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‘Fragments of Inheritance’ by Karin Heyer (Fragment 3, FreeSpace #3)

17 Dec

Fragments

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‘Whatever else it is autobiography is not non-fiction’

(Timothy Dow Adams, Modern Fiction Studies, 40)

Welcome to Karin’s last FreeSpace on ArtiPeeps  in which she has been exploring the relationship between autobiography and fiction through her own autobiographical story ‘Fragments of Inheritance’. Within her three slots on ArtiPeeps she has offered up, in sequence, a part of her story along with an audio reflection of her response to the particular fragment that we have featured. This week it’s Fragment 3 and the concluding part of her story. Karin lived through a very particular part of European history (WWII) and her work engages with very significant subject matter that is universally meaningful and individually personal. We hope you enjoy Karin’s last exploration.

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Fragments of Inheritance

Fragment 3

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She needed distraction from her thoughts. She chose to go to the City of Ely and visit Ely Cathedral. Along the winding road to this ancient place, suddenly, this magical building rises out of the flat landscape on the right-hand side and after a while the road bends and then strangely the cathedral appears to be on the other side of the road!!! There she is, Ely Cathedral, story of survival, beautiful and wise. She enters with a serious heart, it is Remembrance Day. She walks to the Octagon, turns left into the heart of the place reaching the ‘Showcases of Remembrance’, where on this day the letter ‘M’ mourns the lives of soldiers who lost their lives in WW2.

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She lights a candle and remembers them.

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living for the evidence of remembrance 1995
mourning: the dead
madness of persecution
lunacy of war
the irreparable destruction of children in war
disrespect for the preciousness of human
life of all kind
forgive or not forgive
but tell your story of that dark time
for the sake of time to come.

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 You can find Fragment 1 here and Fragment 2 here

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Biography

I was born on the 4th of November 1937, just one day before Gun-powder Day! So, I celebrated my entrance with a BANG, yet far away from England then, in fact, in Leipzig, Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Leipzig in Saxony became part of East-Germany, which I left, illegally, in 1953. My family and I settled in West-Berlin, where I went to High-School, when finished there I left Berlin for Cambridge, England. I was a student of English for a while, took a BA Honours Degree in European Thought and Literature and English History at Anglia Polytechnic University, where I also took a MA in Women’s Studies with a Dissertation on German History. I became a teacher of the German Language,Literature and History during my working life. I have now retired from teaching and find myself writing, reading and enjoying life to the full.

As yet Karin does not have a website, but you can make contact with Karin via ArtiPeeps through the comment box on this post or contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page.

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* FreeSpace offers any creative or group from any discipline  3 post slots on ArtiPeeps which can be taken in sequence or in a cluster for showcasing, self-expression or projects (encouraged). If you are interested in taking up a FreeSpace slot in our next run of work please do get in contact via the comment box or contact form on the What’s On Page  You’d be welcomed.

‘Fragments of Inheritance’ by Karin Heyer (Fragment 2, FreeSpace #2)

11 Dec

Fragments

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‘Whatever else it is autobiography is not non-fiction’

(Timothy Dow Adams, Modern Fiction Studies, 40)

Welcome to Karin’s second  FreeSpace on ArtiPeeps  in which she is going to be exploring the relationship between autobiography and fiction through her own autobiographical story ‘Fragments of Inheritance’. Within her three slots on ArtiPeeps she will be offering up, in sequence, a part of her story along with an audio reflection of her response to the particular fragment that we have featured. This week it’s Fragment 2. Karin lived through a very particular part of European history (WWII) and her work engages with very significant subject matter that is universally meaningful and individually personal. We hope you enjoy Karin’s exploration.

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Fragments of Inheritance

Fragment 2

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Now she returned to Leipzig after an absence of 34 years. She is on her way to visit a friend to whom she only had written or sent parcels at Christmas-time, because that was all she could do. The car turned a corner, here she was: Karl-Liebknecht-Srasse, 91, Leipzig, Germany, we are one country again. One country. East-Germany had seized to exist, but the houses and the ruins told a different story. Hitler’s legacy was still visible here and she recalled the horrors of war, the Holocaust, the destruction of men, women and children of all races, beliefs and talents, whose lives she mourned.

This was not a country of which she could be proud.

She greeted her friend with a full heart. She talked, but she was burning to see the centre of the city again. She wanted to discover her childhood at will. She wanted to meet the long-buried other. She walked along the streets, where she knew she had experienced this architecture before, saw the trams rattling along, ‘kling’, ‘kling’. She does not take a tram, she savours the walk, she fathoms the atmosphere, slowly reaching the centre of her birthplace. She stands bemused on the Karl-Marx-Platz, the clock is on the hour, sombre bells suddenly sound, hit her ear: the bell-ringers strike the hour. Back, back, backwards I go. I stood here before! I have heard these bells long ago. Yes, when I was little, just seven years old, 1944. I remember this song, this melody of bells. I glide backwards into my past. It was war then, when peoples purple blood burst, bells weep, where she learned the meaning of ‘Angst’.

And there she was once again amidst a familiar sound-scape and heavy inheritance, facing her fears still living and breathing in the Now, still vivid, visceral…

…and all the memories and circumstance melted through once again…

Cellars of Fear

This 4. December 1944, NIGHT, sounds of sirens, get the children, house shaking, lights fade, people running into cellars, trying to save their lives.

I choke because of smoke in the cellar, the cellar an awesome place, huge pipes run through it, modern technology – a central heating system, it could burst.

It is utter darkness, will I get out of this cauldron of misery seven years old, having lost a just war against Hitler when I was born in 1937. Evil starting under the guise of progress in 1939.

I am still speechless now in 1995, thinking of cruelty, the holocaust, suffering that need not be.

My memories of war are horrific: stifling smoke in the cellar, my granny-aged, my baby-sister in pram not conceiving this lunacy or innocence conceiving lunacy, my mother trying to rescue some possessions from our home above burning. An old man – not fit for fighting in the war came to our cellar. He took me into his arms, carried me covered with a wet sack through the burning streets of Leipzig. All streets around us burning houses, full of lives trying to survive. Flying burning beams fell beside our distracted heads seeking safety in a street blocks away which did not burn yet. No thought of my mother, sister, grandmother, just being saved for some saner place in this burning inferno. My mother, baby-sister, grandmother were saved the same way.

All I can remember are cellars of fear, but escaping into what? What kind of life could there be after that.

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Yes, what life? This burning inferno was deeply buried into her subconscious. But now she must live forwards. A sun-beam struck her, today there was a blue, kind sky above her, the dominant sky of the Fens of East-Anglia, where she now lived.

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Biography

I was born on the 4th of November 1937, just one day before Gun-powder Day! So, I celebrated my entrance with a BANG, yet far away from England then, in fact, in Leipzig, Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Leipzig in Saxony became part of East-Germany, which I left, illegally, in 1953. My family and I settled in West-Berlin, where I went to High-School, when finished there I left Berlin for Cambridge, England. I was a student of English for a while, took a BA Honours Degree in European Thought and Literature and English History at Anglia Polytechnic University, where I also took a MA in Women’s Studies with a Dissertation on German History. I became a teacher of the German Language,Literature and History during my working life. I have now retired from teaching and find myself writing, reading and enjoying life to the full.

As yet Karin does not have a website, but you can make contact with Karin via ArtiPeeps through the comment box on this post or contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page.

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Karin will be returning with Fragment 3 of ‘Fragments of Inheritance’ on Tuesday 17th December.

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* FreeSpace offers any creative or group from any discipline  3 post slots on ArtiPeeps which can be taken in sequence or in a cluster for showcasing, self-expression or projects (encouraged). If you are interested in taking up a FreeSpace slot in our next run of work please do get in contact via the comment box or contact form on the What’s On Page  You’d be welcomed.

‘Fragments of Inheritance’ by Karin Heyer (Fragment 1, FreeSpace #1)

4 Dec

Fragments

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‘Whatever else it is autobiography is not non-fiction’

(Timothy Dow Adams, Modern Fiction Studies, 40)

Welcome to Karin’s first FreeSpace on ArtiPeeps  in which she is going to be exploring the relationship between autobiography and fiction through her own autobiographical story ‘Fragments of Inheritance’. Within her three slots on ArtiPeeps she will be offering up, in sequence, a part of her story along with an audio reflection of her response to the particular fragment that we have featured. Karin lived through a very particular part of European history (WWII) and her work engages with very significant subject matter that is universally meaningful and individually personal. We hope you enjoy Karin’s exploration.

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Fragments of Inheritance

Fragment 1

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‘standing in the shadow of Hitler

born 1937

condemned 1939, just two years old

attempting redemption 1983

living for the evidence of remembrance 1995′

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She was born with a heavy inheritance. She felt her moon-baked icy heart wanting to melt the shock of recognition of deeds done between 1939 – 1945. That scar rested upon her. This bloody war weighed on her creating a violent hatred of war within her heart. This in turn nurtured a deep love of peace, and fueled her need to work for reconciliation between the two nations she most cherished, England and Germany.

Now, she lives in England.

It was a splendid, warm early spring morning when she looked around her sun-lit room, a milky way of memories rushing through her: her books standing upright as a witness of times gone by, like friends in certain hours of need; a still candle of remembrance burning; a piece of rock , insignificant to look at, but it is a tiny part of ‘The Berlin Wall’ coming down in 1989, a precious symbol of an irrepressible need for freedom. This forceful voice of resistance still echoed in her mind. ‘ Totalitarianism can only be defeated if many people unite and fight against it.’ The word-call still had meaning.

Much courage rushed through Europe and Germany on that day she never thought she would ever see. The 9th November 1989. Freedom had triumphed, ‘The Wall’ had fallen. The Berlin-Wall was a sight of joy. She witnessed the coming together of people who had been visibly forced apart for 28 years. These amazing days had an almost dream-like quality.

She suddenly believes in miracles! Leipzig, too, where she was born, had become an active instrument in the struggle for freedom. The ‘Monday Demonstrations’, which had began in September continue. The door of the ‘Nikolai Church’ long open to the people of Leipzig before the heated autumn days of 1989 had become the symbol for peaceful gathering of men and women. This House of God was: open for all After many years of oppression it was possible to say: we want free elections; we are the instruments of peace; we are standing here; down with the Stasi; we are the people; the ‘Wall’ must go. It was in Leipzig where history was turned up-side down. And it all happened peacefully. ‘I write and think as a woman against war, I write and think as a woman for peace’. The word-call still had meaning.

Yes, she remembered it all so well, these heady days. She was now able to return to the place where she was born without visas or other difficulties.

**

She is now sitting in a car moving forwards, being driven from a small town, Pottenstein in West-Germany, to Leipzig in the former East-Germany. The landscape near the industrial town Karl-Marx-Stadt, now Chemnitz again was grey, the fields with their products are covered by a faint, shadowy substance, which came from factories, where no concerns for the environment reigned. The smell of the ‘Trabi’, with its two-stroke engine hung in the air, but no Stasidogs were barking. She could not believe that this was real, but it was! There grew an awareness of time having stood still, arrested under a regime that thousands of people had fled from in the hope of finding a better life, like she had done. As a young girl she had left Leipzig illegally from East-Germany to West-Berlin, and later, moved on for England, off to Cambridge.

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Biography

I was born on the 4th of November 1937, just one day before Gun-powder Day! So, I celebrated my entrance with a BANG, yet far away from England then, in fact, in Leipzig, Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Leipzig in Saxony became part of East-Germany, which I left, illegally, in 1953. My family and I settled in West-Berlin, where I went to High-School, when finished there I left Berlin for Cambridge, England. I was a student of English for a while, took a BA Honours Degree in European Thought and Literature and English History at Anglia Polytechnic University, where I also took a MA in Women’s Studies with a Dissertation on German History. I became a teacher of the German Language,Literature and History during my working life. I have now retired from teaching and find myself writing, reading and enjoying life to the full.

As yet Karin does not have a website, but you can make contact with Karin via ArtiPeeps through the comment box on this post or contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page.

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Karin will be returning with Fragment 2 of ‘Fragments of Inheritance on Thursday 12th December.

* FreeSpace offers any creative or group from any discipline  3 post slots on ArtiPeeps which can be taken in sequence or in a cluster for showcasing, self-expression or projects (encouraged). If you are interested in taking up a FreeSpace slot in our next run of work please do get in contact via the comment box or contact form on the What’s On Page  You’d be welcomed.

Poetry for Personal Change: Discovery and Wholeness

19 Aug

poetry-river

Poetry for Personal Change: Discovery and Wholeness

by Miranda Barnes

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Part of my current research is exploring how the subjective, human experience creates this place within poetry that is “both.” Both a place of mystery, permeable and open, shifting like a ghost. A place where we receive. But also simultaneously a place that insists on precision, microscopic focus, finding the exact way to say a thing, so fiercely accurate that it is not repeatable. Clarity and accuracy meeting what cannot be pinned down, on the head of a pin.

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Something happens at the meeting point, a dialogue between the hemispheres of the brain. A dialogue between mind and spirit. A place where our connections increase, both within ourselves and to the world around us.

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I have heard it said that the creative impulse begins with the hunger for, or attraction to, what is beautiful. While passion for beauty is certainly a part of the truth for most creatives, I find that what is more powerful is the hunger for meaning. Meaning and significance. Meaning-making is the business of poetry, and when we connect to this meaning within ourselves, we find significance.

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Poetry, and more broadly literature, has always offered more than just the benefit of something to read. From encounters with good literature, good poems, we find ourselves altered and awake to the dilemmas of human existence. Through adjacency with the stories of others we view our own significance, within the expansiveness of life. And the way a poem condenses meaning into the boldest, most impossibly true little mouthful of language, this leads us to eureka. Through the discovery of something so true, so profound, we find out just how big and how small we are at once.

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I wouldn’t be the first to assert that exposure to the arts and humanities gives people a renewed sense of individual purpose and meaning. But in a current world climate where the importance of these studies seems to be declining, it’s even more urgent point out their powerful affects on people’s lives. One example comes out of Stanford University in California. Their Program in Ethics in Society offers humanities courses in the arts, philosophy, and history to residents of Hope House, an addiction treatment and recovery facility for women. The residents here learn the stories of historical female figures such as Emily Dickinson, Hildegard of Bingen, and Sojourner Truth.

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The impact of these courses on the participants goes much further than traditional addiction treatment alone. Through the study of humanities subject matter the Hope House students encounter ethical dilemmas and philosophical questions, encouraging deep thinking and interaction with their own humanity. Over the course of the studies, each of these women are able to see herself as more than just an addict or an alcoholic, a shamed or reduced self, but again as a whole person. Rob Reich, who is a Stanford professor and director of the program, says of the course’s impact: “Because ‘the  humanities revolve around questions every human being grapples with,’ study of humanities subjects creates ‘a sense of possibility and agency that many [of the Hope House students] haven’t experienced in a long time.’”

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Poetry specifically does accomplish something unique. The way poetry is composed, both in the context of its musicality (the meter and rhythm) and also its often surprising use of language, has an intriguing effect on the brain. It very literally spikes the brain’s electrical activity. In new research from Liverpool University, reported on by the Telegraph in January of this year, exciting brain imaging studies were done on readers who read passages of poetry and literary prose, versus more simplified prose with the same meaning.

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The scans revealed that areas of intense brain activity lit up in both sides of the brain: the left part concerned with language, as expected, but also areas of the right hemisphere that relate to autobiographical memory. What this activity in the brain suggests, in response to the poetic language, is that poetry triggers what are called “reappraisal mechanisms.” These cause the reader to reflect on his or her own personal experiences and think of them in a new way, in light of what they are reading. The leaders of this research, including scientists, psychologists and English academics, plan further brain imaging study using the work of additional poets. Hope is that there will be real evidence of a therapeutic benefit to poetry that could be applied in future treatment. Philip Davis, Professor of English at Liverpool University and one of the university’s academics who has worked on the study, says of the study’s implications: “This is an argument for serious language in serious literature for serious human situations, instead of self-help books or the easy reads that merely reinforce predictable opinions and conventional self-images.” Clearly many different methods of treatment and therapy are needed across the board for the large spectrum of individuals who require it, but this research sheds light on poetry’s potential role in the future.

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Poet and neuroscientist Sean Haldane (more officially a clinical neuropsychologist for the NHS) has been practicing in the fields of psychology and neuropsychology for many decades. However, he has been a poet for even longer, and amidst an interesting time for official poetry posts in the UK, he was interviewed for The Guardian’s Observer column . Therein he discussed the power of poetry to change an individual.

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Haldane works primarily now assessing diseases of memory and dementia, but was trained in Reichian psychoanalytic therapy and has written a psychological crisis handbook called Emotional First Aid. In spite of his many years of professional practice, he seems to know that poetry has a strength that does even deeper: “In fact, I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy. If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.”

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A further point of interest that Haldane mentions in this interview regarding the neuroscience of poetry is that a poem may activate the same portions of the brain that react when a child experiences separation from its mother, “A deep sense of separation and longing.” Perhaps there might even be some poems that activate a sense of recognition, or of reunion, of closure. Hopefully future studies will continue to examine the ways that our brains respond to poetry, and maybe even what occurs in the writing of a poem.

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While Haldane wouldn’t recommend poetry at a therapeutic practice (“Never.”), nor would many folk (both participants as well as practitioner) suggest that poetry is any sort of replacement for therapy, there is something to its power. I am just beginning to dig into the many ways that poetry finds its way to the heart behind the mind, or through. But both writers and readers of poetry have always known the impact of a powerful poem to change their lives.

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For some, the act of writing poetry has been a significant part of therapy, and possibly the most successful component. A reporter for the BBC’s  coverage in Iraq, journalist Patrick Howse found poetry a primary part of his pathway to healing through episodes of acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he developed while in the war zones of Iraq. He was recently featured on PoetryZoo.com discussing how the act of writing his poems, by articulating his experiences and giving them representation, allowed him to process the trauma that he was constantly reliving.

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For Patrick Howse, the process of writing poetry was pivotal to him making sense of what happened to him, the events and images that lead to his constant state of sleeplessness and fear. By combining images of his own making with the feelings experienced in the traumatic events, and by aligning these images to the images from reality that he took in, he was able to come to terms with something that penetrated his world so vitally. Because of the intimacy that poetry can offer us with ourselves, this pathway to understanding can be incredibly healing.

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Howse refers to a quote by UK poet Cecil Day-Lewis which is personally significant to him: “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” He says he wrote his poems for himself, in order to understand, first and foremost.

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I personally object to Day-Lewis when it comes to the notion that we do not write in order to be understood, but only to understand. The creative act is a combination of both. In fact, a great deal of what comes with the human need for connection is that very thing: to be understood. The pathway to healing for many necessitates increased connection to find wholeness.

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Sherwin Nuland, American surgeon, author, and professor of bioethics at Yale, has written a number of books examining the mysteries of the human body and the processes endured at death, among many other celebrated texts. In How We Die, Nuland shares personal stories of his life, including that of his grandmother. He received many letters from readers thanking him for this inclusion, as they saw someone of their own in her description. From this experience, he found that “The more personal you are and the more intimate you are willing to be about the details of your own life, the more universal you are.” And while Nuland is not a poet, what he says rings true for what makes poetry so powerful: personal experience.

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In an interview with the renowned Krista Tippett, published in the lovely collection of her interviews titled Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, Sherwin Nuland speaks candidly about what he has found to be pivotal to every human soul. He says that once a person can recognize that the experience of pain, and the human response to pain, is universal, there’s a shift. A recognition. Understanding. And with this, we change how we treat each other, and move toward healing. As Nuland puts it, “You know what everybody needs? You want to put it into a single word? Everybody needs to be understood.”

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Indeed. And couldn’t poetry bring us closer to recognizing each other?

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To be understood is to be recognized. To be recognized, by yourself and by others, pulls you from a one-dimensional, reduced existence to a three-dimensional creature bestowed with possibility. And how important it is to find pathways to this wholeness. In both the acts of reading and writing of poetry, there is certainly much to be gained by the participant.

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One cannot say that all poetry can produce a certain effect, or accomplish a specific thing or set of things. Some poetry is certainly more successful than others at creating that moment that I call “the punch in the gut,” the moment of visceral recognition that, for me, so often precipitates the instant of being changed. But a truly good poem at the right time can certainly be a powerful catalyst for transformation.

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Jane Hirshfield, one of my favorite poets writing today, is author to a magnificent book of essays titled Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, which deftly investigates the art and craft of poetry and the depths of our interaction with it. In the first essay, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration,” Hirshfield strikes at the heart of some of poetry’s power:

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“Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections…It begins, that is, in the body and mind of concentration.” She clarifies: “By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.”

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The concentration that poetry requires is a wakefulness of mind and spirit, an alert consciousness, an attentiveness to the connection to everything in the self and outside the self. A willingness to receive, a lack of rigidity. This sort of duality is part of the secret of poetry, these seemingly opposing states of being intently focused, precise, but also an openness. And isn’t this mindset the perfect place to allow oneself to be changed?

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Hirchfield also says this of poetic concentration: “In the whole-heartedness of concentration, the world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.” Possibility and agency are a natural part of the mind of concentration.

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Our participation in poetry offers the promising possibility of finding a place where we cohere the parts of ourselves and simultaneously, a place of enlarging of our own possibilities. But maybe what makes poetry so powerful is that the thread of it comes in through the mind with language, words that make meaning out of our perceptions, but the whispers to us gently to engage us in a way that can be deeply unexplainable. Like knowing. Like being. Poetry, good poetry, can change us. Sometimes right when and where we need to be changed.

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You can follow Miranda on Twitter here:

https://twitter.com/petalsandflames

‘Keep Your Chin Up’

1 Jul

keep_your_chin_up_by_bloobat101-d39okbe

 

‘Express yourself in as many ways as possible without fear. There is nothing to fear,. There is nobody who is going to punish or reward you. Express your being in its truest form, in its natural flow, you will be rewarded immediately, not tomorrow but today, here and now…. ‘(Osho, The Book of Understanding)

‘Sometimes the best way to express yourself is to shut up and stay quiet’ (Nicky, aged 13)

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I was 13. There was a knock on the front door of my house and I rushed down the hallway to open it. It was a Summer’s day, and the door swung open to reveal  podgy, kind-hearted Frida our next door neighbour standing brightly silhouetted in the frame of the door.  I was in my mid- teens at the time, quiet, and’ shy as a church mouse’ and going through a very, very difficult time. The last thing I wanted in the world, IN -THE -WORLD was lovely kind, caring Frida being nice to me.  I just stood there and watched her and it seemed like an age, even though it was probably merely a beat. As I watched her it was like her mouth was in slow-mo, every syllable stretched out, elongated. As I watched her gloopy mouth I didn’t say a word, I kept ‘stum’ and waited until the clammy feeling of vulnerability and shame vanished. Then she smiled at me, dusted down, cleared her throat and said:

‘How are things? Alright?’

I said nothing.

She smiled.

I just kept on staring down.

She sighed, she shuffled her feet again, breathed in, waited a bit and said:

‘Keep You’re chin up dear’, a whispy smile quickly retracting as she saw me start to tear up,  and she turned away in a swirl of do-goodery and swept off down the road.

As Frida left  I just continued to stand and stare watching her walk up the street and something inside me seemed to zip up for good. It was the final straw, and from that moment and for a good long while into the future,  I let any need of mine to express to just stay inside, to just stay within.

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A Ponderance:

Sometimes it is easier to keep the words inside, to not communicate and to let the words rest within. This can be a form of expression  and a creative act. Sometimes words aren’t enough to say what you feel;  or they are not the right words; not the right words to describe the complexity of your situation,  dream or fantasy. Sometimes one can’t find the right words,  to express that particular emotion deep within or to communicate that circumstance to someone else who cares.

Up until that point in time, I had always written down what I was feeling, that’s how I kept myself safe. I expressed myself on paper because I had never really been good at communicating orally. Saying things out loud made things more real and I don’t think I liked that. It was easier to write down that I wasn’t okay than to say it , have it out there vibrationally and in front of someone who was a kind soul and who cared. And as I said previously, I’m not sure what it was about her words at that present moment but for a long while I sealed up for good and that was okay. Even today, looking back, it was the right thing to do.

In an age where we are told that self-expression and emoting are good for us; that it’s important to express like Osho says ‘everything and without fear’; to communicate with clarity and with individuality, to put it out there and to put it out there with gusto, it becomes very difficult to choose silence (and to be okay with that), or to choose not to write for a while; or to express nothing at all (what ever your ‘nothing’  is).

Now admittedly in the  scenario above I was a child (to all intents and purposes) and I couldn’t have really expressed myself with any great clarity even if I had wanted to;  I didn’t have the lexical and verbal skills I have now for starters.  But I  do remember that in that moment I did make a choice. I chose not to mould and shape what was going on in my inside and put it out there for her. I remember choosing.

How we express, what we express and to whom we express is a choice, an act of  either sometimes the intellect or the soul.  And what I mean by that is expression can be sourced from what is in our heart or what is formulated through reason and is in our heads. As children because we haven’t developed our vocabularies or our reasoning power we create and communicate from a unformed, intuitive place, a place that is perhaps more brave and unprocessed. There’s may be no worry, no prevaricating before we act. As adults most of our forms of expression are processed and sorted and cultivated and honed so we protect ourselves.

Now I write relatively regularly, and I don’t mean I sit at my desk tossing off sonnets and short stories on a daily basis, nothing like that, but every day I consider what matters to me. I don’t call it journaling, it isn’t journaling, its more of a written practice. It’s not a stream of consciousness either. It’s more of a list of fundamentals that I check in with.  I try and express something about my world and how I receive and respond to it. I try and communicate something that hasn’t been edited to death or constrained. It’s easy for me to do the cultivated, clever-clever stuff.  It’s how I used to protect myself.  But I’d rather be connected to something different now. That isn’t to say, I don’t enjoy creating something that is cultivated and honed but  I’m just saying that expression can be attached to something less formalised, something totally individualised that doesn’t necessarily have to even be communicated. To withhold is one way to express. To be silent (like teen Nicky) can be as potent a means of expression as a writerly or artistic roar.

The ‘Frida’s’ of this world who stand before you when you are in need but have chosen not to communicate, maybe don’t need to know the subtly and the specifics behind your reasons to not express in that moment, at that time.  And even if you did express it,  the reality is that maybe people don’t really want to know what is really going on or maybe can’t even take it.   Maybe, it’s easier to fling out a truism than to respond to someone who has had all their words taken away from them; it’s sometimes  easier to turn your back away from an act of creative silence than it is to greet it and meet it in its truest form.

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N.b . I wrote this piece several weeks ago and reading it back today I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to get at, if I’m honest. It feels difficult to truly define what the correlation is between my childhood memory and its difficulty and the need for me to relate this to expression in a wider sense. I’m slightly at a loss and it leaves me pondering but I thought I’d post it anyway.

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The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark From Memory

17 Jun

The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark from Memory

by Ray Bentley

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When Nicky asked me to write something for Artipeeps I was thrilled, even though I didn’t have a clue what I could possibly say that would hold anyone’s interest for 2,000 words. I had a look at the blog and there was any number of posts from people about their personal testimony or their artistic practice which I didn’t feel I could match, simply because my own biography and working methods seem utterly dreary by comparison. My first thought was that I should write something called “What is Art For?”, but this was quickly dismissed by partner as the kind of arid mumbling that had been done a million times before on art blogs.

“I know:”, he said. “Why not write about Mark?”.

“That’s not really relevant”, I said.

“No”, he said, “but he is interesting. Why not draw him as well? It’ll be a good exercise.”

The latter would be a challenge, given that Mark made it a rule never to have his photograph taken and that he’s been dead for ten years, but I thought I’d give it a go. I did draw him once before, a long time ago; he commissioned me to do a pen and ink drawing of him at his prime, but that’s long-lost now.

When I settled on Mark as a subject, I was presented with two new problems: firstly, how could I do justice to his extraordinary life, and, more worryingly, how could I do it in so few words?

I wasn’t sure, so I delegated that part of the task to my partner (who’s also called Mark), which means that everything you’ve read so far – and everything you’re about to read – has been written by him (seeing as it was his smart idea). All I did was talk into his voice recorder for an hour and a half, and do some drawings.

Mark was twenty five when we first met, and although he’d reached the pinnacle of his working life a few years previously, the long, elegant decline I saw him play out was as compelling as anything I’d missed. I was eighteen, fresh from the provinces, and he immediately offered me the first of the many stark bon mots which would become his trademark over the years.

“Raymond, darling” he said, with a swish of his dinner-plate hands “if ever you are ill, simply disappear, and come back when you’re well. Aaand – if you have any problems, don’t even think for a moment of sharing them with anyone, because they won’t want to know”.

For the rest of his life he continued to hide behind this ineffable mask, and while he steadfastly refused to advertise his frailties, he never gave himself the time to flaunt his successes either; I only found out from a friend years later, for example, that while peers, dignitaries and heads of state were forced to walk from the cordons to Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day, Mark had been limousined from palace to palace to spray the hair and fix the coronets of the world’s aristocracy. Not-yet twenty-one, and under the soubriquet of Mr M (or “Lil” to his closest customers), he’d become the best-placed commoner at the last hurrah of the greatest empire, without even breaking into a sweat.

If ambition had ever been a part of Mark’s make-up, he hid that well too. As far as I know he’d left his native Cardiff as a teenage hairdresser to move to Manchester after catching the eye of Helena Rubenstein, before quickly heading to London, Paris and then London again to find himself teasing the locks of Queen Mary and Princess Margaret before he was old enough to vote, and without that much in the way of effort.

So: in the absence of any palpable hunger, what was it that tossed a working class boy from South Wales to these heights so quickly? I’m not really sure, but I think it was the combination of his impeccable, unforced manners, his beguiling confidence and, more than anything, his looks that taxied him into polite society, blessed as he was with the pompadour, the quixotic flounce, the traffic-stopping nose, the ambiguous physique and the sheer height that would, by turns, disarm, mesmerise or reassure everyone who met him.

Looking back, now, however, I can see how the same un-neediness occasionally informed against him. Had he been more career-minded I feel sure that he would have found it in himself not to throw a chair at one of his more celebrated clients after her late arrival to an appointment. His inevitable dismissal as a result of this naturally curtailed his trajectory, but after retreating to Cardiff to let the dust settle he was quickly lured to London afresh by Oxxxxxx just before they moved to Knightsbridge.

So: less than two years after his expulsion he was preening the elite again, just as his sins were slipping from polite memory, and with the instinct and renewed energy to try something new.

Wigs had slipped out of fashion in the 1920’s, but with the advent of new technology, greater prosperity, and some fledgling interest on the continent, Mark decided that he would bring the revival to the London, and he successfully and somewhat doggedly re-introduced the capital to a passion for hairpieces that would last well into the sixties.

This was another of his unique qualities: he could learn his way into a position of unparalleled expertise on whatever appealed to him at any given time: wigs, clocks, antiques, quadrophonic sound, chimpanzees, his Borzois, exotic African gentlemen or Lord Byron (whose style he comprehensively appropriated) , and this always kept adversity at bay long enough for him to keep the Mark industry ticking over. Such was his authority on the aforesaid poet that he was consulted by Peter Hall – director of the West End première of “Camino Real” – to ensure that the young Robert Hardy played him with exactly the right hair colour.

His passions weren’t always so durable, however. He returned his chimp to Harrods just hours after its purchase when it became evident that the constant screeching and poo-throwing would play havoc with his hosting prowess.

He was also blessed with a selective practicality which, to all but Mark, appeared utterly extraordinary: for example, he thought it perfectly natural that everyone should have at least one overgrown fingernail for those times when there wasn’t a screwdriver to hand. He also thought it was the obvious career move, when, aged just twenty, he received a series of injections from a doctor boyfriend which successfully protected him from hereditary baldness, even if it meant that he’d be forced to live with a pair of perfectly formed but debilitatingly substantial breasts for the next thirty years.

I can’t say exactly what it was that made him leave hairdressing in the early 1960’s, but he made a well-timed exit just before the kid-next-door renaissance of that era turned Mark’s brand of exoticism into a quaint impediment.

Mark’s first attempt at reinvention shrewdly mirrored the entrepreneurial hipness of that age, and he utilised his contacts within the music industry to repackage himself as The Mystery Singer. His plan was to release a beat version of “Come Into The Garden, Maude” which would be sang from behind a screen, upon which a back light would silhouette Mark’s unmistakable profile and trademark cigarette holder. Although he couldn’t actually sing a note he considered this wholly unimportant, as he was well aware that they could “do marvellous things in the studio” to rectify this. Unsurprisingly this project never came to fruition in the way he’d hoped, although the concept remains strangely compelling.

It’s from this point onwards that I lose track with the chronology of Mark’s life, because when he didn’t visit he would limit contact to occasional, superficial telephone calls if things were going either extremely well, or extremely poorly. Given that I hardly ever saw him, this will give you some idea of what lay ahead.

His father – who’d diligently tithed Mark’s earnings for over a decade to ensure he didn’t fritter everything away – moved to London from Cardiff in the sixties, and together they relied on Mark’s knowledge of clocks and his father’s engineering prowess to make a comfortable living – for a while, at least.

It was about this time that he also embarked his longest, but most unsuccessful career, as an inventor. His single-mindedness remained as formidable ever, but for the first time, perhaps, the world resisted Mark in ways he couldn’t negotiate. The financial pressure of retaining patents on his ideas, coupled with his unerring taste for the good life meant that his capital was eaten away, and he could do nothing as his better innovations were picked off one by one as his rights expired.

To an inventor, determination is as combustible as oxygen, and the drive that allows you to knock unflinchingly on a multitude of doors eventually blinds you to the limitations of the products you believe in – and invest in – the most.

In Mark’s case he came unstuck because of his unwavering belief that disposable, self-adhesive glove-pads for caterers and car mechanics were the future, and he spend a king’s ransom on research and development until it became clear that it would cost him too much to get his glue to both work effectively and reliably whilst also meeting unsurprisingly stringent trading standards.

A substantial inheritance and the generous returns from the sub-letting of a sitting tenancy in the heart of the West End kept things ticking over financially, and he was able to mask his adversity from the mavens of London life for well over a decade, during which time he continued to make some very important friends despite any tangible success in his professional life.

Consequently, he was invited onto “Clive Anderson Talks Back” in the mid-80s to talk about his inventions, and he proved so popular that he was hurried back for a repeat performance on a following episode.

This flurry of interest in both his ebullient charm and his unlikely devices coincided with the removal of his breasts, but instead of freeing him to enjoy his eminence, it precipitated a deterioration which made it almost impossible for him to fully savour the rest of his life. His demeanour never changed, however, and he remained as dashing, imposing and as infectious as ever, even if he could no longer walk without assistance.

The last time I saw him was about twelve years ago, and even though the money was all but gone, he was living in a grace and favour house in the sticks that was nothing less than palatial, and was able to call on the services of a housekeeper to tend the needs of Mark, his partner, his ever-decreasing circle of friends, and his two enormous Borzois. He talked about how he’d recently appeared on Esther Rantzen’s new daytime show, but was somewhat discomfited by the way in which he and his fellow inventors were now been presented as eccentrics worthy of nothing but ridicule.

Between this visit and his subsequent death, two years later, I spoke to Mark only sporadically. His telephone calls were short, breezy postcards which were as engaging and as occasionally infuriating as ever, but they were never long enough to betray the new realities of his life.

When I went to his sparsely attended funeral I found out that both the house and the housekeeper had been gone for some time, and that he, his partner and his pitifully out-sized dogs had been forced by penury into a council flat which was hardly big enough for one giant, let alone four. A handful of people – mostly local – paid their respects at his service, but there was only me there that knew the many truths about Mark that would otherwise have remained locked away, even from his partner.

The fifty-year-long sunset on his own private empire was finally over, and with it, another un-Google-able life had been lost to history. For all I’ve gone on, you still don’t even know the half of what he got up to.

From this point onwards Me – Ray – the narrator, and Mark (my partner) the writer, differ: given the colour and unthinking vitality of Mark’s life and my own experience of his outlandishness, I only see tragedy in his quiet end.

My partner, however, only sees triumph, given that almost every life, be it eventful or otherwise, usually ends with the same unseemly bathos. Mark, he claims, lived “to the max”, and he feels sure that were he presented with the circumstances of his late penury, death and quiet exit exit fifty years earlier, he would gladly have taken it in return for the richness of the life he was gifted.

I’ve attached three drawings I did of Mark: the first was a pencil sketch I did as a refresher; the second was a profile based on that and further recollections, and the third was a much more impressionistic rendering I did after this article had been written; none of them, it has to be said, do him justice. If, on your travels, you ever chance upon a pen/ink sketch of a tall, naked reclining man with pendulous breasts, spectacular cigarette holder and an even more spectacular male appendage then you’ll have completed the set, and you’ll have a much better visual analogue for what it was that made this man so unique.

So: in a roundabout way maybe I have addressed my initial conceit, and I’ve perhaps unintentionally demonstrated just what it is art is for and what it can aspire to. It can reach up to the condition of excellence that makes humans so special, even when they’re maddening, frustrating, inscrutable or just too plain big to be pinned down.

We will almost certainly fail to do that as artists, just as we invariably fail as humans to reach our full potential, but when it gets close to the truth, it’s always worthwhile.

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You can find more about Ray and his painting here:

>http://raymondbentley.com/

>https://twitter.com/bentleysaltburn>>

Who Are You Really?

23 Apr

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‘Imperfection is not a personal problem, it is a natural way of existing’. (Tara Brach)

This is a post about imperfection and perfection and how this relates to creativity. At first glance it may seem like a splaying, disability spiel but I assure you this is not its intention.

So I’ll begin….

I was born with cerebral palsy, when I came out of my mother’s womb not enough oxygen got to my brain quickly enough and the right side of my cerebral cortex was affected, which means that I have permanent decreased mobility on my left side- a hand that spasms, a bent elbow and a ‘tricksy’ left  hip and leg which means I limp. Luckily, I was not cognitively impaired as a lot of people with cerebral palsy are. The physical manifestations of my disability didn’t come out until I was 9 months old.  So everybody thought I was ‘normal’ for a while. I should have been walking but instead I was still sliding around on my bottom smoothing museum floors.

As I grew up my disability began to manifest itself more significantly but it’s never been severe. It’s only ever affected my left side so if I choose to I can hide the fact there’s something wrong. If I move my left hand under my arm you wouldn’t know there was anything awry. I can mask it if I so choose.  This has always been a problem for me- ‘to show-or not to show’. To reveal who I am from the beginning;  be courageous and truthful, or to protect myself a bit; pave the way, make sure you like me first and then show there’s something wrong.

I have struggled with this dilemma consistently throughout my life and sometimes I have used my creativity to try and understand this conflict within me. At worst, I’ve used it negatively to validate myself as ‘spastic’, not normal; I’ve used it negatively to put myself down and to undermine the value of what I produce. There can be a kind of shame attached to imperfection, of not being perfect and this can also be manifested in what we produce as artists and writers. My body, for me, has always curiously represented this human artistic dilemma; the tightrope between that which craves perfection and that which chastises imperfection.

So how does this imperfect/perfect dichotomy affect our creativity?

I think in order to create and to produce from a place of integrity, we have to write from the place deep within us that is our imperfection; who we are.  And if we begin that creative process we also, by association, gradually reveal our perfection, what matters to us, what makes us unique and whole. Both are needed to shape a creative entity; a piece of art. We don’t need to be ashamed of imperfection or flaws.  There is nothing wrong with exposing them within what we write or shape as long as we’re not doing it for ulterior motives: to punish ourselves or chastise ourselves- to splay instead of celebrate our complexity- the balance of perfection and imperfection within us.

It took me years to overcome this idea of myself as ‘a spastic’. My psychiatrist said I let my disability ‘creep over me like ivy’, and she was right, I did. I twisted it and let it define me.

As creatives it is often our imperfections that inspire us, that allow us to connect with others and to make us want to share and explore that through the work we produce.  There is a need in us all to engage with these areas because it is through this engagement with the flawed that we also engage with the positive and the whole. One does not exist without the other.  However, it’s somehow easier creatively to mulch ourselves down into the dark rather than the light, but the light is what makes life worth living; it’s what sustains us and allows the dark to exist in contrast (and maybe not in antithesis).

I don’t know quite what made me stop thinking of myself as something incomplete or not normal; and in all honesty even now when I walk into a room I will probably, more than likely, protect myself. It’s a fight or flight thing, a natural protective instinct that I can’t override intellectually; and, I’ve come (I think) to maybe accept that. And that’s okay.

So,  equally, when we create as artists or writers maybe it’s also okay to write and hold a bit of ourself back;  to not pour every ounce of ourselves into our creative work. Maybe it’s okay to choose to keep  the nub of us within (whether that be the positive or the negative bit).There’s nothing wrong with that in essence. Or,  if you are one of those  explore- everything, exposing writer/artists you have to be extremely conscious of the intention behind what you’re doing so you don’t harm yourself or delude yourself or forego your right to a form of personal creative privacy.

023Even now I wish I could walk into a room and not be self-conscious, to not slightly look down and see if my hand is twitching or watch your eye-line to see if you’ve noticed. But actually, if I look deep within my creative soul, I have come to appreciate the imperfect/perfect difference because it’s a constant reminder of what makes us human, unique and creative and what makes us explore and express.

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As John Ruskin says, ‘to banish imperfection is to destroy expression’ and I have no wish to do that

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