Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's All In The Details

Today I was out in the garden planting garlic bulbs, which I had never done before, in a 'winter garden'. I even checked online to make sure I was doing it right. But first I had to clear a space in the dirt. I have a row of carrots and radishes just now sprouting. They're on raised beds, and the rows are parallel. The carrot row is about 6 inches higher than the radishes, so when I water them, the excess water drains down through canals to the radish row below.
When I made a bed for the garlic, I made sure to level it off about 6 inches below the radishes, thus making it a catch-basin for the runoff from above. Not stopping there, I made yet another bed about 6 inches below that one, and used that to plant the rest of the radish seeds. So now when I water the carrots, a series of drainage canals will ensure that all of the water will be transferred down and dispersed evenly to the terraced beds below, even allowing channels for the sediment that the water will carry with it. That was the fun part, building the thing. Of course, watching the seedlings pop out of the ground for the first time is a joy all it's own, but it's the building of the garden that carries a certain satisfaction, like a tiny civilization. The key words are building, creating.

I've always liked to create things. Not just artwork, but things. I have all my life. I have a fort made out of toothpicks that I started in 1971, and to this day it remains a work in progress. And it's the details that interest me the most. Whether it's in a drawing or painting, a toothpick fort, a garden, a story, music, or just about anything, the more details the better. Sometimes, to the exclusion of all else. Except of course, when a series of distant, esoteric but vivid memories go through my mind as clear as if they happened yesterday.

About a year or so ago, a friend told me about a radio program she was listening to. A man was being interviewed and he described a similar history of being focused on detail to an extreme, how he too had distant but vivid memories.

She told me, "it reminded me of you!"

He was talking about something called Aspergers Syndrome. A mild form of autism that was only recently diagnosed. I read the guy's interview and sure enough, I could relate to a lot of what he was saying. After reading more articles and blogs on the subject, and an excellent one is here: http://www.glitchbucket.com/ I realized that hmm, I think I may have a touch of it myself...
Not an extreme case, but definitely some signs of it.
I also found it interesting that in most of the cases I've read about, they are men in their 50's who never knew what it was until recently, and who realized, "well, that explains a lot."

Though more extreme cases include a lack of communication or social skills, and a lack of empathy. And while I seem to have an adequate amount of communication and social skills, sometimes it seems to require some effort. And I've always felt a deep amount of empathy towards others...and animals. So perhaps in my case, I've only dipped my toe in this ocean called Aspergers. And that is, if I have it at all...

But I can empathize (ha) with those who do. When they talk about being keenly focused on detail, and the slightest minutae of drawing, painting, music, model making, etc.
Or memories that would usually be long forgotten, they come frequently, every day. I remember what we had for dinner on June 17, 1975...and the conversation we had about putting up a new wall in the patio.

When they talk about being uncomfortable in crowds, I can relate, somewhat. I usually don't mind crowds at all. In fact, I enjoy parties, and I've thrown some. And I enjoy concerts and sporting events and street fairs, where large crowds gather. I've always been especially drawn to people with a sense of humor, I love to laugh. But those are crowds I choose to be in, with people who I'm comfortable with. On the other hand, when I worked at the store, I was astounded at how drained I would feel afterwards, like I wanted to retreat into a cave and just sleep.

I also empathize with shy people, because I've always been shy myself, especially when I was a kid. Or introverted at least. How I've always envied and admired extroverts, the ones who aren't shy at all, who feel invigorated being in large crowds. Sometimes I wish I could be an extrovert, and I've tried, but it's just an act. I'm not 'wired' that way.

And then I think, would I still be able to focus on the precise details of what I was drawing, or building? Would I even care then? Because if I didn't, I don't think I would even bother to start. Not that being an extrovert would preclude that, but I wouldn't want to know. It would be too much of a departure from whom I've always been, and what I do. When I finish a drawing, there's a certain joy that comes with it that resonates deeply, like a blessing beyond blessings.
So if Aspergers has been a part of all that, even a small part, then so be it, I wouldn't have it any other way.


  1. Those are really good observations you made! I'm dyslexic and I know it is a gift to have such a creative imagination that comes from dyslexia. We all have our "gifts".... just like the accountant who dances through life in a myriad of numbers. I always wonder about the folks who come up with a "name and description" of a disorder. If it's a disorder at all. I imagine it is someone who is kinda dull and judgmental. :O)


  2. That's very true Sam! I'm sure everyone can be categorized under one 'syndrome' or another. It's a psychologist's job I guess. :o)