Explosions of Colour
After months of yearning and weeks of waiting, it's finally here. And it's beautiful.
The first book about autism I ever bought was Iris Grace written by Arabella Carter-Johnson about her autistic daughter who is the namesake of the book. I had recently been diagnosed and was tentatively dipping my toe into the pool of stories of autistic people. I told myself that I was reading Iris Grace out of 'curiosity', because a girl who was diagnosed as a child would surely have a very different story to myself, diagnosed at 26. In some ways, this is true. But I identified with Iris more than I thought I would. Most vividly I remember Arabella's description of how Iris could be so engaged and interested in small details, particularly in nature. This is something I have discovered, or re-discovered, in adulthood.
As I was growing up, the pace of life and desire to fit in meant that I got swept up in the way that other people lived their lives. I wasn't a 'nature person', just like I wasn't an 'animal person'. But it turns out, I am both, but in my own way. I adore being in nature, and I like to take a lot of time looking at, touching, and smelling things. I could spend hours looking at one tree if everyone left me to it, but even now, I still get swept along eventually. And that's probably for the best. I hate transitions and I can get so involved in something that the rest of reality falls away, to my detriment. But still, I have re-learnt how to experience life and nature on my own terms. I will stroke tree trunks as I walk past, observe the petals of a flower to appreciate all their intricacies, and be overwhelmed by the beauty of the changing colours of the seasons.
Reading Iris Grace I felt touched by Arabella's commitment to allow Iris to experience life her own way. Not forcing her into a neurotypical lifestyle but adapting her own lifestyle to suit her neurodiverse daughter. And, surprise surprise, she is thriving.
Painting has become a big part of Iris' life. When I first heard of Iris and her 'wonderful' paintings, I thought to myself, how good can a six year old's paintings really be? I'm sure many people would have the same reaction. I did a google search and was blown away. They weren't what I was expecting. They were abstract, and not in a way that a child's doodles are 'abstract' before they learn to draw people with arms that don't come straight out of their head. They were so... sensitive. So clearly done with feeling and a careful, delicate hand. I fell in love.
I decided that, of course, I had to purchase a print of one of her paintings for myself. But which one? I scrolled through pages of paintings on Iris' website and wanted them all. But one stood out to me and I kept coming back to it again and again: 'Explosions of Colour'. I felt like it was me in a painting. Like it represented the inside of me. It's the painting that made me feel the most joy, that made me feel the most connected to Iris and her story and her autism, and the one that made me feel most connected to myself. But I had to wait. There was no place for it in the flat I was renting and I knew I wanted to do it properly - to get a good quality print, to have it framed, and to have a space for it where I'd see it every day. So I waited.
Finally, seven weeks ago I moved to a new flat. It's in a new area, and I'm living with my boyfriend for the first time. And it has a mantlepiece. A big, lovely mantlepiece for a big, lovely painting. I ordered it immediately.
Even once it arrived I couldn't look at it because I was instructed to take it directly to a framing service without opening it. I waited some more.
And today... it arrived.
I put it straight up on the mantlepiece and I am sitting opposite it right now. It makes me want to cry a bit looking at it. There is so much in it and so much to it. Firstly, it's gorgeous. It's just a wonderful, joyful piece of art and a celebration of colour. But I also see Iris' attention to detail, her love of observing closely, her ability to see a whole world on the head of a pin. And I get to experience that myself, looking at the painting. There are worlds in this painting that I will get to observe in the days, weeks, years to come. It reminds me of the ability in 'disability'. If you try to force a square peg into a round hole it won't fit. But people forget that you have the option of changing the hole, not the peg. Iris has been given the space and time and surroundings that have enabled her to create beautiful things. And that is a wonderful gift. And it reminds me of how far I've come, too. I was in a dark place a few years ago and I had no idea why. But my autism diagnosis has brought so much light to my life. I see myself differently, so I can experience life differently. So here I am, trying to give myself space and time and surroundings that can help me to thrive, too. And I will remember that every time I look at the painting on my mantlepiece and see those explosions of colour.