A Life in Paint
I'm having my morning coffee and as I sip my precious morning elixir, my lifeblood, if you will, I got to thinking about my life. It turns out that I'm a pretty lucky guy considering everything I've been through.
It's no secret that I'm an odd guy, I always have been. My entire childhood was punctuated by the same old sayings, "Carl is so bright, he could do so well, if only he would apply himself", "he's capable of so much more", "Carl needs to pay more attention". As a young kid, I loved to behave in inappropriate ways, sneaking up on people and scaring them, acting like a fool in class, just because, making silly sounds, and of course my very favourite, streaking. Yes, you read correctly, streaking, taking off all my clothes and running, through the house, particularly if we had company, and of course, through the streets of my neighbourhood. I thought these things were hilarious! I remember knowing these things were wrong, but somehow, I didn't seem to care.
As I got older, the "adult conversations" turned to my temper. I was a hothead! Set me off, and I'd put a hole in a wall, bust something, throw things and scream and holler. I finally had enough of school and dropped out. I just didn't see the point. It all seemed like too much of an effort, being around all those people, in that tedious place. All I ever could focus on when I sat in class was the overwhelming desire, and even pull to do what I wanted to do. I always wanted to do what Carl wanted to do. I was never interested in your rules or schedules and I certainly didn't want them imposed on me.
The big question, "what's wrong with Carl?" continued throughout my adult life. I'd go get a job, because that's what adults do. I could always get a job, in fact, I was rarely, if ever, turned away from a job I went out for. I had a knack of initially presenting as charming, capable and reliable. And at first, I was. It didn't matter if I was a busboy, cleaner, construction labourer, whatever, at first, I was the model employee. This soon wore off and I was again feeling that pull to do whatever Carl wanted to do. I was again finding myself annoyed and anxious at the very idea of being forced, by people I knew weren't as smart as me, to fit into their schedule and to do their bidding. So I'd quit. And then the cycle would continue. I'd play against type, shave, shower, throw on some nice clothes, and play the role of model candidate again, only to have the same result.
Don't even get me started on relationships. It was pretty much the same thing. I'd always find myself saying the wrong thing, or saying what I thought was the right thing the wrong way. I'd meet a woman, fall quickly into a relationship and then get bored and annoyed and again, wanna do what and who Carl wanted to do, and more often than not, it wasn't the woman I was with. So off I'd go. I hurt a lot of people that way, but again, the pull to "do me" was greater than the desire not to hurt anyone.
On top of all that, everything in the world just seemed to get on my damned nerves. Noises were too noisy, smells were too smelly. I was a ball of nerves pretty much all of the time. Everyone in my life was asking, what's wrong with Carl? I was asking the same thing, but I was also asking what was wrong with the world? I had a sense I was different and that the world seemed to have an issue with how I was, and am. Did I care? From time to time, a bit.
Fast forward a few years, and answers finally came in the form of a psychologist. There was a name for what plagued Carl, it was Asperger's Syndrome. Of course, at first, I was skeptical, what do you mean I'm Autistic, like rocking in the corner, twirling my hands in front of my face? No, I don't think so. And anyway, aren't "those people" devoid of emotion? That makes no sense, I'm a crying mess. I had to be educated. I had no idea about any of it. So, I learned that this Asperger's thing was really just part of a spectrum, with me close to one end, and someone with severe Autism on the other. There are typical signs and symptoms, but it manifests differently in each person. For me, it seemed to manifest in me acting like a jerk most of the time. I had, and have, lots of emotions, the same ones as anyone else, I just show them differently. The diagnosis fit me perfectly, above average intelligence, often high achievers in their chosen field of endeavour, but hyper focused and having great difficulty with social aspects of life. So great, step 2, we know what it is, gimme the pills so we can fix it. Wait, what, no pills? Well now what?
Well, for me, believe it or not, the "now what" was painting. Painting calms me. It has given me something positive to focus on. I can do it when I want to and keep my own schedule. I can't even tell you how much it has helped. For a guy who hates having to talk to people for the most part, I love to talk about my work, and I've even learned to listen and to enjoy listening to how my work affects people. I've even learned to be somewhat comfortable in public settings talking about my work.
I haven't been magically fixed or cured by the paint, nor would I want to be. Asperger's is part of who I am and that's perfectly fine. I still find the world too noisy and smelly, I still say the wrong thing quite frequently, and sometimes, I'm still a bundle of nerves. Things that other people don't even notice annoy me to no end. But what painting has done is it's allowed me to find a way to be a square peg in this round hole we call the world and somehow fit.