Interview with Amy Alward

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do! In first grade our teacher put together blank books for us from that wide-ruled paper you use in the primary grades. Then she had us write in the books: stories, research, essays and poems. I remember how excited I was at the prospect of writing my own stories in my own book! And then the reality hit as I stared down a blank page with that fat, stubby pencil suddenly dry of words.

I look back on the struggle I engaged in (first with having nothing to write, and then with the struggle to physically transfer the words to the paper) with much better understanding these days. My place on the autism spectrum means that I often navigate the world according to a pre-planned script, and it was difficult to face that blank paper of infinite possibilities--the place where my script was firmly ripped from me and my own words had to bubble to the surface. After I did find words to write, however, it wasn't such a smooth process and the other part of my autism kicked in: physically writing down what I meant. I remember the intense frustration I suffered when I couldn't remember how to spell the simplest of words when trying to compose--words I had been reading for years at that point and could spell when not trying to write a sentence.

I specifically recall the struggle on how to spell 'of', and my teacher encouraged me to just write through it, spell creatively just get it on the paper. I look back on her influence now and realize how much of a gift she gave me back in that stuffy classroom; through her encouragement I learned to let go my innate rigidity and keep trying without self-judgment. Thanks to her, I am able to rely on my own words pouring from my fingertips far better than my voice. Sure, my spelling is still very unreliable, and the more exhausted I become the more my syntax and grammar unravel as well. These will always be with me and my neurology. But the gift of storytelling goes back to Miss Round's help and my deep desire to fill blank pages with my own words.
Describe your desk
A mess most of the time! I waver between surgically clean work space and complete clutter. I think better when the environment around me is sparse: clean lines, no loose paper, little decoration and no frills. I could easily write in a 60's bus station if I could also get wifi. Unfortunately, life is messy for me. As an autistic, there is a "groove" I get into when I'm concentrating that allows me to pretty much block anything else out. Many of my projects require this kind of focus, and often things get shuffled aside when I get to steps that can't be completed in the time I have available. This leads to chaos on my desk and piles of half-completed paperwork, or half-drunk cups of tea. Seeing the almost done stuff reminds me to tackle it as soon as I can, but what frequently happens is I start to get blind spots to keep myself from worrying and then...I can no longer see the mess. When things start getting lost in the piles, or forgotten deadlines loom, things tend to get mucked out--everything back in extreme and rigid order. This generally doesn't last long, though, and the entropy that rides in my wake starts to creep onto the desktop once more.
What are you working on next?
I have several books in the works, both fiction and nonfiction. The poetry book finally being published has freed me to start working on a few self-help books for other autistics seeking happiness and better quality of life. I think this is much needed at this time, because most resources attempt to bring autistics to a theoretical place known as "normal". Thing is, it doesn't actually exist, and even if it did, diagnostically people on the spectrum don't hit this mark anyway. To me, the question shouldn't be "how do we get the autistic to seem more normal?" but "how do we normalize the world around autistics?" See, there are ways to cope with the world and deal with difficulties according to our own capacities and abilities, and then there is the way most people look to find a "fix" or a "cure". Autism is for life, and although each of us is free to change our behaviors, the basic wiring of our neurology is simply a fact. Attempting to be something other than our authentic selves is an exercise in self-loathing, and I would like to present another way of coping with our neurological facts--that starts with pursuing quality of life rather than normalcy. Currently, I'm drafting a social quidebook (in answer to social training so many of us face), a book on finding happiness and self-love, and a memoir. Not sure which will be completed first.

My fiction works are in the fantasy genre, and I have a lot of editing and rewriting to do there to a fistful of drafted novels. These have been set aside for now as I work with my autisim projects, but I hope to be searching for a literary agent soon.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
An interesting question these days. In remaking my life so that it fits my autistic neurology (instead of me refitting myself to an ideal life), things have changed drastically. I quit being a professor, because the physical environment (fluorescent lighting and constant exposure to computer screens) and social demands of the job left me in a constant state of meltdown and distress. Instead, I sought occupations that worked with my skills and needs. So, when I'm not writing or editing, I'm a massage therapist, and Reiki Master-teacher. This work makes me deeply happy, and I feel like I am truly helping people for the first time in my life. It also forces me to take good care of myself in order to take good care of my clients. If I'm not at the computer or standing at my massage table, you'll probably find me in my garden, on my bike or sitting in deep meditation. Of course, you might also find me in the car, traveling to one of the many Reiki classes I offer all over the west coast of the United States.
Published 2014-06-27.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Unmasked at Last: poetry of a midlife journey to identity and autism acceptance
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 14,600. Language: English. Published: June 27, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Contemporary Poetry, Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir
Poetry of an autistic woman pre- and post-diagnosis at midlife. Her search for identity and autism acceptance is chronicled in this volume of free verse poems. Resources and explanations are included to help others find support and community. Women on the autism spectrum are frequently diagnosed at midlife, and this book is offered to help them find themselves as well.