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. ;-)

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