Friday, 1 March 2013

Zaftig to Aspie



Zaftig to Aspie is a remarkable memoir of a remarkable life. The richly evocative descriptions of an ostensibly idyllic, hippy childhood slowly succumbing to the vagaries of lust, greed, and jealousy are gripping from the start; when you realise they are mirrored by the author's own struggles first at school, then with her family and finally with the realisation of her own autism they become both poignant and significant. 

Growing up 'indulged' and 'showered with loving attention', enjoying a gentle innocence in which the smell of marijuana evokes memories of 'peaceful happy childhood moments', the young D.J. Kirkby is nevertheless overwhelmed by such simple things as the antics of skunk kittens, so much so that 'tears welled in my eyes until they

brimmed and ran down my cheeks'; she finds herself unable to cope with the playground noise of the children at her new school; she is a girl who weeps uncontrollably at her father's wedding not out of any sense of sorrow, but in response to the deep sensory overload of the emotions invoked by such an occasion.

At times, the confusion of her over-sensitive perceptions seems almost akin to synaesthesia. The writing style is flowing and engaging, punctuated intermittently with poetry and with a neat line in understatement and self-deprecation. I can recommend this book unreservedly - it is a personal story with important echoes for society general. As the author herself says: "Everyone struggles sometimes but what matters is the attitude you have about it. If you want to get on and do things and are willing to work at it, then you will succeed."

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

From Zaftig To Aspie

Denyse Kirkby's vivid memoir about her childhood experiences not only gave me an enthralling insight to her fascinating lifestyle and of those around her, but also took me back to those carefree days of my own youth. Despite having enjoyed a completely different childhood to hers, that didn’t even inhabit the same continent, reading this book evoked long-forgotten feelings, of fears and hopes that we have as young children.

This book is beautifully written. Each chapter covers a different memory, with every story as fascinating as the next. She describes her surroundings with such clarity that I felt sure I was there with her, so much so that it was almost like watching a film I didn’t want to end.

I couldn’t bear to put this wonderful book down, and longed to keep reading and learning more about how it was to grow up with a hippy mother, in Canada in the early seventies. Learning about the various places they lived, how she coped with experiences, both wonderful and tragic, whilst being able to almost smell the heat and the scent of the air around her.

Denyse describes how it felt to be different, not only in the way that her mother chose to live, and the friends and relatives that shared their lives, but also with her understanding of her surroundings and contemporaries.

She explains what it was like, and her reaction to being diagnosed at the age of forty with Aspergers Syndrome. My nephew has Aspergers, which made reading the book, and seeing her childhood through her eyes, even more riveting. I should think that anyone hoping to be transported into someone else’s colourful and beautifully depicted childhood couldn’t ask for a better and more fascinating read.

This is a book that I shall keep to read again.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Adventures of a wild hippie child - The candy tree forest


I was snuggled down into my nest in the back seat of the car. I always made one up for long trips, placing my pillows against the right hand side door and my blanket puddled around my legs. From this vantage point I could see the side of my moms' face as she drove and I would fluctuate between constant chatter and sleep, thumb plugged in my mouth and my 'chewie' doll within arms reach. In those days it was easy to stretch out and get comfortable as seat belt laws hadn't been invented yet and that meant the whole seat was available for use as a bed.

It was mid February and cold outside, snow piled in high banks on top of the ditches that lined the bumpy gravel road. The breeze that seeped in from the open quarter panel window felt like icy fingers when it reached by my face. I turned to the window and watched the smoke from my mom's friend's spliff drift outside, dance around and disappear. He smoked it slowly, joint pinched between his forefinger and thumb, inhaling deeply, holding his breath for many heartbeats before exhaling. Occasionally he would tilt his hand to the left in case my mom felt like indulging. She would shake her head each time, never willing to take her hands from the steering wheel, carefully following the packed snow trail laid down by previous cars tires. I mimicked his actions, breathing in deeply and trying to draw some of its sweet scent back towards me.

I loved the smell of marijuana and everything that it signified to my 4 year old brain. It still evokes feelings of security for me, of peaceful happy childhood moments surrounded by clusters of chatting, smiling, dreamy adults. When I first encountered a group of drunk adults at the age of nine, I was terrified by their violent and aggressive manner and completely unprepared for the effect other intoxicants could have on people (and I am sure I will tell that tale when I reach that age in this series of stories).

That cold day we were driving my mom's friend to the sugar maple farm so he could help with tapping the trees in order to collect the sap that would soon start running. Maple sugar season was here and mom said we would stay for the weekend. I loved the farmhouse with its huge wood stove, the stew pot was always full of fragrant contents, big lumpy beds with thick handmade quilts and goofy working dogs who delighted in the attention I lavished on them. The owner of these dogs and the farm was a pleasant mixture of warm crinkly smiles and wild frizzy grey hair; her wide hips and an ample bosom adding to my impression of a stereotypical fairy godmother. I loved her dearly and called her my 'sugar plump fairy', but what I meant was that she was like the Christmas 'sugar plum fairy'. Except greyer...a lot greyer!

The next day we were up early, I was dressed in enough thick clothing that it was impossible to press my arms flat against my sides. This was not a problem as it meant I was warm and I had absolutely no intention of keeping my arms still anyway! We rode out to the maple forest on a sleigh which was drawn by a single huge Clydesdale horse. His hooves were the size of my head but he had the gentlest soul and was always willing to have me placed upon his back. He would walk gently around while I chirped in my shrill bird song pitched voice, exhilarated and running a constant commentary on all the things I could see from the great height I had attained.

On this day, the sleigh he pulled was loaded with taps and some drills. Up to three taps per tree would be inserted once the holes had been drilled. I spent the day playing with the goofy dogs, stroking the horse, his coarse hair making my hands grubby and also making a nuisance of myself. I would alternate between standing back and observing the work taking place while chattering away and getting way too close while the taps were pounded into the trees. Eventually the sugar plump fairy pulled me aside.

'Do you know where we are?', she filled my field of vision as she stood before me, hands shoved in her pockets.

I giggled and waved my hand over my head, gesturing at the trees all around us. 'The maple tree farm, silly!'

'Ah yes but I know a special secret about this place... I will whisper it to you...' She leaned towards me, her lips tickling my ear and her wiry hair pressed into the side of my face. 'This is the candy tree forest and the trees have asked me to give you something and to tell you it tastes best if you let it melt in your mouth with your eyes shut... She paused and drew her head back to look me in the eyes... Do you think you can do that?'

I nodded eagerly, climbing up onto the sleigh and shutting my eyes. I felt her press something with the texture of a sugar lump into my palm. I held it between my fingers, lifted my hand and took a bite. As it began to melt on my tongue, my mouth was flooded with the sweetness of maple sugar candy and my imagination thrilled with the magic of this gift from the candy trees.