What Does Jim Morrison Have to Do with Neurodiversity?

I know now that wires
poke out through my skin
and stand at attention.
I hang letters and signs
from their silver, pin-prick
heads: autism, ADHD.
And my monkey still lives.
Ask your monkey sometime
for his name, and see
what he tells you.
- Excerpt from my poem “Two Monkeys, A Raven, and A Lizard King

It is quite serendipitous that the poem from which I just quoted lines was published today in Red Wolf Journal. And today, of course, is World Autism Acceptance Day.

Notice I did NOT say World Autism Awareness Day. I am troubled by the kind of awareness promoted by groups such as Autism Speaks. I think The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism says it best when they said this in the opening paragraph of their post today:

“…to the autistic people we love, work with, fight alongside, parent, and (some of us) are ourselves, it’s instead a day to bust myths, speak out, and try to change the world to be a more autistic-friendly place.”

So on that note, I will meditate a little about another possibly neurodivergent soul: Jim Morrison.

A Few Words on So-Called “Obsessive” Interests
On many levels, writing about him today makes sense to me. For one thing, I try to understand myself, and the world, through acts of echolocation. My intense interest in things, people, and subjects happens to be one way in which I do this. As I said in another (unpublished) poem, “Elephant”:

Break off, and devour it
in chunks. I might take fifteen years to
process one picture, twelve years to
walk through the autobiography of one man’s
sorrow. Is the world made out of
music?

In this poem, I compare what has been termed by others as “narrow, obsessive interests” to the parable of the blind men and the elephant — not to compare autism with blindness but to illustrate the idea that no one ever has a complete picture of the world and that we might use our thoughts, our senses, and perhaps in the case of autistic people these interests to better understand the world.

Of course, with this discussion comes the question: who decided that there was something unusual about our interests as autistic people? I’ve been made fun of a little for my keen interest in The Doors, and in Jim specifically. When I was in college, those around me thought that my keen interest in R.E.M. was a little strange. My mother once joked that in my late teens, I had Nirvana on the brain.

With these particular groups of musicians, I studied not just the music, but them as musicians — their personalities, their personal lives, even the way they might think of and process the world around them. For example, I have found similarities between my childhood and that of both Jim Morrison and Michael Stipe (the lead vocalist of R.E.M.): our families moved around frequently as children, all of our fathers were in the military, all of us showed intense interest in literature and poetry as teenager, and that’s just to name a few. I have found that it is a human trait, not just a neurodivergent trait, to look at the lives of others similar to own and compare/contrast experiences to try to understand our particular experiences. And that’s exactly what I did, and have been doing.

Is my so-called obsessive interest in these musical groups — or some of my other interests such as the Enneagram, or social/cultural/racial issues — any more or less unusual, than, say, that of an obsessive Lady Gaga fan? Or is the keen interest of an autistic in, say, batteries or Greek mythology any more or less unusual than that of someone who’s really into One Direction? I submit that the answer to both of these questions is “no”.

I believe, however, that the term “obsessive, narrow interests” may seem to have a negative connotation depending on who’s observing, and who’s doing the judging — perhaps that judgement occurs because these interests are not things that we share with the majority of people around us. As a teenager in today’s Western cultures, it might be easier to find someone to gab on with for hours about One Direction than to find someone to gab on with for hours about a more seemingly obscure subject, such as Telugu-language poetry. (Of course, if you’re a teenager in Hyderabad, you might easily find someone to geek on about Telugu poetry — which proves that some of this depends on the culture in which one lives and is from. But I digress.)

Jim Morrison, in 1969 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Now, About Jim
Sometime in 2008, Jim Morrison captured my imagination. I don’t know whether to thank or blame Oliver Stone for this. One spring afternoon, my fiance and I watched his 1991 movie The Doors — and it left me with way more questions than answers. So, I went off into reading, listening, and fact-finding. What I found was absolutely startling, amazing, and heartbreaking.

First of all, the real Jim Morrison was not very much like Val Kilmer’s portrayal in the Oliver Stone film. Stone may have been correct on some biographical details, but many of the events in both the Doors’ career and Morrison’s life were either rearranged, exaggerated, or flat-out fictionalized in the film. I won’t go into the exact details here, but I will say that instead of being a mystical, illogical junkie as was portrayed in the movie, Jim was way more complicated than that. He was a collection of contradictions: both a incredibly nice guy and an insensitive, misogynistic creep; both a brilliant and amazingly talented artist and an arrogant, self-important asshole; and a man who at his finest inhabited the concept of an alchemistic shaman but who was also an intensely pain-ridden, broken soul in need of healing himself.

And, my friends, I also suspect that Jim was neurodiverse.

Some might say that I am “diagnosing the dead” in the case of Jim. But consider, my friends, that we must move away from the paradigm of pathology and illness. Diagnosing suggests that there is a problem to be fixed — which is not what this is about. This is about identification.

In all the reading, viewing, and fact-collecting I have done over the last six years, a few things have lead me to believe that Jim was some form of neurodivergent. For example, bandmate Ray Manzarek documented in his book “Light My Fire” that Jim had a photographic memory to the point of being able to identify the exact book and page number of any passage read to him from a book in his collection — with his back turned so that he could not see the book from which the person read. I’m autistic with ADHD, and I have near photographic memory, but I’m not that good – my memory is much better with pictures and sound. I would compare Jim’s ability with that of Dr. Temple Grandin, who has documented that she was able to recite entire printed pages from memory as a teenager, and I have met other ADHD and autistic folks who also have this type of exceptional memory.

Of course, photographic memory alone does not a neurodivergent make. One of Jim’s own quotes may give away his own possible neurodivergence:

“I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments.”

It is not in dispute that we must read into this quote to determine its meaning. Jim is dead, and is not here to explain to us exactly what he meant. And even if he could, would he? This is a man with a million mysteries behind his life — and appears to have liked it that way. But it’s not hard to use this quote as a jump-off point, to make small mental leaps and imagine his difficulties with impulse control and executive functioning. After all, this was a man who often did not “look before he leaped” — whether it was shouting racial slurs at passersby for no apparent reason, sometimes sleeping with every woman (or man) he could get his hands on, or drunken, ill-planned onstage ranting.

The above quote suggests a struggle with forethought and considering the consequences of one’s actions beforehand…and the guilt, embarrassment, and endless face-palming after one has done the thing. I think of this quote and I’m reminded of an incident in third grade when, bored with the classroom lecture, I suddenly had the urge to stand up, interrupt the teacher, and shout at the top of my eight year-old lungs, “APER – RAPER – PAPER!” without even considering that two of these were not real words in the dictionary, or that I was interrupting a lecture. I, of course, found myself red-faced as I made the trek down to the principal’s office.

And speaking of school, this brings to mind an interesting quote from one of his poems, “As I Look Back”:

I was given a
desk in the corner
I was a fool
&
The smartest kid
in class

I can’t help but think of a wise-ass with an electric mind wired in such a way that he was way beyond his peers. And since neurodiversity, after all, promotes the idea that those of us who are autistic, ADHD, bipolar, and other variations are simply the products of different kinds of brain wiring naturally present in the human genome, wouldn’t this quote coming from a neurodivergent person make sense? The same kid who gives the teachers a headache and wisecracks so much in class ends up reading material way beyond his grade level — in Jim’s case, it was books on Arab sexuality and sixteenth-century demonology, as well as his well-documented reading of Nietzsche which began as a teenager.

Ah, Nicole, but what about his drinking and drug use? you might ask. Doesn’t that complicate things and make it harder to judge his possible neurodivergence? To be fair, yes, it does. But I also point to that as another possible sign that he was neurodiverse. Consider that many of us neurodivergents have self-medicated in an effort to help ourselves cope with life — especially life in a world not built for us. I have personally known autistic, ADHD, and bipolar folks who have done some form of this: in my case, it was alcohol. For the non-neurodiverse in my reading audience, consider this: if a substance provided you with even temporary relief from excessive mental stimulation, emotional and/or energy rollercoasters, or paralyzing sensory overload, might you not at least consider taking that substance? Many do. It may not be the best coping mechanism — and it may become destructive in our lives, as it clearly did in Jim’s case — but that is a very real reality for some of us.

So, What’s Your Point, Nicole?
I started thinking about this a few weeks back when I struggled with my own sense of inhibition, which had been born out of teenage fear. My family bullied me into trying to be “normal”, so I created a LOT of facades, subroutines, and a few inhibitive ideas which would ensure that I didn’t, as I once put it to my fiance, “fuck up my own life”. I was SO afraid that I would, because I believed that at heart I was an undisciplined, feral creature that would just go “crazy” and do off-the-rails shit that would ruin mine — and now, our — lives. I began comparing what I saw as an inner impulsiveness to trying to restrain a wild monkey.

Then, it occurred to me that Jim probably had a monkey, too. He was an intensely creative mind who was also impulsive, a risk-taker, and prone to both moments of brilliance and what appeared to others to be madness (believe me, because of my new realization of how neurodivergence is often pathologized, I do not use that word lightly). That quote about “blowing it at the most crucial moments” started to echo in my own mind. From this thought process was born both my poem “Two Monkeys” and a new realization: we who are neurodivergent can only be who and what we are.

I am certainly not suggesting that being neurodivergent is without its challenges, but I believe in many cases those challenges are not because of who and what we are — they are what we encounter while existing in a world system not created by us, and at the same time we still try to cope, try to get along, and even try to conform. Many of us are very familiar with the feeling of ramming our souls against invisible walls created by others when we engage in our usual behaviour. And this happens on many levels. Consider an ADHD child who struggles with sitting still in a Western-style classroom environment, or an autistic who cannot make eye contact, or a bipolar whose emotional passion and unique life rhythms are judged to be a pathology.

Whatever Jim was, he was probably nursing wounds as a result of slamming himself against invisible walls created by those around him, and in the end, partially unfortunately due to bad choices on his own part, he paid a heavy price. And I’m sure some of us neurodivergents are still nursing our own wounds. So I will say this: I am tired of trying to conform, my friends. My monkey is slowly learning how he and I can work together, and not against each other.

While I know we are far from having “overcome”, I am thankful that we live in such an era of knowledge and advocacy with such a potential towards understanding and acceptance of neurological differences. I wish Jim had discovered these same opportunities in his lifetime. So, I leave you with another of Jim’s quotes — what I call an invocation to open, and keep opening, doors to a brighter, better future — one in which we will simply be neurodiverse, free of any paradigms of pathology:

O Great Creator of Being
grant us one more hour
to perform our art
and perfect our lives

Aspie Poem: Code

Dear H: for those of us to whom words
sometimes do not easily run, saunter, or even
amble: we speak in code. We think in code. We
construct our languages painstakingly
like little Tolkiens, separated by time, distance, and space:
but the Hobbits and the Elves ain’t got
nothing on us. We have the dexterity
of pictures, objects, or even
moving film to send messages to world,

Continue reading

Poem: Glass and Concrete (For World Autism Awareness Day)

I place my hands on the glass wall,
pushing against one more boundary
between me and the world, as if my bare hands
could make the wall more solid, less breakable: and when
I lift them up, I see the remains of one language
I speak, an entire matrix of lines, swirls, and whorls
dictated by DNA, stamped onto the glass
in oil and sweat. The handprints won’t tell you

about the endless rooms in my attic brain full of
my memories in Super 8 film rolls coiled up and sleeping
which have been magically appearing since I was a year old;

or the rooms of computer hard drives storing facts, numbers,
and encyclopedia notes numbering somewhere in the octillions;

or the glass-shatter heart that sometimes fractures if I breathe,
or suck in air from the shock or suspended surprise
of someone else’s pain, or when one of my own free-floating
pieces of celluloid with razor blade edges slices my fingers
when I yank it out of my film projector and try
to stuff it back into the canister it escaped from. The handprints

won’t tell you that our family’s collective lips are sealed
about our green strangeness, the unuttered word
that I alone out of the clan speak: autism. The handprints

won’t tell you that I shut my eyes and imagine
the lost, the mute, and the gaunt lit with pain
and pulling razor blades out of their throats
appearing as time-delimited half-tones behind this wall:
Tommy the pinball wizard;
my grandmother made of cedar beams, Indian blood, and elocution;
and a lizard poet, white knuckled, hanging on
to a rollercoaster of pain for dear life,
just to name a few. But the handprints will tell you
that I am human.

I wonder if you can see them: sometimes, I know
that on your side, you only see graffiti-infested concrete,
slapped and glued with headlines about
how our hearts are hollow, how we live as alien mutants
among you in a universe of uncertainty, and how
the word “never” seems to creep into your speech about
us. And you wonder why I erect a glass wall? Some days,
I am forced to pour concrete and hide behind
the wall of cold cinnereal while I listen to the noise
coming from the other side and my eyes
flood and create another ocean: but eventually,
I raze the walls that I construct, and all that separates
me from the world is a stately barrier of glass.

Place your hands on the glass and line them up
with mine: can you feel
the warmth from breath and skin, sweat and
rhythm, blood like tom-toms pounding and marching
all through my body? This is how we can be,
hand to hand, eye to eye, toe to toe, once I feel
I can approach the glass. We touch, and it can melt away
into a membrane, or it can eventually evaporate
and become a ghost that we used to look at each other
through: this is the understanding I need, and the vision
that you need. But as long as you insist on concrete
slapped with pity, pithy headlines, and ignorance,
you will never feel my handprints. You will never
feel my warmth. And you will be convinced that I am a
comic, hollow being that can never feel. And all
the while, I will be drowning in another one of my oceans
behind that wall.

Written 4/2/12
© 2012 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
—————————————————-
I wrote this to share today because it is World Autism Awareness Day (April 2, 2012). I hope you enjoy the poem and that it gives you another glimpse into my world.

-Nicole
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Poetry for Autism Awareness, Acceptance, and Understanding

Since I self-diagnosed myself in early 2010, I’ve been writing poems about autism and Asperger’s in order to understand them, as well as myself, and to make sense of what being autistic means. As part of both Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Understanding Month as well as during National Poetry Month, I’ve written some more poems about autism and Asperger’s.

You can read these poems over at Raven’s Wing Poetry, and I’ve gathered them all in one category to allow for easy finding.  Some of these are password protected, so you’ll need to hit me up either via comment moderation, Twitter, or the contact information on Raven’s Wing Poetry if you’d like the password to read them (I did this so that they are not considered “published” and thus I would still be able to submit them to journals or other markets).

Happy reading!

-Nicole

Long Distance Poetry: The Awe in Autism Arts Exhibits

A newly cut video for my poem, “You Don’t See It”, will be featured at two Awe In Autism arts exhibits in April in New York state.

The events collectively are called The Awe in Autism: A Spectrum of Creativity. The first event is on Saturday, April 2 (World Autism Awareness Day) at the Glenwood Arts Center in Glenwood, NY, and will feature my work and that of several other Awe in Autism artists. The second event is on Sunday, April 10 at the Great Neck Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island; this will feature the same Awe in Autism artists, plus a group of performers.

Sorry, I can’t show you the new video right now…however, I will post in on the Raven’s Wing Poetry YouTube channel after the events are over. I’m very excited at the opportunity for my work to be exhibited and to reach others and thank Awe in Autism for choosing to feature my work along with such talented artists on the autism spectrum.

-Nicole

Speech (A Poem)

Listen carefully. Hold your ear to the page
and hear the speech of hushed silence, how words
can rip a page apart if they are not careful. These little
black crispations carry swords and scissors – you just don’t know it
yet, and you won’t until you wake up the next morning and find
a small continent of blood, soaking in as a pillow stain
where your ear was resting all night.

There is a nook in the neck of the k where it
creased a crick while searching for a kiss, or for the end
of a bottomless ocean – that singular syllable made out of German slang
that I am very fond of using. But I will spare you X-rated fricatives
and give you the nectar from the nook instead. There is
also the curled come-hither of the c that looped itself
through the a hole in one of my earlobes after it snuck out of
my brain, and an n that strives to know how to fashion
the curve of its front leg after the curve of my nose. Every letter
is an escape artist – they all existed
as pictures projected onto the thick drive-in theater screen
made out of bone that stands behind my eyes. Everything
gets filed under vision.

This is what happens when speech becomes futile. You see,
I have three mouths – one on my face, one below my belt, and the
last one existing in the center of my brain. It grows teeth
as the words come, busting through bloody gums that eventually
send speech down the nerves of my arms and into my fingertips. Magically,
the teeth turn into type, this hushed silence
that you are reading right now. My brain is wired

to be a picture bank, a sound disc dictionary
that spins as the track to a thirty-four year-long movie
that has not yet ended or sent to the cutting room floor. It was
wired for me by invisible Asperger fingers that snuck inside my mother’s womb
while cell and soul were being knit together. And it is
wired for sound to be received through your eyes. Listen carefully. Don’t
read my lips. You won’t find anything there today.

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This poem was one of the two specifically written for Autistics Speaking Day. The other, “Back Door Blues“, is over at Raven’s Wing Poetry. There is a list of other poems I am sharing today here. And hats off to everyone participating in Autistics Speaking Day.

 -Nicole

Poetry for Autistics Speaking Day

As I mentioned in this post, I will be sharing poetry as my way of speaking on Autistics Speaking Day. I invite you to read the following poems today:

Thank you everyone who is taking the time to read these poems today. We autistics *do* speak and communicate in various different ways. Hats off to everyone who is participating today — I will see you around the interwebs. And if you are sharing poetry today too, please don’t hesitate to post links to your work! You can leave them in the comments.

-Nicole

Autistics Speaking Day Is Tomorrow

As you probably know, Autistics Speaking Day is tomorrow, November 1. Many of us on the spectrum have chosen this day to speak out instead of shut down, and The Coffee Klatch will be hosting a 24-Hour Chat on TweetChat tomorrow for Autistics Speaking Day. Also, other events and stuff may be happening too: feel free to check out the Autistics Speaking Day event page on Facebook for more info.

And I will be doing what I do best — poetry. I will be sharing some new poems I have written just for Autistics Speaking Day on here and Raven’s Wing Poetry, as well as sharing some other poems I’ve written in the past. I will post a list tomorrow of all of the poems here as well (so you don’t have to go a’diggin’) as well as Tweeting and posting on FB as much as possible. I look forward to joining everyone speaking out tomorrow in the Interwebs and Blogosphere and am honored to be part of such an event. Be LOUD and be PROUD on November 1!

-Nicole