The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

The wolf

I have been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book “Women Who Run with the Wolves” recently and listening to some of her audio stories. It’s been a really good learning experience in terms of life and art. In honour of this I decided to try to paint a wolf. Again I tried to paint it in a way which could have been printed with a set of woodblocks, using flat washes of colour and simple gradients.

I began with a sketch…

Then covered my whites with masking fluid and ran a variegated wash over it very lightly.

Then I began laying down the flat washes, colour by colour just as a printer might.

This is my final painting…

I wasn’t sure how to imitate the line work of Ukiyo-e prints. Here I just left it with the pencil showing but I think a slightly darker tone would be better. That said I don’t think black would work so well, it might make it look like a cartoon. I might try getting some really thin 0.3 or 0.2 dark sepia pens which could give me the kind of tone I’m after.

A small difficulty I had with this picture is that the paper was marked with oil, probably just from handling, (it was from an older batch) so in places the paint was absorbed more giving darker tones in what was supposed to be a very flat wash. I could handle this by using gouache paint but watercolour looks more similar to the inks in the original Ukiyo-e prints. My other option is to buy some cotton rich paper which has better absorption qualities and then make sure I only use clean untouched sheets for this kind of work. I’ve never worked with a good cotton paper before so that might be fun to try.

Here’s the book which inspired this painting…

The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

I think I have a strong tendency to be too “tame”, to follow rules without thinking and do as I’m told. I think this comes from being Autistic, and having a systems view of the world. I just find out how things work and then follow the pattern, just like a good AI robot. I am really happy being told what to do and then getting on with it. The difficulty I come up against is that this approach only works well when the systems are effective and no-one is giving false or inaccurate information. I find it really difficult when I’ve done what I’ve been told is the right thing to do only to find that I’ve been lied to or accidentally mislead or when I’ve misunderstood. When this happens people rarely allow me to explain and often I can’t because one of the unwritten rules of social functioning is that you mustn’t expose other people’s wrong doing or mistakes. So I get blamed for things which are not my fault really often.

This book, “Women who run with the wolves”, gives me some really good guidance about all of this. It teaches me how to know when to question something and how to go about it in a natural and intelligent way using the archetype of the wild woman. Best of all Estes uses traditional stories from all over the world to teach this wisdom.

Now I have always had a strong kinship with stories. I expect this just comes from being lucky enough to have parents who read to me and encouraged books when I was young. I also had a younger sister who was, and is, a stronger person than me in so many ways. She used to demand that I made up a story for her after we were put to bed. I found sleep very difficult as a child so I was mostly happy to do this although I sometimes tried to refuse (my teddy Rusty was then threatened and she usually got a short and rather unsatisfactory story from me that night). Even nowadays, at work, I still make up stories on the spot for the children, often putting them into the tale or letting them choose various facts in the story. So stories have always been a language I understand. (In fact I often wonder if stories are not a primary programming language for human beings.) Anyway, I think this is why Ms. Estes’ book is so helpful for me. She uses stories to help people.

She also distinguishes between being tame, being feral and being truly wild. Being tame is how I tend to function, following rules and letting others tell me what to do. Being feral is kind of what happens when people are too tame for too long – it’s an inappropriate explosion of the wild nature which isn’t balanced or particularly helpful. It happens when people “go off the rails”. The real wild nature is different. Although it can be savage at times, it is only like that when necessary. Mostly it is balanced, wise and centred, doing whatever is needed for the person and those around them at the time. What I like best is that it gives me a way of managing things which doesn’t leave me so open to difficulties.

I will have to practice this to get it right but I think it will be worth it.

11 thoughts on “The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

  1. The wolf is lovely.
    I also like what you said about storytelling. Stories are primally rooted in us.
    I hope you can hammer out the nuances of when to defend yourself and when to let it slide and let peace prevail. I’d help, but dear god, I don’t know these things either!! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comment. It feels really good sometimes to find someone who understands what I’m getting at and where I’m coming from. As always, I really appreciate your input.
    I agree with what you say about stories and language although I hadn’t considered how wide the infuence of stories goes – it does pick up so many parts of life and language.
    I don’t like the the phrase “black and white” thinking much either. I don’t think the way those of us on the spectrum think is related to ignoring “shades of grey” but about being properly accurate and fair.
    I’m really glad you liked the wolf portrait. It’s quite hard to do justice to such a beautiful animal.
    Thanks again, Jo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Describing storytelling as “a primary programming language for human beings” feels very right to me: not only for modelling typical human responses and behaviour but also because the language of many traditional narratives (like fairytales and fables, for example) rehearses and replays speech patterns, vocabulary, meanings and feelings, all helpful for young minds coming to grip with languages.

    I second your thoughts about autism and accepting assertions and conventions–until they’re shown to be false or wrongly grounded, and then we’re often confounded, confused and even angered. It’s an aspect of the kind of black-and-white thinking that’s often ascribed to us, though I do think that’s a misleading phrase to describe our yearning for a just and fair world.

    Before I forget, I loved the finished wolf portrait–I’m unsurprised that many on the spectrum feel an affinity with the much maligned creature.

    Liked by 2 people

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