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Mosaics: Cobbling a Disjointed Perception (Autistic and Whole)

Updated on September 23, 2018
Kimberly G Tucker profile image

As artist/autist/writer, Kim has work in many anthologies, magazines, etc.. Her memoir: Under The Banana Moon (life on the spectrum)

When children would visit, I'd have them count how many eyes they could find. There are eyes from broken cat figurines found in the mosaic. Also I would have them count the BBs (now a bit rusty) which are throughout the mosaic as well.
When children would visit, I'd have them count how many eyes they could find. There are eyes from broken cat figurines found in the mosaic. Also I would have them count the BBs (now a bit rusty) which are throughout the mosaic as well.

The Pear Tree

When I was a kid, I used to sit under the pear tree, poking sticklets into cast-off fruit and watching the billboard man paste up the new picture, one square at a time. Such was my thinking, a pasting of one piece at a time, to form a cohesive picture of a puzzling situation. Seeing details, but maybe not the whole picture. A tone, a nuance, an implied motive, an expectation of speech- everything was like the Billboard because I believed it would all make sense in the end.

Cobbling a Life, Mosaics

It was the late 90s, early 2000s, and I'd found a new outlet for my creativity: mosaics. I'd also learned how to "appear normal" and wore the mask of pretending, (to get by) most of the time. I was diagnosed Autism and Selective Mutism by this time and people were just starting to use the puzzle piece as a symbol for 'something missing' in autistic people. The only thing I found to be missing was acceptance. I felt whole and accepted myself, however mosaics may have symbolized the fact that I used to feel I was a piece 'broken off' a person.

One day I bought chipped old colorful plates from a flea market table. They were silently imperfect with their chipped edges, and soon to be noisily broken when I got them home. I would smash them to bits by putting the plates under a sheet on the concrete cellar floor and smacking them with a hammer. After this, I put the colored pieces into groups- if a shard had green bits in it, into the green container it went. If a shard had yellows, into the yellows container it went. I had great fun sorting reds, greens, blues...

At this time in my life, I was wishing that others could seek to understand the mechanisms of Autism and also of Selective Mutism. I was beginning to encourage people, through writing, to understand the impact it has on people like me, and I tried to prompt the reader to look again at their own worldview and the way they conceptualize their surroundings; because it may be vastly different from my way and so many others in the autistic populous.

There is a movement now to #Unmask #TearOffTheMasks. And why not? Why should anyone have to try to be what they aren't, just to feel acceptance? What I was, was an artist and a writer. I always had been.

The Billboard Man

I kept about 17 diaries growing up. I wrote this poem when I was a kid, about The Billboard Man:

The billboard man's here!

The billboard man's here!

And I am feeling glad!

He has a long broom to paste down the paper;

'Cause the old ad was peeling bad!

So, I'd sit under my pear tree, watching the man change the billboard picture with his long broom. There was a catwalk of sorts, a wooden plank that he'd walk across to do this. It was fun to guess, as each new square was pasted up, what the new picture would be, because the billboard was a fixture at the end of the hill facing the highway but also my yard and I came to feel it a part of me, because it was seen every single day when I flapped my arms in the yard and pretended I could fly, or fed my ducks or swam in my wading pool.

Sometime's the Billboard Man would leave it half completed and have to come back the next day to finish his work. I'd have all night to wonder, from the few squares, what it would be in the end. Sometimes a shining new car getting it's gas from an attendant in mechanic's attire; sometimes a toothy woman holding a toothbrush with a cartoon star to indicate how sparkly her teeth were.

The grapevines around the bottom of the billboard, where the ladder was to reach it (I never dared climbing it for fear I'd fall to my untimely death, but I was tempted) had a wild sweet perfume. I know, I would trek close enough to visit the vines, which grew in a tangle that separated my hill of a front yard from the highway. One day I watched in horror as Hoghway Workers arrived and commenced to chop my vines.

They threw them in filthy truck beds like so much trash. Outraged, breathless, I ran into the house to announce to my mother how irate I was.

"There's nothing we can do," she said calmly. "They're tearing down this house too, to expand the highway or something. We are going to be moving."

But... who gave the orders to chop them? The grapevines had always stopped my rolling balls from wandering into traffic. "We have to write letters! We have to stop this!" I cried. "Who can we write to? The landlord? The place where the highway guys work?"

My mother was laughing. Did adults not attach themselves to grapevines, pear trees, billboards? "They're smiling as they cut them down," I said. "I hope they get poison ivy!"

Holy Dust Motes

The church itself, with it's terra cotta brick (skin) was stoic and it was not too hard to imagine all the invisible stirrings; the people in their antiquated clothing in those very pews, the ones who worshipped there before me. I wasn't there for God, per se, in fact I only pretended to recite passages and sing, by moving my lips. Whenever I could exchange the word 'he' by mouthing the word 'she', I would do so. It was my secret.

I'd been to the local library enough to know my town's history and I knew some of the people by name who attended that very church. I wrote this poem about the years I attended church:


Outside church I climb cracked steps.

Not for the service (I confess).

Inside, I take a pew

with an obstructed view

behind my pillar, my favorite beam.

Startlingly, men burst into song like ladies in the choir:

High, high above me, voices too shrill. Unseen.

I lose my self to watch dust twirl in rays that make it

gloriously through-

colored glass windows. The light tries so hard

to penetrate them.

Sunbeams make it through.

Dust motes dance, twirl, with sass!

They somersault, and land on kneeling bent

people around me…slow…fast.

unbeknownst to them. Their voices stir the dancing lint!

The beams shining through the stained glass-

color the hair of the worshipping people-

in subtle tints.

Blonde hair looks blue, green, pink…

No two specks the same.

And Adam always thinks

that if you’ve never stared off into the distance

then your life is a shame.

So I stare off into the distance and-

So many dust motes twirl and spin –

I almost cry from the joy I’m in.

Swirling, twirling, arcing.

One rolls onto the bald pate of a singing man.

Specks turn to, then fro, some

nestle unseen in a grandmother’s brow.

She will never know.

I smile as I watch the dust motes

cavorting in the sun’s warm gold rays.

Whirling eddies of

silent dust dancing in the colors.

Sharing secrets with me.

I will take some dust motes home with me too.


Some have chosen to land in my own hair, and in my clothes.

Holy dust motes!

Shattered Theme

I came to paint the shattered image theme, and it landed on the cover of books. Many paintings were sold and it became a trademark of sorts. If you are autistic and you like the puzzle piece to symbolize something missing, I get it. If you are autistic, and you think the puzzle piece implies that something is missing, and that offends you- I get that too. If you wear a mask to fit in, I get it. If you strongly support tearing off the mask and being accepted 'as is,' I get that too. Whether you say "I am autistic" or "I have autism," that doesn't matter to me. I prefer "I am autistic, but everyone has a right to believe and to say what they wish.

For me, doing mosaics on everything I could get my hands on: a wooden box, a bunk bed, an entertainment center, a cabinet door, a bathroom waste can, an urn...this doesn't symbolize anything really, and neither does my recreation of the shattered self portrait: me looking into a broken mirror. Perhaps it all leads back to the Billboard Man days, the way that everything was a piece of something greater and completed, the way I longed for all my parts to seem whole as everyone around me seemed to be.

Maybe my fascination with various pens and pencils in a soup can- alike but also different, directly represents my feeling as the pen with flowing ink amongst pens that were all dried up and I was not chosen. I had to select that pen and let it speak when I couldn't. The way someone could come along and erase your billboard, your vines, your very house, the disbelief that all that would remain is memories; this sets a foundation for putting mosaic pieces into a whole that makes sense. Into something beautiful, at least to me, something tangible, not throw-away.

Broken mirror Self Portrait
Broken mirror Self Portrait

Cobbling Paper into Images, into A Whole That is Beautiful

A collage workshop I led. I am standing.
A collage workshop I led. I am standing.


As Rumi said:

Tear off your mask. Your face is glorious!


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