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Art and Asbergers
by Pearl Moon



Editor's Note from Karen Adler: Pearl Moon's art is, quite simply, beautiful - full of rich and varied and sumptuous texture, layering, colour, mixing of media. Pearl's discovery that she had Asberger's Syndrome changed her life. Her art-making is an important means of coping with her condition and of delaing with the world.

My story is about how I discovered I have Aspergers, how I’ve adapted my life accordingly and how my art is so intrinsic to keeping balance in my life.

From as early as I can remember, there was a feeling of unease, discomfort and imbalance about who I was and how I experienced the world. I was the eldest daughter of 3, born in 1959 in New Zealand to working class parents. As parents the world over do, my Mum still likes to recount stories of my childhood. Because my Mum’s character is inherently optimistic and she is one who will always strive to see the positive when recounting her stories, she can appear seemingly oblivious to some rather troubling aspects of my behaviour as a child. Over the decades, she has crafted some “funny” anecdotes about my bloody-minded determination and towering, hysterical tantrums that could go on for up to 8 hours. A few years ago when I started trying to unpick the seams of how I came to be, I realised that another take on those behaviours could be that I was responding to an environment that was deeply frightening and confusing and displaying obsessive, compulsive tendencies.

I did quite well at school except for mathematics which I found utterly incomprehensible.  Numeracy has been a problem all my life leading to difficulties like not being able to read the time until well into my 20s, a fear of reading any documents that have a lot of numbers - I still feel nauseous on the occasions I make myself open bank and credit card statements. Mostly I throw them unopened into a drawer. I delay or avoid making phone calls because having to recall phone numbers makes me so anxious.

Fortunately for me I went to a small rural school where most of the kids stayed in the same class as we went through the grades. It was obvious I was odd but the kids accepted me because we all grew up together. I was the loner who didn’t have friends or join in games. The best thing about school was going to the library every lunch time and reading books about biology, science, religion and history. I still remember my passionate delight at age 12 when I learned about deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA, I still remember how to spell it). If my home environment had been more stable and supportive I would probably have become a scientist.

At home there was a violent, alcoholic father and my mother living in a state of denial about the family dysfunction. I left school and home just before I turned 18 with no job and nowhere to live and drifted around alternative lifestyle communes. My son was born a few months after I turned 20, fathered by a man I met on a commune who denied paternity. A second son was born 2 years later to another man who didn’t want to be in a relationship with me and I gave that child up for adoption. It was hard enough being a single mother to one child and feeling that I was doing such a dreadful job and it would have been irresponsible to keep the child.

Until my late 30s my life was aimless, disorientated and socially isolated. The aloneness was by choice as my desire to be around people was on a scale from indifference to complete terror.  On the occasions I got jobs, being in workplaces become a sort of ritual torture - they all ended up with me becoming alienated from my fellow workers and getting sacked, usually within 3 months.  The sort of work I could get was limited because my problems with numeracy made it impossible to do clerical or retail jobs.To make a living, from my late 20’s I worked as a prostitute for 10 years. It was the only workplace I found I could get by in that had very flexible work hours, didn’t require teamwork and paid an unskilled labourer relatively well.

From around my mid 30’s the fog in my brain began to clear and a number of epiphanies occurred.

During one of my job dismissal debriefings, the manager spoke about her frustration that I did the job really well but couldn’t establish a rapport with fellow workers. Pondering over this later at home I had this absolutely world shifting realisation … people liked and cared about each other!!! I was truly, truly astounded to realise this! The ex-manager had made remarks about how I couldn’t remember the names of people I worked with even after a couple of months, how I couldn’t remember important things about them like their health problems, children’s names, etc.  How it irritated people that I didn’t look them in the eye and how I was so utterly pedantic about paperwork, processes, policies. It felt like a light had turned on somewhere in my head and it gradually began to illuminate many more things I found mysterious.

The next significant moment was when I was working in a brothel. One of the girls was very ill and had found a place in a rehabilitation clinic she was going to enter the next day and was working her last shift.  At 42 kilos she was stick-thin with anorexia, addicted to drugs and alcohol and totally terrified of the man she lived with, to whom she handed over all her earnings. Working in that brothel we had the choice of sitting in the lounge or hanging out in the girls’ changing room until the customers came in. This girl always stayed in the changing room and did tapestry, embroidery and other needlework. I remember her on that last shift giving a beautiful piece of tapestry to another of the workers as a gift. As she handed it over her face was beatific, she looked absolutely serene and glowing and talked about her love of doing the handiwork and how happy it made her feel. It was astonishing to me that this girl of 19, so vulnerable and exploited by many, could find any place within herself that still gave sustenance and joy.  On my way home I stopped off and bought a tapestry and the recollection came back to me how much I loved art when I was at school.



I did so much art and craft for the next few years that in 2000 I went to University and started a degree in Visual Art. After 6 months, I was ready to drop out because there were so many things driving me crazy. I spent days obsessing about the difficulty of getting a carpark space, queuing for food in the canteen and trying to borrow books from the library. There were too many people at Uni and I wanted to get a gun and kill them all. I hated talking to anybody and started growing dreadlocks so as to look too freaky-scary to be approachable. There were some things I passionately loved learning about too, so in desperation I went to the counselling service to try to find a way to deal with my problems.

After a couple of sessions the counsellor said “I think you are on the autistic spectrum.  The way you act isn’t a behaviour, it’s the way your brain is wired to react. You probably have Aspergers Syndrome.” Oh, sweet enlightenment ...

Today, my life is much easier to cope with. I have spent time coming to understand what goes on in my head and more importantly, have learned to communicate more effectively with the world of the NT’s, otherwise known as the “neurologically typical.” My art practise is a significant element in my life and I hope to get to the point very soon where I can make a living from it. For many years, I totally couldn’t understand why jail or solitary confinement was considered a punishment. I was genuinely deeply confused how it could be used as “punishment”!!!! When things got really bad in my life I had often considered doing a serious crime so I could go to jail and be isolated from the world. I long to be by myself - relish it, treasure it and seek it daily. Any sort of contact or engagement with people is done reluctantly and with trepidation. I am a pig in shit alone with my art. Then I can feel alive and truly happy.

Copyright: Pearl Moon



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About the Author

Pearl Moon: I am a multi media decorative artist working primarily with textiles, fibres, beads and stitch. I make sculptural forms (dolls), wearable adornments from beads, silver and found objects and 2 dimensional art. My art is figurative and typically depicts feminine personas portrayed as iconic, dreamlike and fantasy representations.

I use the skills accumulated over 3 decades as a textile artist to create unique layered and embellished textiles to enhance the works with abstract elements.

In addition to painting I also incorporate the western traditions of female needle and textile craft to collage the works together using such techniques as hand and machine embroidery, knitting, crocheting, appliqué and beadwork.

Website: http://www.pearlredmoon.com/




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