2012 was one great hoolie here in London with the pyrotechnicics of the Olympics.
The glitter has hardly settled, and now 2014 looms on the horizon. No doubt we are in for four years of centennial commemorations of the 1914-18 war.
As a pacifist, I am prepared to participate in the lament for the falling of millions on the battlefields and in the trenches. And all the civillians who were massacred. And what follows here is tempered by that sense of respect.
As part of Caglar Kimyoncu's excellent COnscription and to mark the International Day of the Conscientious Objector, a conference was held where Joe Glenton - the young soldier who refused to continue engagement in Afghanistan - gave an eloquent acccount about how the British establishment uses notions of patriotism to coerce young men and women to join and stay in the Army. 10 years ago, more than a million British people marched on the streets of London im protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain. While both governments were lying to us about Saddam Hussein's possession of waeapons of mass destruction, all levels of patriotic rhetoric were being used to inflate the war effort.
Most of the people alive in Britain today are informed about our 'world wars' through the media instiutions with the BBC proudly at the helm. How many have asked if it would have made any difference which side had actually won? Britain, France and Germany were all primarily motivated by the scrabble for empire, money and hegemony. As can be seen by the non-chalance with which these powers sent legions of young men to die in the name of national glory, there was little thought spared for justice and equality. The Treaty of Versailles carved up much of the world into spheres of control for the winning parties - with disastorous consequences for generations of people to come. One only has to study the history of the Middle East to find ample illustration of this.
I hope that the arts organisations that are planning to join in the commemoration of the so-called 'Great War' will go ahead with honouring the dead and not buy into the ongoing brain washing of successive US and UK governments with their vested interest in the industries of war and the continued destabilisation of materially developing countries. The link between some of our leading arts bodies and the oil industry does not give great cause for hope in this respect.
There I was in happy blogger retirement. Then suddenly Thatcher pops her clogs.
I never liked the woman but feel that at least she had 'unfit for humanity' written large upon her. You kind of knew where you were. And also, during the 80s, there was a real opposition to the ruling class and her crowing at the helm. And let's not forget, the Conservatives got in with relatively slim majorities, so were unable to implement many of the oppressive policies they would have liked to.
Her beloved protégé, Tony Blair, was responsible for far more deaths of innocent people than Thatcher would ever have dreamed of. And also of perpetrating a coup d'état that killed the Labour Party and gave us yet another bunch of Tories. His rictus grin seemed to be telling us 'I'm everyone's friend', while at the same time he was serving the interests of the same ruling class.
Rant over. We kind of know all this.
What has horrified me this week is the mainstream media's shameless reinvention of Thatcher. Future generations will believe that she saved Britain at the end of the seventies. Saved it from what? Many a BBC commentator has been talking about how Britain was becoming a second rate power and that the 'lady' made us Great again. But how many of us want Britain to be 'Great'? How about 'Good' Britain? This country's so-called 'greatness' was based on the dispossession and plunder of millions of people across the globe, and also the harrowing of our own working class. The 'good' in Britain is the way the different communities have pulled together to fight for policies that outlaw racism and champion equality. These communities include the anti-racist and disabled people's movements, of which Disability Arts is the natural born child. This seems to be partly forgotten in this era of rampant individualism.
A huge thanks to Penny Pepper for speaking out about this here on DAO.
The BBC spent a lagrimose week of celebrating Thatcher. Andrew Harding told us that she spoke up for Nelson Mandela. We heard nothing about her cavortings with Pinochet and her absolute refusal to hear the call for justice in many parts of the world where people continue to be oppressed as a result of Western policies.
I'm a bit indifferent to the 'ding dong' scenario. Thatcher is far from dead. She lives on in the unbridled greed that is still ruining us even after the economy has gone to the wall. As long as bankers and their like thrive while the poorest among us are squeezed beyond endurance, she's alive. And laughing.
After reading the recent article on DAO about the way the media are colluding with the current UK goverment in villifying disabled people, the hoo ha about the paralympics and cultural olympiad seems like monumental claptrap.
There is an ever-inflating myth about the olympics involving heroism and perfection. The Nazi Olympics of 1936 embraced this passionately. With society's elevation of the super-crips and demonisation of the rest of us 'underachieving scroungers', have we come such a long way in the last 75 years?
One of the main Paralympic sponsors - Atos - is responsible for writing off thousands of disabled people from legitimate claims for benefit. On this basis alone, we should be boycotting the bloody event. A huge Thank You to Vince Laws for pointing this out at the Tate Modern in September.
Alongside Atos, we have a range of corporate sponsors who embrace such events to 'greenwash' many of their dodgy activities. Let's deal with them later.
Understandably caught up in the ghastly funding quagmire, many artists seem to be embracing 2012 with its 'exciting possibilites' and not voicing much criticism about it. In this light, it was so refreshing to see Katerine Araniello and Aaron Williamson tirading at this year's Liberty Festival about the current state of what is now passed off as 'disablity arts'.
Hopefully, we will be seeing a lot more of their fearless interventions at the toxic jamboree of Summer 2012. Oh to find out that there are more artists with as much to say and the courage to say it. Now that would be a good 2012 outcome.
Over a year ago, I started writing this blog to trace my journey in making art to battle the monsters that have been raging at my mental health for over half a lifetime.
Over a year later, I'm hanging in there. More or less staying well and still trying to draw and paint. However, things have been a bit on the blue-grey side for the past few weeks.
In the constant struggle against the unnameable, I've added 'roaming in the forest' alongside 'making art' in the attempt to keep on the bright side. And so have been having a great time foraging for sweet chestnuts, rosehips, hawthorn berries, sloes and such which grow in mad abundance in the forests surrounding London. Finding solitude there is a shade easier than in our city parks. But nature will remind you of its redness in tooth and claw just when you're getting too comfortable in these peregrinations. Like the other day when three beautiful but very angry cows - who are participating in a project to reintroduce cattle to Hainault Forest - decided they didn't like the look of this decrepit forager and gave chase.
Maybe it's the lingering sadness of late but I haven't seen or heard much art recently that has moved me or taken my breath away. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find myself last week in front of St Paul's Cathedral, where I was able to spend a couple of hours with the people participating in the Occupy London protest.
It seemed to me that the people camping in front of the Cathedral come from a broad range of ideological sources. A wee few seemed a little dodgy. But overall it is wonderful to see people of all ages giving time and energy to stand up and show their displeasure at the revolting regimen of capitalists who have betrayed us all. It felt a bit like being back at the non-stop picket outside the South African embassy throughout most of the eighties.
A rare moment of energy and optimism in a world where so many people seem disconnected and plugged into a bloody i-pod or similar flapdoodle.
Haven't been here on this blog for a while. Didn't mean to be away so long.
About a year ago, i put up a few posts about coming out. This was a twofold thing : coming out both as a disabled person late in life and also as an artist, even later.
I began to make art out in the open during a stay at an NHS Mental Health Recovery Centre where - somewhat exceptionally in the current climate - art was at the centre of things. So making art was a critical part of my recovery.
In my first blogs, i took pains to identify myself as a 'non-artist artist' making first tentative steps walking away from the shadows. Looking back, the only reason i can remember for this is the ongoing insecurity and lack of confidence about the things that really mattered to me. And also, poosibly, a defference to all of those who had struggled through years of formal art training.
A year later, I haven't stopped making art and realise that it's what I do all the time. Whether it's good, bad or indifferent in the eyes of others is, somehow, another story.
So a year on, I'd like to renew my sincerest thanks to Jules Thorn Recovery Centre and Caroline Kardia in particular. And I'd also like to pour eternal gratitude on Disabily Arts Online for giving outsider disabled artists a place to explore the many questions around what makes us embrace art. And also - as was my case for well on half a lifetime - makes us terrified of going to the uncharted territories it opens up for us.
I haven't blogged on dao in ages so am probably well forgotten and won't burden you with the reasons for my recent silence. Now, I feel absolutely compelled to break that silence to share something with you.
I had a wonderful evening out last night at Graeae Theatre in London enjoying a cracking performance by Penny Pepper - Adventures in the Dark and Light.
I've enjoyed Penny's poems and short stories over the years. However, I've somehow missed the opportunity to see her perform live. Last night's performance I would recommend to anyone. Especially anyone who wants to hear some good writing which is often gorgeously erotic while never being cheesy or bullying like a lot of the corporate sex-charged entertainment of today. Penny could definitely teach Lady Gaga a lot about exploring sensuality without stooping to sleaze. I also like her unreconstructed left-wing politics. So refreshing in this age of political blandness.
My favourite part of the evening was Penny's singing. She has a very unique voice and I would have loved to hear more. Sophie Partridge also performed a couple of Penny's poems and both performers really worked well together, as did Penny's accompanying celloist Jo-Anne Cox.
All in all it was a great adult night out. If you ever get a chance to grab Penny's act before she takes it to Edninburgh later this year - do it. A great way to help chase the blues away.
For some time now, the NHS has been rolling out the Personalised Mental Health Care Programme. Since hearing about it a few months ago, I haven't been given a clear idea of what it's about. But I do know that it enables Mental Health System Users to access funding for education and training opportunities if a professional agrees that there is benefit for your mental health.
So far, I'm really happy with this as I've been able to enrol on a one-day-a-week course with the Prince's Drawing School. I'm really enjoying the course and would strongly urge any disabled artists currently using the mental health system to look into the possibilities of this programme. Don't be put off by the vagueness you may come across from professionals. It's quite a new programme, so insist that they find out about it if they don't seem quite sure.
Find out more at www.rethink.org.
Another brilliant service I have been using since leaving the Recovery Centre earlier this year is Employment Support at St James House in Camden. This programme gives you good professional support in finding sustainable employment opportunities if, like me, you've been closed for repair for a while. Well worth checking out, if you live in Camden, and also having a look for local programmes if you don't.
'Mother and Child. Divided. London 1993' was the first piece of work I saw by Damien Hirst. You might recall it consisted of a cow and her calf dissected, then pickled in formaldehyde. I was revolted by it and hadn't a clue what it was about. A mate who came along with me to the exhibition said something along the lines that the artist was responding to all those who talked about an inner life. And that this 'opening up' was a way of saying 'look that's all there is inside'.
About an hour later out on the street the pickled cow and her offspring were still bouncing around in the meadows of my mind, along with my friend's interpretation and my own beliefs. I felt myself getting steadily angrier. Then I realised that it had been a long time since a piece of art had provoked such emotion. And thought 'nice one' and from then on had the feeling that maybe I had 'got' something of what Hirst was on about. And even started to look forward to new work.
Then, last Friday, I found myself in the Damien Hirst Room at Tate Britain The contents were interesting. Sort of. But it was on the way out that I noticed a carefully mounted and captioned photograph depicting a rat-like grinning adolescent who was holding what at first I took to be a bloated waxwork head of a portly elderly gentleman. Drawing closer, I realised that this was actually a severed human head. The title - 'With Dead Head' - explained everything.
Please don't let me turn into Melanie flipping Philips of the Daily Mail with her vigorous espousal of values reminiscent of John Major's 'back to basics.' And I'm not going down the road of 'this isn't art'. Because I don't have a problem with that. I hate it but clearly see it as a work of art, Those who curate at the Tate obviously see it as a valued artistic acquisition. And I can't deny that Hirst has me again electrified with questions.
But there is something else going on here. Something nasty. Part of my anger comes from an element that Hirst's necrophilia shares with other ghoulish sensationalism on the museum and gallery scene. For example, the mostly excellent Wellcome Foundation openly advertises that they have an enviable collection of shrunken heads. They are obviously targeting the prurient juvenile schoolboy market.
But here again there is a mind-numbing lack of respect for people outside of the Daily Mail zone of acceptable humanity - i.e. the very heart of the heart of 'middle England.' Hirst's severed head looks like an elderly bloke very much the worse for wear and more likely to be a homeless person than a city gent or similar. The shrunken heads in other collections are not British. So is that alright then? Isn't there a certain hypocrisy behind the expectation that we are going to be heart broken by each British soldier who falls in today's war zones, while other remains - who at one time were parents, lovers and probably a lot like you and me when all is said and done - can become objects of crass entertainment?
It's this violation of any notion of equality and the equal right for respect that gets my goat here. But the anger intensifies when I think that neither Tates Britain nor Modern have ever acquired, for their permanent collections, a piece of work from artists who emerged from the Disability Arts Movement.
Colin Hambrook, Kit Wells, Ruth Bailey, Hanne Olsen, Elspeth Morrison and many others have, through the years, done invaluable work in exposing and valuing the work of artists who boldly explore the experience of disability. This website is a glowing testimony to that. Pallant House in Chichester is also ploughing ahead engaging with and promoting Outsider Art.
The vast amount of money that must have been lavished on the photograph of the ghoulish artist and the absence of any work done by artists from the Disability Arts movement, whose work so often radically questions society, are a clear testimony to the values of those who move and shake at the Tate and the British Art Establishment.
I have really enjoyed the past few weeks blogging on DAO. One of the pleasures has been sharing this space with the sparkling insights of Caroline Cardus, Sophie Partridge, Rockinpaddy (move over Jojolito), Dolly Sen, Vince Laws et al. And the polemical cartooning of Dave Lupton aka Crippen. Or is that the other way around?
Dave's work reminds me of the intensely political cartoons of Naji Al-Ali. Although he was mysteriously assassinated in London in 1987 at the age of 50,
Al-Ali's work is constantly reproduced by many struggling to bring justice to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Handala - the strange man child who haunts his work - has become a symbol of exile, exclusion and injustice known all over the world, rattling not only the cages of Israeli and US regimes but also the corrupt governments who have colluded in the continuing oppression.
I believe his work is massively relevant to all those fighting for fairness and equality for disabled people. I think particularly of those of us whose exclusion from society is exacerbated by the vagaries of the mental health system.
You will see from an earlier blog post, that my own current relationship with that system is exceptionally positive. Past experience - including coercion to undergo electro-convulsive therapy (at the hands of a bullying psychiatrist who went on to become a successful conservative politician) - has been nothing short of a nightmare. And I am trying not to let my good relationship, with the mental health professionals with whom I am now in contact, ever allow me to forget the shameful abuse of neuroleptic drugs perpetrated by other parts of the same system.
I would like to extend my undying disgust for the shark-fanged shrinks (alongside all paedophile priests) to the thieving-magpie therapists. And all the bloody lot of you who earn a fecking fortune (£40 an hour and more) from preying on our insecurities and imposing your narrow bandwidth view of normality upon us. Not to mention creating a self-serving addiction to therapy to add injury to injury.
There are, of course, glowing exceptions out there as well. You know who you are. Or think you do. Analyse that shrinkos! Analyse my crippled Irish ass!
For those of you interested in Naji Al-Ali, I would recommend the excellent website www.handala.org.
A few weeks ago i was overjoyed on reading a blog post from Colin Hambrook, where he told us that one of his favourite movies is Orphée (Jean Cocteau, France, 1949). It is one of mine as well. After a couple of decades of boring, sterile computer-generated effects on modern mainstream movies, the scene where Heurtebise (the chauffeur of Death played by the amazing Maria Casares) leads Jean Marais' Orpheus through the looking glass - impeccably cut with a rippling surface of water - still wallops the pants off anything I've ever seen done by Spielberg.
I was reminded last night of the ethereal voyage depicted in the movie while embarking on what became a somewhat surreal journey through London. My good mate Nancy Willis is about to screen her award-winning movie Elegy for the Elswick Envoy (Nancy Willis, UK, 2007) (Nancy Willis, UK, 2007) at the forthcoming Portobello Film Festival. She kindly invited me along. So we had to make a journey from somewhere in North London to Portobello which lies somewhere this side of the rainbow to the west of the city. A journey that 'unimpeded' travellers would take no more than 40 minutes to make.
We began by consulting the oracle. London Overground on the web. We humbly asked it to cast before us mere mortals a map of accessible stations which would lead us to our destination. In the blink of an eye, we had an interconnecting link of no less than five stages to this journey.
So in all good faith we hit the road. At Station One we were met by a small team of railway men. We were delighted that we could access the platform via a well-built ramp. The team then tripped over themselves – with choreography which would have pleased Gilbert and Sullivan - to ensure that the rest of our journey would flow smoothly. One eye cast on our map, showed them that the oracle had spoken falsely. Station Two on the route did not have level access. But we could transfer to a train which would bring us to another station - which we duly did - only to double back on our tracks to head off towards our destination. Confused? So were we as was the host of lovely, helpful railway angels who tried their best to get us to our destination.
And to our destination we did finally arrive. A mere two and a half hours after setting out. We went to the Film Festival gig and it was all cool, but not particularly relevant to this story. So not long afterwards we hit the homeward bound road.
Earlier, Station Four had been followed by a bus ride and returning on the same bus was more or less straightforward. However, the same Station Four, from which we had blithely issued forth earlier, explained through the medium of a benign customer service agent that the platform from which we needed to make the return journey was at the bottom of a vertiginous staircase! We quickly realised that the way out was one thing, the way back was something else entirely. All of a sudden the original flawed route, that had at least got us to our destination, fell apart completely. A lengthy discussion on the various alternatives followed. The lack of certainty about the accessibility of the suggested stations did not inspire confidence.
On this occasion all was well that ended well. On pointing out how misinformed we had been by London Overground, a lovely official, who was consulted by phone, gave the nod and ordered us a taxi home. When you're in good company, meeting lovely helpful entities along the way, a difficult journey can be a magical mystery tour. But it can just as easily be a voyage to hell. London Overground - and I suspect the transport systems in other major British cities - really have a long way to go before you could say that a disabled traveller is having anywhere near an equal experience as others.
It was the strange dreamlike quality of the journey that reminded me of Orphée, a film I passionately recommend if you haven't seen it already. Elegy for the Elswick Envoy is also a wonderful. movie and also highly recommended. The eight (at the last count) awards that it has won across the globe would seem to agree.
'Nice to see you using art to get back to being normal again.' A recent comment from a well-meaning friend who had just grabbed my DAO blog and was feeding back.
This stopped me in my tracks. When have I ever talked about wanting to be 'normal'? So, after some (but not too much) reflection, I feel the need to explain my position on 'normailty'.
In my first few posts, I refer to the remit of this blog as being notes from a non-artist who started to make art. The making of this art seems to be helping improve my health and well-being on all levels. But I never said nothing about 'normal'!
When the shrinks enquire as to your state of mind on a particular day, they always seem to be poised to pounce at the merest indication of elation or sadness. Such deviations from a 'mean standard of reality/normality', an even keel, are clearly viewed as dangerous. Can't have that now can we? Sadness? Happiness? How 1960's! Surely we got rid of all that when we turned to neuroleptic drugs? They seem to work even though we don't know how exactly.
And we call that lot 'normal'?!!
And what is that gold standard of normality to which they implicitly refer? Is it normal to guzzle your second supersized bucket of cappuccino and ponder on your investment portfolio - or the squillion other things that the Daily Mail would approve of - while millions of Pakistani people are going through indescribable suffering, or people in Gaza are held in a limbo of international indifference? Is it normal to work your fingers to the bone and plunge further into a hopeless stranglehold of debt, while inherited wealth and position can suck society dry while sitting on their regal bottoms? A big fat naff off to all of that. Give me the weird, damaged, bitter, twisted, eccentric, passionate, contradictory gals and geezers any day of the week.
That's why it's such a pleasure to be in such good company on Disability Arts Online. Just hope it never goes 'normal'.
'Il Fu Mattia Pascal' (The Late Mattia Pascal), by Luigi Pirandello , tells the story of a man who, afer a lifetime spent in a quiet provincial town, vanishes and is believed dead. Elswehere, he begins another life which totally transforms his character. When he eventually returns to his old home, his family and friends can't process the new Mattia and find it easier to believe him dead.
I sometimes remember this story when i visit psychiatrists.
Don't get me wrong. In recent years, I have met more listening, more responsive practioners than I have in the past. However, they always seem locked into a reductive impression of Joe as the tormented creature howling out for their help in periodic moments of distress. Time after time, I try to explain that I see myself as having rather robust mental health and offer as proof my getting through 5 odd decades of living with a genetically damaged body in a not too sympathetic society. (This is said with maximum respect for all those experiencing mental health problems.)
I explain how, from time to time, this gets too much and I either have to close for urgent repair or hit a brick wall. They listen but inevitably slap me with the label 'bipolar' and politely suggest that my own analysis is all well and good, but the problem is really having a brain which skyrockets between depression and elation. And that can be adjusted.
In 'The Myth of the Chemical Cure' , Joanna Moncrieff challenges the view that depression is due to a chemical imbalance, clearly illustrating how this theory has never been conclusively proven. Yet medication claiming to address chemical imbalance is readily available. And aggressively marketed by powerful corporations, Psychoactive drugs suppress emotional feelings, or are nothing more than sedatives. This is why they appear so successful in the short term. I am currently on Quetiapine and can feel the emotional sedation. This has been enormously helpful in bridging a raging torrent of distress but has no long-term curative effect whatsoever. And I share with many others the concern about the long list of nasty side effects associated with these drugs.
In a recent blog post our own Joe Kelly told us about going to attend a talk by Moncrieff (Humane Therapy not Drug Tyranny). Hope you made it Joe. I'll wait to hear what you have to say, before returning to the suhject.
A couple of people have told me that I seem obsessed with 'The Myth of the Chemical Cure'. I think they may be right. But the struggle to find alternative holistic pathways to anti-psychotic drugs is inextricably linked to my current compulsion to make art.
Oops! Did I say 'compulsion'?
Probably not the best choice of words when seeking support in coming off Quetiapine.
In the last post, I mentioned the power of music in lifting the vibe and helping you get through when it's difficult to do anything much at all.
Listening to music seems key to what unlocked a lifetime's reticence when it came to making art. But the door had many locks and needed other keys as well: dance and movement.
At the Jules Thorn Recovery Centre, mentioned in my first post of this blog, there was a wonderful session devoted to moving mindfully to music. Some of my mates sniggered when I told them about these sessions. Probably because not having a very elegant body, I would never be associated with a love of dancing. Bollocks.
The two wonderful facilitators of this session, had us listening to some great music - sometimes slow and calming other times funky beats what would make anyone get their ass on the dancefloor - and moving in ways that were right for each of us and our different physicalities. It was the opposite of having to conform to some dance class rules of what was right. In the end, I now spend as much time as I need moving to music. It's another one of those things which seems so simple, yet can be a powerful antidote to the darkest blues.
My experience at Jules Thorn, has made me want to look into a dance and movement practice devised by Gabrielle Roth, called the 5 Ryhthms. I haven't done so yet. But here's a couple of interesting websites for anyone interested.
I mentioned the other day that my recent recovery from a year-long period of severe depression was helped by making art. This is still working for me. And many friends and colleagues are remarking that I seem better in myself than they have found in a long time.
I'm feeling so well at the moment that I have decided to slowly, over the coming months, reduce my intake of anti-psychotic drugs (currently Quetiapine) to zero. In the past, I have done this myself. And, sometimes, too abruptly. Things have gone so well this year that I'm not risking it and have asked for support from my medical/ mental health team. This has been accepted.
I fully believe that anti-psychotic medication can be helpful in getting through a crisis. But my own experience reinforced by reading The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment by Joanna Moncrief has convinced me that these drugs are not desirable in the long term.
More of this soon. But, for the meantime, I can't say it loudly enough how important it is when healing to keep the vibe up and do all you can to feel good in yourself. It sounds like a rather bland self-evident thing to say. But it is something so easily forgotten when you're not well.
On this theme, I thought it would be cool to share some of my favourite music with you. Here is my current 'top five'. This probably changes on a weekly basis. But these are some of the sounds that work for me when I can hardly get my arse off the floor. I'd be delighted if you posted-in your own 'top fives'. It seems like a good thing to share around.
Queen Latifah 'Just Another Day'
Long before the bling and Hollywood called, Queen Latifah was a great rap artistist.
Handel's 'Lascia ch'io pianga'
(Let me weep) sung by Philippe Jaroussky. I reckon many a hypogonad may be endowed with a colatura-type voice. Philippe Jaroussky - not a hypognad - has such a range and also the virtuosity to use it.
Mary J Blige singing on George Michael's 'As'
Like many Irish folk of my generation I have deep devotion for Mary. Mary J that is.
Amadou and Maryam 'Je pense a toi' (I think of you)
I LOVE music from Mali in general. From Amadou and Maryam to the late Ali Farka Toure to the magnificent Oumou Sangare, I find so much of this music, moving, uplifting and, above all, healing.
Jacques Brel 'Amsterdam'
For those days when you feel totally fucked up, it's good to listen to someone who's definitely been there. It's a shame that Brel's songs suffered such unspeakably insipid English interpretations.
The writer and performer, Julie McNamara, once advised me to 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story'. Maybe it is ironic that, with her recent humdinger of a play Crossings, Julie went on to spin a heady weave of stories fearlessly uncovering terrifying truths about the history of the world. As John Keats put it :
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' 
Wow! He wrote that to a grecian urn! Do you reckon he was bipolar? Good job the anti-psychotic pushers weren't around at the time to clip his wings isn't it?
Anyway, I have to confess to following the above advice yesterday when announcing my immediate flouncing out of Facebook. I have not done so. But this is only because I realised that in the 6 to 8 weeks i've been using the service, there's a horde of new friends, refound and rekindled old friends, not to mention dating opportunities ... that you just can't turn your back on. Can you? So I'm staying for a while to make sure I have the necessary contact details to keep in touch with this lot in my imminent exile from social networking.
Again, I don't know whet it is about all these wonderful high technology tools which are supposed to be revolutionising our lives. It just seems that there have never been such sophisticated and user-friendly communication possibilities at out disposal. And yot we seem to be living in a world where communication is disintegrating at the same pace as the ozone layer. Is it possible that one of the reasons for this is the unprecedented amounts of time that more and more people (bearing in mind that a huge amount of people have no access to such luxuries) are spending, drifting down the hallucinatory corridors of lalaland? We are drowning in a slimy sea of moronic entertainment. I think i'd prefer Quetiapine. Just joking - as anything is better than that. Unless its used to help get us through a crisis.
 Ode to a Grecian Urn
Today is the day i say farewell to Facebook. I only went on it a few weeks ago because it was a way of catching up with the humanitarian flotilla which was heading for Gaza. The BBC is so unreliable in reporting on the Middle East, that it was good to be hearing directly from people on the beleaguered boats.
But then I stayed on. Ended up with over 100 Facebook friends. And a squillion messages telling me whatt they had for dinner that day and sharing an incontinent quantity of visual data when a couple of well-chosen images apiece would probably have sufficed.
Hands up! I was as bad as the worst of them. Checking to see who was online and getting sucked into all sorts of sharing that was often good but sometimes inappropriate.
I have no right to regale you dao-dudes with ranting and raving about the surveillance society and the dangers of surrendering the world about us for the virtual dreamspace flickering at us on a screen. You will all have your own opinions about this and probably think that i'm being a bit of a fucking prat flouncing on about this. And you're probably right.
Anyway, the remit of this blog is to talk about my making art as a non-artist kind of artist. Well, since my recent Facebooking, I've noticed that the output of paintings and drawings which was flowing in the earlier months of this year was in a sharp decline. Say no more. I got art to make.
I wish to say thank you to a dear friend who played me some old Beatles numbers recently, and made me realise what a tosser I had been for the past half-century to have been completely indifferent towards them. This was the first time I found myself enjoying their music. And out of respect for the Fabulous Four I feel a need to explain why they didn't quite do it for me previously.
Back in Ireland – the unoccupied part – in the late sixties, the possibilities of independent music exploration were extremely limited. Very few of us had record players and, even if you did, a vinyl album cost more than a week's wages. There were great opportunities to hear live music, but recorded material was very much the monopoly of the emerging music, radio and television corporations. Having been miraculously incarnated as a lifelong anti-capitalist, a lot of the stuff they promoted on the mainstream media was held with a certain suspicion.
But there were darker reasons. The Beatles and other mainstream pop stars had the deep devotion of the 'terminally normal' aka most of the other lads in school. Let me make it absolutely clear that I hold no sulking lifelong grudges against these guys who are mostly now all totally forgettable paragons of respectability in my home town. The worst any of them ever did was to give you a rather playful ragging for not attending the mandatory sports events on offer. It was more the way there seemed to be an unspoken understanding at play that yours truly was better kept at a long safe distance from their mainstream world.
So it was the music that was unpopular with them which seemed to call me at the time – Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen and Pentangle to name but a few – and offer a feeling of 'outsideness' which was to be a lifetime companion. This is another theme that I feel is important in my emerging artwork and I'd like to return to this sometime later.
So, the cold shoulder of the rugged rugby lads was distressing but far more challenging was the sweaty hand and prosthetic leather strap extension of the teachers in whose care our parents had placed us; the misleadingly entitled 'Christian Brothers'.
I rather stupidly remarked recently to an old friend that at least they were only slapping and not sexually molesting us. She replied somewhat scornfully, "that's because you went to one of their middle class schools, where they wouldn't dare touch you, in that way."
It's beyond the remit of this blog to share with you my total revulsion and condemnation of the generation of paedophiles who beyond any doubt have irreparably damaged the mental health of a generation of lost children. But, in these posts, I am trying to explore what lead me to find joy and comfort in images of peace and kindness.
Well it started back then with the fear that all of us shared – both the marginals such as myself and the mainstream crew – of the daily infliction of physical and,by extension, psychological pain for the most trivial and unjustifiable of reasons.
There were very few exceptions among the 'Christian' Brethren, save for one lovely primary teacher - Brother C – who was probably creatively bonkers himself and who departed from the uninspired curriculum to teach us how to sing in sean nos style (a style of acapella traditional Irish singing). I will never forget him telling us that if were to go anywhere vocally we had to 'make ourselves ugly'. Advice that could have come from a master class in camp cabaret from the likes of Liza Minelli herself. Actually about the only useful lesson in the whole 14 years with the brothers.
To the rest of them I would like to say that I wish them no harm – in this world or any other - as life has taught me to reject revenge and contempt, if only for the preservation of better mental health. But 'brothers' if ever you stumble across this page, let me just ask you to take a minute and go to the mirror. Look yourselves in the eye and try to remember more innocent days, the time before your 'vocation' summoned you to enlighten innocent children with your superior knowledge. Yeah, do us this one favour, try hard to remember that time in your life before you lost your humanity.
In the last post and chorus, I mentioned that for some time now i can't stop making art. That's true. Now for as long as I can remember, i've been into drawing - pretentiously daydreaming that i was turning 14 years of schoolbooks into latter day illuminated manuscripts. But never taking it any further. It was a total closet indulgence for reasons i wouldn't mind exploring here at a later date.
Anyway, fast-forwarding to the present, 2009 was a total fucking bastard of a year from start to finish. I hit so many walls i lost count. But in the murky depths of unspeakable waking nightmares, a little flame sparked to life.
At the end of last year, I was referred to Jules Thorn Recovery Centre. This is effectively a Day Hospital and I was dreading being institutionalised yet again. The reality came as a lovely surprise.
Jules Thorn is a sparkling oasis strangely blooming amidst the red brick labyrinths of St Pancras Hospital. There is very little psychiatric intervention and the focus is on group work with visual art, pottery, music, dance and movement at the heart of it all.
This is also supported by several taught sessions where service users can explore how meditation can enhance their journey to recovery. The latter was sheer joy. It was taught at a very introductory level, but now I try to attend the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green when i can.
Now that I have left Jules Thorn, I thank it from the bottom of my heart for opening up some wonderful new pathways. Never ever did I think I would feel that way about any part of the NHS. 12 years ago I was offered ECT by the same Mental Health Authority (i.e. Bloomsbury and Islington NHS) and barely escaped from that terrifying encounter.
Jules Thorn has fought hard to retain the input of a professional artist (Carolyne Kardia - painter and sculptor) as opposed to exclusively relying upon occupational therapists. For as long as I can remember, I have loved drawing. Most of this was confined to the margins of my schoolbooks and, in adult life, to oceans of doodling.
I now realise how scared I was of taking it seriously. Life seemed so painful at times that the heights and depths of self-discovery I always knew would spring from taking art seriously seemed too frightening to embrace. Until Carolyne provided a generous helping of encouragement, which inspired me to paint for the first time ever.
Now I just can't stop. The first paintings were postcards depicting musicians playing the music I associate with healing and kindness. I think, in these, I'm trying to depict something of the loving kindness meditation in that the musicians are absorbed in their music but are neither gloomy nor ecstatic - they are somehow detached while being fully in the moment. They emerged as 'postcards from a kinder planet'. More recently, I've begun to explore dreams ...
I've tired myself out. Better not blog again for at least a week. Don't want anyone to think I'm getting manic again.
This could actually be called Joe Blogs. But the joke would run thin very quickly and must have been used many times before. That's me alright. Always joking. Partly because all my life I've had an impairment which falls into the tabernacle of taboo.
Well nowadays is there really such a thing? But if that is now, well way back then having a condition - acute hypogonadism - which meant that you hit the andropause before yer mates had even entered puberty was definitely taboo.
Drawing a discrete veil over the details, suffice it to say that this both massively fucked up my sex life and continues to present obstacles when accessing the built environment when needing to pass water. But the worse bit was you just could not talk about it.
Luckily for me I had a robust sense of humour that has more or less got me through up until now. And also some wonderful friends and creative lovers. But, every so often, Hilda Humour decides to up stumps and head for the hills. Bitch!
These are the times I hit a wall and, in the arms of the ever-caring NHS, am told that I am bipolar - some have even hinted at schizophrenia - and that a healthy whack of anti-psychotic drugs is all I need to be normal. This is on the basis, that when they see me well, I usually have quite high energy levels and when they see me unwell, I can barely move other than to share what they consider to be pretty dark delusions.
I sometimes ask them how they would be themselves, if they, all-of-a-sudden, acquired the above-mentioned physical challenges and suggest that, after a spell in A&E they would probably need a lifetime of post-traumatic shock therapy.
I feel blessed to have discovered Disability Arts (while acknowledging the ambiguity of that working title). Colin Hambrook was the first person I could ever talk to about my difference. This was because I found in his own work, and that of the artists who he has so stridently supported for countless yonks, a language which, for the first time, I could use to express the nature of being excluded from the mainstream of society.
It took me years to understand some of the concepts (social model etc). Nancy Willis, Colin, Tanya Raabe, and more recently, Rachel Gadsden are some of artists whose work explores themes that have really helped me make it through.
I wouldn't call myself an artist, but for the last six months and for the very first time, I can't stop making art. Mostly painting but some work with clay and other media as well. I have never felt better in my life. I know some of you are going to groan 'oh art therapy!' Well fuck off groaners. I'd like to use this blog to share my healing journey with you. So I hope you'll let me know what you think and that we can compare our different experiences.