Saturday, 22 October 2016

Get Naked, Fanaticus

My husband and I were discussing St Francis of Assisi this morning over tea, as you do. Indulge me and travel back in time to the middle ages with me (in the case of the middle ages, I don’t need to travel back, I’m travelling forward at an alarming rate, but more on that in another post). It is around 1210 and life stinks, for all sorts of reasons apart from the lack of modern sanitation and there being zero deodorant. Francis, has tired of riotous living and has found God, and with Him, some peculiar and to his father, intolerable, ways. One day, in exasperation, (possibly due to Francis nicking quid from his father to rebuild old chapels), Francis's father hauled him in front of the local bishop in the hopes that he would quell his religious tendencies and order him to knuckle down and work for the family firm. Instead, Francis stripped naked and handed his clothes to his father in full view of the bishop (I know, its like an ale commercial). Henceforward, he would follow God completely.

I commented to my husband that Francis's behaviour could only have been carried out by an artist, a madman, or a religious fanatic. I have watched from the side of the stage at Reading (during my young and hot phase) whilst Flea from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, stripped naked and continued to play bass. He may even have done some handstands as I seem to recall, but given my own middle ages and my own former riotous living, I may be wrong on that point, but on the nakedness I am not. I have also seen mad naked men in my life, and the less said about this the better. My point is this: art, religion (in the mystical sense) and madness often run parallel to each other. For humanists (demi-gods unto themselves or indeed ourselves – how frightening, for me!) religionists are just plain nuts so this category is irrelevant to them and is muddled with the mad. It is only in recent times that the religious or better, the spiritual has been rendered off limits in the world of art, despite the art world being characterised by quite a few nutters. As a believer, or a creationist, a Jesus follower or whatever you want to call me, I often wonder where the ‘religious’ artists of our day are? Banished into the great hall of shame I suspect. Art in the institution of church is plain dull. Unlike Leonardo da Vinci or other great religious artists, they don’t seem to exist (sorry if you do exist, I just haven’t heard of you yet) in our culture apart from Charlie Mackesy, perhaps because their own rich narrative has been so scoffed at by the culturally prevailing humanistic mind set that is often narrow and toxic, and so unilluminating, unlike the best Christian or spiritual thought, and its beautiful narratives as seen say, in the parables of Jesus or the mystical experiences of Elijah or Daniel.

Anyway, back to Frank. Obviously, for followers and scholars of St Francis, he was, though not to his father, a fanatic in the best possible sense. According to my reliable source (Mrs Peggy Wikipedia), the word fanatic was, "introduced into English around 1550, and means "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion." It comes from the Modern Latin fanaticus, meaning "insanely but divinely inspired." The word fan, comes from this word (picture a screaming girl at a Beatles or One Direction concert). Hubster and me then launched into a discussion about being 'naked,' (not in the sense that you might be thinking, all though neither of us are adverse to that), but in the sense of being true to oneself in a world where cultural, familial and other concerns conspire to rob you of personal authenticity, and the various ways that people are conditioned to conform to something other than their true selves. 

We then discussed shame, and how pervasive it is. A theory came up: are people truly ashamed to be themselves for fear of being exposed as frauds? There is an inherent irony in this statement, but consider this: A child raised in a family or society whose narrative tells them that they are wrong in some way, will suffer shame on a deep level. This shame will hinder them being the person they were created to be (from a creationists perspective,) or the person they could be (if they had the confidence). We considered sources of shame and how pervasive this shame is and how scuppering in terms of a fully realised internal and external life and the connectedness thereof (and therefore authenticness!) and that people would be healthier and happier if they could trace intrinsic shame back to source and eliminate it.

My husband and I variously discussed bullying in schools and the bullying people receive due to appearance (women can sometimes receive this from other women) and cultural expectations thereof. Shame is ingested and bears fruit in all sorts of ways, but the deepest shame is stored at the core of self. Francis was extraordinary in his stand against the forces that railed against his authentic self. In stripping himself naked he declared to his father, the bishop, God and the world that he was going to live for God (and thereby for the gospel and the poor) and was going to forsake the world and all its constraints and seductions in order to be his true self. My husband and I got to thinking and discussing our own authenticity and what might constitute elements of ‘false self’ and our determination to live by the (we believe) God given coda of uniqueness and authenticity that is offered to each individual (creationistically speaking).

Hopefully, and hence, this adherence to living authentically will not give rise to the self-obsession that is characterised by our age - more on that later. Meantime: strip.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Sniping of Leadsom. And Leopard Print.

Following the death by Rupert, I mean, by the press, of Andrea Leadsom, it seems Theresa is our girl. "Will the last woman standing please stand up!" We all knew it was you Tess! Anyway, good to have a woman stepping into the role and with cool shoes too! She does seem the right woman for the job. I'm glad that Theresa May is stepping into office swiftly; Tess and Dave will be through opposite sides of revolving doors by tomorrow. Good that we can move on from the whole Conservative Leader debacle. The Labour Party need to get a grip though - ooer, what a shambles! But don't let's get started on them they are starting all on their own. It does seem a bit bonkers that we are swapping one remainer for another. I hope Theresa May does instigate social justice; the gap between rich and poor surely needs addressing.

I do feel for Andrea Leadsom. Her treatment by the press and the public has been pretty appalling - as is the way in this braying medieval culture we currently live in. I'm thinking of the death threats that Angela Eagle is currently receiving from Corbyn supporters; and of the Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth, recently attacked by another Corbyn supporter at the Labour anti-semitic hearing recently - and you thought the bigoted language remainers used to attack brexiters was ironic? Pah! More was to come. Consider too the continuous fetid language that continues to be meted out towards brexiters. Some of the 'cartoons' (sans wit) doing the rounds on Facebook about the Conservative candidates (and by association anyone who may have voted for them at any point are self-explanatory. All you need to know is that the word c*** is the primal, I mean, primary (like juvenile) word. As the bible points out in the Proverbs "As a man (or woman) thinks, so he (or she - this is becoming unintentionally pythonesque) is.

Andrea Leadsom has been particularly scorned for being a Christian. As the Telegraph writer, Alison Pearson has recently pointed out, "no one accuses Sadiq Khan of being a religious nutter because he is a practising Muslim." It would be nice if Christians could be extended the same courtesy, particularly since the democratic freedoms that allow people to attack Christians come from foundational Christian tenets. Though to be fair, some of us are nutters. But lets not get started on nutters - they have human rights too! And where would the worlds of art and entertainment and most anywhere else be without nutters, eh? Andrea Leadsom seems a fine, principled woman by the accounts I have read, though I doubt she has the stomach for the top job.

On another, frivolous note, I cut my hair (by my own shear) - to the background music of family hilarity - on the weekend in the style of my three year old son. Granted. He looks cuter. And blonder. Midlife crisis? Perhaps. I shall draw the line at wellies and lurid tights...but should I? Iris Apfel is my new style guru and she has decades on me. I'm planning a long, slow accent into style greatness. In these punishing political climes more frivolity as an antidote to all the vitriol is henceforth prescribed. Given so many women are finally coming to the political fore, I suggest they ditch the pink jackets (yes, Eagle and Leadsom) and take up wild shades; dramatic prints and oversized beads to dazzle and confuse journalists who try to Leadsom them down the wrong path; heels and leopard print should be de rigueur (see Theresa for tips) - which is in keeping with the stealthy attacks they will need to launch on their opponents. Sort it out girls.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

It’s easy to bash out Facebook posts and bash each other

I was heartened by the above video link today. If more of us (on all sides, and I am challenged too) focussed on actually doing something about the injustices in our societies instead of just ranting, the world would be a better place. I'm finding the smug 'we were right' rhetoric (and no you are not necessarily ‘right’ yet) of much (not all) of the remain moral high ground headache-inducing (I know, I’m trying to avoid at least some of it! I know where not to look but it is prevalent and I don’t want to be uninformed) although there seems to be less classist, bigoted, intolerant language proliferating as far as I can tell - I have said plenty about the ironic nature of this one dimensional way of speaking about brexiters, so I won't be tempted to wax on, but I am so challenged about the way I use language at the moment; as I believe we all should be. I am also aware of just how much we dwell on the negatives rather than getting out and doing something positive to create meaningful change. I don’t think brexiters should be smug either – they too have not yet been proved ‘right.' We do need to be more considerate of others who have different points of view. If we all just sit in our camps how are we going to ever make peace? Can we be hopeful about the future? If not, for goodness sake, let’s get out there and create some hope.

I also wish Farage would shut up, but we need to all try to begin working towards a better and more inclusive society. I am wary of coming across as lofty myself, but can't we start focussing on more positive things? There is a gaping chasm between rich and poor. Perhaps we need to think more radically about how we share wealth and success? Do we need that spare room? That extra house even - could you let it rent free or for a subsidised rent to a homeless/hostel dwelling family? A struggling student? How can we reach out to new members of our society? Tutor their children - music, extra language tuition? Or better, trade: Teach me how to cook your cuisine or sew or accountancy/economics/maths – I am particularly rubbish at those last three - and I will teach whatever skills I have, should you need some of them? Have a family for dinner once a week, or even once in a while? Collect and share stories - put on more community arts events? Or just have a street party! The referendum just may be the society quake we all need so we can start putting our money where our let's face it, rather large mouths are. And yes, I am the first to admit I have a big mouth! Let's be big in the right way, though.

Personally I think it's better that racists are exposed and dealt with. Cancers breed in the dark. We need to bring everything into the light and begin to tackle things. Racism is an evil that exists in the hearts of men and women - the referendum simply emboldened them. Well, lets be bolder still. Let's tackle it, but in the opposite spirit. We have to model the right way to behave. We have to model love. I challenge us all to go out and do something other than throw stones. For those remainers who are trying to engage in meaningful debate rather than just derision, I salute you. As for the racist brexiters whomever, wherever they are, if I was to meet one, I would say this: "I understand you may feel disenfranchised in some way, but there are plenty of rehab groups out there that will help you deal with the root issues in your life. You need help. Access it. Start at the CAB. Can I help at all?" (this last question requires Mandela-like great character and strength, but we may as well aim high). I don't believe people set out to become racists, they become like this because of what they have been taught or experienced - can we be challenged to engage in some way? If we don't, the problem will get worse.

On this note, please like the page we have set up to tackle racism and share ideas/personal experiences, here:

Don't let's be victims. Let’s not be passive. Engage. It’s easy to bash out Facebook posts and bash each other. But we can get on with things ourselves, we don't need men (and women) in suits to dictate how we live our lives. Let's start a revolution in our own backyard. Whilst the politicians squabble, let's get on with things. Then we can post about them. Instead of causing further division, your sparkling social action might inspire people instead.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Happy Referendum Day!

Happy referendum day! I'm voting for change; freedom and democracy. I believe the decision we make today has the potential to shape our nation in a life altering way. I hope people will vote to have more of a say in that future than we currently do. We are a island nation and there are benefits to being an island. I find the 'no man is an island,' (worn by some of the celebrities) rhetoric particularly lame. To vote to leave is not to vote for isolation; neither is it a cry for war if some of the nonsense that is being espoused is to be believed. I vote not to be subsumed by Europe, though I love our European cousins. Before the EU we got along just fine, and I believe we can again. No relationship should be forged on the threat of what could happen were that relationship not to continue. I vote for independence. I vote for democracy. I vote to have a say in the major decisions that affect the world. I vote, in short, for as much freedom as can currently be mustered and then (if we are able to come out), hopefully we can vote for more, not less!

I also vote as a Christ follower and as someone who despises slavery in every form, bureaucratic or otherwise. Don't forget, this is the country that has given us Wilberforce and many other abolitionists, philanthropists and reformers - look how we influences America to abolish slavery then - and without Europe Mr Obama! And how hard America fought for independence from Britain. It really is a grave thing to give up sovereignty, I believe. As a woman, I would never give up my hard won vote, to give up sovereignty is in the same bracket only worse so. We have a chance to get our sovereignty back before it is too late; if we do not, I believe we will see our best values eroded in the name of liberalism as we know it today.

Unity does not need to mean uniformity; let us cut the ties that bind and forge new ones: with Europe and the world. It concerns me that the time may come where the decisions we make regarding the Middle East will be out of our hands. It is important that Israel remains stable in the Middle East and Britain has always recognised this. I am not sure that our European neighbours will feel the same. This to me, is a terrifying prospect.

Let us take the opportunity to lead (or continue to do so) in the areas of compassion, reaching out to the world and beyond. A vote to leave should not be governed by the fear of the other; our country thrives on inclusion; nor of the fear of being out of pocket: we have, as a nation, always had finer qualities than the focusing on our own pockets: surely, qualities that have always reached out to the world in every sense. Let's exercise them! In the spirit of Wilberforce, let us do something radical and 'dangerous.' Let us go it alone and continue to affect the world as a force for good.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Musical Comedy Cure for Giddybonkersville

Today the kids drove me to Giddybonkersville. The route was thus: Little Minx (not the pop band; though had they been here they might have lent a hand or bent an ear - I was tempted to do the latter) emptied a bottle of talc onto the bedroom carpet floor. Aside: Have you seen their collective LM hair?Cousin It has nothing on them. Their hair could be given its own record contract. Carpet is now a retching shade of pale blue rather than the teal or no teal it once was - an approximation therof - such was the abuse of the blue when mixed with an unidentified liquid. Next, Little Minx's reaching hand found my new glass pepper mill and smashed it all over the kitchen floor. The shards were tiny as was my temper - Tiny Tempah? had he been here he could have danced for me in a Royal Blue Suit, or some Hawaiian Shorts - hold the booty girls, they are NEVER right. "Everybody Go Low," he could have helped me pick up those tiny tiny shards that flew all over the place like a Tempah exploding. "Flippin' loco. Worse than giving away your last Rollo," - check the lyrics out for that one. Anyone would think I was promoting the mini-man; he's just workin' it for this blog.  Next Little Minx took it upon his tiny self - put Tiny Tempah out of your mind for now - to hit his older brother on the head with a (thankfully plastic) yellow golf club.

Next, Kid Three, the fast one who draws all the small creatures, sneezed viscerally on his own work and melted down - his own work and his ability to stay calm in the process. He then insulted his sister's Seuss-style tree that she had drawn too close to the building-eating dinosaur that he had just executed. Sister sobbed. I placated and suggested 'scooter-riding down the prom.' This began with a fierce, screamy scooter pile up at the front gate. I too felt screamy - like there was a scrumsworth of little people fighting for the same ball in my chest - but kept the little screamers in check - within and without. I then ran along the road whilst my three avoided the obstacle course of poo on the pavement, which resulted in scooter pile ups on the pavement on more than one occasion and once, involved the decoration of poo on foot and scooter. Had the poo offender and his/her? dog appeared at that moment, he or she would have left wearing their dog as a hat - don't worry, a live hat. I then sprinted along the prom refereeing the kids as they scared the old ladies out walking their dogs by zooming past them with me yelling alongside.

A happy thing happened on the beach. My kids, who were once attacked by some dogs on a beach in Anglesey, met a galloping dog. I calmed them as the owner advanced with the usual: "Don't worry he's fine with children." He then offered the kids dog biscuits to give Tramp (the dog) and my faith in dog and humankind was restored. I even watched him searching for the poo his dog had left on the beach, deposited as he spied my kids and galavanted off towards us before his owner had a chance to retrieve it. Next the kids did some dangerous things on the rocks on the beach that freaked me out and I insisted we went home. En route, Little Minx refused to scoot along the sea wall, insisting on veering to the other side and the dodgy drop down to the road. Tiny Tempah and all the little people nearly exploded out onto the prom. And this used to be such a quiet Seasidey Retirementy sort of place! The only drama before we came was watching the oldsters drive really fast, then really slow, sometimes missing corners out altogether. Until we arrived. You don't want to compare our missile attacked front lawn with those of our kidless neighbours - theirs are clipped within an inch of their lives. Our place is wild and ferral, and that's just the kids...but here's the rub...

Once home, Sister and I had a good chat about perfection and how unfamiliar with it I am. We laughed with (I think, understanding - unless that was naked fear I saw in her eyes). I then cut everyones sandwiches into silly shapes and we had our usual cheery banter over lunch. During 'nap' time - was ever a word used more loosely? I read and sang from one of my husband's old (and politically incorrect) song and rhyme books. I practised my 'bluegrass comedy accent' and included vocal banjo sounds. Shiny Kid laughed so much he looked as though he might morph into something completely unkidlike. I had so much fun one of the kids had to tell me when I had had enough so that he could 'concentrate on his drawing now.' Why the Tiny Tempah/Little Minx analogies? When I sat down to write, the comedy side of my music loving brain just went there and they came punning into the mix. The thing is, I write for my own amusement, and they just seemed to fit the piece. Happy that you are reading until the end too though. Giddybonkers though you may be. That makes we.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Musing On Art

I have recently taken to painting again. Art was a childhood love along with singing and dancing, oh and acting. My best friend at primary school and I once ended up putting our self written plays on stage for the whole school. The teachers thought Aggie and Mildred with their posh accents and our mother's costume jewellery were hilarious. We also did cockney women discussing their washing and the price of eggs over an imaginary fence. This was late 70's Zimbabwe. All our cultural influences were British, and a little hackneyed. Last year I staged my first play in London and I recently had a small crack at something reasonably innovative for the stage involving all my loves: God, poetry, dialogues, music, song, visual art and dance. I did it for the joy of it and the exuberance I felt at eleven was the same. Collaborating with the actors was even more fun than the writing of it.

From 2000-2013, I was a novelist. There were exciting times - winning things, good reviews, appearances. Pressure came. To succeed. To perform. In 2013, I looked into the faces of my children and my husband and into my own spirit and began to question my motivations and why I create. So, after the birth of my last child, I decided to lose my agent and 'lay down' my own writing career to help develop other writers for our fledgling publishing company. In the process, I have been rediscovering what an artist actually is. Over the past few years I have had the privilege of nurturing three very talented individuals and publishing another writer, whose work has beauty in it - simply for that reason; I knew we were unlikely to make money from this project, but time will tell. The point is, we are not motivated by money, which is just as well, all things considered. We did it for the beauty - for the soul of the writer, that was in the work.

During the time I was 'successful' as a writer, in that I won a national writing award, had a well -known agent, garnered good press and sold thousands of copies of my first book, I lost my way. I was no longer an artist, looking to reveal beauty and truth; my 'success' was based on opinion, sales, attention, feedback: in short, the opinions of others. Recently I rediscovered some of my contemporaries from my days of agents and awards and fuss over being a 'writers of the future.' I felt a pang - for  what? Their fame? I questioned my wisdom for leaving. But then the wise person I live with reminded me why I left. I did it for the art.

My art needs to exist on the edges. It comes from me and that is where I have always thrived best. Of course I am thrilled when people like and respond to my work, but I don't want to be part of a production machine that brings expectation and direction. It limits. The best art lives in a transcendent space where expectation and deadlines do not transgress. What happens after that is up to the artist, of course. I think motivation is key. Art must come from the heart, unclouded by the expectations of the surrounding culture and all that arises from it.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Educating off piste (not off pissed)

It's been absurdly long since I wrote a post - Christmas was the last one. Actually I drafted this one on the third of March and didn't send it! Then, like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole I scarpered to London with my daughter for my production, Children of the Resurrection in which she danced.

The year thus far has been filled with a heady mix of book editing, play writing and home educating, the latter being by turns productive and often bonkers, but the children are progressing well using these methods: productive in that it happens most days and on those days English and Maths and many other things are taught to my young children. I use a variety of materials including a basic curriculum that I sometimes follow, but generally we go off piste - hope you grasp the spelling of that last phrase and don't call the social services. Just to be clear, I never go off pissed when I am educating my children (and neither, for the record do they) we certainly travel off road at our homeschool - and yes, in this case we sometimes learn off site, as in today when we met up with some other homeders (is that a new word?!) for various creative activities (including glass painting!) and drama and chin wagging (in my case). We also learn outside, at various castles and National Trust properties, in the woods and down on the beach - with sticks and pebbles and water obvs!

I have found, as I suspected, that the more creative the task, the more engaged the kid is. Thus there is often a zany atmosphere (particularly if my toddler is rampaging around yelling 'bottom!' or 'toilet!' - not as a request but as a response) and a creative task in most things we do. Having said this, I do ram some of the traditional (and the spiritual) into the day: The Lord's Prayer and dictation and proper story telling for my elder daughter as well as poetry writing, and presenting (aka 'show and tell') and so on, but invariably there are drawings, toys and puppets involved and many obstacle courses for PE - inside and out - often on the beach where crazy races feature. Often one activity will produce a theme that is then carried through from one subject to another - the other day PE involved puppets (including our letter 'G' puppet Gilbert who, thanks to my youngest disrupts the class by showing his bottom all the time, and a word building treasure hunt with word and number prompts and ended in a lesson on fractions (that involved cake!) I find with kids, that the more comedy there is, the more they want to learn, though of course there are days when gravitas is required, but not for long.

There are many pleasures to home schooling - not least being at the frontline of their responses - and being able to tailor make the style of education to fit the learner - my son learns differently from my daughter - but quite simply it is a joy to be able to share the learning journey with them, and the many others whom we meet with who have chosen to educate outside the societal norms. One of the things I most enjoy is watching my kids get up in the morning and draw or make paper sculptures. My son is obsessed with chameleons and frogs, so there are many painted and sculpted creatures around the house that he has made with whatever he hauls out of the art drawer. He now seems to be moving on to traction engines. Similarly my daughter gets on with her multi media projects or paints murals on the back of the house or all over the Wendy House. There is plenty of time for her to pursue her dancing and singing interests and to take part in her mother's productions too.

Not trad, but thus far they are well adjusted, well rounded, and well ahead - smaller classes = faster and more holistic learning. And we have only just begun.