Sunday, 22 February 2015

Mask works - exploring some uses

The above is entitled 'Behind the Mask' and appeared in an exhibition in Luton to raise funds for the then FSNBF or as it is known now the Fire Charity. I approached the charity and got no support from them but oodles from the the fire crews who gave me safety leaflets and posed for photographs and paintings. It was a pity their charity didn't have the time for me, because I was happy for it to take the works on tour or for them to use them however they wished for free, but their marketing team at the time didn't much like anyone else having ideas to raise money for their charity. I felt that was taking pride a bit far, but you can't win them all.

In the end, I left it to the Hat Factory in Luton to collect funds in a donation box and forward funds raised direct (which they did) as it all became too much of a palaver while recovering from the loss of a parent. I'm grateful to Luton Borough Council for their support in all that mayhem... I was perhaps a bit over ambitious at the time and no doubt didn't have the right communication style to do more. One learns from trying even if things don't turn out quite as planned. The paintings were eventually donated to another charity fire service.

We all wear masks to disguise many things that we don't want others to know. It's partly what keeps us safe right up until we need support because we're seriously ill or in danger. For me, the people who are most adept at wearing masks are those who's job it is to save our lives. Having worked in health care albeit briefly, I can tell you they all need to be saints while on duty. No one would put up with what is hurled at these lifesavers while off duty in any other field of work I can assure you. Do try to remember that the majority of people in the Police, Fire Fighting, Ambulance, Armed Forces and Health care are honest, diligent, caring, compassionate, responsible highly trained people doing their best to save you mainly from yourself a lot of the time.

It is when we are at our most vulnerable that all masks tend to fall away and not liking to feel exposed we tend to snap at the very people who are there to help. We all do it, I know I do when at my weakest too. Do try to remember to apologise afterwards please.

While masks need to fall away for others to help, paradoxically they can help us to heal too. Here's a snap of some mask making from a group session with MIND, one of many Mental Health charities. I found that it helped me to recover from my woes to help others but only once I'd confronted my demons and rested first. I thoroughly enjoyed delivering both art and drama workshops and hope to do more. In the workshop I encouraged people to imagine characters as far away from who they are as possible and the result was a couple of days of sheer unadulterated, non-analytical... fun.

Reinstating a sense of fun has been my approach to many endeavours, not least painting. It is strange to reflect on how I was steered away from paint brushes at school and for my degree but there is always time to catch up on anything you feel you have missed out on if you make the time and put in the effort to do so. We can and do create the person we want to become, but only when it is realistic enough for others to permit it. As they need the same courtesy and indulgence it tends to work out more often than it doesn't. When it fails, it can feel for a time that it's always failed which frankly is seldom true except where we find the severest forms of oppression which we call bullying and tyranny. In my opinion we should not only guard against that, but guard against perceiving our own lot in life as being worse than it often actually is. It's unrealistic as well as alarmingly delusional and hardly helpful to behave in such a way - the main problem being that those in real need get less support due to our gripes over things we can often sort ourselves so much of the time if we would but pause to think about it enough to work it out.

It seems masks have become a recurring theme to my life as from workshops I once found myself involved in line managing (among many departments) some professional mask makers at Trestle Arts Base. Would that everyone could and would conduct themselves through such times as these as Trestle do!

The cheery demeanour worn by staff in any organisation or field of work have to be tough when redundancies hit due to harsh economic conditions. Real tears don't show under a mask and it can be a shock to realise that those of high rank cry just as much as those of the lowest rank in such circumstances if you are not prepared for it. Why should it be a shock though? How could it be otherwise when we all care equally and have no choice but to work through such things together?

Year by year I get more proficient at many things to add to my experiences, but I never disguise my need to pull away when I am not up to mediating, healing, managing projects or working at all. I refuse to work under any regime that I do not believe to be right. I might well be proved wrong to hold that opinion about some employers and have been at times too, but very rarely so. Often it just needs a new team with more experience to sort not only working practices out but ethical values - people need the same song sheet to sing from as a basic starting point. It's pointless bullying staff as they invariably do a worse job than if you encourage them to be interested in their work and your organisation.

My work history has been to leave when I have done all I can and can do no more for that team. I figure it is someone else's turn then. Often when it's been a great team to work with; as with Luton Borough Council, MIND, Trestle, SEEE and Voyage Care (among others), a wave of loss hits me when it's time to move on. I content myself with the knowledge that others have the right to such magical experiences so the best I can do is enable them to have that opportunity too. It tends to work out fantastically well in the end as that way I am free to find a fresh new challenge for myself and end up encountering more wonderful people to share life with - that's what I call a win/win situation!

I close this post with a challenge inspired by an exercise in 'Poetry Now' from years ago. The challenge is to write a poem that starts with a line from someone else's work. I have chosen words from Elizabeth Jennings for you to begin your poem with, if you wish to that is.

"All the masks I carry on my face..."

I've done mine about a decade ago on this one and remain content with the result. If you'd like to read it, well it's one of my poetry books already published via Blurb. ;-)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The propogation of problems via fashion

The Acceptable Face Of Fashion

Sonia had an eyelash out of place
Was nicknamed squint and died an old maid.

Lydia went lame, was locked away, never seen again

Tony was discovered to be
Half an inch shorter than everyone else
And was promptly hung.

Felicity split her size 2 dress
And was ridiculed out of existence.

Alex weighed one ounce too many
And was bundled off to the gas chamber.

Fortunately, now we’ve got rid of the dross,

Everyone else fits.

(First published in some Poetry Now anthology in the 1990s)

I like trendy things as much as anyone although what I buy is seldom what's the latest fashion for several reasons; not least is finance, but mainly because it's impossible to keep up with what the latest fad is while it changes so rapidly. What I abhor is when the fashion is used to as an excuse to negate, penalise, neglect and bully others. That is not the fault of designers but the fault of those that use it that way.

At times, we really are a most unpleasant species when it comes to anyone being different to ourselves. I was aware of this very early on in life and like many have struggled to understand why when we all crave to be accepted as we are. We prefer to be noted for what we can do rather than constantly reminded of our limitations and what we do wrong in the eyes of others yet it never seems to occur to people to stop hacking and attacking every thought, feeling and deed of others just so that they can feel good about themselves by comparison. We do not treat others how we would like to be treated and then are surprised by what we get in return! What, pray tell me, is so commendable or admirable about that sort of behaviour? Yet we all do it including me.

The irony of all this nonsense is that the majority of people are more commonly nice than nasty, yet it is the nastier side of our behaviour that we spend the majority of our time focussing on when we are troubled. I don't know about you, but to me that seems unhelpful when it comes to resolving anything. We have a habit of blaming everyone but ourselves for anything and everything that goes wrong. It is as if we are never happy unless we have someone else to pick on and bully. When it's not the disabled, it's the ill, the elderly, the young or people of a different coloured skin. Failing that anyone taller, shorter, fatter, thinner or perhaps richer, poorer or just from a different place of birth these days will do. I most humbly apologise for none but my family having been born into my family, I guess you drew a short straw on that, but I promise to try not to hold it against you so long as you don't behave like a selfish, inconsiderate, greedy, tantrum-ridden prat! I think that's fairly reasonable terms and conditions or at least fair warning.

Perhaps, and it's only a suggestion, if we looked to see what people did right more and tried a little bit harder to accept that others have abilities that we might need, we might find that things work better; that we are less swamped with problems to solve and... become healthier and maybe even happier too. I rashly thought such an idea might be of interest, hence these few words on the subject.

It is, as I say, only a suggestion. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Tile Tales - a preview of what's left

For the few who have bought or been given a copy of my first pottery book, here's how some test tiles turned out. Inspired by the results of more tiling experiments last year, I hope to manage to produce a second pottery book this year entitled 'Tile Tales'. Pottery, in common with all the arts, teaches us all many things including how to look, listen, touch, feel, think and communicate. Art for me is an enigmatic puzzle far beyond anything new technologies could ever wholly fathom let alone master because it will always evolve faster than any machine we could make.

Rather like an unfathomable jigsaw I remain undecided as to which order the above tiles should be arranged in, or how many to include to share with others. With the General Election in the United Kingdom looming I feel much the same about that too. As a traditional, homely kind of gal at heart, purple has never struck me as a colour politicians should ever wear in our little islands and have made no secret of it much to the annoyance of others. It's just not me to select any group to pick on and blame for everything. We are all part of so many groups that it all seems a rather stupid thing to ever do, but as we know, there are exceptions and exceptional circumstances when defending what we hold most precious and dear is worth making a stand for.

Whatever the outcome of our voting I do know this, that what works for some scenarios will not work for all. History plays a fickle game; it never discriminates and is tricksie to all in equal measure.

Some prefer others to organise and make decisions for us while others prefer to take charge but I personally cannot think of anyone who makes any perfect decision, far less every time. Nor have I met another person who always likes others to make all decisions for them. It's nice to be able to choose what to eat, where to live, a career or what to wear. It is also far safer to choose not to take a medication that we are allergic to but even then allergies themselves can come and go because our metabolisms change as we journey through life too.

Recently human rights for many seemed to have become over rated, or of lesser value than other concerns but they are not. To me it is merely a case of what takes the highest priority according to our most immediate needs. That alters moment by moment when the pace of life is so fast moving. How iconic is a human hand and how much more potent it seems to be when clenched as a fist than left open in greeting or in friendship. Both are of equal importance and, I feel, have equal worth.

We are all part history makers and part of history all rolled into one as if part of one enormous collective thinking machine. My current contribution to thinking is that that word 'collective' resonates the loudest when a challenge is clearly visible, though I'm sure others have expressed the same concept for centuries. Unity as a concept always has and always will resonate loudly whenever survival of our way of life is at risk. Whether we collect to defy a joint danger, or to unite to share joys, it strikes me that what it is to be human must surely entail being adaptable with a commitment to take part.

I have been described as many things and all labels are true of course, but not just of me. I find everyone shares the exact same description but just to a different mix to make us all unique. We carve out not just our own name but our own path in life in part; but equally I feel it is and has always been plotted, navigated and channelled for us often by persons and powers unknown, precisely because we are all part of the/a collective. In times of peace and prosperity we shrug it off as being just about 'acceptable' and nothing to go to war over. In times of hardship the result is rather more difficult to manage or come to terms with.

It is the taking turns that seems to work best, not just for our species but for all species. No one can be on top form 24/7 - we all need to rest to stand a chance of being at our best. While I rest, others take their turn at the helm to enable my projects to not only keep going but flourish in ways I can only delight in and applaud while they start many new ones of their own. My struggles with my health have forced me to take time out and perhaps for the first time, I am both accepting and enjoying the break as my shift on just one project last year was rather longer than anyone could have predicted due to the number of people who became involved.

History taunts and tantalises, it teases and torments, it tests and tempts us into tangles of troubles; yet there is one thing that it never does - it stubbornly refuses to predict anyone's future.

So with regard to all my tomorrows... well, I think I'll give what's left to them when I get to them.

What’s Left

I give what’s left and hopeful fling
To chance a chance remembering
A careful word, a touch, a kiss
Recalls to mind all I miss
And ached and longed for in my plight
That faith restored in such delight
Retrieved and strengthened now in sight,
No longer giving as I please
I give what’s left.

Mindless seems my destined flight
Yet something calls, “this is right”
So joy does raise me from my knees
To share with others what would them please
And so I gain a strength in fright
To give what’s left.

(From my 'This is Me' Exhibition in Luton several years ago - sorry if you missed it as it was free entry. 
However this poem was first published in Poetry Now along with a few others way back in the 1990s 
- what a journey it and I have had since then, none of which I regret as I have learned from 
my travels to strange places and enjoy continuing to do so.)