Julia Lee Barclay-Morton
The Mortality Shot and A Paradigm Shift
This is a photo of the light at sunset on Westray in the Orkney Isles when the clouds have taken over. I think it's magic. I should be there right now, but am not because I can't get COVID again, so had to cancel my trip to my soul home...again...but I have the photos anyway...
Below is the Carina Nebula, a star nursery, visible thanks to NASA...do you see how these two images and atmospheres reflect one another? The colors and the whole thing of it? I do, which is one of the many gifts of being autistic. Colors and textures and patterns and how they resonate—especially those that emerge thanks to forces greater than us—make me cry with happiness. Most of us autistic folks have a wild forest of synapses firing all the time, because ours don't get pared down by adulthood like neurotypical's do. It's a way of paving roads through the brain, adding signs and turn offs creating an efficient way to move through life. But, most autistic brains stay forever wild. This untamed synaptic activity can make life confusing at times and quite overwhelming, but then this, which I think is related to wonder as well. Autistics are sometimes judged as naive and childlike by the majority culture, and maybe our unpruned synapses are why, but again, I'll take it...because I never want to take what is in fact extraordinary for granted...
AND...I am writing with some happy news. I finally—for the first time ever—have a signed book contract. The Mortality Shot is a hybrid collection of essays, stories and a stage text that all revolve around...wait for it...mortality...and it's coming out this fall with the wonderfully named Liquid Cat Books (Ugo obviously approves.) When there is a link for preorders and such, I will post that, but wanted to give you a heads up, because it's where I am focused now.
I created this collection when I noticed that the bulk of my shorter writing over the past 5 or so years related to mortality. My fathers started dying off (all four died in seven years: 2010-2017), and prior to that I had suffered a traumatic miscarriage, and my beloved cousin Darcy died in 2018. In any case, lots of loss. I was beginning to crawl out of Camp Grief when I took the intensive yoga teacher training in 2019 at Kripalu after which I began to understand I might be autistic, when along came COVID and the 2020s now being entirely defined by Global Pandemia. As anyone who has been reading my blogs knows, I had my own run in with COVID at the very beginning, and then well over a year of long haul COVID, which landed me in the hospital with a dissection in my carotid artery in July 2020. I have written about all this, too. My great-grandmother died of the so-called Spanish flu in 1918, so I was scared from the beginning, and it turns out I was not wrong to be.
I feel a lot better now, and at 18 months, an MRI showed that the dissection has finally begun to heal. In the meantime, I have learned a lot about healing trauma and the nervous system via polyvagal informed yoga and other embodiment techniques. You can see more about this here. I have also learned a lot about autism and the disability community, interrogated my own ableism in the process, and am embracing with huge relief and gratitude being autistic.
I had to slow down the memoir writing because having begun in a book proposal workshop, I tried to make it fit into an older form related to my trauma and yoga journey, and it wasn't working. My New Year resolution was: Do Less and Integrate More...and that seems to be what is happening. I am allowing out the voice/s that embody this understanding of who I am, and the journey to that place. It is taking time and that is OK. 57 years of masking is not going to go away overnight.
However, The Mortality Shot includes many of the voices I have discovered over the years, including my most recent stage text, Respairation or you have to unmute yourself. As my understanding of autism grows, I see more and more how my stage texts, which seemed to emerge out of nowhere in terms of how they are constructed, which doesn't look like anything one would consider a traditional play, were in fact my first unmasked autistitexts (concept thanks to the extraordinary Authoring Autism by M. Remi Yergeau, which if you are autistic and a writer you Must read). This is why the voices heard in these stage texts speak to me the most clearly and resonate the most deeply. I am seeing more and more how to integrate that freedom into prose, and this is also why I slowed down the memoir...This forthcoming collection, however, by including stories, essays and a stage text is in some deep way a glimpse into that integration. Almost a teaser. My own little star nursery nebula.
And if you are interested in hearing All of my stage texts or sampling some of them...you can! In September, you can hear Viv Corringham and I read and record sounds in relation to my stage texts. We were commissioned by RadioArtZone to create a 22 hour radio show, including the past 22 years of my experimental stage texts, which Viv and I are approaching in multiple aways as radio/sound art. The link for this epic beginning September 20, 2022 is here: Shadow/Text or here nothing ends. You can drop in any time online unless you happen to live in Luxembourg in which case you can turn in on the radio, too. There are 100 such 22 hour radio shows being aired as part of the Esch City of Culture celebration in Luxembourg, which began in June, and I encourage you to tune in for some wild rides.
So, this is all great stuff of course, but I am finding it is also scary at times, especially the book, since that is a first for me. Even with plays I have written and directed, there are actors involved, and an audience and designers and all kinds of people. Even so, the first time I ever showed a play to someone outside of rehearsals, I got so sick the night before I had to ask my assistant director run the dress rehearsal for me. I miraculously recovered from so called food poisoning when heard kind words from John Clancy, then Artistic Director of The Present Company Theatorium on my answering machine. Yes, Back in the Day. Answering machine. Land line. That kind of thing. Granted I was a Luddite and most people had cell phones already but still...(now can also interpret this as: I am autistic and knee-jerk hate change, which is true, and that includes any and all new technology and social media, etc...I am a chronic late adopter, which has both its benefits and drawbacks. I avoid buying things that become obsolete in a year, but then I also sometimes stubbornly hold onto things that don't work just so I Don't Have to Change Something, because...noooooo...)
But I digress as I normally do when uncomfortable, doesn't everybody?!...Anyhoo, the larger point is historically, any time I become more visible, there is a sound barrier I have to cross through that is rarely pleasant. Which is why I am glad that my first experience with this will be a short collection of work, much of which has been published elsewhere with a small, kind publisher about whom I have only heard good things.
I am beginning to get some responses from folks I have asked to blurb the book, which are kind of amazing...not to mention a gorgeous foreword written by writer and critic extraordinaire Adam McGovern, who knows both my stage texts and prose, so was the perfect person to take on the challenge of summarizing such a polyphonic mix of writing. I am oscillating between extreme gratitude and a sense of I am not worthy and should hide inside a dumpster.
A common feature of autism as it turns out is: not wanting to be seen, which when you think about it makes sense. I mean of most of the world has been looking at you since you were an infant as if something is a little, you know, off, so being seen has historically not been a pleasant experience. At best when I was younger and not yet masking more "successfully" (aka making myself discernible to the neurotypical world through great effort and at great cost to my health and sense of self), being seen as I was uncut caused confusion or isolation at best and bullying or abuse at worst.
I used to think all my fear of visibility stuff had to do with trauma, and some of it surely does, but there is this ongoing daily trauma that anyone autistic has experienced since the gate that ends up being more corrosive than the dramatic kind you can point to and do EMDR or therapy for or whatever. I mean I am beginning to do some EMDR with my Autistic Therapist...which is working. And that is because my therapist himself is autistic. Prior to K, I had spent decades of my life masking in therapy, even trauma therapy, because neurotypical therapists, even trauma therapists, simply don't get what it's like to experience things in an autistic framework and tend to frame our responses as resistance or pathology, which instead is just the autistic factory settings that comes prepackaged with a different operating system. So, like the codes you are trying to use with us might not, you know, work.
So I need this anchor of someone for the first time in 58 years I don't have to mask with to do any depth trauma work. Because I know he can see me. Not necessarily all of me, because there is an age and gender difference, but he can see the part of me everyone else including me has been trying to fix for the past half century and not have a problem with it, so I can breathe fully and trust him.
Given this and how new my autistic understanding and healing is, the idea of my words out in the world to be reckoned with all on their own and not in the midst of a journal or anthology somehow giving them cover is daunting. Most of this writing was done before the diagnosis and half of it before I even suspected in any real way that I might be autistic. So the theme is more about loss, grief, mortality and identity. Way before autism was even a glimmer in my conscious eye, the search for identity has been an obsession, which not surprisingly also turns out to be a fairly common autistic trait. Again, when you know your whole life you really don't fit in...like...anywhere, but have no idea why, it gives pause for thought as to who the actual fuck you might be.
To be clear, I don't believe my disability means anything is wrong with me, but that I am disabled by the way the majority neurotypical culture insists we who are autistic conform to its norms in order to be included or even consider, you know, human. This is the social model of disability, and it's important. It's only very recently—as in only since the 1990s—that autistic adults have even begun to speak to each other, never mind advocate for each other that I know even I—who have been researching autism intensively for a couple years—am still wrapping my mind around the level of clusterfuckery we autistic folks have had to and still do face. A new and important book I am reading, Neuroqueer Heresies by Nick Walker, is helping me so much in terms of precision of language and an understanding of how important it is to upend the pathology paradigm that locates any kind of behavior that operates outside the what is considered normal by the majority of people as a problem that must be fixed. She proposes the neurodiversity paradigm, which instead embraces minority neurotypes that manifest as alternative forms of seeing and experiencing and behaving as valuable to the human experience.
I am beginning to truly embrace this person I am, which is not be so hard since I know who that is now, and for the first time ever I feel I am embracing someone who exists, not some fantasy of a person held up as a norm by culture, therapists, even close friends and family who didn't know any better. And because I didn't know any better I have spent over 5 decades masking to manufacture a facsimile of this acceptable self.
So...to have The Mortality Shot come out, which includes many of my voices, including what I consider my unmasked autistic voice, is both exciting and also a little bit terrifying. But even so, I hope you will buy it and reading it when it is available. And please wish me luck as I continue working on the memoir, which I hope can be a field guide through finding oneself even as late as midlife, even in face of trauma in spite of and because of being one of the weird kids.
The truth about the weird kids who have managed to make it to adulthood through a mix of luck and some sanctuary (in my case it was theater) is: we are very strong. We walk through this world knowing already that most people will think we are weird, and so all the drama of doing this or that to fit in is pointless. Doesn't mean I don't want to connect or have friends, but it does mean I know how rare that is, really, and when it happens...as anyone who has been my friend knows...I am ridiculously loyal, sometimes to my own detriment, because have stuck with relationships (friends and romantic) way past their sell by date, even when the person has proven themselves to be mean, negligent or even abusive. And yes, this is another common autistic experience.
But maybe it's not a pathology, maybe we can reframe this tendency to include loyalty and depth communication and shared interests and saying things explicitly and find ways to coexist that are sensorily kind as a key to what Nick Walker refers to as neurocosmopolitanism, which is more than tolerance for others who are different but an embrace, a curiosity, a desire to walk outside? Or even if that is too big an ask, at least realize the desire for this is not a problem.
Today, I had a thought inspired by the concept of the surrender walk, which is a walk without goal for a certain amount of time...no place to go, no one to be, nothing to do...and hopefully without a phone, or at least with the phone turned off. This is harder these days, but it's possible. You end up noticing a lot more and the time and space somehow expands. I was meditating today and thought...how about a surrender year? A year without goal? And wow did that feel great, so starting today, July 15, 2022, is my surrender year. Obviously it's not going to be a year long walk in the woods. I live in NYC and I am typing this on my computer and will be posting it to a website...but it's about giving up the Idea of what needs to happen, what life has to look like and all my self-imposed goals. I have found that ever since spending less time in theater and more time writing on my own, the will to a goal has been strong in this one. Because in theater you have rehearsals and other people involved, it's not hard to stay on track. I was concerned I would just witter away time if I didn't impose goals and deadlines on myself, and to some degree that was useful, but it also wasn't. I lost something in this process, and now I want to allow myself back into the wilder forms of art and life, where less is known and more is to be discovered. Less map, more territory.
So...whatever neurotype you are...I wish you a wonderful July and hope we connect in the near future either in real life or online or reading each other's words...and meanwhile...remember there are new stars and galaxies and planets and solar systems being born all the time...and give yourself some time today to go on a surrender walk...literal or figurative...I'll meet you there.