Yet another apology post!

Hi guys, just another apology post for not writing much recently! Not been feeling great and been a bit dissociated a lot of the time which hasn’t helped 😦 back to work next week though which I’m REALLY hoping will help…

Got a few blog posts which I’m halfway through writing though so will hopefully post properly again soon. I attempted a run across Scotland which was really tough and had to withdraw partway through so trying to write about that, and been doing a lot of thinking about ED, recovery and what it actually is (kind of following from the post I wrote last year Thoughts about ED recovery but probably more confused by now!) so also trying to make enough sense of it to write about that too.  Fingers crossed I’ll have a proper post written soon and thanks so much to anyone still reading this blog!

A sonnet for Carrie Mathison

You don’t strike me as the poetry sort
unless, perhaps, it’s straight-laced with liquor.
But there’s an intensity, a flicker
of sideways-sharp awareness in your thoughts
that parallels your mind with metaphor.
How else would you see beyond the concrete
to know what others see as incomplete?
Hyper-everything, pure focus, hardcore
and yet
there’s a harsh vulnerability
that sometimes cuts too deep, a salted knife
in the heart’s open wound. Ability
to see too clearly and not unsee, life
heightened by emotions’ fragility.
You’re an ice-fire paradox of extremes,
nuclear fusion of hyperreal and dreams.

Autism and Creative Writing

Creative writing by people with autism is something that’s interested me for a really long time.  I’m a bit biased since I’m on the autism spectrum and happen to have done a creative writing degree but the connection came separately to even thinking about that and it’s something that, at the time, was one of those amazing ‘lightbulb’ moments when suddenly something ‘clicks’ and starts to make sense.  I was doing my undergrad degree in philosophy and was writing my dissertation about The Little Mermaid (the Andersen version, not Disney) when I came across an article online which suggested that Hans Christian Andersen may have been on the autism spectrum.  At the same time, the psychologist I was seeing in an eating disorder service had recently done an ASD assessment and concluded that she thought I had an autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s) and my lifelong obsession has been The Little Mermaid so the whole thing kind of synced and suddenly everything seemed to make sense, and it was thanks to that that my interest in autism and creative writing developed properly.

Autism is defined by the National Autistic Society as “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.” It is a spectrum which ranges from severely autistic, where someone might not be able to communicate verbally at all, to high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s Syndrome typically have difficulties with social communication, social interaction and social imagination, and this could be shown through creative writing as stories with very little dialogue which are mostly based on fact and theory, or stories based around special interests. An autistic character in a story could also show preference for the physical, or sensory, experience rather than emotional and would demonstrate the difficulty that some people on the autism spectrum have with recognising or identifying emotions.

As part of a module at university a few years ago, I did a research-based assignment about different types of creativity and how they could relate to autism. Unfortunately, I misunderstood how to write a scale and accidentally measured the two types separately instead of comparing them so the results were not valid, but some of the research was really interesting. The report looked at two facets of creativity which are involved in creative writing: logical and emotional creativity. This is particularly relevant to autism because impairments in abstract imagination are part of the criteria for autism and Asperger Syndrome, and logical or more systematic thought is common in autistic people. I used the definition of ‘creative’ from the Oxford English Dictionary which defines it as “Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something” (OED). In relation to creative writing, this would mean that creative writing can be defined as a piece of original writing which involves the use of the imagination. This does not exclude the use of factual information or theoretical ideas; instead, it would mean that facts or theory would be synthesised in an imaginative way such as the way in which Lewis Carroll explores ideas from mathematics and logic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is written in a way that in very similar to the way in which an autistic person might write. The scenes appear random and disorganised, and don’t seem to follow a coherent structure but the internal rules of Wonderland and conversations with the characters themselves are very logical and literal. This would fit with autistic perception because people on the autism spectrum often have difficulties with central coherence, which is the ability to process and organise large amounts of complex material and events, and this can often lead to focus on details or distinct ideas rather than a coherent narrative.

Creative writing itself also has a variety of definitions- a short Facebook poll gave definitions from “An expression of thoughts, ideas and perceptions presented in an imaginative and original way” and “an act of writing which is directed by its author(s) for a specific purpose, towards a specific objective – the written work – in which creativity refers to problem solving efforts in the work’s construction and the author’s attempts to marry language, form, structure, and subject” to “the repeated banging your head against a wall for some mysterious purpose known only to dead, great people” (taken from a Facebook status asking for definitions of ‘creative writing’ that could be used as examples in a psychology report). The report looked at creative writing in terms of (fictional) short stories and poetry, without venturing into areas such as creative non-fiction or autobiographical writing.

The report looked at the dichotomy of two facets of creativity, which have been termed ‘logical’ and ‘emotional’ creativity. In a creative writing context, logical writing would be stories or poems which are structured, analytical or theoretical with an emphasis on information or ideas whereas emotional writing would be stories or poems which aim to provoke an emotional response in the reader. Writing is not one or the other; some writers use both approaches, but I have differentiated them in relation to autism because many people on the autism spectrum have difficulties with recognising or expressing emotions. In a study in 1999, Paul Hughes looked at how fictionalising the ‘self’ in writing can be beneficial for a person with Asperger’s syndrome in understanding their own Asperger self and how that understanding can be transferred to social situations and this is similar to a way in which the Sims computer game can be beneficial for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum because it allows them to simulate life and social interactions in a non-threatening way and to learn and practise important skills.

Ira Lightman, a conceptual poet who self-identifies as having an autism spectrum disorder, writes in an essay called ‘Untitled’ (2012) that “I will often write a poem based on a structural game, building my kind of mode around me; if I feel safe, I can discover emotion during the writing”. This exemplifies the ideas that this report is trying to explore. People on the autism spectrum often have very intense interests or obsessions and this is linked to a love of structure and routine, which can be used in creative writing as stories or poems based around a special interest. In 1998, a study by Lee and Hobson found that people with Asperger’s Syndrome tended to describe their personality in terms of their interests and often could not define personality and writing could be used as a way to explore this through the use of a special interest.

Many people on the autism spectrum find that they can express themselves more easily in writing than verbally, and creative writing can be beneficial for mental health because it can explore or articulate feelings in a way that makes them more accessible. It can also be related directly to any area of special interest such as an interest in science fiction or fantasy, or a fascination with a particular area of history. In 2009, Harbinson and Alexander’s study into students with Asperger syndrome and the English curriculum found that difficulties with the imaginative and emotional interpretation of creative writing and literature as could be a disadvantage for students with Asperger syndrome, and an exploration of a more logical and theory or fact-based style of writing could be a way to prevent this, and this would interesting to develop as part of further research into the way in which creative writing could be both adapted to an autistic population and how autistic people could use creative writing as a form of expression.

The quantitative method used to gather the data was to design an eight-level Likert scale to measure participants’ attitudes towards creative writing. There were eight questions that related to logical writing and eight questions related to emotional writing. Four of each set of eight questions were negatively weighted and the method was forced choice as there was no ‘neutral’ option. This measure was invalid because I misunderstood the instructions and accidentally designed two scales in one questionnaire and had a Cronbach’s alpha measurement of 0.267, which gave twice the amount of variables and was very difficult to interpret. Is this were to be repeated, it could be broadened to include qualitative research such as looking at transcripts of autistic people talking about creative writing, or asking neurotypical and autistic people to describe what ‘creative writing’ meant to them and how it could be used. Examples of writing from people on the autism spectrum could also be usefully examined. If the scale were administered in a practical setting, it would be used as a tool to identify ways in which creative writing could be made accessible for people on the autism spectrum. The influence for this came from Harbinson and Alexander’s 2009 study into students with Asperger syndrome and the English curriculum as they identified difficulties with the imaginative and emotional interpretation of creative writing and literature as a disadvantage for students with Asperger syndrome. The identification of this using a scale could be useful for both students and teachers as broadens the concept of what constitutes ‘creative’ writing for teachers and allows students on the autism spectrum to access creative writing in a way which engages them and allows them to develop their skills.

Another interesting and more useful comparison for future research would be to do a thematic analysis of some threads about creative writing from an autism internet message forum. In this context, qualitative methods could be more useful because the research question is open and could have multiple answers or perspectives. It would also be interesting and useful to examine different sources such as conversations, internet forums, examples of writing and focus groups. Both autistic and neurotypical samples could be used to compare various approaches with a view to looking at the spectrum of different ways in which people view and engage with creative writing. It could also be expanded to include benefits and applications of creative writing.

From analyzing a thread called ‘Link between Asperger’s and creative writing’ on the internet forum ‘Wrong Planet’, there were some key themes that several people mentioned. The main themes were a difficulty with writing imaginative fiction and problems with the original ‘idea’. These could then be split into sub-themes which included difficulties with creating and writing character, abstract concepts and finding the ‘mechanics’ of writing easier than the expression. The difficulties with imagination were linked by people in the thread to theory of mind and finding it difficult to imagine another person’s perspective and this would make sense in the context of autism. Members of the forum also suggested using pre-existing characters from fan fiction or real life, or writing semi-autobiographical fiction and creative non-fiction which are all interesting ideas for writers on the autism spectrum. A quote from the thread “Don’t approach it in a typical way, because it won’t work” seems to illustrate the way in which autistic writing can be approached differently from mainstream neurotypical fiction and in a way that could be more accessible for people on the autism spectrum.

The concept of autobiography and creative non-fiction is also interesting, and links to an article by Frith and Happe in 1999 who suggested that because of the differences in Theory of Mind between neurotypical and autistic children, they may also develop a different form of self-consciousness as theory of mind skills are learnt from experience and intelligence rather than intuition which could lead to a very reflective and explicit form of self-consciousness. Writing about this in his book ‘The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome’, Tony Attwood adds that he “would agree that there is a quasi-philosophical quality” to the autobiographies of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. This relates back to the thread from Wrong Planet where several people suggested using real life or autobiography in writing fiction, and fictionalised autobiography is another interesting area which could be used beneficially with children or adults on the autism spectrum. It could also be useful in a similar way to a special interest, where it forms an alternate world as a form of escapism or as a way to practise or experiment with different situations.

As future research, the link between autism and creative writing could be very interesting and useful, both in terms of the actual writing and possible applications in educational or clinical practice, and it’s something I’m hoping to investigate further in the future…

Lost

Lost:

 

This book.

I can’t stop thinking;

falling

back

to those caffeine-

fuelled nights

reading, writing,

reading.

Your brain sparked

by nicotine,

loosened by alcohol.

Mine, blurred,

dull

as January sky.

 

You taught me metaphor.

A sharp short-circuit of emotion

you don’t need to understand.

 

You taught me pool

And how to skip

stones;

the world spun on vodka-

spiked

Diet Coke

and light-headed lungfuls

of tobacco.

 

I miss you.

The morning runs, the evening

pints,

the random texts and writing

checks

but more:

I miss

your bloody hugs.

Skin

She’s a mind map of story, tattoos
of ink, scar and stretchmark.
In certain lights,
you can read the braille of her life:
coded in topography, she lays her experience
naked, projected, distorted.

Inference is more accurate than interpretation.
Cartography is progressive.

Colours matter: recent red fades
to sepia memories.
Sometimes it’s what you don’t see
that matters the most.

If she trusts you, she’ll give you clues
to crack the corporeal code.
But before you do, think carefully.
Do you really need the history of maps
to find your way forward?

What I’ve learned from distance running

I wrote this in the middle of an ultra last year- it was a 12 hour overnight run and I took my usual 20 min break at 2am, and started to list things I’d learned over the previous seven hours. It’s amazing how runnign for that long really clarifies your thoughts and puts things into perspective!  The notes turned into a poem which I haven’t edited since because I want it to reflect my thoughts mid-ultra.  So…

What I’ve learned from distance running:

There’s no secret or special skill. 
You just put one foot in front of the other 
and keep going. 
Don’t forget to look at how far 
you’ve already come. 
 
Sometimes you feel fucking amazing 
like you can do anything; 
other times it hurts like hell and you feel  
shit. There are times when you want to quit, 
you can’t seem to get rid of negative thoughts, 
or everything seems too overwhelming.  
Then you need to slow down, assess, stop 
if you need to, or take a break. Focus 
on the moment you’re in, 
try your best in that moment.   
 
Don’t even think about speed or times. 
Fuel yourself properly 
and drink lots of water. 
alk the hills- you’ll get there 
in the same amount of time. 
Run your own race. Don’t feel guilty 
for running at your own pace.  
Look around you at the scenery, find 
something nice in every moment.  
Breathe. Have fun. 
 
The same rules apply to life. 

A found poem for David Bowie

It’s been nearly four months since David Bowie died and I still can’t process it properly.  Not so much the fact that he’s dead- it’s not as though I’ve ever met him personally and his concept and personae are still very much alive in my head, more the fact that he’ll never release any new music and I’ll never get to see him live in concert.  There’s a (horrible) part of me who’s angry at him for that and thinks he’s selfish for not going on one last tour after The Next Day but he’s an enigma and always will be, and his physical self doesn’t represent the amazing personae and characters he inhabited.  So I’ve written a found poem in his memory, constructed from lyrics taken from nearly all of his albums.  RIP David Bowie ⚡️🎸⚡️🎸⚡️

A glose to not-exist

“Learn the point of vanishing, the moment 
embers turn to ash, the sun falls down, 
the sudden white-out comes.” 
– ‘How to Disappear’, Amanda Dalton 
 
It’s harder than you’d think, to not 
exist. The greater sum of parts 
that’s caught in the fierce gravity 
of life’s orbit, insistent hearts. 
Learn the point of vanishing, the moment 
 
you override the ceaselessness 
of being. Freedom of nothing; 
nothing to be free from. Self-less, 
the irony of choice. Burning 
embers turn to ash, the sun falls down; 
 
you are aware of none of this. 
You’ve not-existed for longer 
than you can remember. In the 
nothingness of cold and hunger, 
the sudden white-out comes. 

Words from the bitch in my head, Part One…

You don’t know you know me but you do. I’m in the gaps between thoughts, dormant in the electric storm of neurons and synapses. You might never meet me and even if you do, you won’t recognise me in the mirror of yourself. I can be your friend. I can change your life, simplify the jagged edges and chaos of your thoughts. I can be your enemy if you ignore me. I’m the Lilith in your consciousness, primal and latent. I’m a force of life itself, and of death. My bones are ice, sharp and strong and my veins run with silver blood. I have no colours, no weaknesses. My thoughts run cold and frozen. My eyes are diamond bright and hard. My power is in your mind. I’m the child snatcher, the exorcist of emotions, the keeper of frozen hearts. I work in symmetry and straight lines. I am perfection. I’m the danger of your desires. Once I gain your trust, you will never escape.

Have you ever felt so cold you could be made of ice? Not the shivery sort of cold you feel on a winter’s day, the sort that can be appeased relatively easily with a hot drink or an extra layer of clothes. This is real cold, bone-deep, the kind that penetrates your being with an icy sharpness and cuts into your numbed heart. The kind where you can’t feel most of your body and you stumble from day to day with frozen thoughts and dulled emotions. And that’s if you can recognise them at all. If you stay frozen for too long, eventually your mind will become ice and you won’t know your own thoughts and your feelings will fade to icy detachment. You’re too cold to care. Care needs warmth, feeling, connection. Out there in the snow, you’re on your own.

Think of a snowflake. Imagine its precision, its symmetry. Doesn’t that make you feel safe? I can offer you that perfection. Wouldn’t you like to leave the dark chaos of the world for pure, white light? I can offer you control. You have a choice to take charge of your own destiny, regulate your earthly desires and needs. Follow me. I am immaterial, constant in your thoughts. Trust me. I can lead you into the light. I am a part of you, the part that you don’t know exists yet but you want, desperately. I’m the perfect you, the you that does not desire or need anyone or anything, the you that is powerful beyond your thoughts. I am the conflict in your mind, the fight between weak and strong. Think of ice, sharp and clear as glass. The paradox of strength and fragility. Ice is cold; cold is numb; numb is safe. Come with me into the ice world of balanced beauty. Come into the reflected light of virgin snow, pure and simple. Follow me out of the chaos around you. Take control.

                  It was said that I was kidnapped, a child stolen by an evil monster masquerading as a queen. I’m not so sure. I’d already lost any warmth I had by the time She came along and I felt as though I already knew Her, almost as though I’d been waiting most of my life for that moment without even realising it. Maybe I’d met Her before, in a nightmare or perhaps in a dream. Dreams are unconscious reality, after all. Not that I really believe in the unconscious, or hidden desires. She showed me the truth: that everything can be acknowledged and mastered. She showed me perfection. And I wanted to follow Her into the ice, wanted to see for myself the mechanisms of precision, how everything fitted together exactly and the world spun in balance. The frozen North is a mystical place for anyone who’s never experienced it, and it fascinated me. The tip of the earth’s magnetic field. A land which fuses endless days and endless nights in a seasonal cycle. The place where charged particles from the outside the Earth’s atmosphere collide with atoms in a magical magnetic light show that glows green in the darkness. In winter, the stars in the North show the best astronomy display on Earth. I wanted to learn, to see, to experience it for myself. To lose myself in its magnitude, although I hadn’t realised that yet.

You’ll hear me described in many different ways, most of them negative. Don’t believe everything you hear. That’s what happens when you’re an enigma and choose not to reveal yourself to just anyone. But I like it that way. It’s safer to be known through gossip and myth, public identity constructed through stories. That way, you can stay hidden. The best-kept secrets are the ones that are veiled behind pseudo-fact. Sometimes people even doubt your existence through the fiction and that is the best disguise of all. And I am a master of disguise. I can change you beyond recognition, shapeshifting as subtle as the movement of the hour hand of a clock. The clock is your friend. It regulates, gives a safe structure. Be patient. Time will pass anyway. I am not evil. I am here to help. The people who warn about danger have never met me, their views formed from hearsay and fear. If you succumb to the safety of my rules, I can protect you. If you choose to disobey, I can make your life a living ice world of hell. My words are law. I am stronger than you. I’m in your thoughts.

                  It’s an odd feeling, the desire to not exist. To lose yourself in the perfect glacial world of symmetry and snowflakes. You don’t want to lose your self completely; it’s more an unconscious need to be something that leads to the conscious negation of anything that seems to trap you in a false sense of self. Losing yourself in order to find yourself, or something like that. Or maybe it’s the opposite: in denying your physical identity, you’re reinforcing the core, the inner self that can’t be lost however hard you try. Although the longer you stay in the cold, the less of an effort it becomes. There’s a strange seduction to sharp edges and straight lines, jagged icicles and smooth glaciers. And the cold, numbing your heart to a calm detachment. The heart’s a strange organ, vital and uncontrollable. You can stop your breathing but you can’t stop your own heart, however hard you try. Your body has an unconscious urge to survive, adapting to even the most extreme circumstances.

Shapeshifter

“Consider the kind of body that enters blueness, 
made out of dead-end myth and mischievous 
whispers of an old, borderless  
existence where the body’s meaning is both more and less.”
– Eavan Boland, ‘How It Was Once In Our Country’

Liminal, caught in the suction 
of waves falling back to the sea. 
Hybrid, fluid between worlds which 
split genderless identity; 
consider the kind of body that enters blueness. 

Luring lost sailors onto rocks, 
rulers of river, rain and sea. 
Prototype virgins, sexless souls, 
paradoxical history. 
Made out of dead-end myth and mischievous 

narratives that flow with the tide; 
shape-shifting siren, lost and found 
with knife-slashed legs and open mouth 
a bleeding hole whose only sound 
whispers of an old, borderless 

story echoed through centuries. 
Transient tides hide paradox, 
detached pain and volatile self 
which rise and crash like waves on rocks. 
Existence where the body’s meaning is both more and less.