Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


Currents + | -

Being Autistic

I've not been very well in the past few years. Not just from my back surgeries, but my whole life sort of sunk a few feet. Yards, maybe. I like to say I'm a strong girl, but in the end, I'm like everyone else: happy sometimes, sad other times. Life is great when I'm not stressed. But stress is built into living in this century and was most likely prevalent in all preceding centuries.

I know some people that are happy all the time, but I'm filled with a swirling passion and constant music, and just listening to Beethoven sometimes fills me with that incredible longing that only great music can kindle in our hearts.

I have been informed by an American Indian that I am a Dreamwalker. I like that. It will be the name of one of my new albums.

Several times in my life I was told by different doctors that I "had" autism. To me, no one "has" autism. That's like telling a gay person that they "have homosexuality". It sounds absurd now, but "back then, before TV", it was unquestioned. Semantically, doctors had turned it — and other differences — into a disease, like cancer.

Some of us, myself included, are simply autistic. ASD, meaning Autism Spectrum Disorder, is the new terminology. I cannot quite grasp the difference, so I stick to the original diagnostic term.

I never thought about it much after the diagnosis, but I know it's true. I can find it in my writing style. Even my playing style. The process of making music is different than writing. It works in my playing . . . but not so much in my behaviors or my writing. If I wander in my music, it sounds courageous, eclectic, enthralling.

If I wander in my words, I sound clinically eccentric. The doctors used to call it quirky. They stuck electrodes to my skull and put unpleasant flashing lights in front of my eyes. All it did was to make me dizzy and give me a headache.

The doctors (and parents) also felt that no one that was autistic could ever survive long or flourish. Now, many autistic individuals become physicists, scientists, musicians, artists, surgeons, and their contribution to the culture effects real change in our species as a whole.


Being autistic is part of being alive for me. Without it, I doubt that my music would have spread across the globe. I was never one to give up or give in to what I knew was possible for me. Parents and educators tried to discourage me from following my passions. Everyone said that my dreams were impossible. Impossible? I was a Dreamwalker, and no one can ever control such a spirit. I dreamed my dreams into reality (with some very miraculous help). I aspired and I became.

But it took a long time to lose my hubris, my pride, and pride's eternal companions: anger and fear.

I spent many years feeling afraid, lost, and angry. I had to throw it away, all that fear and pain, because nobody benefits. Being mad at a record producer who's been dead for years is silly! It just made me feel bad!

Him? He's dead!

I needed a rest to reflect and figure things out. I believe that The Universe decided that I needed a vacation. A painful one, but a vacation just the same. I was hurt so badly in life, physically and emotionally, that I could do very little except think. After back surgery I could only lay on my back for six months and watch the ceiling. And that was good, because I had to see my fear for what it was — my greatest fear.

My greatest fear was that I would never be good enough, and that, if people found out I was really really different, they would persecute me. Perhaps even kill me.

I was not far off in this assessment but I am finding courage that I never knew I had.

Sometimes personal hurts last a lifetime and they eat us up inside if we let them. They can cause incurable disease. Anger and fear are really dangerous to anyone's health. They can affect relationships and destroy families. Autism used to be a dreaded "disease". Funny that Glenn Gould did so well. Strange that I should have been able to do this. And I am nowhere near being done with my life's work.

I'm so much better now! I walk, I play, and my music is filled with joy and newness. I feel new myself. I talk to my friends and it's so different now. I threw all the fear and anger away.

Easy words to talk but hard to walk. Abbey Lincoln told me it took her years to Throw it Awaynew window. When she was married to Max Roach she was pretty tough. But when I met her a decade later, she looked and sang like an angel. She had overcome all of her pain and fear. She threw it away.

It's easy to say all of this, but how many can do it? I'm still working on it. Being angry only makes the self sick. It doesn't hurt the object of one's anger — it hurts the angry person.

Anger turned inward becomes fear or depression. Not stuff I like. But it happens. The more we blame others, the worse it gets.

I'm tired of being afraid or angry. I own my life, and I hereby let the bad stuff go.


Some say that in that last moment of life before the next door opens, we experience every moment, incident, mistake, joy, triumph, defeat, fear, act of courage . . . everything and everyone our life is made of. Maybe that last moment is what we should work on and think about.

I aspire to make my life better and freer by forgiving my own self and others. If I place blame, it just bounces back on me. Hurt amplifies hurt. And none of us enjoy hurting. So I let it go. I throw it away. If it comes back, I tell myself to do it again. Again and again. Until I am free.

A divided self cannot flourish.

Angel died a few weeks ago. Before that, Kayla died. My husband's mother is dying. Lots of my friends are dying, ill, or unhappy. But I woke up and there it was: a truth as obvious and inevitable as the sunrise. All of this death and grief had shocked me into awareness.

Life and death? I don't claim to know much. But I feel that these times together on earth are incredibly important.

I believe that it's crucial to forgive the self and others. I feel that love is the healing force in our Universe.

Creating art and music, we create joy and love. For me music IS love.

I need to help others like myself. There are many millions of kids who are autistic, and suffer needlessly. It is doctors and parents who need education, and often the children just shine when they find out that they are real and that their lives are important and priceless.

My Path stretches before me. I have no idea how things will work out, but I know somehow that they will work out. It's called hope and sometimes it is all I need to get myself over the next mountain.

I write this because my life is changing and it helps to see the words on the page. It helps me find the courage to face the future with optimism. Love is my purpose in being here. It makes all the world seem more real and more beautiful. Evil exists, and I see that, too. But life and love are locked together in my world. My friends are golden, my husband is my life, and my music is ME.

Thank you for staying with me in a great hour of need. You've been good friends to me. I know that I am loved and valued and I will try to earn the respect of those I meet on this walk through life.

But I cannot please everyone. Art itself is often difficult to hear or see because it reflects the truth of living. Opposites. Yin cannot exist without Yang. The darkness makes the light more beautiful and precious. So as I change my music changes. I follow it and it follows me. It is an integral part of my Golden Path.

My autism helps. It makes walking my Path easier. I'm a Dreamwalker, and I find much strength in my explorations. Being autistic is not a bad thing. Unless one thinks of it as a "disorder" which is common among doctors. They would like to fix it. There is nothing to fix, except possibly our weakened immune systems, often weak from birth.

We have little "quirks" and I think I may have some big "quirks", but they make me who I am, and they make me able to play the piano the way I do. The more that the world understands this, the better off our lives will be.


My new music will be out and available in late July or August 2016. It will be me when I am real. I am not Monk. I am still alive.

My music is Truth folded into sound that hangs in the air like sweet smoke long after the last notes die away, a reminder that love is the way out of the trap.

My new music is all about love and acceptance. Not just of ourselves, but of others who are different, ideas that are different, ways of life that are different.

It is difference that makes our world alive with color. A world of sameness is not a world that I would do well in. I know. I tried.

Thank you all for your patience and your support. I could not have lived without your help. Your love saved me.

-JW, May 2016


Quotes by Deepak Chopranew window

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.

The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.

The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.

Nothing is more important than reconnecting with your bliss. Nothing is as rich. Nothing is more real.

If you and I are having a single thought of violence or hatred against anyone in the world at this moment, we are contributing to the wounding of the world.

Happiness is a continuation of happenings which are not resisted.

To think is to practice brain chemistry.

The physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world.

Every person is a God in embryo. Its only desire is to be born.


(I so wish I could write as well as Mr Chopra!)

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