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Resilience and waiting for perfection.

A quick intro: I’ve been writing secretly for a while.  Not feeling brave enough or worthy enough to share what I’ve written.  I’m trying to rectify this by sharing some of my back catalogue and mixing it up with some new writing as a way of putting my stuff out into the world.

Written 14 June 2016

want to escape the everyday to get back in touch with why I want to be a maker. As artists go I’m a late bloomer, I struggle with giving myself permission and as soon as I try to get ‘Professional’ (applying for funding, residencies, getting support) about my own, solo work I get riddled with doubt and a sort of paralysis. In 2014 I worked really hard to enable myself to start making work, I even started calling myself an artist and then I got quite ill. It’s been a rubbish but illuminating experience. As I adjust to a new, slightly wonkier version of me I want to be bolder and develop new ways to unhook myself, even if only for a few days at a time, from the everyday to feed my practice and find the courage to make the work that I want to.

If I’m honest I’ve always sort of thought that there might be some magical, perfect conditions for making art and if I could just organise my life to realise that then making would be less fraught somehow.  The last year and half has enabled me to really experience that differently, and see that making in spite of all the imperfect conditions is the real challenge. So I guess I’m not special, I’m just trying to make work with integrity, that will connect with people and shape the world while being able to eat and try to live fully as a human being. My illness has added some extra admin but everyone has something. I think my biggest challenge is having the courage to get started in a meaningful way after 18 months of being ill, of not being afraid of starting now, with what I have.

To keep my focus on what really matters to me, yes food and water but also stories and community.  To develop my resilience and physically engage. I have always been very physically fit and robust and I’m not anymore.  I also want to learn about this new me, what she can do. In a lot of my work I’m drawn to wild spaces and our relationship to the world we live in. One project that I’ve gently explored is about a woman who was marooned in the arctic circle, and how she survived with nothing. My life has changed a lot since I discovered that story and while I feel sure it’s a story I still want to explore and share I’m not sure how. It’s about resilience, it’s about an 18 yr old French noblewoman from 1542 who survived for two years alone on an island of Canada, dealing with loss and pain and hunger. She may have some useful insights for me.

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Chronic

Written 8 October 2016

I’ve wanted to write recently but haven’t been able to start. I asked a friend to send me some titles to kick me off. It was only looking at the first title that made me realise some of the things that I do want to write about. And this is one of them.

I think I’m only just coming to terms with living with chronic illness. Nearly 2 years after I first got ill. In fact it’s 4 days short of 22 months. These kind of distinctions become important for some reason. I’m not sure why. It’s not like my life now is awful – I have lots and lots to be grateful for. And I am, very grateful. It’s just that so much feels different. 

There are very practical things. I’m typing this wearing glasses. Lot’s of people wear glasses but feeling the gentle pressure on the bridge of my nose is a reminder of the fact that my eye is damaged, and my sight will probably deteriorate a lot more. Sometimes there are little tickles or whorls of prickling where the shingles that marked this turning point in my life has left ghosts in the nerves of my face. No longer particularly painful but odd, distracting sensations that disturb me like wind blowing over water. 

My breakfast is a smoothie and some sparking water. Something that will fall down my stilled oesophagus of it’s own accord. There’s no peristalsis left to move it along. I’m often hungry and every time I eat I’m balancing concerns about nutrition with an assessment of what I think I’ll be able to swallow at that moment in the day, what is coming up?  Will I be active?  Is it nearly bedtime?  Oddly my desire for food, and cravings for particular foods seem to be largely a thing of the past. An unnecessary luxury to want a pizza rather than a sandwich. I tend to want sugary or fatty things, a newish sensation and one I’m sure is driven by bodies hunger for energy. And then occasionally, a desire for something so strongly that it almost physically hurts. Red wine. Crusty white bread with butter. Cheese. Plates and plates of cheese. 

I pull myself out of these feelings on a ladder of gratefulness. Starting small. I can nourish myself. I’m never as hungry as I was when Achalasia first started. I’m not as hungry as many people in the world right now. I have access to free healthcare and my amazing Fresubin drinks that fill me up with vitamins and protein. I have a wonderful, kind and loving partner. I have great friends. My family are loving and well. I am able to do work that I find fulfilling and make a modest income. My country is stable(ish) and not at war. I could go on – I hope you get the picture. I thought that practising gratitude was a bit lame. Pseudo happy American pyscho-babble but for me it has proved to be the greatest weapon in keeping myself in a good place. 

Life is quite medicalised. Daily doses – though thankfully reducing as time goes on. Lots of appointments, and admin. following up prescriptions and tests and test results. Procedures and planning for recovery. Monitoring developments. Watchful waiting. Having to prioritise life around these things. Changing work, waiting on the phone, waiting rooms. Waiting. There’s a lot of waiting. The build up to appointments – the hopes, trying to check my ambitions for the outcome, making notes of all I want to discuss. Then the slump. I’m learning to expect little, to hope for no change as the best outcome. Realising that practising medicine is as much an art as a science. That no-one will or can fix me and that I have to actively participate. That’s tiring. It’s tiring to be ill, or rather not to be well. To want to be wrapped in a blanket and cooed better like a child with a fever. It’s not going to happen and the more active and engaged I can be in my own life and wellness the better. Managing rest, nutrition, stress, exercise. It makes things less spontaneous, uses energy for parts of my life that in the past had seemed to run themselves. Leaves little energy behind for realising ambitions, fun and nonsense, dealing with challenges or mistakes.

Life feels smaller. This is interesting. I’ve sent hours over the last 22 months just lying down watching clouds. Not even had the energy to watch TV or listen to the radio. Within that is a great richness – I’ve marvelled at the ever changing beauty of clouds through my window. Marvelled at the size of the sky. Been gently aware of all the other living things under it. I’ve been frustrated by all the events I’ve missed. The shared histories I’ve been written out of by illness. Surprised not to see my face in group photos of my friends on holidays or nights out. Where was I?  Taking the photo?  Ah, no, I was at home, probably asleep. Or lying down after a hospital appointment. I’ve always been a restless, somewhat bold person. I don’t have the energy to be restless most of the time. All of my boldness has been directed in other directions. I like being at home. With no noise – no TV, radio or music. I like being warm. I like being outside in gardens. I am nervous a lot more than I used to be.

Then there is pain. I think I’m going to be writing a lot more about pain. It’s a daily feature of my life. I’m learning to investigate it’s colours and textures, it’s ever changing sensations. To accommodate it. I’ve been practising turning towards it, leaning into it. It’s quite probably always going to be with me for the rest of my life so I may as well use it. Rejecting it will be setting myself up for a long, and probably fruitless battle. It’s tiring. It pulls focus. It demands my attention like a grumpy toddler. It wakes me up, occasionally makes me gasp for air. 

I think I’m letting go of the deeply held belief that I’m going to get better. That my two specialists will, within days of each other, announce a misdiagnosis and give me a magic pill and it will be ‘how it was before’. Or I’ll wake up one morning with energy and vitality coursing through my veins like liquid sunshine. I’ll leap out bed surrounded by a gentle glow and explode out into the world. Those fantasies persist but more as a gentle amusement, I can laugh at the little reveries I find myself indulging in while waiting in hospital waiting rooms.

There’s power in knowledge. There’s power in kinship. There’s power in letting go of stuff. I’m getting good at prioritising my own needs. There’s still a mismatch sometimes between who I am now and who I would like to be but isn’t there always in life?  Maybe when you match up it’s all done with. 

I have a couple of chronic health conditions. They affect my life and shape my choices. I am trying not to be defined by them. 

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Notepad Warrior

I’m participating in an online course run by Scottee – it’s called Notepad Warrior and it’s a serious of provocations, bringing together art and activism.  And I’m really enjoying it.  Here’s my week two rant.  Now I’ve got to go and work on some slogans…

 

Why don’t people give a shit about how their lifestyles are killing our planet?  It’s selfish and indicative of a sad, short term, isolationist mind set.  As long as I’m ok – fuck you.  I want this and bollocks to the consequences.

I think on a deeper level its deeply, deeply sad.  People have become so reliant on ‘stuff’, so disconnected from each other and the actual real systems that sustain is that they have become rootless junkies.  Getting off on the next quick fix – new phone, jacket, car, dinner at that new little place, like on their post…  In a meaningless, endless competition driven and governed by the profit motive and greed.  Engineered / duped to consume at all costs and hook their identities and well-being onto stuff that doesn’t matter and actively damages our world, our mental health and social connections.  We’ve allowed the conversation about well-being to be totally hijacked by money fuckers with their clean eating and overpriced, culturally appropriated yoga. We even diss ourselves we aren’t like them, we’re not good enough.

We’ve broken the social contracts and stopped talking about how we want to be and we all focus on who we want to be, as defined by our stuff, status and ‘likes’.  We are choking our air, sending ourselves mad with anxiety, grief and depression, making ourselves sick with ‘food’, damaging our bodies by squeezing them into lifestyles that are just fucking awful for them – not moving, breathing, dancing, playing, relaxing.

We are ignoring the suffering of our species so that our hearts became hard and critical.  We chose not to see and feel pain because once we’ve started we’d have to tear the whole fucking thing down and start again and that scares us.  We forget that we are creative, compassionate, collaborators.  That is our true heritage.  Homo- fabulous the storytellers – we need new stories, new myths and new energy.  So, the tiny thing – the dropping of litter is a symptom of a deeper malaise.  It’s not middle class, middle England keep Britain tidy bullshit.  It’s honour our home, our provider, honour ourselves. Fuck this system that tries to belittle and intimidate us.  That keeps us small and sad frightened.

You, there, reading this.  Start small.  Smile and connect and say hello to people. Pick up litter, even if it’s not yours.  Do it while other people are watching.

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#64millionartists – Day 3 Might as well jump

Put music on. Dance

 

I surprised myself with the choice.  I think it came from a random recollection of Love Actually where Hugh Grant’s prime minister character dances around Number 10.  I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever danced to it before (I must have, at school disco’s, maybe?)

It made me insanely happy.  I danced like a fool in my pjs, I may have pulled something.   It reminded me of 80s John Hughes brat pack films that I really enjoy.  It turns out the lyrics felt quite apt too.

me and eddie.jpg

Me and David Lee Roth post rock out

 

ps/ watching the video back as I upload it to the blog I am amazed by the splits and the outfits and feel that maybe I should up my game on the performance front for future challenges.

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#64millionartists – Day 2

Make a sculpture with things from your recycling bin.

I decided that I needed to be allowed to use glue, tape and scissors too (though I might repeat this challenge without those things…)

I used: a teabag box, some newspaper, label from the lid off a posh jar from husband no 1’s dinner,  peanut butter jar and toilet roll centre.

sculpture edit 120160405_225853

 

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#64millionartists and 91 days

I missed the start of the #64millionartists January challenge because I unplugged over Christmas. Which was lovely. But when I returned I saw that a good friend had taken up the challenge through her blog. There was quite a lot going on for me at the beginning of January. My health wasn’t great and the news from the doctor wasn’t entirely optimistic. I felt a real pull to take up the reins of the challenge but realised that my energy and focus were required elsewhere. I signed up, set up a rule on my emails to ping the challenges to a special folder and imagined I’d join in around the middle of January. Definitely by my birthday. Definitely. But the year didn’t turn out that way. The health news improved somewhat but the experience of being not well got worse. I got more run down before getting a diagnosis of Achalasia. And then there was lots of medical admin, and not feeling well and trying to juggle freelance work. And then after some treatment I started to feel better. Food is a wonderful thing and water is even better. But my confidence was pretty low and it looked like my focus would remain largely on returning to health for most of the year. And I wasn’t entirely happy about that. But still I didn’t start the challenge. I’m not working! I have loads of time! I’m a bit bored! I just couldn’t start.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for me. I have ideas, so, so many ideas but can never quite seem to let them out. I worry. About most things. About the usual being just plain rubbish. About not doing the ideas justice. About the purpose of art, and making art in the world I live in. About using my time to make change in the best way that I can. I could go on.

Then two things happened. I swapped my keyrings around. I added one a friend had given me to my house keys, it’s glow in the dark with a shiny bug in it. Ages ago I’d found this analogy of making art as making little contributions, like gorgeous little insects I could put in the world. I had loved the keyring and the intention behind it’s giving and wanted to keep it safe. But liberating it from a drawer to make it my everyday keyring put the idea of making my bugs, my contributions, into my head a few times a day. And that was a good thing.

I also went to an interview for a job that I wouldn’t have considered a year ago. I was excited by it but worried that I was playing it small, tying myself down, cutting myself off from making work. As part of the process I had to talk for 2 minutes about something I’m passionate about. And I told the story of Marguerite de la Rocque de Roberval. Which forms the basis of the resilience project. And I made the interviewer cry. Which turned out to be a good thing. Because I have the job. And I’m really excited about it on a lot of levels. I also remembered that I love telling stories and creating things.

I’m also really lucky to have an amazing bunch of friends. Many of whom are tackling big stuff, being bold and taking chances and making changes.

All those things conspired to be the kick up the arse that I needed. So. I’ve begun. I’m going to attempt to complete the challenge, creating something for the next 31 days in response to the #64millionartists January challenge.

The first challenge is – To celebrate the start of 2016 we’d like you to draw or make a picture of how you’d like your year to look. What are the highlights? Where will you go? What are you looking forward to? Use whatever materials you like.

As I write I realise I’ve gone totally off piste. Sort of. I knew that this was the first challenge (I know almost nothing of the others) and so I’ve been thinking about it a bit before actually starting. The last 16 months have been difficult health wise, with three conditions piling in on top of each other. Luck and our amazing NHS means that they are all manageable. Fatigue and feeling crap in various specific and unspecific ways mean that it’s not been the most fun. It’s not been all bad. I’ve learned lessons about slowing down, I’ve appreciated lots and lots of clouds and read some great books. I’ve also got a kick ass haircut that I like. However, thinking about the rest of 2016 I realised what I want most of all is no more doctors. No more chasing medical appointments. No more prescription admin. No more tests. So I made an art chart. Of an apple a day to keep the doctors away (apart from those days on which I know I have medical appointments). No offence doctors, you’ve been great. I suppose it’s a sort of talisman for the rest of the year. I sprinkled some bugs in there because I want to make art too. And I coloured in the year in yellow because I really enjoy the sunshine on my skin. I’d like a lot of that please. I really enjoyed making it, and got totally absorbed.

This evening I sat down and made my picture, and I noticed quite a lot of stuff happening while I did. So here’s a little list to remind me of what I discovered and how that might help for the rest of the challenge.

  • Plan in detail but be prepared to let it go – I worked out all my days, how many apples there would need to be, where the gaps should go and what size the apples should be. Then I made my apple slightly too big. So I just sort of followed my nose and paid attention to what I was doing, and that worked out just fine.
  • Be playful. I wanted some rosy apples. They didn’t really work but that’s ok. I used potato printing. Something I haven’t done for ages (like more than 30 years) and it was fun.
  • Practise with your materials. I enjoyed using paints (watercolour and poster), pens, pastels. A spirit of adventure – I used a brush, a potato and my fingers. And I tried stuff out on newspaper, just a little bit, so I could understand these materials before I put them to work. And it was great.
  • Don’t worry about getting it wrong. Your doing this for you. For the experience of doing it. I’ll say that again Anne, because you are going to judge and get in your own way. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. In fact, it’s just not possible to.

So the challenge is on. I’m not going to blog everyday but I am going to try to make everyday and if something interesting comes up I might just write about it here.

I know you’ve all been waiting for it. Here it is. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

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On creating beetles

The week is all yours to work on new ideas, develop old ones and be inspired by the scenery.

There are no rules or constraints… An invitation to join an artists retreat in Cornwall. We’d be camping, with caravans and tents as work spaces in a place that’s pretty much perfect for new ideas. I discovered I had been nominated which felt like a validation and an expectation.

I started to plan for the time away and quickly realised that there were rules and constraints. And all self imposed. So I chose to ignore them as often as possible….

Nourished with delicious food, community and distant horizons I found myself entertaining the idea that I could be prolific, that my process as a solo performance maker is very different to the structures of creation in which I have been working to date and that’s ok, good even. This moment of realisation came while sitting in Sidney, a folding caravan (yes, that’s right a folding caravan – who knew?) with a view of the sea and the smell of childhood holidays cradling me. I was talking about leaving behind some things, to make way for new possibilities when it struck. I have in front of me notes for ideas for three new projects, there’s a half formed project that I’m delighted to discover hasn’t withered from neglect but still speaks to some generous visitors to my installation, there’s a half formed writing project, and the Autumn is chock full with Seatown Ladies.  There’s some other stuff coming up too, a collaborator role on another project, two workshops, and maybe even the very beginnings of collaborations which have emerged in the last few days.

In a moment of clarity I realise that my responsibility is to remain engaged, to spend less time worrying about what I’m not doing (building a profile, making a career) and more time working on those ideas. Another artist, warm and playful and gentle, sits on a rock and tells me how she tries to see everything as a contribution, an offering, to culture, to the development of ideas. This feeds into another conversation where I admit my biggest fears, about not doing ideas justice and how perfectionism stifles me and prevents me from making. I try to re-frame what I’m doing, each piece – a reading by the stone circle at midnight, an installation with a space hopper, the secret history of Sidney – is my contribution. It feels expansive and freeing.

The insect life in this part of the world is extraordinary, diverse and colourful and industrious. An iridescent green beetle like a precious jewel, massive dragonflies like mechanical space creatures, a shiny black beetle with feathery feet, absurdly furry caterpillars busily munching, grasshoppers and crickets and bees and butterflies and moths and all manner of bugs.  These tiny contributions add beauty, colour, texture and richness, a delightful soundtrack, movement and wonder.  They draw attention to the small things of this place and then in so doing change your relationship to the world at large.  I want to hold onto the idea that my work could be like this.

Find out where the campsite is now – performances for tiny spaces and all kinds of magic.

July 2014