There's this idea that life gets better - improves - as we get older.
I'm 66 and I still tend to believe this, but less so, because time doesn't mean that much to me.
Then again, I tell myself: If you live for a hundred years, you'll never ...
I don't have a hundred years. I never had a hundred years. No one ever had a hundred years, not even people who lived for a hundred years.
Then again, I tell myself: things would have turned out worse if at age 14 I hadn't refused to take sugar (they didn't ask.) I still have all my teeth.
This picture is a self-portrait. It was inspired by the work of a famous female artist. I almost entered it for an exhibition. Viewed portrait or landscape, it amounts to the same.
Here, I'm at home, on the sofa, being busy while also being horizontal, minimising the negative effects of gravity. Not sad at all.
Everything is within my reach: phone, seeing-glasses, notebook, pens, computer and book/s or Kindle. Cup of tea. That plant.
In the room the cat comes and goes, meowing of Frida Kahlo.
The idea for this picture came from a recent post on Facebook by Tom Cox.
It was a sketch of a cat with the caption: 'One day things will get better. Until then here is a drawing of a cat.'
This seemed to sum up how I feel about my art practice: The complete failure to articulate or address, let alone resolve, the problems in the world.
There's an argument that says art doesn't have to achieve anything, it is what it is and there's an end to it. Leave us alone to do our art! This is what artists say.
Bad stuff happens and there's not much that art and artists can do about it. Although some people have at least managed to make art that says something - protests - about the shit. For example, Edouard Manet, Emile Zola and Pablo Picasso.
And Country Joe.
My problem (one of) is guilt. And shame. I'm a bad person. OK, I'm not. Well, I might be. Yes, I probably am.
But this isn't the point and it certainly doesn't matter.
The point is, I've never earned a living from art. Apart from a few poorly paid exceptions, I've always had to support myself by doing other work. Proper jobs (kind of.)
I do art - doodling and scribbling as I call it, which I know is a form of self-depracation - for amusement, fun and/or from necessity. It arises from some strange need to make things and, perhaps, to express myself in some way, to respond to what's going on out there and/or inside me.
Is this normal? I'm not sure. Maybe it doesn't matter, not in the scheme of things.
But social injustice and human (and animal) suffering do matter - to me. And, except for a very few occasions, I've done absolutely nothing about any of it.
Crucially, I have never stopped bad things happening.
It's a problem.
In the meantime, here's a picture I did on the tablet the other day. It started as an attempt to deal with, graphically express, the physical pain I was in at the time.
I hope looking at it cheers you up as much as doing it cheered me up.
I had shingles over christmas and new year. Although it was a relatively mild attack, added to the usual impairment shit, its effect on my energy levels and states of mind has not been altogether positive.
I keep thinking any day I'll be better and back to where I was. But then, where I was wasn't exactly a good place. I took on too much, hardly notice when I over-reached and didn't really take enough care of myself.
These days I'm more passenger than driver. It feels weird and I don't like it much. Back-seat puking isn't my preferred style, it just isn't me. Not the old me, or more accurately, not the young me.
The younger me battled through the pain, on and on. The older me spends hours and hours prone upon the sofa, in an enforced state of horizontality. Reluctant, mildly irritated yet arguably, blissfully resigned. Mindfulness works, but in case you're wondering, I do not love Big Brother, I never will.
In this position, if I'm in the mood and not too tired, I can be quite productive, e.g. writing, reading, drawing (on the tablet) and talking (on the phone.) Mostly, though, I just listen to the radio.
Verticality generally involves stroking/feeding the cat, doing the washing up (eventually) and making approximations of meals and microwave cakes.
Occasionally, ideas come to me, like unexpected visitors. Reasons to make a cake and put the kettle on.
But here's the thing: everything about me is old, including my ideas.
Yet who can blame me? Sometimes it feels like the 80s and 90s again: waiting for the bomb, cursing the system and hating the Tories.
And another thing: is it me, or are things worse than they were then, back in the day?
Politically, I've never felt so scared, gloomy and defeated.
Yet strangely, I'm also not surprised. I guess I've always known which way the wind was blowing. I just hoped for better and believed that if we worked and fought hard enough, together we could change things. I'd like to think this is possible, even now.
So how can I help? What can people like me (ancient, achy, sad, cynical etc) actually, realistically do?
Back in the day, and to a lesser extent as recently as 2012 and 2015, I did useful stuff: letters, press releases; posters, placards and flyers. I organised and attended conferences, meetings and workshops; I marched, chanted and stood around.
Later came disability rights, another story about rights, wrongs and times gone by.
Which brings me to this point: I worked hard so that what has happened wouldn't happen. I tried to stop them doing what they've done.
I failed. And there's nothing I can do about it.
I remember then, and I see now.
Once in a while, every so often, I get the urge to draw. No use fighting it.
And so it was, that one day last October, l set the table.
Years before, I had set my students a similar drawing exercise consisting of mugs and a check tablecloth. Nothing like a grid for plotting one's place in the system. The scheme of things.
Artist is as artist does.
Years before, my art teacher had seen some talent in me (he later told me) and set a similar exercise. Six weeks, every Wednesday. How I learned to love drawing and start (just a start, mind) believing in myself.
Is this a good or bad drawing? Who knows? I like it. That's good enough for me.
Now and again, according to the prevailing wind or a passing whim, I get the urge to upload.
So it was. And here it is.
David Bowie has died age 69. He had cancer. And by all accounts he stayed strong and cheerful to the end. For this he deserves credit and respect.
I didn't rate his stuff much. His voice never appealed to me.
I thought I liked Rebel Rebel till I checked the lyrics, now I'm not so sure. I can't relate to them. But what fun we had dancing to it in the seventies.
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo
I also enjoyed Starman at the time; the tune is good but the lyrics ...
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
My brother (younger than me) said Bowie was a genius, the icon of his era. He must be right, though I don't see it.
Nor did I go for all that skin-tight dressing-up and luminous face-painting typical in his Ziggy Stardust phase. And Bowie's smile always seemed to me to be a bit tight and slightly scary.
The Man who Sold the World is a catchy number, though it doesn't seem to say anything profound. Not that this matters of course.
Oh no, not me,
I never lost control
You're face to face
With the man who sold the world.
'Cause love's such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
A good note to end on.
Today I received praise for my writing. It felt good. And weird.
I wonder why ...
My earliest memory of being praised was a teacher congratulating me for passing the eleven plus exam. I was baffled. I didn't even know I'd taken it. Then I remembered the strange test we'd all been made to sit.
However, I still didn't understand. Why had I passed and others not? It was a mystery. It also changed my life, and not for the better.
Bafflement was followed by weirdness.
The next surprise was the bike my parents gave me, a present for passing the eleven plus. It was their way of saying well done for not dying, now go away you little shit.
This photograph, taken at the insistence of my mother to mark the momentous occasion, shows me standing with said bike, wearing a horrible new hair cut and tolerable new clothes.
A few months later, my best friend died during an operation to save her life. This weirdness was just God's way of saying well done for not dying, now go away you little shit.
Then one day my parents found a photograph of me kissing my boyfriend. They told me I was a whore and I'd end up as a teenage pregnancy statistic. Was that what I wanted? It was just their way of saying ... blah blah blah you little shit.
So when some of the Chailey staff ganged up on me and told me I was a pig and an ungrateful nuisance and if they had their way I'd be expelled, I knew the score. I was a little shit but I wasn't going anywhere.
There followed decade after decade of weirdness.
Yes, today marks the end of weirdness and a new dawn of wondrousness.
I went to an exhibition yesterday.
In typical form, I approached the task of writing the review back to front.
Today, due to my ostensible need to verify and justify each and every word I write, I am not writing.
I am researching; seeking, digging, poking, unearthing all manner of info, items and opinions, endlessly clicking and link after link after link.
I only ceased (paused?) site-hopping because of the of the silly festive season and the very real threat of me and my guests sitting down on Xmas day to a poached egg and packet of cheese and onion.
What would Her Majesty think? Don't know, don't care.
All I care about is having as many distractions as possible so I don't have to write what I should be writing, what I honestly do want to write but can't when there are more interesting and comforting things to do.
Thank you for reading.
Now, back to the writing. Probably.
Review to follow. Eventually.
I used to campaign against war and in favour of peace. It seemed important and I felt useful.
I feel too tired and achy to protest now. Or is it that it doesn't seem to be worth the effort?
I don't know. I really don't.
So, I wrote this rough and ready poem to go with this picture .Then I posted them to this blog and thought, now what?
- Woke up.
- Felt weird.
- Read Dolly Sen's blog.
- Did this picture.
I'm too old (or too/not enough something else) to get a job, so I'm trying to focus on the art side of things. It might come to nothing, or it might come to something. The main thing is I'm doing it.
City Arts is an interesting project that's recently started. It's local, near to where I live, in West Berkshire. I went to see their little exhibition a couple of weekends ago, talked to the people involved. I'm looking forward to their upcoming Mighty Pens workshops on writing and illustrating poems. This coming weekend, I plan to take part in their Big Draw activity in Newbury Market.
After attending a free webinar with Morgan Gist MacDonald, I've been doing 25 minute freewriting exercises. The idea is to get into the writing habit, to 'focus on abundance' or, as I think of it, beat the block.
Then there's the drawing thing, another habit I continually break.
I tried some outdoor sketching last weekend. What a disaster. I lost concentration after ten minutes. The drawing was awful.
Alongside this blog is a scribble I did today. It's a reversed/scanned mirror-view of my face. OK, a self-portrait. Arguably it doesn't look much like me, but it certainly feels like me.
Thanks for reading my blog. xx
I haven't posted to my blog for months and months.
This picture helps to explain why. Taken today.
Not that I haven't had ANY art action. It's just that I haven't written about it here. Because it's mainly rubbish, to be honest.
Or maybe I'm lazy. No, that's not it.
Or maybe I lack committment. That's probably it.
And I like eating.
Sometimes it feels like it's all slipping away ...
As a result and by way of follow up, I was invited to take part in Salisbury Arts Centre's Homegrown Performance showcase event this coming Wednesday 1st July. We had our first rehearsal this week; it seemed to go well. I wasn't nervous then, but I am now, and I will be on the day.
The showcase consists of the Homegrown exhibition as well as taster performances of dance, new writing and film arising from Salisbury Arts Centre workshops, on the theme of 'Worth Fighting For'?
I doubt anyone will like my poems but I don't mind. I'm just pleased to have been given an opportunity to do stuff with other creative disabled people.
Performing takes me out of my normal (dis)comfort zone and puts me into another more interesting one.
I'll be reading three short poems, all with a disability rights theme. Here's one (a flarf poem) I won't be doing:
When depression hits, I can't go out or speak to anyone. It's a moment by moment existence. I have no energy. I want to sleep (but don't). I make myself do basic chores. That's all there is. And food.
This time (today) I decided to write and draw (fuck work) something, attempt to represent or express my state ('mood' it's called nowadays, which sounds OK). I don't smoke and I can't afford to drink alcohol (anyway it's a depressant) though I love the taste.
There's no cure for fear, no remedy for failure and no antidote to stupidity.
Thinking is less of a problem since I learned mindfulness. But the body never forgets and never stops feeling.
For when the numbers don't add up, it's no use lying your way out of the problem. It comes back tenfold (I'm told) and hurts times hundred (that I do know).
So I wrote this poem and made that picture.
Over the last three months I did three Our Tales Unveiled workshops at Salisbury Arts Centre. These began with an excellent performance earlier involving Penny Pepper and Liz Porter. Penny's a writer; Liz is a story teller and singer.
In Liz's workshop I reluctantly 'performed' a story about Clara who crochets a lot. This was based on someone I know (not me). I haven't asked 'Clara' if I can use her words so am uneasy about going public until I have her permission.
Penny gave us writing exercises on the theme of 'Worth Fighting For'. We picked post-it notes at random. Mine had the word 'freedom' written on it.
I started writing by means of mind maps. Penny said it's a good idea sometimes to write in opposites.
I quickly wrote this (unfinished) poem. It's based in part on my childhood experience (11 years) of institutionalisation in a hospital/school (Chailey Heritage).
that fucking painis backI wishI wishI wish I wishI wish it would justI just wish it would justI just wish I wishit would go justgo just goawayjustgo
have nothing at all
nothing at all
because you you
who’s rather shy
and rarely smiles
and you you you you youknow nothing at allnothing at allnothingand if youhad your wayI would liearound just liearound the whole timejust lie around just liejust lie around anddo nothing at allnothing at allnothingwithmylife
The two greatest loves of my mother's life were the colour green and dancing.
She dressed in green as often as possible and drooled at green items in shop windows.
Dancing was an escape from drudge, the hope and potential for wealth and glamour. But it was among the many things my mother took too seriously to enjoy, so it was never fun.
She took me to a dancing lesson, possibly just the one because I was in hospital for most of my childhood.
We lived in Romford Essex at the time. We traipsed (my mother never walked for pleasure) along traffic-filled streets to a half-derelict building with huge warehouse doors.
On bare boards, little feet that had never had it so good hopped and skipped, out of time with the pre-war piano.
I was scared.
An exercise for the Writing Lives online course I'm doing:
Retirement in Abingdon UK
isn’t like in Oregon USA
here we get assistance
to live with independence
there the doctors help you
toss your controversial life away
on the dubious basis that pain
removes your ability
to die with dignity
on google and yahoo
is in no way similar
for when suffering is terminal
and someone kindly kills you
say thank you
as they put down the lid on you
your shoes soon filled
by someone youthful
someone who’s useful
Terrified by Falconer
I would bring in Bill
who’s not dead yet
if living is better
forget about ageing
in the paradox of place
they may not be able to keep him
in a landmark case
I wrote this flarf poem in the first few days of this New Year, having written almost nothing for a month. I hope it sparks the imagination and provides the reader with a fresh, unique perspective on life.
Flarf seems to have come about by accident. It began as a send-up, a bit of a lark, by Gary Sullivan, to bring out the inherent awfulness, etc., of some pre-existing text.
Flarf his now an accepted and respectable way to generate poetry. Flarf is taken seriously. Poets enjoy writing it and readers, apparently, enjoy reading it.
Dan Hoy said flarf is like collage; it's what happens when poets spend too much time fucking around on the internet.
For me, a newcomer to the form, flarf works as a creative laxative, for the times when I sit there needing to write but it just won’t come out.
The starting point for this poem was rather straightforward, neither clever nor stupid; Into Google’s search bar I typed: What is the answer.
Working with various sentences and snippets in the search results, it soon became apparent that the phrase what is the answer can be read as both a question and a statement; I tried to use this ambiguity in the poem, make it more definite, which is a slight contradiction.
I like contradictions in poems.
DaDaFest's two-day International Congress on Disability & Human Rights was one of the best events I’ve attended. It brought together some amazing talented disabled people from within and beyond the UK.
Arriving late on day one, I stumbled up the auditorium steps (no hand rail) during a presentation that worried me so much I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to say that charity is alive and well and doubtless always will be.
For where you see oppression you will find opportunities.
Once upon a time professional and volunteer do-gooders were recognizable by their Liberty paisley. Since learning the social model lingo they’re more incognito.
Congress day two was ably chaired by Liz Carr and Mandy Colleran. These two home-grown, funny disabled women are super-stars in my opinion. Both are naturally weird and witty. They’ve been making me laugh for two decades. I hope they never stop.
The debate about who should lead disability arts organizations - disabled people or the other sort - was a bit of a distraction and could have turned nasty. Some useful issues were raised, however, and it gave me the chance to congratulate DAO’s editor on his leadership skills.
Simon Raven said: What an awful word ‘disabled’ is.
He has a point. It rhymes with labeled. He continued: Winston Churchill was a leader; he was disabled due to mental health issues.
Terry Galloway from the USA was a huge hit. She co-founded the Mickee Faust Club in Florida, a non-profit theatre company for the queer, disabled, minority community teaching writing, performing and production. Please, I want to go there.
Chris Smit from Grand Rapids USA is something else. He’s convinced that disability art can change perceptions of disability. He could be right.
The biggest barriers stopping disabled people going about their business are non-disabled people's (negative) thoughts and perceptions on disability. The roots of oppression grow deep.
20 years ago disability equality training was the way (we thought) to bring about systemic change. I still have the overhead transparencies making it crystal clear what the problems were.
But whatever happened to all their action plans, I wonder.
I think the only way for disabled people to change perceptions is, perhaps paradoxically, not to go out of our way to change minds or thinking, but to go about doing what we do. Find a way and just do it.
Pointing out the problems to non-disabled people is a time-consuming distraction, it turns out. By itself awareness rarely, if ever, leads to action.
Because most of the time the action needed is for other people to stop it. Stop staring, stop sneering, stop being greedy, thoughtless and selfish. And stop being stupid.
Yet the system encourages all these traits. So good luck!
I’m not going to dis the DisArt (though I hate the title) festival in Michigan. It might make a lasting impact on the local townsfolk. They’ve got until April to flatten the pavements and fill the voids in expectations and understanding. Hey, The Mayor’s on board! (Their mayors have more mileage than ours, which isn’t saying much, but I admit it’s a start.)
I didn’t hear anyone at DaDaFest claiming to want to change either the whole world or their tiny bit of it. Simply doing the show, getting people there, was an achievement. The achievement.
That DaDaFest 2014 was a success is due to the incredibly hard work and determination of a few people who were crazy and committed enough to create a space for disabled artists to do and celebrate their stuff.
No apology, no gratitude, and for no reason higher than just wanting to, because we can, and because we’re bloody well going to.
Because we have something to say. Or maybe we don’t. Who cares!
Look, the world isn’t asking (never mind demanding) for more inclusion and better access for disabled people. If we want it, we have to take it.
More crips on television, eg the Paralympics, hasn’t changed anything. Disability equality isn’t even a sideshow any more.
However, if anyone can stop DisArt becoming a peep/freak-show, gawp-fest or non-event that the folk-in-the-street don't know or give a shit about, that man is Smit. He’s smart, he's articulate, and he has friends. People seem to listen to him.
But has he got a gun?
This poem was inspired by the picture on the right.
The picture was inspired by a recent DaDaFest poetry event where I experienced problems processing the performance, because of the large screen that showed very powerful images, against an accompaniment of classical music.
At one point I had to close my eyes so that I could hear the poems.
This might have concerned me less had I not been asked to write a review of the performance. Sitting down to write the review, I was faced with a near-blank recollection of the poetry.
I’m not claiming to be any kind of genius, but the reason for my problem, I think, is that my right and left brains are well-connected. That is, I do words and pictures equally.
However, the whole left and right brain thing turns out to be rubbish.
But politics is a right-left issue that is still fairly current. Or is it?
Here’s the poem.
Choose right or leftOverkill is expectedwhen two entitiesthat are separate yetwell-connectedare made to choosebetween oppositesthat are otherwiseequal in all respectsestrangementfrom silenceis upsettingI miss herin springwhen the morningwind nibbles my earlobesand puffs at my lashesmy tastebudsand fingernails gaspat the cloudsabove and beyondlife's fleeting horizonthe mind is one world ina two-handed hold onwords that demand adeep understanding toknow it's true meaningmeanwhilethe eye delightsand sighsat the night time sightsthe heart suppliesthat signon the rightlooks invitingit mightbe salvationbeckoningfrom behind the glow inthat bright green greeting
After a lifetime of political and organisational activity and activism, I'm reconnecting, touching base with the basics, giving proper attention to art at last, becoming an artist.
Being an artist.
By the way, why do I need to keep announcing this? I first did it 15 years ago. This has to stop. Just do it!
So I'm here at DaDaFest 2014 and I've been listening and watching; enjoying a kind of immersion in other people's experiences and ideas, exposure to different ways and other worlds. There's so much art being created. Finding out about it is an emotional experience, as well as educational.
Becoming aware of the diversity and quality of arts practice and activism happening around the world, as well as here in the UK, has amazed and affected me.
And shocked me.
Disabled artists from Uganda were here. Astonishing, given that most Ugandan disabled children are rejected and neglected. Access to education, aids and equipment is extremely rare. Hostility towards disabled people is overt; exclusion is endemic and entrenched and no one apologises.
In Cambodia the situation for disabled people is appalling, we heard. It's a place where the choice between rights or charity doesn't apply. It's charity or nothing.
Meanwhile, back in the UK ...
At yesterday's Disability Culture and Human Rights Congress there was a motion proposing that only disabled people should be leaders in disability arts. The motion was carried, but more than a third of attendees voted against.
Questions of leadership styles and skills weren't raised in the debate, only afterwards, privately. In secret, as it were. Leadership in the disability rights movement is an issue that's rarely exposed to the light of honest discussion, in my experience.
During the debate I spoke briefly about power and control in organisations. The key questions are, who makes the big decisions, what is the decision making process, whose voice is being heard and whose views and experiences are being articulated.
I didn't say this: The key question about a decision or action taken by people in power is, in whose interest?
I did say this: Nothing about us without us.
I felt a lot of warmth and friendliness around me at the Congress.
Explanation for the title of the picture
This is a photograph (digitally adjusted) of my fridge door, taken about an hour before uploading the image. This arrangement of the poetry tiles has been in place for almost four years. Why I don't change it is a mystery. Maybe now it has been 'captured' digitally, I will feel OK about rearranging the words or even finding some new ones...