Thursday, 21 July 2016

Onlooker

Animate beings made up of words have words tattooed inside their skin, like the silk lining of a suit jacket or winter coat; then there are those whose cells diffuse colours in vivid hues in the style of a Jackson Pollack; and then those whose every pulsating organ is a musical note as if to emulate a great composer like Bach or Debussy. A smaller number secrete chemical names or mathematical equations through their nostrils and the Ah of their breath, while a select few have no inner inscription for their ability outwardly manifests: these are the athletes or dancers whose performances are fuelled by an interior of flames.
Of course, there's commingling amongst these beings. Like attracts like, opposites are drawn to one another, for all beings either want to be on the same wave or to have what they lack, to make themselves stronger or complement. Such pairings or interactions are often improbable and yet somehow they work, and though observers need a lot of convincing as to their authenticity, their output when together, either as a couple or in a professional collaboration, has a rare quality that mightn't have ever been achieved if they hadn't met or stayed apart.
The art, in whatever form it takes, is alive, is life itself, so that whomever crosses its path, by chance or on purpose, is instantly enamoured. In love with the finished result and the idea behind the idea: the inspiration or random thought that sparked the creative process, which in turn arouses further curiosity as to who is the artist and whom or what is their guide, for it's always presumed with works considered great, in their present time or at a later date, there is such a muse, a critic, a rational voice, a borrowed ear. Someone that provides encouragement and objectivity and works almost as tirelessly as the artist. A someone that can nurture and nourish, and be brutally honest when their opinion is sought, somehow able to frame their critique in a manner that's permissible; a someone who can contend with the artist's rages and despondencies, as well as their retreats and peaks when a piece is progressing well; and a someone that won't abuse the trust laid on them and can cope too with being the artist's crutch.
Those who people the art world in all their glorious shapes are not, as might be imagined, always natural exhibitionists, which is why a staff comes in handy to lean upon and can often prove as essential as a sound pair of walking boots: good support is needed for long, exhausting journeys where the destination always seem to lie beyond the next hill or the next bend in the road. Artists for all their supposed swagger are modest and, although by no means all tortured souls, are more often than not under considerable strain. Creation releases and burdens. At best, they are consumed, focussed yet able to engage; at worst, preoccupied, grappling with details and inattentive to everyone and everything else.
What goes on in an artist's brain is hard to explain because art, whilst tapping into the imagination, is a process of delayed gratification which often comes in dribbles, say in a single brush-stroke, a sentence, a note; sometimes it's delayed until the very end or decades after its making, although dissatisfaction too can also be true of these instances.
Art is never motionless, it has its own stream of consciousness, even when it's divorced from its maker. Words move like waves on the page, sculptures are fluid and life-like, paintings envelop you, music swells emotions, carries you with its mood and rhythm, dance and athletics bring forth a surge of endorphins that cannot be equalled by any other activity. Makers embody that energy, but onlookers are touched by it too, which means we all take part in the evolution of art.

Picture Credit: Rene Magritte, Title Unknown (ABC Gallery)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Small Victories

I'm very aware of my weaknesses, where I think I fall short, of which there are many; many which I don't think wise to list, because then this would become a whine like a air raid siren that begins quietly and climbs to a penetrating, deafening wail.
Wednesday's child is full of woe. On the day I was born it also rained, so maybe I'm not entirely to blame for my default setting. However, I thought with the passing of time I had mastered my self-criticism; apparently not. It's just got cleverer: unpicked distraction techniques and positive affirmations, to slip in through undefended crevices; fissures so tiny you wouldn't think it was possible for a negative id to crawl under or squeeze through, because generally speaking they take up and need a lot of room. More space than the average mind possesses, and mine has neither the power or the inclination to be super-brainy, and so these breaches will happen.
Yet each time my security system comes under attack I feign surprise, as if my bluff will be enough to see off my opponent. Sometimes she calls it and worms her way in with her insidious voice, sometimes she realises that the mere threat suffices. My sensitive conscience pricked and on high alert! Anxiety then dominates for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours but when nothing untoward happens, other than uncovering the usual thorns, this dissipates to a standard awareness, which at a later date is followed by complacency.  
My opponent, ever the optimist in spite of her pessimistic remarks, waits...bides her time until a false state has been declared. Then when I'm 'up' and there's no need for me to believe a 'down' is likely, in she seeks to mess about with the circuitry. And that sudden blip in the wiring, though it may be short-lived, can lead to a pitiable condition, one where nothing thought or said is affirmative and the outlook in which I view the world and my place in it has been severely altered, twisted beyond recognition.
The beating up is never physical, but is nonetheless damaging because the opponent is an verbal invisible self, and it's harder to combat that which is part of you. Her barbed tone is instantly recognisable as my own despite the difference in language: her terms are deeply critical, open old wounds and produce new ones. The old though they've scabbed many times over reopen easily with a little gentle prodding to renew their tired aspersions, while the new gush fresh abuses more relevant to recent situations. You're not this, you're not that; you're not worthy of such and such; you don't deserve (fill in the blank); along with other personal put-downs connected to non-existent looks and abilities. 
At its centre is a hard stone like that of a fruit, a stone that would crack teeth if it hadn't at some point during the course of the lifetime been swallowed and furnished with sanctuary. Then when proven mad moved to an asylum on the peripheries, but find access is still achievable if the target is overwhelmed or unoccupied. Such violations are recurring and inevitable once that stone has resided within; it can never be banished completely, even though the days of equilibrium might outnumber its exile, because as I said it's sneaky. And surprisingly good at it.
Functioning, rather than behaving dysfunctionally, becomes then the main objective to living or trying to get as close as you can to a semblance of it, rather than letting that voice of low self-esteem wreak its havoc. Except you can't always avoid listening, no matter how destructive you know it is, because to deny is denying that shameful part of you exists. That she is also you and not the enemy. She is like a bundle of cells that have gone askew. She may not be nice but she is a reaction to life and knows no different. To crush is not the way.
Small victories is the game that must be played so that her undeniable presence, even when on the peripheries, hovering like a bird eyeing its prey, becomes less disturbing and more of a fact. She'll always be there, watching...

Picture credit: Wings of Victory, Erte

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Itch

I have this itch; an itch that develops into a unsightly raised rash which of course I scratch. And scratch. And claw at to relieve the sporadic irritation. It didn't, it doesn't, but it sure feels good, as does everything you're told NOT to do.
The itch can be bothersome, but the randomness of its location is more so. A few years ago it was the inside of my right calf, now it's my right elbow. It relocates yet leaves no trace: no scar, no mark of its occupancy, as if it were a hotel guest who enjoys making their presence felt during their stay, then departs without a goodbye or thank you, and yet leaves the room scrupulously neat with a nominal tip for housekeeping.
This itch, like my analogy to the hotel guest, is paradoxical. Its whims are met, it calms, it begins to clear, then acts up or disappears. I never know if it will completely go or come back. The nature of its repeat residence is deeply mystifying, but grown used to its unpredictability I only give it half of the attention it deserves. I placate it with nonchalance and accept its idiomaticness, for to do otherwise would be hypocritical when self-expression is a principle I honour. My body should be permitted to exercise that right in a physical language, and though I may not understand it, the right shouldn't be suppressed or denied.
That there is a message is clear, however the language is foreign and of such complexity that it cannot be translated easily into English, nor can I imagine into any other. It would take years of applied study. A study I have begun but not, so far, got beyond the preschool grade, which is not a surprise seeing as I still struggle to get by with my GCSE German and French. And that's with the assistance of dictionaries and phrase books.
With this, I'm completely in the dark. I can't make a lucky guess or fake my comprehension because the body wouldn't for one minute be fooled. To have successfully interpreted the physical symptom I'd have to have changed the pattern that caused it; when you don't the symptom persists: nags or worsens over time.
And obviously with my ineptitude for languages I fall into that unsuccessful camp.
The itch and the subsequent rash have become my familiars, of the sort that you think almost fondly of when they're off the scene, yet when in their company long to be rid of, and who if they realise they're being provoking only needle more. You, in turn, or I, in this instance, attempt to control, sometimes barely, your diminishing hospitable temper. As mentioned I have on more than one occasion failed in this regard, and not learned that in permitting even a single scratch I inflame the situation and confirm my compliance.
The itch then has the upper hand as if it belongs to an applauding audience member who continues to clap long after everyone else has stopped and so the cast is held in a protracted pause. The action then as with this is arrogant and intentional, particularly as the applauding individual is clearly visible to those around him, but indistinguishable from the stage.
The bringing together of hands, a pair or a united affair, in either appropriate or inappropriate places petitions the actors to delay, to play, or to take repeated bows and give encores until the thunderous applause shows signs of abating. Which it usually does when the cast wearily departs the stage and the curtain falls. Then a hush descends...will they come out again? No, the lights have gone up. The murmur rises as persons vacate their seats and shuffle to their nearest exit.
Collaboration. That's what it amounts to, as although the execution might seem unequal the balance of power can and does shift. Sometimes with ease, sometimes with extreme difficulty as in an unresolvable conflict. The audience and the theatre cast can afford to make concessions, because both roles, for the most part, are scripted, whereas the itch and the individual are forever engaged in an improvised play with an unwritten ending.

Picture credit: Applause, Erte