River Story: from cave art to autism – why inspiration takes time

Two articles inspired me to write the story featured in the previous post. A paper by two researchers at the University of York got a flurry of coverage around 2018 – you may have read an article at the time. In it they posit that autism, and it’s related tendencies of hyper-focus and attention to detail, had a noticeable effect on the development of Neolithic art. This says nice things about a condition many people don’t associate with the arts, while also breaking the assumption that neurodiversity is a ‘modern’ thing. I probably google-surfed from there to a 2013 National Geographic article titled Were the First Artists Mostly Women? answer: who knows, but lots of hand prints in cave art appear to be from female hands.

Not madly exciting research, but the idea sat in my brain for some time. I thought how I, an autistic woman drawing pictures in my kitchen, was mirroring some prehistoric behaviour. The sense of time being less impactful on our actions was comforting. I went about imagining my cave-woman double doing the same things I was – staring into space, fiddling with an implement, suddenly becoming aware of the smell of food cooking somewhere, needing to shit.

It was summer and I had the back door open. My flatmate was one floor down, hidden under the fire escape, taking apart some old furniture or sanding down some wood for painting. I could hear him, hear kids playing in some other back garden – occasionally an adult addressing some child-dispute.

From there the story was really easy to write – just a small moment of writing down what I was doing. My thoughts had been in my doppelganger’s setting for so long, that it pretty much wrote itself – a nice confirmation that pissing around daydreaming and doing nothing is not, however it may look to others, wasting time.

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