the word) her that it was all a series of misunderstandings. We just have to express ourselves better.

But I’m reserving judgment on some of the situations and people that have hurt me. Balance here, balance there. Not all howling is inappropriate. But, like truth, it has to be expressed in the right place.

I can start to see at least a part of myself as an adult at last. The Trout is honoured but hopefully soon not in charge any more. 

We’ll see.

Howling Blog 2

Where it came from

I’m working on a hypothesis that only recently occurred to me: that the actual howling itself has come from a very early experience, of which I’ll spare you the details but had me screaming the place down for my first four weeks. It got sorted out in the end and of course I don’t remember a thing about it, but there are enough details in the tale for me to believe it’s true. 

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to realise just how traumatic that would have been, but if it’s always there in the background as a part of the self-organising pattern it’s bound to distort whatever’s in the here and now.

So I’m working with a narrative that the original howling morphed soon enough into the ocean of sadness that has never been far away throughout my life, even when everything else has been hunky-dory enough, but has resurfaced with the grief response from Brexit. Grief for an abstraction is easy enough to dismiss, but no less heartfelt as so many of the old certainties are suddenly stripped away.

So it’s worth going with the narrative that Brexit (and the concomitant ‘get over it, that’s democracy’) was not the cause of the howling but it did, as it were, reach down into the depths and poke that trauma back into life. 

No need for blame

What’s also promising about this narrative is that with the ontology I’ve picked up from Jeremy Lent, I don’t need to blame anyone for it.

So what’s been happening is that that emotional load, which comes from so far back that my cortex wouldn’t have been doing much so there was no cognition involved, has been the engine for the weepies all along. 

Immediately there’s quite a profound liberation – all the hurtful memories that bring back the weepies had less to do with what people said or did, and a lot more to do with this load I didn’t know I was carrying.

They key is finally outside the box.

So, what to do with it?

I’ll put the Indigenous wisdom on hold for the moment. Next stop: a book on the neurobiology of trauma:

Bessel van der Kolk. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma (Penguin Books 2014)

Current State

The howling comes from my first month of life

This explains why my emotional responses have been inappropriately intense, from kindergarten to the present day

And with Jeremy Lent’s ontology it takes all the blame away 

I now have to work on the brain habits accumulated over seven decades

I think I’ll rename this the Healing Blog now

Watch this space.

Howling Blog

Time for a sabbatical

Sabbatical from what? you may ask. You don’t do anything, you just potter about at home.

Well, I’ve decided to take a couple of months off from any social contact (with a few kind exceptions), because things have got so bad that I can’t last a few minutes without causing offence. Pushing 70, I really do need to get this ‘mental health issue’ sorted out as a matter of urgency.

And I’m not even going to try looking for professional help, having been bruised by several expensive encounters over the years. I have to do this myself, with the wonderful support from my family and the aforementioned few kind exceptions.

So here goes.

We all have to find a narrative that both fits the ‘facts’ and is emotionally acceptable. I was worried that my impairment – my own version of what has been called Asperger syndrome – is a spiritual disability. I’d had enough clues to that effect from all the spiritual groups and organisations I’d tried to join over the decades. It mattered to me, but I was beginning to come to terms with it and Poor in Spirit was a step in that journey.

But I’d finally found a sense of belonging in the woodturning club – nothing faith-based there at all, unless you’re a passionate advocate of a particular brand of glue and even then no-one’s going to get hurt. 

But then Brexit happened and I found myself after all in a faith-based group of people to whom I was irrevocably an outsider. So the old ground-state of dissolving into a weepy puddle evolved into a howling inside, which was starting to spill over in all kinds of encounters on a hair-trigger.

So, crashing out of the club was a serious wake-up call, and I’m calling this my Howling Blog. 

Breaking the logjam

Despite the taunting over the years about my ‘busy little brain’, I still revert to thinking because it’s what I do.

Along the way I discovered a book via Amazon’s helpful recommendations and, for me personally, it has finally broken the logjam of the ‘key inside the box’. It honours the achievements of Western science and technology, while at the same time pointing to the fatal flaw in their philosophical underpinnings. At last there’s a way to bring the holistic worldviews of ancient Chinese traditions and Indigenous peoples into a coherent synthesis with the achievements of Western reductionism. No babies have to be thrown out with the bathwater after all! 

The book is: Jeremy Lent, The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our place in the Universe (Profile Books, 2021)

Current state

I am not a good-or-evil entity, an immortal soul under the cosh. 

I am a pattern that perpetuates itself on a ’strange attractor’.

I know it pretty well by now. And I need to steer it into something kinder.

And I can do it by thinking.

I’ll keep you posted.

Toxic Divide

OK so the last rant was a bit negative and I’m still at a loss but the focus has to be on finding hope. I’ve been reading articles that argue that we shouldn’t be focusing on dialogue with fascists; we have to repudiate them.

For me this has an interesting dynamic. For my sins, since I retired (fired the boss, see last blog) I decided that I’d always loved woodwork cos my father had a workshop, basically focused on his venerable 48-foot plus bowsprit wooden yacht that had the distinction of coming second in a transatlantic race sometime in the past, sorry I was never that interested but all our summer holidays involved crossing the channel and stopping in at ports along the Brittany coast and then sailing back again.

So, here we are in the twenty-first century (blimey, really? seems only yesterday) in 2009 and I decide to make bespoke furniture. Never made furniture in my life before apart from a thing that supported the telly for a long time and – since the telly now hangs on the wall – still supports various hi-fi & video accoutrements anyway this thing was made from MDF painted black and done with very rudimentary tools back in the mists of time…Pasted Graphic.png

My father had, as I recall, one power tool. It was an electric drill, which doubled as a paint stirrer. One of my emotional/diplomatic successes was when I was asked what I wanted for my 21st birthday and I said I would like a power drill please. Subsequently I discovered they were particularly proud of that.

But in 2009 I was introduced to Axminster Power Tools and basically bought the shop – a bandsaw, a table saw, a planer/thicknesser, the H&S stuff and so on and discovered birch plywood which is THE most wonderful material for making furniture.

Oh dear, but this is good background. Fast forward. My husband keeps telling me I need to get a lathe. WTF is a lathe?

Brown and round. And I see the Berkshire Woodturners at various fairs and join them in 2011 and I’m now their treasurer, membership person, newsletter editor and now website updater and zoom host. At last I’d found my spiritual home, a bunch of guys who love their craft and treat me like a real human being.

But in June 2017 I went on the People’s Vote march in London which coincided with a local craft fair we took part in, with a lathe under the gazebo turning spinning tops for the kids. So I help set up on the Saturday and then go off to the march. Then I turn up on the Sunday and get the democracy lecture and with that pall you get when something drops out of your world I realise that these people, my friends, the bunch of guys that I felt safe with, were predominantly Daily Mail readers who ipso facto voted Brexit! They are on the other side of the toxic divide and that makes them, in a very real way, orthogonal to what is obvious to me.

So, what is the way forward? To try to persuade them to change their mind? I can see the activists trying to change the minds of total strangers with facts and figures and cast-iron logic but you soon find that even logic is by no means universal. My obvious isn’t the same as your obvious. 

The truth cannot be spoken. Three-word slogans can appear to encapsulate it but as anyone who watches tabloid headlines will have seen, they carry a value judgement. Value judgements are orthogonal to truth. No dimension in common. I’m screaming into the void: WHAT DOES IT TAKE?

So, while the individual who made the mistake of giving me the democracy lecture will never be forgiven – although I can mitigate his error by the usual (reluctant) ploy of assuming his intellectual faculties are deficient – I have settled on the gentle project of listening, and learning not to intervene when ‘better in my day’ and ‘young people nowadays’ comes up in our zoom coffee mornings. And I was pleased with a success the other day when I ventured that the UK’s vaccine rollout was very impressive. It shows them I’m human. And at the same time I was delighted that someone else ventured that it was good to be rid of Trump and everyone else joined in in agreement.

Whether they will speak for me when I’m taken away is still something that I would not venture to try to establish, but with COPD I wouldn’t last long under torture anyway.

Encounter with Activists

When I landed my first and only Technical Author job writing manuals for telecoms software applications, my husband mentioned in passing that TAs are famously weird. There was a joke that went: a TA rubs a lamp and the genie says you have a choice: you can have all the money in the world, or all the knowledge in the world. The TA hesitates barely a moment and plumps for the knowledge. Well, wouldn’t anyone?

The deed is done and the TA blinks, stunned. The genie asks: well, what have you learned?

The TA says: I should have taken the money.

I sacked the employer, in his capacity as my employer, nine years later and subsequently got the autism label which would have helped immensely at the time.

Where was I? Activists. So one thing you can count on is that a truth-bum ex-TA will be a passionate Remainer. So there’s a pile of pro-EU pages on Facebook and I stick my oar in occasionally. After a while I end up joining one of them and holding a placard saying FULL LORRY PARK = EMPTY FRIDGE in a car park somewhere.

But despite over a million of us turning up in London for what was dubbed ‘the longest Waitrose queue in history’ and SIX million of us signing a petition to revoke Article 50, it is all batted aside. Something that matters, so desperately matters, is batted away with barely a second thought. 

The powers that we are facing will not respond to marching and placards and signing your name here. What we are facing does not respond to the screaming frustration, the searing grief and gnawing anger in the well-spoken Waitrose set (although at least some of us are also patrons of Lidl and Aldi). The point is that the powers that we are facing know very well how we feel and they demonstrate their contempt with comments like ‘They’re now British fish and they’re better and happier fish for it,’  and the canonical ‘Fuck Business’. All in a day’s work and our noses are rubbed in the sheer orthogonality of it.

Orthogonal = irrelevant. Those of us who did a bit of maths at school will know that orthogonal = at right angles, perpendicular. It’s on another dimension that simply doesn’t figure in their scheme of things. Ordinary people are ‘potted plants’. Their suffering can be dismissed in the way that we discard a plant that didn’t thrive. Oh dear, I forgot to feed it. People’s suffering simply doesn’t matter to them.

So being exhorted to write to John Redwood to appeal to his humanity feels like an insult. He bats it back because he can. He doesn’t even try to answer the question.

We are not dealing with people here. We are dealing with something that is deficient, in a way that an autistic ex-TA might understand, but from the other side. I doubt myself constantly. It never crosses their mind. Dunning-Kruger writ large.

So, placards and petitions don’t do it. However well worded, they come from the usual suspects and their susceptible audience, and boy! do the Tories understand susceptible audience.

Because the Tories are the enemy. That has finally been established. Many of their followers may not understand it yet, because of the zombie effect (of which more in another blog). And as a pre-emptive strike, I would point out that if you are a victim of the zombie effect it’s not your fault. You only buy it for the cartoons/sports pages/fashion section/lifestyle/health and recipes/crossword and Sudoku. The shouty headlines are almost subliminal. But what reputable news outlet shouts a value judgement, with underlined words, in the headline? Only one that despises its readers.

So, what do we howling inside, grief-stricken truth-bums do next? Petitions don’t work. Marches don’t work. Placards don’t work. Across the Channel we see the gilets jaunes setting fire to vehicles and they get concessions but that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re not looking for concessions in an existing negotiation. We’re looking for a wholesale review of the process of government and the way it has been eroded and played in the last couple of decades. We need a review of democracy itself, which incorporates a deep understanding of the way social media allows targeted adverts that the susceptible see and the rest of us have no inkling of. We need a re-establishment of the value of truth. And I hear you say fuck that for a game of candles and I’d agree. The horse has bolted. 

So stop sending me emails asking me to ‘add my name’ or ‘pledge some money’. I am simply deleting them.

Long time away

Not so much a case of writer’s block, although that’s a part of it.

The thing is, the trilogy was written (I might say it wrote itself) in 2014-15 – before Brexit and Covid were in the language. I just sat down for eight months with no formal training beyond O-level English and found out what was going to happen next. Like practically all first novels it is very personal, doesn’t have a wide appeal and is certainly idiosyncratic, but a few people really loved it and that was encouragement enough to put it up, at very little expense, on Kindle.

Now five years later we have a country divided by Brexit and, yes, now we have a virus. It’s fun for me to see what I got right and what I got wrong. The only thing I got completely wrong about the virus was that I predicted that the networks would all shut down within weeks. On the contrary, we’re all going online even more than before and beyond the occasional glitch it all still works!

But anyway, I thought I’d leave the first edition up there just to ‘prove’ that it wasn’t informed by hindsight. But I do have it in mind to update it and tighten it up, take out the really quirky stuff and focus on the love story with the various emergencies as backdrop.

In the meantime got myself seriously tied up in knots dealing with people whose job it is to help me, at my own expense, to write a novel and it’s been both rough and paralysing. I’ve learned about the hero’s journey, the three-act graph, the mirror moment, saving the cat and a whole bunch of stuff that really I didn’t want to know. If you’re looking at a novel with a checklist in hand, that’s fine if you’re Stephen King because you’ve developed a genre and the formula works.

I also learned that the constant refrain to ‘never underestimate your reader’ didn’t work for me. The questions people raised, the wrong end of the stick being grabbed, the odd reactions from people that I thought were friends who clearly didn’t understand it at all – and the delighted reaction from some really unlikely sources including some who don’t know me. So all I can say is, if you don’t ‘get’ it, I’m not going to go to great lengths to spell it out – you’re not going to like it any better. Try reading Neal Stephenson and you’ll see what I mean.

I wanted to say some things that were important to me – in particular what it’s like to be weird, and the idea that the free public service (which I now discover is referred to in academic circles as Universal Basic Services) I’m convinced could be made to work in the right circumstances.

I’m going to try to get something out before December 31st. It will be much shorter – all in one volume – and the timeline will have changed a bit. And yes, the new version will be informed by the last four years, but only in the little details.

And ultimately, it’s really just for me. There’s no possibility of making any money out of it; the great thing about Amazon Kindle for me is that it doesn’t cost me anything to have it up there, and I get less than a quid when someone buys a copy.

Would be glad of comments, and will try to look in regularly. I’m not sure WordPress notifies me properly when someone posts a comment. So bear with me if it takes a while for me to respond.

Encounter with an editor

I’m rewriting Flaming Sword; it won’t change a great deal but there are some things in there that need updating and clarifying. Any changes will then percolate through to the other two books in the series. Self-publishing is great for that!

So I went to a literary services company on a personal recommendation for some paid-for mentoring. I was fully prepared for the red pen cutting through whole swathes of it, and steeling myself for some well-informed criticism.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way the mentoring was done. First of all the expectation management was nonexistent. I had no idea when or whether I would hear from the person I was assigned, and a typical wait was ten days for an hour or so’s work. Then out of the blue I get an email saying can you talk this afternoon. The whole feeling is, well, I’ll fit you in when I’m not doing something more important.

She emailed some questions, all of which were answered well enough in the text. I answered them, but my answers were not acknowledged either by email or even in the conversation.

The second thing I wasn’t prepared for was being treated like a GCSE student. I had this fantasy that mentoring was about a person figuratively sitting beside you, listening to you, trying to understand what you’re trying to say and then giving feedback about how best to do it.

So I got a ‘plot structure 101’ and some suggestions of mixed value. Some were very good points; others, I’d say 80%, were a firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick. All useful, if only flagging up what needs clarifying. I learned more from what she didn’t say than from what she did. There was a whole pile of assumptions she brought to the book, which were simply wrong.

The underlying point of the book, the sense of being born spiritually disabled, was first ignored, then dismissed as ‘very sad’, and then finally answered in a brain dump that came in the time it took her to write it, with no salutation or signoff.

And I quote the first paragraph of a long stream of consciousness:

The only aspect of the central POV I find “uncomfortable” (or as I said “very sad”) is Paul’s apparent belief he’s inherently spiritually inferior due to his autism, rather than mystified and neglected by a world not set up to understand autism.  I think the issue may be that Paul is relatively young, appears to have known about his autism for all of his adult life, and to live in a world that, despite the dystopian setting, recognises autism relatively easily. Therefore the idea that he is “spiritually disabled” comes across perhaps more as a fact about him as an autistic person than a feeling resulting from years of misunderstanding and exclusion.  If I were reading this from an author who was not autistic I would be worried they were expressing a prejudiced view of autistic people – I mean, “spiritually disabled” is a very harsh thing to say about anyone!

She goes on to mention a couple of autistic students of hers who are doing fine, so the whole thesis is inconsistent and I need to change something about either his diagnosis or the society’s understanding of autism.

Now, I know that my own emotional reactions are non-standard, I need a reality check from my friends, and I try very hard to be honest with myself, but all roads seem to lead to my mind screaming YOU COULD HAVE ASKED ME! It was clear enough that she found it offensive, which would also explain the responses I’ve had from a couple of people who know me but not all that well. That was why I went to the agency in the first place.

So I got my answer, but in a way that reminds me of the square root of minus one.

First of all, it’s not about being inferior, or unworthy. Do we call a person inferior or unworthy if they’re born blind?

Secondly, yes it’s a fact about him, or at least a deeply personal question he is asking about himself. And it’s got a name: autism. It doesn’t follow that it applies to all autistics – see my blog Remark about Scoundrels.

And thirdly, it is not a harsh thing to say, unless you assume that by ‘spiritual’ I mean ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’. Even then, it’s, yes, very sad but it’s not a judgement. For me, ‘sin’ and ‘spirituality’ are technical terms, not judgements. Different things are obvious. But if she has autistic students, she should be aware of that.

So I’m putting in a disclaimer at the start of the second edition. There are two very important points, which I would have thought are obvious and what is really depressing is that I don’t think this person even wants to try to understand it so there is no way I can begin to explain it to her. She’d rather drown the book in blood than face this question.

The first point is: all autistics are different. This book is not a comment on all autistics. It is a comment on one particular autistic’s blind spot and the grief and bitterness it has caused him. The theme of the story is the way he gradually relinquishes the old bitterness and as the country comes back into the light, so does he.

The second point is: getting the autism assessment is a great help, it gives it a label, but it doesn’t make it go away, any more than a diagnosis of blindness restores your sight. It provides a framework to learn to manage it, but the question remains: is the disability, for this particular autistic person, a spiritual one?

I still don’t know the answer. The project was to come to terms with it.

Oh, as a postscript. I went back to the agency to try to tell them that I don’t feel this editor can help me any more. I got an email back three days later, saying sorry it didn’t work out, we can consider some other options. Eight days later I haven’t heard any more so I call him. He makes no attempt to understand my point (fair enough, he needs to support his staff) and agrees to take on the remaining 100 minutes himself. But it has to be out of office hours, he says, so he’ll look at it tonight. That was four weeks ago.

I’ve decided that if I can manage it, I shall stop holding my breath. He’s probably already forgotten.

By the way, when the second edition comes out, any of you kind people who have already bought the book and commented on it will receive, on request, a signed copy, on me, as thanks for your support. Watch this space.

Remark about scoundrels

I remember reading, years ago, that Samuel Johnson’s famous comment about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel is not a definition of patriotism, it is a remark about scoundrels. I’ve been trying to search for it to find an attribution but couldn’t find it.

Anyway, I think the two main points of my Poor in Spirit trilogy are in a similar kind of vein, in the sense that they are very easily misunderstood. To say that my autistic protagonist thinks he might be spiritually disabled is not a definition of autism. It’s not even a remark about autism. It’s a lifelong puzzlement about spirituality.

Similarly, the discovery that ‘consciousness is sin’ is not a value judgement about consciousness, it’s a definition of sin. That needs a lot of unpacking, and results in the suggestion that, at least in the Eden story, God didn’t give us morality but rather punished us for it!

The Daodejing (aka Tao Te Ching) has a similar theme – cleverness and intelligence are repeatedly denounced as the root of all evil.

In our pristine state, we were not yet conscious. To return to this state, by meditation, prayer or whatever, is to renounce our consciousness.

It is with this predicament that my hyperverbal protagonist is struggling.