The Power of Escapism and Creativity
I could not have known as I stared out the window of the airplane that the flight I was on was the beginning of a journey into a completely revised version of my future. I could not have known that the HVAC unit of our house had been spitting toxins out at us 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four years, and that microscopic black mold particles were coursing through my veins at that point, causing both brain fog and nausea. What I did know was that I was sick, and that this airplane was taking my mom and I to the only doctor on the West Coast that seemed to know what was wrong. I knew that my mom was calling him “Dr. Only Hope;” I didn’t know what that meant, but it made me think of Star Wars, so in my eight-year-old mind, I imagined that we were going to see Obi wan Kenobi… or at least a doctor with Jedi powers.
I needed a Jedi. I had spent the early years of my school life somewhat isolated, both emotionally and physically. I had a tough time focusing, as my mind worked very quickly and got bored even more quickly… and then seemed to be hyper-focused on anything it was not supposed to be. Having been put through a series of long and boring tests when I was eight, my brain had earned a label with a funny sounding name: I had something called “Asperger’s,” which of course sounded like “ass burgers” to me… as if just being different wasn’t enough?
Whatever the label, I had started to accept the fact that I had no control whatsoever over my own brain. By the third grade, I was beginning to feel like maybe my kind of “different,” (despite what my mom had told me), wasn’t actually “the good kind;” in fact, I was starting to suspect that there was no “good kind” of different at all. The only time that I was genuinely happy was when I was at Disneyland, where we could go for a few hours, a couple of days a week- no matter how sick I was feeling, to escape both the illness and my isolation.
In New Mexico, Dr. Kenobi confirmed what we had come to suspect; our home, therefore, our bodies, were contaminated by stacchybotris, causing brain fog and severe nausea. He gave us a mysterious medicine which we had to take four times a day, and it started to make us both feel better within weeks, as well as advice: move out of our home and leave all of our possessions behind- our past and everything in it was contaminated. We returned to California and started anew.
Once I started feeling better, I was able to go back to school; this time, though, at a place especially designed to help kids with ADD/ADHD, ASD (specifically Asperger’s), called University of California at Irvine Child Development School (UCICDS), where I would spend the next four years.
The first couple of years were difficult; for kids with Asperger’s, a lot of “normal” things don’t necessarily come naturally. UCI CDS helped me with things like accurately tuning in to social cues and with the development of executive functioning skills; it was an uncomfortable process, at times. But by the time that I left UCI, having been given the tools I needed to channel and direct my attention, I was a leader, confident and excited about my future, and I had a new perspective: ALL kinds of “different” are the good kind. I also had a goal, as an artist. My mom says everything is a learning experience, and that our time and pain are both wasted if we fail to acknowledge that fact and take advantage of every lesson on our journey. Having been through such a transformation, I wanted to use my art to both tell- and more importantly, show others (especially those who might be considered “different”) about the lessons I had learned. I also came out of that experience with a fervent desire to dedicate myself to the creation of places so fantastic that people could go there and find hope and inspiration; a place so magical, they could forget their worries and differences and be happy together.
The first lesson that my experiences with both mold and autism have taught me is that it’s all in how you look at it. Because I think and approach problems in a unique way, I have a unique appreciation of the fact that there are many different experiences, leading to many and diverse perspectives, all of which have value.
The second lesson ties in very closely with the first; it is that while there may be any number of ways of approaching problems and of communicating your ideas, the simple act of listening is always important.
An obstacle-course of a childhood also taught me that “you never know” is not simply a vague promise offered by our parents in lieu of a concrete decision; it is a statement of fact, in and of itself cause for hope. The future is a big empty space waiting to be filled up with experiences, both good and bad. We cannot always know what’s waiting around the bend, but that’s ok; what matters most is what we take away from these experiences and how we evolve.
Finally, and most importantly- especially for someone on the spectrum, or others that might be considered “different;” I have learned along the way that I should never, ever let other people tell me what I am and am not capable of. I know that even when someone says that something is “impossible” (like my getting admitted into Orange County School of the Arts, considering that I spent my elementary school years struggling), that does not mean that I shouldn’t try. I may have to try harder sometimes, and I may fail… but the value of the experience intrinsic to any honest attempt is priceless. In my experience, the more hard-earned my successes have been, the sweeter they are. Furthermore, the possibility of regret is eliminated, as long as I give 100% of myself to any endeavor.
I am on my own hero’s journey, and with these hard-earned lessons under my belt, I eagerly await the chance to share what I have learned as I answer the call to my next adventure. My journey thus far has taught me that bravely flying into unknown places as I did as a child (and as I currently enjoy doing more than anything else), is essential. As I continue on this journey, I believe that courage, along with Tony Baxter’s preoccupation with filling empty spaces, and sharing those spaces with the world, will equally inform my own artistic development. All of the trials and tests and challenges I have faced have led to this point. What is my next adventure in this wild, predictably- unpredictable journey? While it may indeed be true that “you never know,” of one thing I am certain: I see a million empty spaces to fill, not only with a healthy appreciation for what once was, but more importantly, with my dreams and visions of the beautiful and inclusive Tomorrow that may be, and a strong desire to share my vision with the world around me.