Broken, lovingly repaired survivors: How I see certain people…
Broken, lovingly repaired survivors: How I see certain people…
Perfectionism is just a word until one begins thinking about the role it has played in one’s life. As usual, it is an activity, which when fused with social expectations, becomes an object of practical, moral and economic opinion. Perfectionism is not a “thing” but a tool with which to assess standards and compare outcomes, especially in art, literature and other creative endeavors.
Google “perfectionism” and a highly negative picture appears. Once again, psychology has made a judgment about PEOPLE who are perfectionists; they are bad, unhappy, trapped in a corner, wasting their lives. We see the “pyramid scheme” poking through: common everyday perfectionists are self-abusers, unhappy, and paradoxically, create failure, but upper echelon “money-makers,” are praised as perfectionists. A start up company, or artistic catalogue, once it becomes “trendy” and profitable, is contrarily opined as a positive result of perfectionism. Long hours, dedication to a goal, the march of progress and final economic success are added to the unending search for human perfection.
Athletes and immigrants are particularly subject to having their lives rewritten as journeys that fulfill the cultural need for success; rags to riches, American Dream, unlimited opportunity; the story of those whose early deprivation presented signs of future fame and influence. Perfect performance is always a component of the myth, but the expectation of perfection can be destructive. How many “celebrity” children are crushed by such demands? And, the distance between failure and perfection grows and grows in American culture. It is no longer enough to be a “millionaire.” One must be a “billionaire.” One cannot simply post a funny video; it must generate millions of views globally. One cannot have a handful of close friends; one must garner the notice of thousands of strangers. And so, the perfect life is money and attention; not for any good reason, just because notoriety is the new “unreachable” scale of perfection.
We lie to children and torment them with one treacherous statement:
This pompous assertion cuts off actual potential by a “mental device” that has become typical in the U.S.; by presenting a socially reverse-engineered pop-culture myth, the “you can be anything” statement is delivered by individuals who have already achieved great success. The accompanying myth of their (supposedly) meteoric rise always includes magical signs that predict greatness – a “lucky” legitimacy and foreshadowing of destiny by a chance meeting with a superstar; an injury that turned out to be a blessing; a lost parent who directs a child’s fate from the afterlife; a sudden supernatural voice, at the right moment, that said, “never give up.” These motivational events happen to almost all humans, but do not produce fame and fortune in the majority. The seed is planted: anything less than extraordinary destiny becomes failure.
The goal of becoming an adult who can find satisfying work, a worthwhile partner and the means to raise a family, has fallen to the bottom of the pyramid, when this “outcome” is the common denominator by which “average people” express the greatest source of happiness. But this achievement is not possible: everyone must put up the appearance of becoming more, and more and more.
I do think that Asperger individuals have a tricky relationship with “perfection”. Perfection as the act of seeking and creating meaningful work I see as no problem, but when our “passion” becomes a “fate” by which we are judged, it becomes a noose that tightens against our “defects”. Expectations as “the gifted child” create a problem: our lives have been laid out before us as a burden and an obligation; “gifts” are dangerous in a mediocre society. This is an ancient human theme in which those who arrive with something “extra” are expected to save everyone’s ass by acts of sacrifice, but are also expected to “disappear” once they are no longer useful.
We see this again and again in young men who are asked to die by old men; soldiers have difficulty in not identifying the two as one and the same: Young males must die for the old. Isn’t this upside down? Why isn’t it the old and useless males, who have had their chance at life who are expected to “volunteer” to “save” young fathers and sons from unwarranted tragedy?
We encounter perfection and want to merge with it, which for me at least, is my subjective experience of “bliss”. Mythologies the world over warn of such improper boundary crossings by humans into the realm of the gods. Countless myths offer up Heroes who are granted “fire stolen from the gods” that costs them everything, but in the long run restores balance to society, which is the real goal of their existence. So, in this philosophy, talents and abilities are not the end in themselves, but means to ends; ends that are available to humans in general when an individual applies his or her abilities toward a realizable goal.
American culture is blind to this deeper and wider actualization of success. In the U.S., only those at the apex of the Pyramid count. The promise is to elevate “the peasants” to the upper levels of the pyramid, but this is logically impossible. The top 1% needs the 99% of humanity at the bottom to fail – and defines failure as “not being” at the top of the hierarchy.
Aspergers are susceptible to being judged on the basis of success as something elevated beyond “normal”. In the neurotypical scheme of life, a child obsessed with knowledge dares to pass into factual reality, which contains the secrets of the universe; a domain where few socially typical individuals dare to go. Taboo, because neurotypical predators crave domination: any “successful” neurotypical would use intelligence to exploit other people. The idea that “Aspergers” have little to no social ambition is simply not credible; in fact it is a source of derision and fear – and opportunity for social predators. .
As a young child I was terribly confused. My intelligence was superficially praised, but harshly received. Intelligence was tested and tracked and presented as important, but forbidden to girls – actualization of “power” was a crime against nature, religion and males of any kind: against all of “defenseless” neurotypical humanity. Ironically, extra abilities and the good fortune of “beauty” could be exploited for family status (marry a rich man, become a “beauty queen”, an actress or celebrity) or to manipulate others behind the scenes to benefit a husband. Selfish ends were quite okay, but a desire to improve a greater sphere of human need was forbidden. To expand knowledge, opinion, laws or the frontiers of human stupidity was, and is, forbidden.
It has taken a lifetime to construct a workable “fix” for myself: Perfection happens. Nature is the domain of perfection and it is informative that nature never rests, but is the continual unfolding of possibilities within a set of laws (boundaries) – a balance of change and continuity that is perfect only in the moment. It’s okay to strive for perfection in creative work, but it’s good to understand that perfection is ephemeral.
Life may be a tool by which the universe acknowledges its own perfection.
It’s hard to describe thinking in pictures, because it’s not like looking through snapshots or image files. Intuition places them on a “screen” just in front of my ears that slices across my head vertically. (Think of an old-fashioned slide viewer.) There is no structure like that in the brain. That “plane” must be a construct that my brain has come up with to focus on the images.
The activity of seeing as a visual thinker cannot be like seeing with eyes: there are no eyes inside brain. It’s totally dark. “Images” are reconstituted from memory; visual memory is like one continuous steam from which snippets can be viewed, or discrete snapshots snatched. These images are not bound by a time sequence: one picture may elicit a related picture – related by color, time of day, object content, individual people, or any quality that indicates a pattern. These patterns are not cast in concrete, but appear and disappear, form new connections, or join other “themes.” I think this availability of non-linear connections is how much intuitive art and technology arises; not art that seeks to duplicate an environmental structure or presents sentimental, socially-contrived stories and lessons, but which brings forth deep and ancient floodwaters, springs and wells of experience in human evolution. What is obvious is that beginning with the cave art of thousands of years ago, and continuing through the present, visual thinking has been vital to humankind. Long before words became indispensable social tools, the manipulation and application of images to understand the “real world” has been primary to human culture.
Arguments are often made that development of verbal language was the critical leap into the supremacy of Homo sapiens; that our supreme evolutionary path of emerges from the bumps and measurements of silent skulls by anthropologists. There is an embarrassing gulf between Archaic Homo sapiens, and the first written examples of language that we have, dating to only 5,000 years ago.
Modern social humans look at this gap and assume that “language” means words; words mean concepts; advanced concepts are abstract, and that Archaic Homo sapiens (who more closely resemble Neanderthals than they do modern humans), conquered the world by using abstract verbal concepts, because using words is the sophisticated, powerful, and “brainy” way to go. What a mistake!
All anyone must do to question the assumption of verbal supremacy, is to listen to government leaders and politicians endlessly argue the same impractical, fantastical claims of “knowing how to fix things” when they have no intention of doing so, and even if they were sincere, have no ability to escape the mire of language that entombs any possibility of real solutions. Social humans are embedded in a supernatural non-reality of verbal concepts, schemes and plans that defies understanding.
How did our ancestors become modern? What were they doing for the 190,000 years that passed before urbanization and agriculture produced modern social humans – a process brought about by domestication – neoteny?
A visual thinker can answer this readily: our ancestors were visual thinkers and learners. They may have used vocalizations when communicating over a distance; mimicked animal calls; invented tools to copy natural sound; that is, used sound like hunters do to this day. Mothers coo’d and comforted babies, and used vocalizations like a leash to keep children within safe boundaries. Strictly, these are animal communications.
From studies of so-called primitive peoples, most of whom have been polluted by civilized attention and all but exterminated, observation often includes that the tribe being studied were concrete, literal thinkers. Each object or phenomenon in their environment had a distinct name, with the physical variations of each having a name, such as the variety of words for states of the weather and nighttime sky. Names are not abstractions, but words attached to specific images. As an Asperger, I identify this as visual thinking.
The frustration a visual thinker experiences is that social typical thinkers are word people: communication is generic, not specific: “Have a nice day.” Humans living in complex natural environments could not survive on social communication. When your survival, and that of your family, depends on evading predators, acquiring food each and every day, and facing danger directly, each member is required to step up and fulfill his or her tasks; trivial will not do. Absolute trust, honesty and commitment are required.
This state of cooperation and loyalty is evident in the eternal “band of brothers” dedication that overrides the reaction to fear and danger in small groups of soldiers. And it is the transition from this high standard of behavior on the battlefield, to a fickle, treacherous and uncaring social regime at home, that causes a great deal of distress in soldiers, who experienced a deep bond of caring in battle, and then lose that peak experience once they return to civilization.
“Blue Crystal” 36″ x 30″
Pastels are manageable for anyone who has hand control problems, or ADD or ADHD tendencies. Pastels are quick and expressive and require no materials other than good paper, pastel sticks and hands. A dust mask is a good idea. One can easily draw quickly at large scale.
I’m reading The Bauhaus Group, by Nicholas Weber. I just finished the section about Paul Klee and started the one about Wassily Kandinsky. Klee and Kandinsky were friends and were professors at the Bauhaus at the same time.
Kandinsky’s urge to express his feelings
Several of the passages about Kandinsky, at the start of the section struck a chord with me. First of all, Kandinsky “crav(ed) to express his feelings through art…” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210). He turned from replicating nature in his art, to abstraction. “Abstraction ‘put an end to the useless torment of the useless tasks that I had then, desire their unattainability, inwardly set myself. It cancelled out this torment and thus my joy in nature and art rose to unclouded heights… To my enjoyment is added a profound sense of gratitude.’” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210)
Kandinsky also commented about how sensations struck him. “My soul was kept in a state of constant vibration by other purely human disturbances, to the extent that I never had an hour’s peace.” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210). Again, Kandinsky comments, “Everything ‘dead’ trembled. Everything showed me its face, its innermost being, its secret soul, inclined more often to silence than to speech – not only the stars, moon, woods, flowers of which the poets sing, but even a cigar butt lying in the ashtray…” (Weber, N.F. The Bauhaus Group New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2009 pg 210).
This might remind some of you of the manifestations which could occur in autism, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. That Kandinsky had this kind of sensory relationship with the world might not be coincidental. It so happens that Kandinsky was a synesthete. Synesthesia is a phenomenon whereby a stimulus to one sense triggers sensations in other modes of perception. For instance, the color red might trigger the synesthete to hear a middle ‘C’ frequency, or a taste might trigger tactile sensations (as in the book The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic).
Simon Baron-Cohen, autism researcher, noted that synesthesia is more prevalent in the autistic population than in non-autistic individuals. He concludes, “The significant increase in synaesthesia prevalence in autism suggests that the two conditions may share some common underlying mechanisms. Future research is needed to develop more feasible validation methods of synaesthesia in autism.” (Baron-Cohen et al.: Is synaesthesia more common in autism? Molecular Autism 2013 4:40.) This is not to say that autism is prevalent in synesthetes. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been studied. It should be heartening to know however, that hypersensitivity can be directed in such a way that offers solace to the individual and pleasure to others.
It is humanity’s fortune that Kandinsky was able to channel what must have been an overwhelming sensitivity into his artwork. We are all the richer for it.
A few images with personal appeal: they remind me of Navajo Sand Painting
Clouds are important to a plain landscape; those familiar shapes that skate above
the horizon, trailing shadows that examine the featureless plateau;
extracting details that cannot be seen on a clear day
and thereby adjusting our foolish estimates of near and far.
Any stranger who trifles with our two-part scheme of land and sky risks losing
the outer world: the fate of isolation is best embraced as a gift
that one could not have known was waiting in Wyoming.