It’s no small thing working in the arts. No small thing at all. When I’m sick and there’s no pay, or a full-on contract with an end in sight, with no time to pitch for a new contract. No holidays. No manager. No rest. All my peers are tired and funding has been cut all over the place. Support is less and less, there’s nothing to lean on, nowhere to go to.
I phoned the GP yesterday, I’ve been ill for a month the receptionist said ‘Haven’t you seen the news lately? The doctor hasn’t got time to call you. They barely have time to do surgery. The situation is dire here.’ I go back to bed and think for a while about the projects I have set up. The fact that the council won’t allow the posters I had designed to be printed. Why? Because of the cuts, the freezes on budgets. Frustration is building up around me with the people I’m networking with. What’s the point when the service you are working to promote may well be gone next month? I do think ‘Why? Why the arts?’ it is hard not to.
Written for the ‘Dangerous Women‘ project.
A picture tells a thousand lies. Like this one above. It’s beautiful, a perfect illustration of my perfect life. Except it’s not. Obviously. I was on the verge of running away from everything on this day.
It’s that time of year when the promise of light is in the air. For those of us who have been sat in the darkness for too long – this one is for you.
Hacking through bracken, words are tar and feathers – dense. I don’t see the features on anyone’s faces. Words hang in rusted barbed wire around necks of the bodies they are attached to. Dragging themselves along pavements. Day after grey day.
Sharp edged arrow words. Put things away properly. Sit up straighter. Only wear clean clothes. Don’t get too dirty. Don’t swear. Quieten down. Don’t – just don’t. Words written on my face in spit stink – invisible ink. I’m stained on the inside with congealed blood that doesn’t flow quite right.
Don’t speak up. Keep the words in.
Don’t stand out.
Speak when you’re spoken too.
Keep your mouth shut.
Keep the lid on.
Don’t let anything out.
Don’t break things.
Makes me want to do things that I shouldn’t. Makes me want to shout and scream and tip things over, pour paint on the floor – rip my clothes, feel fear on purpose as a way of gaining some kind of control. Does that make sense? And when I can’t feel anything and I find myself in the company of strangers that want me to organise myself, have the right clip board, or a different face or proper hair, or a proper thing to say, or a quieter laugh, or just be quieter and don’t laugh. That’s when things get messy. In my head. That’s when I have to shrink in order to grow fast, it’s like I have to crouch down small in a pretend game of hide and seek and then build my energy, build it and build it and build it until I can hide no longer and everything just bursts out.
Rip and pour and create in a whirlwind of not knowing what comes next because there is no actual order. There is no supposed to and right and wrong in this crazy fucked up world that we live in. It just is. It just is. And without starting from a place of mess I don’t know how anything could actually begin. Rip up all instructions and burn them, stand in the glow of the fire and wait until I know what to do next. If nothing comes, I’ll draw with the ash from the embers and spit into the dirt on the ground and that will be my fresh start. Because anything else is a lie. And if nothing else on this else earth holds true, I know I can tell the truth and start at the beginning.
What will you do when the words you bear on your back begin to squash you flat?
What do you do?
Put the children in bed and cry? Drink until you forget?
What do you do?
Burn things, make fires, read yourself into another world, change your hair, your clothes, your food. Or does everything stay the same? Roll in soft cotton duvets and drink tea until you cannot contain any more liquid. Stare at screens until the scene in front of you sleeps.
All these things and more.
Put away sharp objects and dance in spilt ink, tracing your footsteps to the next place.
All these things and more.
These words will go and days will pass.
You just are. You will find your truth and begin. Begin again.
‘What’s In Your Bag?’ is a project funded by ‘Time To Change’, that will be launched in February 2016. A special selection of people have agreed to meet me for tea and cake and share what they carry around in their bag every day. I have decided to go first, with an exclusive, ‘What’s In Your Bag – extreme’. Extreme because I feel I’ve been unusually honest (for me) about how I perceive my mental health at the moment. I’ve been feeling vulnerable and small; that’s often a private thing.
The urge to share has been growing over the Christmas celebrations, as glamour spells are cast across the social media world. Photos of laden plates, rosy cheeks, happy families and drunken friends have ravaged my lap-top screen. The panto villain in me wants to re-balance all the twinkles and glossy perfectness in this virtual place and share a dollop of untainted reality.
All the gathered debris that I have carried around with me the last two months makes me want to puke onto my kitchen table. The retching sensation still resides at the back of my throat – extreme? Well yes, I agree. Ordering the sixteen pens I have in a circle in the centre of the table, I do know that sixteen is quite clearly more than I need. I also know, at least logically, that the amount of receipts and used theatre tickets need not be part of my every day life. These tickets are memory keepers, proof that I occasionally leave this house and join in with the life of this city. The real reason I hold on to them is less romantic, it’s the intention to add them to a growing pile of self-assessment tax evidence. In fact I must, I mean I will, decide on a ‘proper’ place for them to go.
In the midst of the unwinding chaos that is as obvious as a therapy session, is the fact that I have been tying myself up in knots over ‘doing enough’ and in that knottiness I have become so tight inside I have forgotten the very essence that makes my life work – stopping and breathing. Thankfully I see my saner self giving me poignant reminders, hand written notes that say
Q ‘what would you like to write about right now?’
A ‘Beauty and stillness. Unexpected pockets of peace in a complicated world’
Quotes from poetry performances that I have been to:
‘I need you like a novel needs a plot
‘I need you like the greedy need a lot.’
An affirmation from two months ago, encouraging me to lose weight – now over one stone lighter than the writer of the note – I can smile at it and let it go.
Pieces of writing that play with darkness, attempting to make sense of the sound of my raw screaming in the 3am and 4ams of the night. These scrawled notes attempt to unravel the night terrors that have been the cause of my disruption – the reason I haven’t got just one bag to sort through but two bags and a box. The box that I have been emptying my bag into when it all feels too overwhelming to look into or sort out. These notes leave a trail to a box of medication that I have been ignoring – in the way I might blank the eyes of an ex-lover who stares at me from the back of a crowded room.
I’ve put off looking at these static moments of my life, gathered into a mountain of paper memories. Yet, seeing them reduced to piles with virtual labels on, they’ve shrunk to small hills, some possibly even little pebbles – light enough to pick up and throw away.
Dismaland has created a media tornado travelling across the UK, sucking up all in it’s path and delivering them far from home, to a land of make believe. Except it’s not, not really. The media hype surrounding Dismaland has sucked me in and created a desire for a ticket but it has not delivered me far from home – not at all. Do I want to go and witness the art works that have actualised some of the great truths, hidden behind the lies of our media machine? Yes, yes I do. Do I want to go enough to queue for hours on end, to feast my greedy eyes on the real life reflected back at me, in a twisted truth called reality? Let me think… The part of the exhibit that has made the biggest impression is the boats with refuges inside. Yes I know there are refuges in Calais, hundreds of them, with not enough clothes, food or dignity to go around yes I realise most of these people will wait days, months, sometimes years to get to a place where they can start to re-build their lives. Do I want to go and spent a pound to drive an artists impression of these people around back and forth across a small dirty pond? Or should I donate that money to the people who don’t actually have enough food tonight?
The Dismaland staff who quite rightly look dismal, don’t make me smile or applaud the satire streaked over their attire. It makes me want to march for minimum wage to rise now, not in six years time.
Pixelated princess does please me, to see distortion in the packaged beauty pumped out from Disney – a glitch in the mask of perfection – allows me to breathe a little more freely.
Don’t get me wrong, Dismaland is genius, choosing to bring Weston Super Mare a much needed tourism boost is a gift. Choosing to deposit real life un-censored real life observations in a theme park setting – spot on. As the rise in ‘haves’ spending money on escapism, while the ‘have not’s’ desperately try to dig their way out – it’s reassuring to me that truth is represented through art. In some small way the world is unfolding as it must and in times of great need artists become vital and socially essential, to document what is happening and stop our history from disappearing. To witness the thoughts on our streets, directly below the media out-pourings – there are getting fewer places to hide.
As I walk though Bristol City centre to work there are more people sleeping rough, more people hungry. Last week I caught myself hurrying by a woman, as she lay on the pavement, red-eyed, wild haired, colouring the air blue with her abuse aimed towards the world. I picked out the words ‘give some bread, just give me some bread’ as she threw a can of opened cider down the road. A small place inside my body, must have been my heart opened up , as I saw beneath her mask of anger to her hungry despair. I shared my lunch with her, wasn’t much but she thanked me, until I was out of site. I hurried on my way to work, having passed by the man who snored loudly in the Bear Pit, face pressed against concrete on the floor in the tunnel; the woman I mistook for a pile of rubbish, until I saw her move; the man who had just left hospital, tubes still in his hand, wanting money for dinner; the man who.. and the woman that… and the child that had nothing…. and I thought…
I thought, yes I would love to go and feast my hungry eyes, fill my belly with voyeuristic plenty, by immersing myself in the genius inspiration of Dismaland. However if I do make it there and even if I don’t I will offset my time by immersing myself in the real life of my home town – Bansky’s home town and make the time to share more than just my lunch, as I hurry on by to my way to work.
I’ve just joined Acorn communities, to volunteer my time and skills. They have been invited by Banksy to spread the word about building community and ‘doing something about it’. Join in!