No imagination, no concept of sarcasm and no sense of humour

I should explain that title shouldn’t I.

Back a decade ago when I was first diagnosed with ASD, (well actually with Asperger’s, which was a thing then but isn’t anymore) I spent some time on an ASD message board* trying to figure out what any of it meant. There was a thread about shitty things that people had said regarding posters’ ASD. The one that has stayed with me is the educational psychologist who sent a note to someone’s teacher saying “[Person] has Asperger’s Syndrome. This means that she has no imagination, no concept of sarcasm and no sense of humour.”

This summary of how the aspie brain works may come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever met me. If you did a pie chart of my brain the three biggest sections would be “imagination”, “sarcasm” and “sense of humour”. Other than that it’s mostly pens and Dusty Springfield lyrics.

This isn’t an autism blog. Or rather it was never supposed to be an autism blog. But it is quite difficult if you’re a blogger who’s autistic to not blog about autism, because there is so much complete rubbish out there posing as information. It’s as if you had to go through your life hearing things like “Well, you know how it is with brunettes. They’re bloody brilliant at macrame. But can they travel west of Swindon? No, no, they cannot.” Now imagine that it was a world renowned expert in brown hair who kept saying that. And then you said “I can travel west of Swindon! I LIVE west of Swindon!” and people would look you over and say “but is your hair really brown though? Are you absolutely sure you didn’t dye it brown so that everyone would give you kudos for your amazing macrame skills?” and then you say “I don’t even know what macrame is!” and they say “Exactly. FAKE BRUNETTE JUST WANTS ATTENTION.”

There is a world renowned expert in autism who says that autism is a reflection of the “extreme male brain.” This idea has never gone down so well with autistic ladypersons like myself, who are definitely not extremely male, and often go without a diagnosis because everyone’s looking for a boy with an extreme love of trains.* There are a few reasons why we are vulnerable to this kind of misunderstanding. First up is that much of the information provided about people on the spectrum was written by neurotypical people looking at behaviour alone without much idea of the corresponding mental state, and making assumptions about what that behaviour meant. An example of this is the “lack of imaginative play” – that is to say, autistic kids don’t tend to zoom in towards playing cops and robbers or teddybear tea party or whatever with their peers. I had no interest at all in this kind of play, although I could sometimes be coaxed into it for short periods. Neurotypical researchers have looked upon this trait and said “they dislike imaginative play because they have no imagination.” Off you trot and write a paper about that. But it’s not true, or it definitely wasn’t in my case. My inner world was always so rich and vibrant and exciting that using other children as props would just annoy me. It’s actually not all that unusual to hear people say “Autistic kids don’t read fiction because they don’t have the imagination to appreciate it,” and then “and while all the other kids are playing football in the park they’re holed up in their bedrooms working on their novels.”

Secondly the tendency to present every aspect of the the spectrum as pathological means that autistic traits are more likely to be noticed when they cause problems for others. An angry child is more likely to be noticed than a confused and sad one. A child who is frightened or withdrawn or a fussy eater may simply be told to grow up, particularly if that kid is a girl. The first thing that adults look out for as a sign of trouble is poor grades. But what if the academic side of your life is swimming along just fine, but nothing else in the world makes sense?

So we write about autism, because when we leave it to others the stuff they come out with is total rubbish. I am fortunate to be able to articulate what it is about the world that bugs the hell out of me. Autism does not speak. Autistic people speak – most of us anyway, and the ones who don’t need more understanding than current “wisdom” is likely to grant them.

So. Back to ink. I promise there is a connection. When I first became a pen nerd I also became interested in drawing with ink. I have lots of shades of fountain pen ink! I thought. What an excellent medium for art!

Fountain pen ink is not an excellent medium for art. It is a terrible medium for art, because none of the inks are designed to mix or blend. They interact in weird and unexpected and frustrating ways. If you can somehow persuade fountain pen ink, with all its weirdness, to do your artistic bidding then you are clearly a witch who should be burned at the stake.

Did you know that Diamine make drawing inks?*** And that they are very reasonably priced? I did not, for a long time. Now, as somebody who is both a hardcore Diamine fangirl and an enthusiastic (if not magnificently skilled) artist, this information is relevant to my life. I wish they promoted them a little more forcefully though. Artists’ inks are expensive. A puny 14ml bottle of Windsor and Newton watercolour ink will set you back about £3.50, or 25p/ml. I am actually still angry with Windsor and Newton because I bought their scarlet drawing ink and it was eye-melt pink rather than bright red, and it wouldn’t even mix with anything else. Daler Rowney go for the slightly more reasonable £5 for £30ml (16p/ml) of acrylic ink and Pebeo acrylic for £4 (13p/ml) for 30ml or watercolour £6 for 30ml (20p/ml).

Diamine sell acrylic drawing ink, in chunky and resilient 30ml glass bottles, for £1.84. Or £1.56 if you buy four at once. The latter takes the price down to 5p/ml. Buy 1l bottles and it can go down to as little as 2p/ml – although you can’t buy these bottles directly from Diamine for some reason. It almost makes me want to give Diamine a hug and a makeover and tell them to value themselves more. I saw this and immediately bought a bottle of every colour in the range and I have not regretted it.

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My Diamine hoard

Supporting British industry!

Being acrylic, you can dilute it but it’s not quite as water-friendly as watercolour ink, and it’s a little harder to layer. But it goes on smoothly, the colours are gorgeous and bold and the colour they say they are, and they result in a lovely very slightly shiny finish. There are metallic inks which, very much like the J. Herbin metallic calligraphy inks, will leave you saying HOW IS THERE SHEET METAL ON MY DRAWING? if you use them correctly. The metal pigment sinks to the bottom in these inks. So you can either shake it crazily before you do anything, or you use my much more satisfying approach and scoop out a load of the metallic gunk with a lolly stick and dilute it just enough for it to spread smoothly over the paper and mostly stay there.

But to be clear: these are not fountain pen inks. Do not put them in fountain pens. Do not put any ink in a fountain pen unless it says “fountain pen ink” somewhere on the label. Never give an ink the benefit of the doubt on this front. Drawing and calligraphy inks will destroy your lovely pens. They are for dip pens and brushes only. Get yourself a lovely Lord Dippington, and get your art on.

Which returns me to humour, sarcasm and imagination. I have done various things with Lord Dippington and the Diamines (best 1960s girl group) but in general they have involved animals in silly outfits. I started drawing these guys during a pretty crushing major depressive episode when art was the only thing I could get out of bed for. I created a compilation and gave it to my dad. The first compilation was A is for Anomalous Animals. I had enough fun doing that that Anomalous Animals Book 2: Great Animals of History followed. I like to think I bring sufficient humour, imagination and sarcasm (or at least irony) to this art that I’ve proved that educational psychologist wrong. But then I also don’t think I have anything to prove in the first place.

* That community started going downhill shortly after, and I drifted away. I have heard that these days it is full of dudes complaining that they can’t get laid. Pretty much like every other corner of the internet I guess.

** I do not consider a love of trains to be an especially male trait. However the guy with this halfassed hypothesis definitely does.

*** They’re really drawing and calligraphy inks, but Cantatrice don’t do no calligraphy. All they’re really saying is “put this shit on a writing implement, but not in a writing implement, and we’re good.”

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