Storytelling Animals

Last night I concluded a series of Creative Writing workshops designed for autistic adults. It's something I had planned to get going in the Spring and was originally supposed to take place at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. I had Funding, I had Plans, I had Dreams. And then, whoops, someone coughed and everyone caught a Pandemic. Such is life. With a PhD to finish, I put the series on the back-burner for a while and then resurrected it online-wise for October. What a total joy it was. I had a contingent of nine participants who threw themselves into the exercises I set with great enthusiasm and focus. I was worried that my instructions would be too confusing or too neurotypical (whatever that means, eh?), but we all seemed to gel really well. I always set aside time at the end of each session for the writers to share what they'd written if they wanted to. MY GOD, they are a talented bunch. I was frequently delighted and astonished at their beautiful words and their playful approach to the rules and challenges I set in the exercises.

It was important to me to run this series. Too often autistic people are told they lack imaginations or emotions or insight into the human condition or whatever-the-fuck-else some Professor has decided from some ugly study. It is patently untrue, and has never been true, but the indoctrination of it into our thinking around autism has knocked back a lot of autistic self-confidence in the arts. So, when I constructed this workshop series, I didn't do it on the basis of carefully plotting out demeaning exercises designed specifically for the autistic mind, but just made a creative writing workshop that any old person could do and offered it exclusively to autistic folks. All I needed then was to be extra mindful of additional needs, and a readiness to make adjustments, and voila, we had ourselves an autism-inclusive workshop series. It was all quite easy in the end.

I have this statement I give at the beginning of the first workshop. It basically says that human beings are storytelling animals. That's the only thing that really sets us apart from other animals: we tell stories and we base our entire lives on narratives. Whether you're autistic or not, it makes no difference to that basic fact. And that gives everyone the permission to tell tales. And tell them they did.

At the mid-point of the series, I offered this blog as a place for their work to be publicly published and I'm delighted that three participants took me up on the offer. I gave them the loose theme of nature and animals and let them submit short poems or 100-word drabble stories. I am now extremely proud and delighted to present to you these three very different but very delightful pieces of writing by Kerrie Wilson, Benjamin Cassidy and Masami Hirata-Smith. Please read them, enjoy them, and share them far and wide:

 

A Wolf in Corporate Clothing by Kerrie Wilson

 

You watch from the side-lines, sometimes it’s a sneaky glance, other times a blatant stare 

Unnoticed by the undamaged eye I see you, I see what you see and taste that bitter longing 

The desire you have for your prey is fed by the illusion of your own importance 

And the rancid stench of emptiness seeping from your every pore 

Where nature is left to flourish, you see opportunity 

Where landscape provides shelter you carve your way through 

Hacking away at the branches, the leaves, and slowly killing the root 

Until all that is left is the blood stained soil.



THAT FUCKING SONG by Benjamin Cassidy

 

You won’t.

I’ve never understood why anyone thinks they will. These creatures are weird.

After lurking a while, head shaking, I slipped off with a thick plop, back to the clotted waters of my lagoon. Retreat from the idiots, ‘til next time.

Moments earlier, on the boat, raucous peals of laughter, exploded, echoing. The noise faded out, drifting away to open space.

YES, I AM REAL.

Always one who pipes up. THAT fucking song.

Hips swaying, rocking, the old drunk tourist gave his best Bill Haley turn.

'See you later, alligator...'

Not even the best today. Four out of ten.


<< Incidentally, Benjamin will also have a story featured in the 'Three-Minute Scares' feature on Hannah's Bookshelf on North Manchester FM on Saturday. He tells me this was also a piece written in one of our workshops - a small horror story about a snake. Tune in on Saturday on this link to hear it: https://northmanchester.fm/2015/01/20/hannahs-bookshelf/>>


Storytellers by Masami Hirata-Smith


Have you shut your eyes just to see the world?
Noticed each colour in the passing breeze?

Have you touched all the textures of nature?
Sent electricity through trunks of trees?

Have you heard dying leaves take final breaths?
Before they crash and tumble to the ground?

Have you heard the noises that silence makes?
After cacophonies of careless sound?

Have you been lost wandering in nature?
Built hidden forts from blankets, blocks or sticks?

Have you played with words like a pack of cards?
Undecided to choose from games or tricks?

Have you smelt any freshly picked flower?
The only corpse it's okay to display?

Have you tasted words that have gone sour?
Unable to find better ones to say?

Have you told twisted tales of yesteryear?
Regardless of whether they're false or true?

Have you stared deep into your reflection?
Only to find someone who's not quite you?

Have you travelled through illusions of time?
Spent long nights meant for sleeping wide awake?

Have you ever been lost in reality?
Only to discover that its all fake?

Have you lived the lives of storytellers?
Spent so much time inside, yet far away?

Have you listened to all their thrilling thoughts?
There's a story to be told, one day.

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