Autism Unveiled Project Week 2
Behind the Lines
by Patrick Jasper Lee
I am a writer because I love words. For me, words express meanings, if I can manage to use them in a constructive way. Having been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 1996, I’d already found an interesting journey with words unfolding.
Apart from occasionally seeing synaesthetic shapes in my mind that have helped me understand what people mean, I’ve also seen that other people don’t, or can’t, express themselves so well with words, so I know I’m not alone with this. Today, it’s common for people to take each other the wrong way; they don’t always seem to understand one another when they’re communicating. It is a fact that most fall short of expressing themselves in the way they mean to.
I’m not talking purely about people who are non-verbal here; nor am I talking about other aspies. It is the average person who has as much difficulty communicating as anyone else, and that’s where I feel I have an advantage, because ironically, even though I’m an aspie, I’m able to look behind the lines of words. I use a ‘sense’, which I believe might not have been so developed within me had I not been an aspie.
Having the good fortune to ‘sense’ what people mean – sometimes even before they do – helps turn me into a writer. I find that I’m able to unravel the meanings, intentions and desires that are a common part of everyday language.
I think it’s unfair when society in general declares that bad use of words or non-use of words is an aspie problem. If I tell people they’re not speaking to me clearly or saying what they mean, they can tend to get short with me, and this is because I can’t see them injecting very many of their meanings, intentions and desires into what they’re saying. So when I’m out there in the world I am unfortunately called to pretend that this is completely an aspie problem, my problem: the inability to communicate clearly isn’t a problem for others as much as it is for me.
This is what I live with most of the time, and this is how it can be out in the world for people like me who can slip behind the lines of words. I am lucky to be on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum. Fortunately I’ve been able to include the ‘condition’ or ‘problem’ with words in a novel I’ve just completed, which highlights just how people, all people, feel when they’re unable to communicate effectively with one another.
Interestingly, this ‘sense’ I speak of was used in earlier forms of literature. We may not understand what Shakespeare says, but boy does he hit it aptly with his ‘sense’. Writers like D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and many others of the last century, lived behind the lines, and sometimes suffered for it.
It might seem somewhat unusual for some to think that as an aspie I write fiction, but I’m currently working on two novels containing characters with Asperger’s – but I also write books that are not about Asperger’s. I aim to inject the same quality into my writing whatever I happen to be working on. The fact is, I’m always writing, always looking behind the lines of words, describing the difficult and harrowing interaction between people I see around me, who attempt to meet each other somewhere in the middle, in a centre of a kind, but so often fall short of that. Because of this, it’s important to know that my work invariably contains a humorous slant to it all; there has to be a funny side, because life is amusingly quirky if we only bother to look at it light-heartedly.
Technically, according to most rulebooks about Asperger’s, I’m not supposed to be able to observe communicative interaction in the way I do; I certainly shouldn’t always be able to write my observations down in such a way. My aspie-ness is rather machinelike when it comes to seeing what people do, how they do what they do, and what they mean by it all. (I write like a machine, my wife says – which I take as a compliment).
I have made myself unpopular with some people in the past with my observations when I’ve been a little too outspoken with what I perceive of them, especially when I outline what people are choosing not to say. These are not insults; this is me seeing things as they are: a mirror reflection of a very real problem that generally exists within society. Saying one thing and meaning something else is demonstrated no better than by people who are politicians. Many at the top of their field don’t always demonstrate to others how communication should be used.
Unfortunately I’ve had to write my literary books under a pseudonym. Anyone who knows me might guess that because I’m known for writing books about Gypsies – due to being one – people find it hard to put Gypsy and Asperger’s together, with the result that people become confused when the two merge as one: this has long baffled me. ‘I love you as a Gypsy, but please don’t talk about aspies,’ is the general message. So using a pen name gives me the freedom to be who I really am: a novelist, and an observer of people, exactly as they are. I write about all sorts of things, but I mostly like to champion the underdog, the misfit, the lonely, those society considers to be mad. I just adore refining the craft of telling good stories and looking behind the eyes of humanity.
Not so long ago I wrote a non-fiction book called My Signals, which detailed my experience with Asperger’s and synaesthesia, and although it received reviews and a lot of publicity and attention from people who told me they couldn’t wait to read it, sales didn’t come; in fact, they were almost nil, and the book was eventually pulled from publication because it wasn’t actually doing me any favours as a writer. This was a joint decision between my publisher and myself: my wonderful editor was the one who actually suggested pulling it, a wise decision. Having originally been published by Harper Collins with my first book, this was a complete reversal in terms of experience. I toured the USA and Canada with my first book, and it still sells well now, just as my other books do.
I cannot describe the blow to one’s self-esteem when a book isn’t picked up by people who tell you they can’t wait to read it. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Many bestsellers have been cast-offs and have been heavily rejected before hitting the bestseller lists. That fact has always driven me on, and if you write and believe you are doing the best to refine your own skills, then you also need to remember this. For me, it is true that I write best when I write fiction. I get behind the lines of people’s words, eyes, intentions, meanings and simply record the way they are, feel themselves to be, and what impact they tend to have on the world.
Never one for giving up (I attribute this to my machine-like aspie nature), there is always time to resurface, and rework everything; we can all do this if we put our minds to it. After My Signals, I returned to writing my Gypsy books for a while, and interestingly, and perhaps ironically, some of the aspie content in My Signals found its way into COMING HOME TO THE TREES: Travelling with the Gypsy Spirit of the Past (non-fiction), a follow-up to my first book, WE BORROW THE EARTH (non-fiction). ‘Trees’ was a resounding success, and more to the point, ordinary folk were able to read a little about my Asperger’s in a place I didn’t think they would, but my novels were what I really needed to be devoting my time to. And that is what I’m still doing now. I’ve just completed the third novel in the series THE LONG REFLECTION – Around Dark Fires (due for publication March 2015), and I’ve enjoyed looking behind the way we tend to view the other-world. If you enjoy stories about ghosts, paranormal romance, ancestors and loneliness, then this book may be of interest to you.
It is my love of words and what is behind words that keeps me sane. I am a strong campaigner for using words well and writing fiction well, because the self-publishing industry today contains many undeveloped writers who don’t believe they need to polish themselves up before getting out there to the public, which is immensely disrespectful to the craft. Is your writing worthy? Is your grammar good? Is your intention to refine the craft there? I am lucky to have a good editor working alongside me who helps me with this. Without Virginia I would never have been able to do what I do.
I like to remind people that I’m a writer not because I’m a Gypsy; nor am I a writer because I’m an aspie. I’m a writer who happens to be a Gypsy and an aspie. I will constantly attempt to take my readers behind the lines, beyond the words where meaning and experience live.
If, like me, you’re constantly living behind the lines in your everyday life, honour that. It’s a rare ability. I have a lot to thank my Asperger’s for; it has played a huge role in what I adore doing every day.
Patrick Jasper Lee, United Kingdom
Patrick Jasper Lee’s books can be found on Amazon kindle, available worldwide. Find his author page on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Also look for his Youtube channel where his music illustrates many of his book themes. Patrick Jasper Lee is available for talks and workshops
Patrick is part of the Autism Unveiled Project – 6 weeks of posts by autistic people commencing on April 2, 2015, World Autism Awareness Day.
This post really made me think! I’m with you on the ways neurodiversity and an aspie mind can be a PLUS in writing, observing, clarity…
Thank you for your articulation of your experiences as a writer, and how your various identities inform your work. I appreciate your candor about “My Signals,” where you have fully articulated a writer’s fear about commercial response to a book. As someone who has been sitting on a memoir for many years, it is helpful to hear that you moved on and continued to publish other well-received material.
I’m interested in your experience writing material with characters with Asperger’s and without, and wonder if you found some material easier to access than others. I love what you say here: “I will constantly attempt to take my readers behind the lines, beyond the words where meaning and experience live.”
I love this article. I too am a Romany and an Aspie.
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