The attraction of chaos

i love apocalyptic fiction. It doesn’t matter what the theme is, although I do have a particular preference for zombie stories. The Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, there’s a whole host of films, series and books that have captured my attention and secured my faithful consumption.

Consumption. That was what drew me to this type of work to begin with. It fascinated me to think that they were often set in shopping malls amd that the zombies were parodying the mindlessness of consumerism. Clever!

But it isn’t just the subtext, or even the theme, much of this work is good in and of itself. Brilliant character construction, great storylines and well written dialogue. If you’ve been a regular watcher of The Walking Dead you will have seen the same patterns recurring over and over again, and yet it remains compelling.

The Modern Zombie

But what is it that I find so enthralling?

This question puzzled me for a while, and then it struck me. It’s the collapse of the every day, the blossoming of chaos, the sharpening of meaning. Faced with constant destruction, what is the reason, the purpose of living, and, perhaps more importantly, is the living worth the effort? Given such risk, such looming threats, is life worth fighting for? That’s one dimension to the fascination, at least for me.

The other aspect to this is the normality of abnormality. When you feel so detached from the world around you, so different and odd, perhaps there is always a desire for something completely new, something that breaks the norm, that shatters everything you find so difficult to navigate.

it’s not that I crave the destruction of society, it’s just a form of escapism, a way to suspend the world and explore alternative realities. There’s power as well as hope in that.

Why I Write

George Orwell

A long while ago I read an essay by George Orwell entitled Why I Write. In all honesty I recall little of the content now, but what I still carry is the impression it made on me. It was inspirational, both in its intent and message, and I desperately need inspiration.

As an academic writer I knew the ‘why’ at the start. I wanted to challenge, inform and inspire. I wanted to change the world, to show people that things could be better, that we could create a system built on human dignity and rights, that a textured equality was a possibility… but the why lost shape, it lost traction.

I was writing every day, which I feel is good discipline in any endeavour, but increasingly it was report writing, reviews, mission statements, comments on essays and pleas for funding. Writing became a chore, a source of discontent and frustration.

Even the creative aspects of writing, the research papers and books, did not satisfy. They were produced to show productivity, to please managers and conform with audits and research assessment exercises. These were then used to rank and order people and places, but they never escaped the politics of British academia, nor the subjective nature of such evaluations.

It was a soulless, desiccating experience and I steadily lost the will and the why.

At the time I left I was working on a book about equality, equal opportunities and diversity. It was to be my magnum opus, the book I ought to have written on completing my PhD, but I was tired then and lacking in confidence. And as my confidence grew so did the demands I’ve just outlined. They killed the desire and smothered the why.

But now, with distance, I understand why I want to write again. It’s because writing is powerful, it draws on our very essence, it allows us the ability to reach deep inside and share the light and darkness of our souls with other people. It is the most beautiful, evocative and enduring form of communication.

And so, I will write my book. Pulling from my views, my experience and my beliefs, I will write it because I want to challenge, inform and change things. You see, I still believe, I’d simply forgotten, my words suppressed by a system that is built to discourage and suppress.

We must all fight against the inhuman and inhumane systems that drain our desire and kill our belief. We must all ask the most basic and hauntingly important question – why?

A reflection on teaching

As someone who has taught in higher education and as a cricket coach, I can talk about the role and responsibility of teaching from both perspectives, but here I want to reflect on what I’ve experienced as a learner.

The picture I placed at the head of this post is a selection of work from my school years. At that stage I wanted to go to art college and become an artist. It wasn’t to be, and teaching was to a very large extent responsible. I had a bad experience with a teacher who was indifferent towards me and, at times, was deeply discouraging. And yet, my experience with art education demonstrates the complexity of teaching itself.

A teacher helped to destroy that dream, but another teacher lit the original flame. He saw something in me, he believed I had ability, a flare. One afternoon in his class he completely turned my world upside down. Until he took my picture and showed it to my classmates I’d simply been a sportsman, too stupid and uncultured for any other subjrct. That teacher had a profound impact on me and the fire he started still burns to this day.

And those two instances demonstrate the importance of relationships – that teaching is about more than conveying information, it is about belief, it is forged in the furnace of inspiration.

When I was a child I regarded teachers as the enemy. They weren’t people to inform and inspire they were jailers. They were unbridled, sometimes arbitrary, holders of authority. It was defined by repression and boredom. And there were many teachers that gloried in their power. Teachers who would humiliate and even hit you, or launch a board rubber, a heavy, wooden board rubber across a room as a potentially lethal missile.

But as an adult I now realise that my ability to recognise this was never very refined. We had a history teacher called Miss W who terrorised us. She was a spinster in late middle age who held the class completely in thrall. Even the scariest kids in my year, and we had some very troubled individuals, didn’t mess with Miss W. My relationship with her was especially difficult because she’d loved my sister and she constantly made me feel inadequate, as if i was betraying some family heritage. I got it into my head that she hated me and I did all I could to fight back.

Only years later did I begin to see how limited my comprehension had been. I was working on my PHd, and I’d been asked by the local library to write a piece about its importance to me, how i’d used it as a resource. So I did. Then one morning while I was taking my mum shopping, Miss W approached us. She’d read my piece about the library. She told me that she’d always known that I had it in me, that she’d tried different ways to reach me, and that she was proud of me. It reduced me and my mum to tears.

Not disappointment, certainly not hatred, but a loving frustration. That came as a huge shock, and I felt ashamed of my resistance, fear and anger. My ability to comprehend teachers and teaching had been so very blunt.

I can see now that several teachers tried to help me, that they’d wanted to inspire me, but I was unreachable.

At university I began to see it. Two lecturers, Paul and Mark, in particular took it upon themselves to encourage me. They – and several others – taught and inspired me, and, they gave me models to follow. I am eternally grateful for all of them, for what they taught me and what they taught me to be.

How important is teaching? It simply cannot be quantified. This is a thank you to all those dedicated educators who shrug off indifferent kids, angry parents, undermining governments and ungrateful societies to help other people to see the best in themselves and to pull out their potential and hone self belief.

THANK YOU…

The Canvas

i believe that art is magic. The procress of creation, taking a blank surface and turning it into an image is, in my view, magical. But how does that happen?

Some artists I’ve read about or have spoken to find the emptiness intimidating. In some cases they simply cannot make the first mark, overcome by doubt and the ever present fear of failure, they struggle desperately to begin. They may even lay down a brushstroke and abandon the whole project. Thankfully, this isn’t my experience, though I do empathise with it.

I actually love the blank space, it radiates with possibilities. At times you know exactly how things will develop, you see the end game, especially with commissions. The template is set. Although you can surprise yourself as well. The painting above, Firework Family, was one of those. From the moment my brush touched the surface it was always going to be different, more abstract, more vital than I expected. On a dark blue background the group portrait was built up using a series of lines, brightly coloured lines. It was driven by the character of the subjects, they just emanated joy, and that made me think of fireworks exploding against a night sky. A family cast in fireworks, and a surprise to me as much as anyone!

But then there is the blank canvas where you already know the outcome. The painting at the head of this post, Chief of Colours, was always going to be as it is, except that the background darkened following some constructive criticism from an artist friend. However, it was a stop-start affair. The initial outline was laid down readily enough, but the guts of the piece took time. Visiting and revisiting it until in one quickfire session it was suddenly finished. It is without doubt one of my favourite paintings of all.

Then there are those canvases where you see the final image, you get it down exactly as you intended, only for external forces to intervene. In this case – Blue Wave – I was ecstatic with the outcome. It was designed to embody the blue wave I hoped would sweep away the filth of Donald Trump’s time in the Oval Office. A single adult elephant moving from left to right into the picture, leaving acres of space, oceans of potential for change. A dramatic sky dominated by black, but with streaks of white lancing through shades of blue. I was excited by the end product…. But it was a conmission, and so the client wanted a baby elephant painted in that changed the dynamic totally. I wouldn’t say it spoiled it, many loved the baby’s inclusion, but for me it diluted the power of the image.

I want to finish this post with Vibrant. Albeit a drawing rather than a painting, this was a piece that I just couldn’t finish. My intention was to make this far less colourful, to focus the eye on his face not allowing the necklaces to overwhelm him. And yet… I just couldn’t help myself. Each short session saw more and more colour until I finally reached the point where I just had to let it go. As Leonardo said most pieces are abandoned rather than finished. That is so very true…

Having given a little insight into the procrss I still believe art to be a form of magic. Whatever our tastes, whatever our preferences, there is always something that will appeal to us as fans or art lovers. And it all starts from a blank canvas or page. What a beautiful thing it is.

Connectedness

I’ve been thinking a lot about connectedness recently. The wrongheadedness of much right wing thinking is always the driver of these thoughts. It’s easy, seductive – forget society, focus only on yourself and your family.

One of the logical extensions of this perspective leads to questions like: Why pay taxes? Surely we should keep what we earn? Wasn’t it Nozick that said that income tax amounted to theft? Why should wealthy people subsidise those less fortunate? Their tired old answer is to forget taxation and allow the trickle down effect to operate.

As we’ve seen since the late 1970s though, the trickle down is more like a torrent up. Inequality keeps on growing and the share secured by the have nots declines exponentially. And of course, left to their own devices, free of state intervention, the 1% will take as much as they can get away with. They would happily take everything.

After all, the logic of our system is to take, take take. Nothing is ever too much. And yet, the underlyimg reality is that such a system rarely makes the winners happy. Homes, cars, disastrous plastic surgery, none of it works.

But that is not the purpose of this piece. What I want to focus on is that earlier question: why pay taxes?

Because we are all connected. The children of the wealthy do not live in a vacuum. They have to rely on other people whether they like it or not. Leaving others in abject poverty actually makes THEM vulnerable.

When they’ve stolen all the wealth, and they’re hiding in their bulletproof cars and cowering inside their gated communities, who do they think will be doing their household work? Who will be driving those cars, flying their planes? Who will be defendimg their properties? People from the 99%

In truth, faced with howling mobs of the dispossessed, will those ‘ordinary’ people lay down their lives for the geeedy and indifferent. I have my doubts.

Which begs another question – wouldn’t the offspring of the wealthy be better off in a world where the people around them are well educated, well fed, inadequately housed? I believe so.

In fact, wouldn’t those rich kids be safer and more secure in a world where they weren’t so disconnected. Isn’t that why we are seeing a criminal family eviscersting the United States at the moment? The Trumps grew up in a rarefied environment, headed by a sociopath, and Fred Trump created another in his image.

The whole Trump family are pathological, and one of the major problems is their lack of connectedness which allows that to continue and fester. I believe that we need to tax the 1% massively, and find ways of demonstrating to them that, while they may want to be aloof and elite, that it isnt really in their own best interests.

Their disconnect from the rest of is a mirage, and, it’s a dangerous one – for us all.

Virtual Resister Art Exhibition: Volume Two!

Welcome! In this exhibition of great resister art we have a diverse range of people, life experiences and media to share with you. Although I think art sometimes needs a backstory or a narrative, I also believe that it should speak for itself, that the perspective of the viewer is as real and valid as that of the artist. If a picture, painting or pot speaks to us, then that is often a very personal thing. So, without further ado, please take your time, enjoy the pieces you see here, and if you would be so kind, please help us to grow this into something bigger and sustainable (shares and likes gratefully received). An artist recently told me that she’d been criticised for displaying her work on social media at a time when there are more important things happening in the world. My response to that is that once the forces of darkness kill creativity and art they will finally have done their worst.

Resist!

We begin with some beautifully created photographic images by John Hagan. John is currently in Thailand, but is mostly based in Australia.

Next we have two beautiful portraits in pastel by Lada Kucker who lives and works in the Czech Republic

From the physical to the digital, Nerissa Wilkinson, who also embroiders amazingly beautiful portraits and other subjects, presents here a digital portrait entitled ‘The Dawn Maiden’

The artist writes: ‘

I was inspired, to depict a figure from Māori lore (my culture) and felt compelled to portray “Hinetītama”. She is the goddess of dawn & dusk and was the daughter of the demi god (Tane) and the very first woman (Hineahuone). My daughter was kind enough to model for me.’

Of course, art is frequently an act of resistance, but it can also be explicitly so. Here we have a lovely lyrical contribution consisting of four poems by Kristin Really, starting with one entitled ‘Unblendable’

Unblendable

Your life
With schedules, directions, reflections
Blood pressure and coffee go
Hand in hand
You are always thinking, plotting,
Looking to see who may be on which list today
Your life
Was easy to slide into
And you cannot fathom why the rest of us didn't
Your breath is slow, deep, calm
Breathing in the scent of your surroundings
Or sometimes fear
Of you
And that makes you smile
Your life is power and concern for others-
Faked, of course, but that's expected
But your laugh, when truly victorious
Is deep, loud, carefree
And careless
Your life
You didn't ask for it, work for it
But it is yours to use
And you do, to impact
My life
With alarms and scrambling
But not eggs
Blood pressure and pills go
Hand in hand
I am always waiting, watching
Looking for signs of danger
My life
I accidentally tripped into
This slow sinking into the fathoms of hell
My breath is slow, silent, or held
Like an animal hunted
I breathe your stench
But my own scent of fear is overpowering you
And the irony almost makes me smile
The only power that I possess
that is greater than yours
Is fear
My life is survival and blending
With business attire and firm handshakes
Faked, of course, but necessary
But my laugh, when appropriate
Might resemble what it once was
Before it was taken from me
Now trained, restrained, careful
Too precious for careless sharing
From mingling your life with mine
My life
I didn't ask for it, look for it
But it is mine
I didn't even see it coming
I must have blinked
Before the impact
But you, you're the type       
 who would have watched
Fascinated at the force
And now your life and mine are tethered
I think I still hear the crash of that merge
Or is that the memory of  your laughter?

Pass the Bottle
(Social Issue: Addiction)  

You worship at the alter
Of some unholy creed
Your gospel is the scripture
Of want instead of need
You’re looking for salvation
At the bottom of a glass
You know it isn’t perfect
But it’s good enough to pass

Pass the bottle
Cure what ills you
Numb the pain
Before it kills you
Crush the powder
Choke the pills down
The pain of life
Might really drown you

So worship in the darkness
Surround yourself with lies
Say a prayer to emptiness
And never say goodbyes
The gospel truth won’t own you
If it melts down with the ice
Your savior is another shot
Your God, another vice.

Pass the bottle
Cure what ills you
Numb the pain
Before it kills you
Pass the plate
For all that’s right
Reality’s not worth the fight
Crush the powder
Down the pills
You might survive
Afraid you will


So Preach unto the choir
Of Never Never Land
The devil will spin stories
Only you can understand
Then pray for your salvation
At the bottom of a glass
Drink away your memories
Amen that they don’t last

Pass the bottle
It’s easier that way

Numb your whole life
Erase another day

Pass the bottle
Cure what ills you
Numb the pain
Before it kills you
Crush the powder
Choke the pills down
The pain of life
Still somehow found you
Pass the bottle...

Two more poems to come from Kristin, but first we have a musical submission. Two songs by singer/songwriter M. Brinston Berry!

Singer/Songwriter M. Brinston Berry has been creating original music for nearly a decade. With three EPs to his name, Berry has amassed a diverse catalog of neo-folk songs influenced by equal parts Iron & Wine and Bob Dylan.


These two songs were written from the heart about exposing and resisting the world we live in…

From music to a mixture of media submitted by artist and sculptor Dianne Davis…

‘Figure’
‘Chopping Cotton’
‘Little Dog, Big Cake’
‘Cat with Two Miles’

Next, Tara Tisch, a friend and ardent resister, presents some beautiful prints and paintings…

And now for two more poems by Kristin Really…

This is a song about surviving sexual assault. 
Listen
When the dreams come
Even during the day
Then it’s time to pack
Those memories away

Keep your back straight
Like you can’t fall
If it hurts, just go numb
Feel nothing at all

But the pain , I know, is crippling
It’ll eat you up alive
Don’t you allow it
Listen to me now
I know you’ll survive

Don’t show emotion
Don’t even let them in
Never cry
Because that’s how they win

When the dreams come
In the dead of night
Just remind yourself
You put up one hell of a fight

They’ll point fingers
Don’t rub your wounds with salt
They’ll try to place blame
But listen to me now
This was not your fault

And the pain , I know, is crippling
It’ll eat you up alive
Don’t you allow it
Listen to me now
I know you’ll survive

I stand with you
I grieve with you
But most of all, know
I believe you

And the pain, I know, is crippling
But you’ve already arrived
The tides of change are rippling
You’ve already survived

Listen to me now
Listen to me now
Listen
You don’t have to despair
That your soul won’t repair
Cause you
You’re already there.
Preaching to the Choir 
Death in daylight screamed to us
A message to the wise
Close your heart to evil now
And open up your eyes

On the narrow walk of fate
Balancing life’s high wire
You’re passing down divisive hate
Preaching to your choir 

Deja Vu  of yesterday
Lessons learned in vain
History repeats itself
Bleeding from the pain

Your words come back to haunt you
Hiding behind guns for hire
Amplify insanity 
To feed your rabid choir 

The masses rise up now united
Left with little choice
A force of solidarity 
The world now has one voice 

You’re stumbling to the gates of hell
A blackened soul on fire
You’re not fooling anyone
Just preaching to your choir 


Violence, lies, and bigotry
Are all that you inspire
False prophet for the worst of us
Preaching to your choir 



Another digital contribution now, by Daniel J. Frey, one of the contributors to the first exhibition, this is a template for a planned oil painting. It is entitled simply 'Hope'

Daniel J. Frey is a writer/producer based in Hollywood

Some beautiful photos comprise the penultimate submission, presented by a Twitter friend known as Saje @sjeh07. These were taken in Peru and are incredibly atmospheric and evocative

To conclude the exhibition we have some magnificent jewellery created by my very good friend Bren known on Twitter as @BrenBalazs. She also has an online shop @BrensJewels…

And that concludes the second Virtual Resister Art Exhibition! Thank you so much for taking the time to enjoy these wonderful and diverse pieces of art. I hope that you come back over and over to savour this work, and, that you will share and help us create a resister art movement that will transcend these difficult times. Art is a delicate thing. without love and support it will not flourish, and we must never let the arid minds of ‘serious’ people extinguish it.

Thank you

We Matter

We matter. A simple sentence with so many connotations. At one level, at least for me, it is about self worth. A declaration of existential affirmation, howling into the face of childhood pain, compounded by cultural and systemic indifference.

But it’s also about equality. The truth that each of us matters, that every individual counts as one. A political statement. Collective individualism or individual collectivism. Too often the left forget the individual, in my opinion, while the right always neglect the collective, unless it’s about constructs such as nationalism, ways to divide us for easy manipulation.

But there’s another level to this statement: we matter; and that is where these aspects intersect. Now, bear with me because I am going to suggest that we often think we matter where we shouldn’t, and we don’t think we matter where we should.

Let’s start with the first claim – that we think we matter where we shouldn’t. I guess I mean this to cover two connected areas. The first is about a day-to-day arrogance that we all recognise, that sense of self-importance that translates into aggressive self-assertion. You know it as well as i do. That person who weaves in and out of lanes to get one car ahead, or pushes in while everyone else queues.

Arrogance. Aggression. Self-importance. Too often our culture tells us that we should push ahead, sod the rest, that being selfish is a sign of assertiveness. It isn’t. This is an example of mattering where we don’t, elevating one above others, celebrated in all the billionaire adoring movies and literature. It’s not pretty.

Another element to this is the desperate need for attention that we seem to need. Social media plays into this. Lately, I’ve seen baleful cries for attention, threats to leave social media if immediate recognition isn’t forthcoming. Why does no-one take notice when I write such amazing content???

I feel for those people. It is upsetting to be ignored, but we have to acknowledge two important things. On the one hand, we cannot control other people, no matter how much we try. If they don’t want to give us attention they don’t have to. My advice though, for what it’s worth, is to keep shouting into the void. The message is still valid even if no-one hears.

Recently, I saw a really good artist say: I want to be famous! Surely, it is more important to be an artist, to do what you love, to do it with your entire heart and soul, rather than to do it to ‘get famous’? The fame – fickle, transient- should follow the art, the art should not be a vehicle to garner fame. Mattering where we don’t

So, what about this idea that we matter where we think we don’t? To me this is about that hole in our soul that we tolerate, often feed, that makes us feel inadequate, unimportant, irrelevant. It has a political dimension, because it links in to that belief that we can’t make a difference, that our votes and voices don’t matter because they are insignificant, that we are insignificant.

It is fuelled by a system that feeds on our despair and hopelessness.

And yet, we DO matter, we have to matter to and for ourselves. We need to recognise our own self worth, a worth that exists over and above what we achieve, and certainly above whether we get a million likes or retweets. There is a job of work to done by most of us, and I certainly include myself in this, and that is to see our intrinsic worth. Our inherent value as human beings, as living, breathing, conscious entities.

We matter because we ARE. Everything else flows from that.

Human Nature

As an academic teaching undergraduates and postgraduates about political theory, public policy and equality of opportunity I found it all too common for students to have horribly cynical views about human nature. During countless seminars and tutorials I have had someone say: Of course they did [insert something bad], that’s human nature. In my mind, I picture them sitting back with folded arms and a smug expression as if they had just laid down a winning hand. That’s some backfill and imaginative seasoning – though I have seen it happen.

And it’s no wonder they see the world that way. Once they leave primary school they are subjected to endless dystopian literature, where even if the main characters are fighting off aliens or zombies, the real evil lies within. It’s the other people you have to watch out fir. As a child I had this same grounding. We were forced to read and dissect The Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men and I’m the King of the castle. Aside from the fact that dissection kills the love of a book (and the process is constructed), the stories oppressed me. They may represent great writing, but they are scary, oppressive and demoralising. But more than that they do not reflect reality – at least not entirely.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/13/the-real-lord-of-the-flies-mano-totau-survivor-story-shipwreck-tonga-boys-ata-island-peter-warner

This link is the real version of Lord of the Flies, where six Tongan youths lived together for a year without any bullying and killing. Their story is the complete antithesis of what we’ve been led to expect.

Why is this? Well, it’s simple really. The individual of orthodox economic theory does NOT EXIST. The ‘rational’, self-interested, greedy, untrustworthy character they’ve created is the real fiction. Am I saying that people are all good? No. Am I saying that altruism is the defining feature of human nature. No.

What I am saying is that human nature cannot be essentialised. It is layered, complex, and often a reflection of the culture it is embedded within. Tell children that people are bad, selfish and untrustworthy long enough and they will believe it. More than that they may, in some cases, exemplify it. As the Native American belief suggests, we have two wolves – good and bad – and the one we feed is the one that grows.

What proof do I have that this is so? I could point you towards a stack of academic work, the initial book that reached me was No Competition by Alfie Kohn. He underlined that things like wildlife documentaries focussed on the red and tooth in claw moments rather than global biological interdependency, or as the The Lion King puts it, the circle of life. There is abundant, and growing research, to illustrate the truth that human nature is NOT bad per se. But I also know because it’s characteristic of my own experience, I see more good than bad around me, even though the news channels and media want me to to think otherwise.

I know it because, although I am damaged, and I have done some terrible things in my time, hurting people that I care about in the process, I am not evil. I would rather do good than ill. I want people to be happy not sad, to thrive not suffer. I have my weaknesses, my secret passions and dark spots, but I am mostly a positive person. And, as I would point out to students, alongside more rigorous evidence, one case where someone does something utterly selfless, such as rushing into a burning building to save a complete stranger, completely invalidates the idea that human nature is essentially negative. If it was truly in their ‘nature’ to be selfish it’s not that they wouldn’t do it, it’s that they COULDN’T do it.

Of course, there are always cynical responses. I have heard students claim that people only ever do good because they get something from it, even if its just to feel good themselves. my response to them was ‘so what?’ if doing good makes them feel good then I’m glad. Moreover, that still doesn’t suggest that human nature is inherently selfish. Not in my book.

The idea that the world is dark and dangerous, and that no-one can be trusted is a politically and economically motivated one. It makes us easy to control, easy to manipulate. If we can’t trust anyone else we have to get in first, stick them before they stick us. We have to distance ourselves, isolate and defend, rather than welcome and embrace. It turns us into workers and consumers with little interest in the welfare of others. Immigrants. Single Mothers. welfare scroungers. There’s always a scapegoat for this programming.

Ultimately, we need to stop feeding our children these horrifying books, or at least balance them against more positive literature. The message moving forward, and that includes the news and related media, is that bad things happen, but that does not make people bad by definition. Human nature is complex and textured.

If you try to convince me otherwise with examples of horrors I will simply smile wryly and wonder why you are so keen to prove something that is completely natural. Let’s take some steps forward together, see the best, feed the right wolf. Things will only get better.

The Voice

As I write this I am exhausted. I’ve been drawing and painting non-stop for weeks, producing one piece of work after another; commissioned work mostly, but also things that needed to be done. Sometimes you see a face or an image and you just have to capture it, fast, before the muse leaves you. It’s been like that for a while. I know it’s part of my mental health/ill-health landscape. Produce. Burn-out. Recover. Resume. Repeat.

And that’s okay. It really is. Except that I struggle to take the time out. Resting is not something that comes naturally, even though I now realise that it’s essential to create effectively. Existing, just being, is critical. I don’t know of a single person that can create and create without some kind of recovery process.

One of the problems that I have though, is the voice. You must know it, even if you have silenced it, or muffled it. That inner sprite that tries to derail you. Frighten you. Yes, that is it. Frighten you. It whispers pure fear into your already fevered brain.

It used to have a face too, my sister. However, I have managed to work past that now. It has no face, no intonation, no accent, and sadly it doesn’t need them. The voice is potent enough in its own right. And its intent is always malign.

As I tap away at these keys it is sneering and sniggering at me, telling me that if I rest the ability to paint will atrophy. It will simply disappear. It tells me that time is slipping away, that there are things to be done, and if I don’t do them NOW then I never will. Just look, it demands, look at that pile of half-finished work. Look at the half-written books – poetry books, a memoir, a book of short stories, look at what you started and never finished. Look…

And despite the fact I am stronger than I was before, the voice still has power, it still nips and bites at my confidence and my faith. What if it’s right? What if I lose the capacity or the hunger, what if I don’t feel refreshed, simply empty. What if…? On and on and on.

But I know that I need to stop, if only for a little while. A painting I’m 3/4 of the way through was nearly thrown across the room earlier. The skin tones wouldn’t blend, the fine lines were blurring, the eyes wouldn’t come to life. I felt so angry, lost and confused.

So, I will rest, and that bloody voice can taunt all it likes, it is NOT in control. I hope that if you’re reading this and face the same struggles you take the time you need also. You’re in control too.

Creation needs fuel, don’t let your inner sprite burn through yours.

RESIST!

Outsider

Sat here writing this…

Do you ever feel like an outsider? I do. Always have. For a left wing progressive I find collective enterprises difficult. People scare me, which means I’m not a joiner. I prefer isolation, aloneness, even if I wouldn’t choose it.

I suppose there are two reasons for this outsider mind set. The first is that I was a lare arrival in my family. There is no other word for my existence than ‘accident’. My mum was nearly 40 when she became pregnant, and she went to the GP because she thought it was early onset menopause.

By the time I came along my siblings were grown and my family had an entire history I simply didn’t feature in. When the old stories were rolled out I was conspicuously absent.

The other reason relates, I believe, to being the brother of a chronically ill sister. Whether it was intentional or otherwise, I was a distraction, a problem. Mum taught me to read at 3 so that I could amuse myself quietly. And, for the most part, I did.

As I got older, if I made any kind of noise, it was jumped upon immediately. Silence was golden, but not for me.

There are no villans in my story though, none of the damage I sustained was meant. I was loved and everyone was just trying to do their best. But damage is damage nonetheless.

I never wanted to be a part of something larger growing up. My friends grew tired of my excuses not to ‘come along’ or just join in. Even the sports teams I played in didn’t fully incorporate me. I was always apart, outside, isolated.

To my shame, when my beautiful boys came along, I was overjoyed, but I also felt pushed out. Suddenly I was a bit part actor in my life again, my mum would greet me with: so where are the boys then?’ It was never meant to exclude me, or dismiss me, but it did.

And now? I am still on the outside. I look around and see the damage I’ve caused to others, the ‘pass it on’ type, where my pain ripples out and drowns other people. And I see a world riven with divisions – huge inequalities, wars, poverty, hatred and discrimination, and I feel even more isolated and alone. Anxious. Angry. Outside.

Do you ever feel like an outsider?

I do.