non-fiction

Neighbourhood Politics by Meryle

Sitting on the back steps, facing east at quarter to six in the morning, the mid summer sky is already bright before sunrise. In front of me the small, mansion parking lot, the back laneway and the morning sky framed by two 1970’s apartment buildings.  The huge trees from the neighbours' yards hanging over the parked cars in their rented parking spots.  Everyone can see you here, and you can see everyone.  Including the local animals

 

A white and ginger cat tiptoed in front of me between the wood and chain link fence and the first parked car.  It heard me, and suddenly shy, it shrunk away and ran back to the cover it came from.

A few moments later at the south end of the wood and chain link fence, I catch the cat stretching upwards from the ground-cover ferns, attempting to climb up the wood of the fence.  Again, seeing me seeing it, the cat slowly slunk down into the ferns and hid.

After a few minutes of observing the cat’s attempt to hide from me, I chirped and made a cat call.  A ginger ear poked out between two fern leaves.  I chirp and call again and the cat, came out of the bushes and enthusiastically trotted over and started rubbing itself against me and walking back and forth on the steps in front of me.  After petting and butt scratching the cat for at least 3 or 4 minutes, I observed that the cat kept nervously looking around, then marking the stairs as it's territory with face rubs.  Almost as if my presence made the cat feel safe to mark territory the would normally never dare mark.

“You are afraid of my neighbors' cat Loki, aren’t you?”  The cat kept walking back and forth and rubbing against my legs and hands.

 

After a few more minutes, a robin perched on a branch near us and started loudly chirping.  Like it was making a neighbourhood announcement.  Like it was this robin’s job to follow cats around and scream their location so other cat prey can stay safe.  

After 6am now, a squirrel joins with the robin from a tree on the other side of the parking lot.  Chittering and making noises I recognize as territorial declarations, I look and see the squirrel in the tree starting at me.  I regularly feed the black squirrels by leaving raw cashews and pieces of sweet barley cakes in the same spots around the mansion lot then watching them eat from inside/a distance.  These squirrels know I am the source of their treats.

Suddenly, with the robin and squirrel chirping and twittering and staring right at us, the cat goes into full affection/territorial display, walking up and down the steps, rubbing my back and neck, trying to drink from my mug, and then sitting stately at my feet while surveying all the trees. Am I the middle of an urban wildlife territory standoff?

Eventually, the squirrel left and silently came back with one of the other squirrels.  To watch.  To witness.

Perhaps they felt betrayed that the food leaver is ok with the cat who tries to catch them.  The robins usually don’t have a problem with me, will they now gossip and tell each other I’m a cat lover??  That I fraternize with a bird murderer? 

My coffee finished, I say goodbye and go back inside, leaving drama in the animal neighbourhood and sweet barley cake all over the lot.

Autism Journal #1 by Meryle

Last week was the Eurovision 2017 song contest, and admittedly it was the first time I had ever watched the whole contest and not just clips of ridiculousness.  I was raised in a very artistic household, but my parents' art tastes tended to be on the intellectual and avant-garde side of the creative spectrum, and as such, the grandiose ridiculosity of Eurovision was not on our radar at all.  But it sure is on my radar NOW after what I saw last week.

I was invited to a viewing party in my friends basement and it was attended by burlesque producers, drug free anime ravers, and most of the members of a Jewish Accapella choir that performs Jewish-themed parody versions of popular songs (yes they are very popular at the local bat/bah-mitzvahs, how did you know?!).  I got there a half an hour late, just in time to see Italy perform (Francessco Gabbani a.k.a. my love, my soulmate, no big deal) and immediately I fell into my oblivious shit-talking and sassy questions/commentary that had everyone laughing and the host hugging me saying “aah!  I’m so glad you are here I knew I needed you for this”

Watching Eurovision was a wild time and super fun! I have so many thoughts on the Contest itself and all the hilarious anecdotes from the party that I could write about, but this story isn’t about those things.

 It is about Portugal winning, and autism.

Salvador Sobral won Eurovision with his sister Luisa’s song Amare Pelos Dios, but hours before that happened, as I sat in that basement waiting for his performance to start, my friend turned to me and said, "there is rumour he’s on the spectrum.”

 

There are two things in this world that will make me throw my fists up in the air and yell “MY PEOPLE”:

1) When welsh people do very welsh things,

and

2) ESPECIALLY when autistic people are exceptional in public.  

 

I don’t know if he or his family know what high-functioning autism is, let alone if they know he has it.  They have been very private and secretive about his heart condition (denying reports about it for awhile) so they may know he is (probably) Aspergers, or they may not know.

But watching him during the performance and the things I have seen of him since, he absolutely comes off as very much 'my people'.

Watching his performance the physical signs were obvious to me. The awkward movments of his hands during his performances were the first signs.  Alone, hand gestures like that can seem like nothing but an akward affectation.  But that was not the only sign he showed.  The non-reactional "*shrug* hey of we won!” attitude to winning suggested the delayed emotional processing we can experience, but once he got to the acceptance speech, I was sure he was on the spectrum.

 

“we live in a world of disposable music; fast food music without any content.  I think this could be a victory for music with people who make music that actually means something.  Music is not fireworks; music is feeling.  So let's try to change that and bring music back”

 

Wow.  He said that after winning the biggest, flashiest, pop song contest in the world.  And watching his face and the heartfelt way he gave the speech (in English, not his first language of Portuguese) I could tell, he had NO IDEA how rude his speech was to all the other contestants.  “Wow that’s some shade.” said the party host, “That’s some autism, that’s what that is!” I responded.  "I bet has no clue why what he said was rude”

As an autistic person, i know the subtle things we do that are different from what neurotypicals do, and neurotypicals tend to see these things as being willfully rude or eccentric without understanding that what they are actually witnessing is autism.  A person who doesn’t know autism may attempt to argue with me that those behaviours could be indicative of anything, or that I am not able to “guess" a diagnosis.  But the thing is, I am able.  I live autism, I know autism. Because I am so acutely aware of how NOT like everyone else I am, anything I see that acts like me stands out like a spotlight in the dark.

Salvador’s post-win performance proved his autism to me without a doubt.  He invited his sister Luisa to sing the song with him.  He sang the first bit, and when he passed the mic off to Luisa the audience exploded at how deep and beautiful her voice was.  And behind her Salvador started happy-flapping, clapping and jumping up and down with excitement.  Nobody flails like an autistic person, and Salvador is clearly autistic.  

And let me be clear: his abilities are stunning.

Since the show (aside from my constantly listening to and swooning over Gabbani’s Occidentali's Karma) I have seen a lot more physical proof that Salvador is on the spectrum.  The most obvious one I found was a picture of him on stage holding the award, confetti flying all around him, just staring into the distance with a Mlem sticking out of his mouth.  To paraphrase the Foxworth joke structure: If you’re staring into the void with your tongue sticking partway out your mouth, you just might just be autistic.

Autism is a spectrum, but our society only really talks about the extreme autistic who suffer from co-morbid diseases and disabilities that make their condition extremely visible and hard to manage.  This is not the most common form of an autistic person.  There are many more Autistic people who look and act like Salvador, Dan Harmon, Daryl Hanna or David Byrne, and a lot of times regular people don’t realize this because autism isn’t want they think it is.  And I think its time for us to change that.