It was around about this time last week that her face had fallen off. Right into her lap, with a squelch. She remembered the squelch in particular. The soundtrack to the horrific picture before her eyeballs, which, now, stuck out on their stems like bubble gum flavoured Chupa Chups lollies. At least her face hadn’t landed on the floor. Even with the five second rule in force there was something stricter about infection control when it came to one’s own inner skin.

The face had been placed in a special machine next to her bed. Her laptop was plugged in next to it. Laptop on the left. Face on the right. The machine kept the cells in the face alive. Or something. The doctors had explained, but listening wasn’t her priority at that point. It lay there under the clinical light, looking cool and stable, but unreal. Unhuman.

As the week had gone by along with passing doctors and surgeons, all with the same baffled looks that said we-can’t-do-anything-but-we’re-not-going-to-tell-you-that-yet, she considered her loss. She’d lost her identity. The thing that people relied upon to tell her apart from the rest.

Yet, she’d never felt so identified.

Groups of people had brown eyes, blond hair, long noses, full lips. The surface by which other faces made their judgments. The evolutionary shallowness that meant the human brain, the inside, could process faster, decide quicker, and efficiently make choices that ultimately boiled down to death or life. Run or stay. Spend time, or not. The amount of effort she had made to affect their judgment. Cleansed and moisturised. Primed and painted. Buffed and polished. But there was no mascara for the soul. No lipstick for the heart. The unmade-up invisible inside needed a different kind of nourishment, and a different kind of reward. And it would change every day, renew itself, grow into a unique shade that no eyeshadow could conceive.

She was the only woman with no face. In the whole world. She smiled (she thought). Her face glowed. Then she pulled the plug on the right.




Creative Environment – Where’s Your Head At?

Yes, I can see the responses now to my former post. But I’m a successful creative person! Blah, blah, blah. If you’re fortunate enough to have had a stable and accepting environment in which to grow up mentally, physically and creatively, then great; the forces of home managed to counteract the compliant forces of school. You will have creatively matured earlier and had many years to cultivate your skill, and have reached middle age thinking yes, I made the right decision when I was younger. Good for you. I am sincerely very happy for you. Also some may argue they didn’t have anywhere near the kind of environment described above but yet still consider themselves a successful creative person. Great! Even better. Your will is strong through either arrogance or bullheadedness, or both (typical attributes of successful creatives), or a motivation beyond my comprehension. But some people aren’t as lucky with their lot. There are many reasons for this: some through classical and instrumental conditioning, some circumstantial, some genetic, mostly subjective, some just plain bad timing.

For most people the stark fact that pervades is at the age of 16 you cannot afford to construct your ultimate creative environment. You don’t have your own stability financially or emotionally so you must rely on others. This mad panic to not only get the hell out of school as quickly as possible as well as choose your career for the next 45 years, or longer, leave home, shag lots, get drunk, take drugs, learn what a washing machine is, how to hydrate a Pot Noodle, make uniformly thoughtful and insightful pieces of work to be submitted to a higher power for analysis and critique is bloody ridiculous! How can a person be expected to do all this in any meaningful way within the space of four or five years? No wonder the majority bugger it all up and end up stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s or any other uninspiring income generating position one can lay one’s barely developed hands on. Yet more sapping of creativity; less reason to even bother.

So what can be done? There’s no doubt that getting into the creative mood is easier when you have no distractions and little to worry about. Successful creatives have more than just talent, they have support. Financial support, mental support, day to day menial task support, encouragement, support from those with skills they don’t necessarily have. They have access to tools and resources, and the means to acquire them. They are surrounded by a network of people and circumstances that allows them to focus on their creative output. Most of us don’t have that. Most of us have exactly the opposite: bills to pay, low incomes, social obligations, psychological barriers of doubt and low self esteem. Even now at the age of 34 I haven’t got my creative environment right.

If you haven’t got where you want to be creatively, it’s okay. You are not a failure!

Mentally I think the most creative time of our lives occurs before the age of 13 and after the age of, say, 45, or whenever you’re in a stable situation, i.e. with home, stuff for your home, a job to pay for it, savings that allow you freedom time wise, life is ticking along. But I am stereotyping, which is really what I am ranting against here! We are lead to believe by society that certain things must be done by a certain age: successful career, family, car, biannual holiday. Why? To me these things are just distractions. Things to make you feel you belong to a wider group. To make you feel calmer, that you’re doing okay because you’re doing the same as next door. And if you don’t do these things then you are somehow strange, weird, ill, or an outsider. Good! That’s just how I like it. I don’t want to be constrained by children, by family obligation, telling me how I should behave, the things I should do. Although sometimes I do worry about it, but that’s just a sign of low self-esteem in the face of social conformity and acceptance. Easily countered with good food, lots of exercise and plenty of good friends and wine. This is part of my internal creative environment. My mental environment if you like. It is necessary in order for me to feel the need to create, and it is necessary for me to physically create.

Just to make things clear, I am defining a ‘successful creative’ as someone who manages to make a living out of their chosen art form; the person who sees their job as also their hobby; those who achieve what it is they wish to achieve rather than what a company/outside entity wishes them to achieve. This is the person who doesn’t feel the will to live being sucked out of them day by day whilst trying very hard to really care about another generic entity’s personal fortune. One who doesn’t just operate via the mantra ‘I do work just to get paid and therefore survive.’

Having cleared that up in my head I realise how fake all my achievements up to now have been. Achievements in the eyes of others are all they are. Those that I personally see as achievements are only now being recognised by me, let alone anyone else. And they have struggled to get out for many years. Yes, I participate in the day to day drudgery of working to live, but at least I’m no longer living to work in a job that takes up all my energy (most of the time), is of no interest, no personal mental gain, no achievement other than conformity and a pay slip. I work to live, I work to fund the things I, myself, want to achieve, whatever those things may be. I still have limits financially, but the balance is amiable. I am no longer committing a slow suicide in the name of impersonal commercial success. Age is the only thing against all those things I have yet to want to achieve.

So here’s an idea, just for future reference, and idealism. Why don’t we educate children in the reading, writing, etc, the basic stuff up to the age of 11, and then let them go? Parents should then be responsible for their own child’s education. Education of life. If, as per my previous post, we are taught how to understand our psych, how people learn, how to be human when we’re at school then we should be fully qualified to take on this task. And it should be the responsibility of the parent to do this! This should be what parenting is about! Education should be personal. So let’s have an array of subjects on offer for the child, along with the parent, to choose from so they can personalise their learning. For example, Johnny could take a six month course in botanical science at the age of 12, then another six months in astrophysics, then two courses running consecutively, say, English literature and algebra. Whatever he’s interested in. Whatever will make Johnny be Johnny. All this backed up by parental support and stimulation via home schooling packs provided by the course. But ultimately Johnny takes responsibility for himself, for his learning, based on what he actually wants to learn! At the end of it all Johnny will turn out to be a fully fledged individual human with knowledge and skills personal to only him which he can combine to create a life long fiscally and mentally profitable career. He can carry on doing as many courses as he likes, at whatever age he likes, whenever he feels it’s needed. He may take a job at McDonalds whilst he is fulfilling himself individually, but mentally he is challenged, awake, alive! He will probably think up something to pay the bills through his learned skills until he reaches the place he calls his creative home. He is celebrated for being him, by him, by society, and only he is responsible, with a great deal of support from his parents, just as they were.

A common theme seems to be recurring here, that of responsibility. Our nanny state cuddles all small humans to its breast and virtually snatches the child away from the parent at birth. Some parents seem perfectly happy with this situation, allowing their children to be brought up and educated by complete strangers, whilst the child’s desperately trying to hang on to the little semblance of reason consisting of the fact it was born to this one person but now isn’t the responsibility of that person. The lesson learnt: you don’t have to take responsibility for your actions or the consequences of those actions. Sound familiar?

Within this current societal orb though we must persist with the system that constrains us, but whether we get our kicks from servicing others, calculating fiscal projections, or making uniform dry yet soggy burgers, or whether we live just for the weekend while the week days melt into one, we can be responsible for our own mental and physical creative environment if we can only believe that we are capable of doing so.

“If we come back to truth, the truth is about if we could only understand each other’s truths a little better and see where we’re all coming from the world would be a much better place, and if we can mouth stuff about love and yet reject and condemn others for what they believe then I think we don’t understand the meaning of the word love. We haven’t got anywhere near to this yet.” – Anglican Deaconess

Conform! This is Education.

The current education system puts emphasis on bashing individuality out of those new to being human and instilling conformity. We are all grouped according to age, rather than ability or interests. We are told that deviation from the norm is not allowed and shall be punished. We are taught that only certain jobs, certain paths will deem you a successful person. We are battered and admonished creatively and mentally until we leave school at 16 having been transformed into some kind of Borg. Any intrinsic interests you had, especially creative ones, have been stifled into a little box named ‘hobbies’. Successful little you then has to decide what form your future success will take and then, at the age of 16 – barely alive yet – you must decide what trade you will do until you die. It makes about as much sense as an honest politician!

And so the mental stress begins. This is no kind of environment for creativity, let alone the fulfilment of a person’s full potential. Surely this is all back to front? How can a person possibly know who they are, never mind what trade they want to pursue, if they’re never taught about themselves, about what it is to be human, the differences, the reasons why, the psych of our species?

Why do we find it so hard to concentrate on understanding our inner psych? Well, we’re never taught to use our brains at school for one thing. In her recent Edinburgh show (soon to be toured in theatres) Ruby Wax talks about not being given a manual for life, for living, how to do it. She’s right of course. Where do we get taught how our brains work? Wouldn’t that be a useful thing to understand? The process of learning, for example. How people learn, how a human learns. How about how to teach someone else? Doesn’t matter what, just how to teach, following on from your understanding of how people learn, and therefore why people are as they are. Or why people get depressed, why people want to belong to groups, how statistics work, how to read a scientific paper, how to analyse text, a speech, a complex financial/emotional/political situation, how to deal with life! When will we be taught how to do life? When are we ever taught how to and why to think at school? I mean how to think in a broad sense. Thinking is the basis of everything, yet our brain is the least explained thing. This understanding, I would argue, is more fundamental than even A, B, C or 1 + 1 = 2.

I agree everything up to the end of primary school is useful: how to talk, how to add up, how to spell, how to write, all the basics of communication and physical doing. Everything after that only serves to break down your personality, stamp on it, ensure your confidence is non-existent and then attempt to build it all up into some form of acceptable human according to current societal values. How boring. What a really boring human race we have become. Of all the things we, individually, and therefore collectively, could be capable of and we deem success to be how well you fit in, how high your salary is, how expensive your car is, how much breeding you’re capable of, and the location in which you choose to exist. I cannot even bring myself to say this is living.

Is this why there are ever increasing rows of council houses springing up with eight month pregnant girls waiting eagerly to start their new existence, ever perpetuating their family definition of ‘success’ in a world that won’t accept a non-mainstream human into its ‘freedom for all’ arms?

For instance, when I was at that delicate stage in life, younger than I am now, I was interested and enjoyed writing and art. Full stop. But when it came to art at school I hated it. Mainly because I was made to draw/paint/batik things I wasn’t interested in. I loved to draw faces, still life, and horrific monsters. When I was ‘made’ to do painting I chose to make political statements about homelessness or the environment (not that I knew that’s what I was doing, they were just subjects that touched my heart). My drawings were good, and I enjoyed doing them. My art teacher was into abstracts, and so decided to label me in my end of year report as ‘a copier’ because when given the choice I would pick still life to draw during art lesson time (mainly because it was an accessible subject to do in a 90 minute time frame). My mother took exception to this by telling the not-long-graduated-from-art school-failed-then-did-teaching-certificate art teacher that perhaps if they took us out and showed us something different then we might be inspired. Even after the eighth trip to an art gallery I wasn’t that much more inspired than I had been previously. It had only served to tell me that I wasn’t as good as many, many others out there, so why bother? I’d much rather have spent those long six hour days, which consisted mostly of humping a rucksack round flights of endless stairs endowed with 18th Century fruit, drawing something I chose.

As it turned out I did draw what I chose. I did what I chose in art and in many other lessons. Even when I was excluded for three days as punishment for doing what I chose they put me in a room on my own and gave me artwork to do! Three days of heaven! I drew the most horrific skull I could for my GCSE submission (an apt word if ever there was), I suppose as a proverbial ‘fuck you’ to my scholastic superiors. I ended up with a B.

But to be honest the school had done its job. By the time I left I got the impression that I wasn’t any good at art or writing after all, or anything for that matter. I wasn’t submissively creative enough, I was a failure at even that, so I may as well give up hope of doing anything I’m interested in or passionate about. So I stopped being interested and started being scared of life, as viewed through the eyes of a failure (the bullying didn’t help either). It is only now, at 34, that I am really getting back into both things I intrinsically loved when I was a small human. Having wasted many years trying to please society, family, peers, superiors, gain friends, lovers, respect, I am now starting to feel comfortable and confident enough in myself to say if you don’t like it, fuck off; I like it, and that is all there is. And I’ve found that a lot of other people do like it too. People I never knew existed, my kindred spirits, near to me and far away. And thanks to social networking I can keep in touch with them and perpetuate my inspiration. Why didn’t I know of you when I needed your acceptance, when I needed your enthusiasm to inspire my confidence? Oh yes, I was at bloody school.