TAKING MY BRAIN FOR A WALK ON A VERY LONG LEAD

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S: So writing a essay wasn’t covered in today’s seminar? I need that! I haven’t written an essay since March!
Me: I haven’t written an academic essay since 1982.
Undergraduate WhatsApp Group October 2020

In the course of this year I left my job of 22 years and moved on to manage a Charity Shop for 10 months then, three weeks ago, I started an undergraduate degree after being away from the education system for 40 years.
In some ways the timing is perfect as studying in an academic institution is infinitely preferable to working with the public during a pandemic.
Anxiety is creating erratic and sometimes aggressive behaviour, and economic stress is causing many businesses to view staff as commodities that need to be utilised to the greatest, sometimes humanly impossible, level.
I have many friends at the moment who are employed in areas where there are major cuts in personnel and they are expected to take on the extra workload of one or two others, often on less wages and under more complex conditions, but they just knuckle down muttering the mantra ‘at least I still have a job’.
I must admit I am relieved to no longer be in an environment where I need to tread carefully around people’s reactions, break up fights when customers aggressively confront someone for not wearing a mask or for trying clothes on, and patiently explain to someone else as they dump a mountain of dead relatives possessions on the floor in front of the till as they want to take the bag home to recycle it, that we need donations to be sealed and when they ask why, answer that there is a global pandemic

However entering university studies has its own challenges not least because the institutions themselves are needing to restructure their classes and reformat the way they teach, so to an extent I am navigating my way around a system that is being rewritten as I explore it.
As I fumble though the course and try to retrain my mind, I must admit I get a lot of pleasure finding that it’s still possible to discover things about myself.
I’ve always been aware that I have an innate curiosity and enjoy learning but I had forgotten that this caused me to love school (well, perhaps not the social aspects) and that the world of academia brings out in me a passion and obsession that makes me want to crawl into it and create a lovely safe space, surrounded by information filled, book lined walls and an archaic, hermetically sealed door.
When I was very young my mother had calls from my teachers, worried that I was TOO absorbed in my studies and she was always trying to drag me away from my reading to go into the outside world, which I viewed as a decidedly unsafe place.
Of course my later use of drink and drugs was the ultimate propellant into a humanly populated reality and whilst I never lost my love of ideas, a structured way of assembling them gradually eroded and when I found my place in a more creative environment, freeform arrangement of information become part of the job description so to speak.
I have worried how the learning of this new language will affect my art (and whether I will have time to create anyway)but all my exhibitions and conferences are cancelled well into 2021 and already I have found myself drifting into my studio on occasion and playing with beads, bones and making so I suspect that my need to express creatively will not be disappearing.
Initially I thought that I was going to be embarking on something that will be humbling, damaging my self esteem and wounding my pride as I make messes and mistakes.
Interestingly enough, making mistakes hasn’t bothered me though. Perhaps this is an ‘age thing’? O I am a perfectionist there is no doubt about that, but as I have aged, making mistakes have led me to insight. There have been many occasions say, when I have messed up giving a talk or presentation and after analysing where I went wrong, eventually emerged exhilarated, with the feeling of having discovered a better approach or technique.

Of course this is still very early on in the course.

My age doesn’t really create problems for me, although I mull over appropriate contact with the other students whom I suppose I am old enough to be a grandmother of. I am friendly enough but have no desire to socialise outside the faculty with either them or the mature students (whom I am also older than) although socialising is not really an option at the moment.
I did have a strange moment during a discussion about eugenics when I found myself on the same wavelength as a skinny skateboard welding 19 year old with dirty hair, but that was more a revelation about the way my mind works (like a teenage boy) spurred on by memories of me at 16 hanging out with a group of friends in a Space Invader Gaming Parlour in New Zealand, listening to Joy Division, discussing Escher, Hesse and CIA mind control experiments and going to skateboard parks.
Anyway.
Now it is time to try and train my brain to concentrate and see if I can force it into new configurations.

It’s all change and whilst I cannot presently catch a plane to somewhere different or go to a concert or exhibition or film I can still take my brain on a walk through unknown realms.

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Migration

Fragment of the Berlin Wall outside The Imperial War Museum, London.

At the end of last year, for the first time in my life, I made plans for my future. At 54 years old this is perhaps slightly late in the day  to make such decisions, but it seemed the right thing to do. I was finally ready to commit to certain changes that challenged the way I lived; the main one being my lack of education and a dissatisfaction with working in retail, which whilst it keep things ticking over financially as I focused on my creative endeavours, kept me stuck in a low paid, slightly servile mentality that perpetuated various ongoing self esteem issues.
So I took the leap, left my workplace of 24 years and found a better paid job until I was able to start at university.
2020 was to have been a transitional year for me, however Covid has made everything more complex and decision making in this time easily becomes reactive rather than rational (if rational can be seen to exist anymore).

The husband of a dear friend whom I used to see regularly, died just before lockdown and I was unable to communicate with her except by phone (the use of which I am notoriously bad with).
A few weeks ago we finally met, and automatically hugged, and the intimacy and warmth of the contact, took my breath away.
I realised that we have been making these tweaks and adjustments to our lives on one level, but emotionally and internally we are damaged and in pain because part of us is not being nurtured in the way we need to be.
Like animals in a zoo.

A few weeks later I went to London and notwithstanding the night partying that was going on at Leicester Square (very end of days, I was in a flat overlooking Charing X Road and it was like listening to characters in some sort of crazed enactment from a Bosch painting). I did things that involved close friends and communal meals and seeing exhibitions and performance and truly, I felt as if there was a bloom of beauty unfurling inside me in a space that I hadn’t even noticed had become empty.

So now I am back and negotiating my home run; the transition from my present work to being a full time university student, whilst in the background the possibility of another lockdown is beckoning.
I am stressed to hell trying to negotiate my way through financing and timetables and resignations and pensions, when none of the structures really work and these systems are being changed and reformatted by the moment.

The charity shop I have been managing has been a microcosm of the shifting sands of the old regime and I see people frantic, anxious and stressed, trying to follow routes of right behaviour and find solace and joy and safety but also being angry, reactive and aggressive.
Everyone is trying to clear…clear out excess from their consumer lifestyle, trying to clear out possessions after the death of family members, trying to recycle, to ‘make do and mend’.

Last week the lover of an artist I knew came in at the end of the day with several huge bags to donate, as he was about to move house.
I asked him how my friend, his long term partner, was.
He told me she had died of cancer at the end of last year, and the bags he was donating were her clothes.
I was stunned, and we talked for a while before he left and I started to sort through her things.

I feel as if there are no shades of grey in this reality at the moment, and it would be so easy to be a realist and see everything in dark terms, or alternatively just switch off and get on with it gaining stability (and a lot of stress) by hanging onto old structures and not worry about art or creative projects or new directions, but I keep getting reminders of the potential for joy and beauty life holds if I simply push outside my comfort zone, so that is what I will continue to do.

I can hear the barking of migrating geese outside my window.

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Chewing on Bones and Contemplating Change

 

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I have written blogs recently that I decided not to publish as by and large, they were negative to the point of despair.

Truth to tell it’s possible that this one may be perceived as being slightly dark but I would prefer to think it is simply reflective of the necessary introspection that occurs as we move into Autumn.

I believe that despite quarantine madnesses and difficulties there was a balance of gifts received to liberty seemingly taken, in the beautiful spring and summer we have had. A connection with nature was established that many had never previously experienced, and a showing of a softer side of humanity resulted from that.

However lockdown eased and anxiety set in as people tried to step once more into the fast lane, albeit one that now had no road signs (or roads for that matter) and an emotional darkness seeped back to parallel the lessening of light as we approached winter.

So I have decided to focus this blog on my magical creative reality, looking at a bigger picture and the way I see life beyond the patterns of human behaviour (something which has never failed to send me into a head spin).

I have written and spoken before of my belief that we are all born both magical and artistic beings, but our environment and the life we live affect how these qualities develop and of course the degree that these characteristics are inherent is variable.

I was a naturally reclusive child who lived in a chaotic family so I developed my observation skills in response to that to try and find viable reactions and survival methods.

I realised that the living natural world had a personality and series of patterns that made sense. Even when part of this fell apart or was inversely impacted, there was a very structured reaction.
Within this reality, everything had a place and there was no two ways about it, I was and am very much was part of this world.
As an adult who had just cleaned up from my various addictions, it gave me an immense feeling of strength, solace and sense of my own beauty and being when I allowed myself to experience this feeling of belonging.

Observing human behaviour is a very different experience from looking at the workings of the natural world in that with people, there is less logic. We are more reactive and there is a huge difference in the way we operate as individuals and as a mass. When humanity operates as a group we operate as animals, but often as animals in the most brutal and mindless sense, depending on the dictates of the pack leader.

Acknowledging all of the above gave me a set of operational base notes to work within my life, art and magic, all of which are about recognising components and patterns that can be arranged and rearranged to affect change.

During lockdown, as with everyone else, my observational skills were heightened and I started seeing things that made me wonder.
I was aware that we had an incredibly consistently hot and dry spring and summer for instance, but everything remained the most vivid green. I wondered if the lack of traffic helped enhance that intensity of colour as I remembered years ago commenting on how motorways often have very scorched looking trees and plant life alongside them, and was told that main roads and motorways are always a slightly higher temperature than their environs.

I saw a generation of animals that were born in spring and grew up in lockdown with no fear of humans or traffic.

As the social isolation policy eased the weather changed and I noticed the blights on various crops and the horse chestnut trees. I observed the most roadkill I have seen in many years, and see that people are caught up in an anxiety that overrides logic and creates rage and over reaction.

I find that art I created in early lockdown that was freeform, joyous and experimental has shifted to something more controlled and embodied in darker colours, inorganic materials and metal.

So where does the magic come into all this?

In order to create a new reality, whether the end result be a creative expression resulting in an object or a change on some level or other, there needs to be awareness and acknowledgement of self, environment and an ability to be open to possibilities. This can only be done if you also know what the probabilities are.

The only constant at the moment is that we are experiencing the natural seasonal shift that occurs at this time of the year, and in order to move forward we need to be flexible and not be over reliant upon any man made establishments or structures.

Some time ago I found a few old bones in a park in the town I lived in. The bones were not quite like any animal I could identify, and after some research I found that several 100 years before there had been a potters field graveyard in that area for some local almshouses.

I left the bones on a table in my garden to dry after washing them, and one morning I found one had been moved on my shed roof, then the day afterwards, onto a garden chair. Yesterday I saw a squirrel sharpening its teeth on it before placing it back on a garden bench.

I sat inside watching this young creature chewing on part of what could well have been one of my ancestors and strangely enough, it didn’t bother me at all.

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Survival, Power and Wisdom: An Interview with Eric K Lerner

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Eric K Lerner is a self taught artist who has exhibited and sold his work globally.
Author of The AIDS CRISIS in America (1998) he has been involved with a number of AIDS service providers including AIDS Research Information Centre, Health Education Resource Organisation, Maryland State Health Department, Visual AIDS, ACTUP, and the American Indian Centre.
Eric is a Santeria Priest who has also worked with the Tarot for more than 30 years.

http://www.threebonessociety.com
voiceofthoth@hotmail.com

I interviewed Eric Lerner many years ago for my book ‘The Bloody Sacrifice’, and recently have felt a pressing need to continue our dialogue. I believe that he has so much to contribute to the world at this crazed point in time and that his experiences during the last ‘plague’, the AIDS epidemic, is of huge contemporary relevance.
Eric was at the AIDS epicentre in New York and lost his life partner to AIDS, a virus which he also has.  He wrote ‘The AIDS Crisis in America’ and coauthored ‘Babalu Aye Santeria and the Lord of Pestilence’ and numerous related articles and essays.
As the corona virus has gained momentum I become more vociferous about my belief that Eric Lerner has things to say about where we are now that people would find interesting, helpful and supportive. Many years ago, when I discovered his article on Babalu Aye in ‘The Ashe Journal of Experimental Spirituality’ it was immense help for me in my struggles with my own virus, hepatitis C.

Then, while Eric and I were batting around thoughts on our possible discussion on the matter and were talking about the ACTUP movement, and a few days later Larry Kramer died, and we both knew it was time to do this!


Hi Eric, so so good to talk to you like this! I’ve some pretty intense questions so let’s throw ourselves into things immediately.
You are HIV positive and therefore immune compromised, and are more vulnerable than most during the present pandemic…how are you coping?

I suppose that I am coping because I am still alive. I’d like to discuss the impact Covid has had on me in two parts: socio-economic and personal. Practically, I saw my business, a means to produce art and a part-time gig to keep the lights on, vanish simultaneously in the second week of March. Emotionally and financially that has been devastating, but I’m not alone in facing that. This Pandemic has disproportionally affected all of us who work in the arts. Like myself, many artists living in the U.S. fell through the cracks when it came to receiving either unemployment or stipend benefits because we did not have the consistent gig-economy history that would qualify us. Frankly, I see many performers and visual artists who I thought were doing well suddenly not knowing how they are going to pay for basic necessities. My initial response was to apply for exhibitions in reputable galleries, something I hadn’t done for awhile. Surprisingly, I got a lot of acceptances, but they were inevitably followed the next day by emails to this effect. “Please keep your accepted pieces on hand. Right now, we have had to indefinitely postpone exhibition plans and will inform you when we have the date in place.” So that is not likely to bring in any revenue. I have not had any success in applying for telecommuting jobs either. I realize that such employers are being overwhelmed with applications. For instance, I applied for one of 160 positions as a remote contact tracer. Within an hour of that job posting, they had more than 6,000 applicants. I’m not taking it personally that I didn’t hear back. If I may make a PSA here, I encourage anyone who has the means to buy art or hire someone for a remote position to please consider buying from or hiring someone who had worked in the arts. Frequently, such individuals are well educated and know how to work with little supervision. And there’s a real peril that they will fall through the cracks when it comes to being able to sustain themselves economically. I have changed my business model for ‘Three Bones Society’ by focusing on literary and arts publications and selling the work of other artists, particularly that of Thomas van der Krogt’s, and am planning on relaunching in the next week. I wish I had time to hammer out a more coherent business plan, but I am doing what I can to kickstart bringing in an income. We can talk more about what we are doing later.
As for the personal impact, it is especially frightening for someone who is a long-term AIDS survivor. Just due to age and comorbidities, we are likely to do very poorly if we contract Covid. Frankly, every mature HIV patient I know of who has contracted Covid has died within two weeks. That really does place an extra concern and burden on me, because it makes all forms of social contact dangerous. Now I’ve dealt with AIDS for like four decades. For the first two decades, a good doctor’s visit meant being told that I had a 6 month to one year life expectancy. And I was never a long term non-progressor, and certainly dealt with a lot of surprise diagnoses and medical crises. I never felt as threatened as I do now. It seems with AIDS I have much more freedom than I do with Covid. For instance, in the early 1980’s I had a cat. Great cat by the way. However, it became quickly evident in the AIDS pandemic that cats posed mortal threats to anyone living with HIV because they were a major conduit for toxoplasmosis, one of the more dangerous opportunistic infections killing HIV’ers. So I gave my cat to my mother who lived a couple of hundred miles away. I could make behavioral choices that minimized risk. Socially, I knew I was infected. I knew what types of sexual and drug-use choices were especially dangerous, and I could take responsibility for the choices I made and with whom I had contact. With Covid, I don’t have those choices. It takes one person with no outward signs of infection to get physically close and effectively kill me by passing it on. Covid feels much more like an invisible threat than HIV. And every trip to the store feels like venturing into a war zone. I really wonder under what circumstances I can even have a meal with someone again. I’m holed up here with Destiny, my dog, and that’s the extent of my companionship. I can’t even visit my mother or have friends over. At any point in time, I don’t know whether or not I’m already infected and could transmit Covid. The situation in the U.S. is especially bad, and I live in a state that has been led more effectively than most during the crisis.With AIDS, you had denial and non action for a good decade. No good ole Reagan days for me. But now, you have national leadership that seems invested in the virus’s success, which even during the worst of the AIDS pandemic you did not have. Were I living in Germany, I think I might feel very differently about my personal threat level.
My coping mechanism lately has been to focus on publishing my zine ‘The Biscuit’ and planning its promotion. One thing I discovered living with AIDS for so long was that part of the survival strategy I developed was to always focus on the next thing to do. I’m trying to do that here.

Do you feel emotionally and practically better equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as you have already survived one virus that could be seen to predominantly target a specific sector of society?

Having AIDS certainly changed my fundamental concept of reality. Ultimately, I learned to perceive Babaluaye as being the spiritual source of both the HIV virus and the means of coping with it. Likewise, I see the world as being home to effective deities called orisha who profoundly engage us and are practically evident. I still draw on them in trying to come to terms with what’s happening. I largely attribute my ability to survive to them. But I recognize also that I have and had a very good doctor, advice from Cabell and a lot of fight within myself. Those factors do give me back bone to say I can give myself a good shot now. Although part of me thinks, “Really Babalu, again?”
A virus enjoys no political stripe, moral or ethnic identity. It is not a traditional life form because it needs a host’s DNA in order to reproduce, unlike a bacteria, vegetable or animal. You cannot rationally expect it to play by logical rules, so you have to accept some things lie beyond our control. Now, with HIV, I learned that it is a way in which Babalu manifests himself, and I learned some really terrible direct lessons from him. To detail the most intimate ones would greatly stretch most folks credulity. I think one of the biggest lessons was AIDS provided the trigger for many who were profoundly alienated, those regarded as society’s dregs, to realize their lives mattered and were worth fighting for. Win or lose, that’s an empowering truth. I don’t see how Covid offers that. It kills you quickly, unlike HIV, and doesn’t leave time for reflection. Like HIV it disproportionately affects people of color in the U.S. which is largely do to the various ills of poverty. Covid victims are disenfranchised by the responses to their infection. They are immediately isolated. Those who are sickest lose any decision making control over their lives because they are placed in drug induced comas. They are stigmatized by being isolated from loved ones by medical dictate. People with AIDS were isolated through social and moral prerogatives. People could make a choice to reach out to those living and dying from AIDS with little to no physical risk to themselves. Obviously, with Covid, the risk is extreme.
Sometimes, I wonder if Covid is indeed a manifestation of Babalu. The most obvious incarnations of Covid are hopelessly evil politicians, not a demigod. Babalu is not warm and cuddly when he decimates a nation through the sweep of his broom. Historically, there have been lessons derived from his seemingly indifferent wrath. Perhaps as as an earth deity he is letting us know that the earth is severely burdened by human overpopulation or that our political leadership is beneath contempt. Maybe he’s saying I am rightful King, not this alleged homonid with a fake tan who will stoke up the flames of hell to thus stoke his ego. I guess those could be valid interpretations. Perhaps, at least in the US, Jesus Christ himself just decided he need a break and to die, since his followers here have replaced him with the aforementioned alleged hominid. Random thought, maybe Pata en Llaga sees an opportunity to fill Christ’s void here with those who can see…
Maybe I am qualified to cope better because I have had to learn to delineate a devastating health crisis for a long time, and am at least prepared to give this current situation some serious attention. With AIDS, at times it reverberated like the old punk song, “Everybody is HIV positive,” especially when confronted with days when you saw four friends or peers drop dead. That type of experience was limited to very specific and unique groups. With Covid the list of victims is much more universalized, and this Pandemic irrevocably changes the world as we know it. What will it become? I don’t know. Humankind is a remarkably resilient animal species that has adapted to war, plague and famine before. Some of it will survive. Whether they will inhabit a world we could recognize is up for grabs.

One thing that has shocked me is that whilst there are drugs that can treat HIV and AIDS and it should not be a death sentence; due to social and economic factors the illness is still being spread and it is still killing people. This is something that also parallels the Coronavirus epidemic, the government sanctioned undercurrent that the primary target group are of no value. The pink triangle used by Nazis to denote homosexuals and related sexual ‘deviations’ was adopted by the LGBTQ community and repurposed for protest, and I must admit as the death toll contains to target people in a way that would make supporters of eugenics happy, perhaps the black triangle which the Nazis used to mark out the asocial, should also be adopted?

Culturally White America tends not to value the elderly. Folks are predisposed to not listen to the old and already seek to distance themselves from them. I see people putting their parents in nursing homes at the first sign of physical frailty. In Hispanic culture and others, that would be unthinkable. I also find that unconscionable. Now that I qualify as an old person myself, I see my work as a writer and artist is not greeted with the enthusiasm it was when I was younger, ever if a lot of the work is of better quality now. Largely, a lot of old people have already had their decision-making capacity taken away from them being placed in long-term care environments. So it is not surprising to see an attitude here that they’re expendable, and when 63 nursing home residents die of Covid there isn’t really a shock sense of horror. You see a lot of people not follow health precautions like wearing masks because it doesn’t register with them that even if they are unlikely to face the most extreme responses to Covid, they can spread it and kill grandma. People of color are also especially at risk largely due to the socio-economic circumstances of their situations. The risks they face are created in no small part by the power structure here that also subjects them to increased risk of facing violence from law enforcement. It’s no less of a tragedy to me when a black bus driver dies of Covid because he doesn’t have the option to quarantine that an affluent white person does, than it would be if he was murdered by a cop. That life matters just as much. So people most at risk here for dying of Covid share an affinity of being de-valued and oppressed much the same way as AIDS sufferers were during that pandemic. Maybe they are not as obviously hated.
The pink triangle was a powerful symbol for the AIDS activist movement and identified kindred. I don’t know if there is a unifying sense of outrage among potential Covid victims as there was with AIDS victims. Would adopting something like a black triangle help create a sense of urgency and identification like brandishing a pink triangle did for AIDS populations? I do not know in the current climate in here. Coherent federal government response would have dramatically reduced the number of deaths. That’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, organizing protests the way we did with AIDS is particularly challenging given the risks faced through being out in public. I suppose a lot of young people would have to be motivated. And I don’t really see the type of affinity dialogues taking place among the most endagered population that took place largely among the gay white male community around AIDS. I think that you would need both the protests and interaction to happen in order for a black triangle symbol to become a potent symbol. Of course the situation here is poised to get much worse, and perhaps that will motivate people to action.

In recent times I have felt for you as I’ve wondered if what is presently going on has bought back painful memories…your partner Cabell died of AIDS and seeing footage of New York empty streets brings to mind a conversation we once had where you described parts of 1980’s New York becoming ‘a ghost town’.
Something that occurred during the peak of the AIDS epidemic and is occurring on a global level during the coronavirus- many, many, lonely and fearful deaths. Due to the nature of the respective diseases and the way they are regarded and treated by society and the medical profession, people were and are, dying frightened and alone. Aside, if possible, from my obvious compassionate and horrified reaction to this, there is also the thought that those lost and dislocated spirits could be regarded as problematic on a spiritual level. (You also alluded to the fact that there are shortages of various traditional offerings to feed various of the orisha which could compound things). Do have any thoughts on this and its spiritual and social ramifications?

Obviously, a lot of things have changed for us in the Santeria community due to Covid. Essential gatherings have been largely suspended. Historically, AIDS disproportionately impacted the Santeria community. Back in the 80’s, there was a disproportionate representation of homosexuals in the priesthood. This was due to the fact that many lineage groups (although not all) did not have taboos on homosexuality. Joining a Santeria house gave many gay people in Afro-Hispanic culture a safe space that they could not find otherwise in their circumstances. That changed when many started dying of AIDS, and legitimate paranoia that set in the Santeria community. There were bad and good responses. I remember an incident in which a male AIDS patient was about to make santo. A dozen priests had been employed to assist in the crowning. The young man’s padrino announced to the group that he had AIDS. The padrino recommended the priests to employ face masks and latex gloves, which were provided during sensitive parts of the ritual to avoid any risk of exposure through contact with body fluids. Every priest simply walked out. Particularly among babalawos, there was a prohibition against giving anyone with AIDS santo. They said, “You can’t give santo to the dead.” Of course there were many in the community who fought against this. I remember a particularly poignant personal experience of this. When I made santo, a requisite life reading was performed. It was revealed during it that I would die in a short time if I did not receive Babalu immediately. I had exhausted my funds to pay for the santo, and there was no way I could raise the funds to pay for it. Panic over what to do ensued. At that time, a priestess of Yemaya showed up because she had some business with my padrino. He explained to her what was going on. As it turned out, she had paid in full to receive Babalu later that week. Immediately, she said to me, “Don’t worry. I’ve paid to receive Babalu this week. You need him more than I do. So you take my place. You owe me nothing. Just remember this in the future if you ever have the opportunity to do this for someone else.” I did not know her well. We were friendly when we met at gatherings, but that was all. I knew she would have paid at least $7,500, if not substantially more, so it was no small gesture. And there were many examples of santeros really going to the mat for people with AIDS. Some elders even turned their homes into virtual AIDS hospices. So while there was fear and some prejudicial behaviors, there was a lot of generosity and bravery exhibited by santeros in response to AIDS.
With Covid, I have seen houses and affinity groups set up funeral and medical expense funds for members of the community. I think we are all still grappling with how this changes things for us. Santeria pracititioners are likely to be part of the communities most at risk with Covid. As I said, a lot of things are being put on hold. But I believe we will figure this out. The orisha are very adaptable and so are their worshippers. Many are the tales of our ancestors stashing their religious fundamentals in their hair or even swallowing and re-swallowing them to carry the orisha across the middle passage. They hid the orisha behind the icons of the catholic church. We still identify ourselves to one another by coded gestures and the wearing of necklaces (that we can described to outsiders as mardis gras beads and the like if asked.) They had to adapt the ritual herbs used to what was available locally and find ways to conduct religious activity in an alien landscape. If they could do it, we can do it.
The spiritual lessons of this pandemic remain to be fully revealed. Right now, I’m struggling to figure out how to do a lot of stuff that I took for granted before the quarantine. I’m not comfortable with the notion of trying to do a shell reading for someone over the phone. I cannot locally obtain a lot of essential ingredients, including common food products, for offerings. I can’t have my godchildren over. Yet I still perceive the orisha as active presences and hope they understand and ask their counsel.
As for the negative spiritual energy generated by all the suffering from Covid, it’s going to take some time to come to terms with it, and I don’t think we can fully lift it. We are still feeling the spiritual ravages produced by the AIDS pandemic (which we must remember is still going on here in America.) For instance, there is a palpable void left in the continuity of queer art and literature due to the loss of so many. I like to believe a lot of them would have mentored the next generation. I see a lot of younger queer artists not having the value of personal insight into their histories due to the fact that they don’t have anyone living to share that with them.
The sites where tragedies happen often retain the signature of those events. This is slightly off topic but relevant to the type of spiritual dislocation of which you speak. I have in recent decades found it very difficult to go into Baltimore because it viscerally feels to me like a necropolis. There has been so much loss of life and hopelessness sparked by years of endemic poverty and senseless violence. I perceive the wandering dead whose identities have been lost to a magnitude of social ills. (Some of them died of AIDS.) When elders and I ask the orisha what would be necessary to lift this pall, they consistently recommend performing a ritual that has not been publicly enacted in over 70 years. It’s dubious if many elders have the instruction how to do it, but there is no community will to see it done. And many don’t want it ever done because it has political and economic ramifications. It saddens me to realize there may be a remedy that’s undoable. I’m sure that Covid is adding to the spiritual dissonance in those areas affected. How bad that weight is going to be remains to be seen. I hope Covid may also spark a spirit of resilience. I think that AIDS has.

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Something that I have always appreciated about your spirituality Eric, both as an individual and as a Santeria priest, is a containing of what I see as an inherent practicality.
I read once that during the 1980s in New York there was a surge in spiritual seeking, I think an interview I had with Ron Athey mentioned this also. Fear creates a greater need for support from another realm as this world, seemingly, has betrayed us.
Anyway, I read one account of a Louise Hayes Heal Yourself workshop in the ‘80’s where it was suggested that flaws in oneself were the cause of being HIV positive and if this could be corrected one would be cured.
Bloody offensive.
It is a revelation to compare the above approach to your description in ‘Ashe Journal of Experimental Spirituality’ of how your HIV positive status initiated an empowering relationship with Babalu Aye.
Can you talk me through what you articulated so beautifully and powerfully in this essay?

That piece is 25 years old, and honestly I hadn’t read it in years. So rereading it was a bit like going through a teenage diary recounting your first love. I don’t want to invite any hubris, but I am surprised at how well I think it holds up. I think that Babalu is a powerful and effective hero for anyone dealing with adversity, particularly of a viral nature. He is also a representative of the disenfranchised. Realistically, he is someone who was banished, crippled and hideously disfigured. Yet he found a means to be king. There are still cultural remnants of his lordship in Dahomey in popular postage stamps printed by the Government in Benin that depict cacti. Cactus is a traditional offering for him, and there is substantial evidence that they were incorporated into African Babalu altars. Historically, many of his secrets come from the Fon, even in Cuba where essential aspects of his worship were conveyed to the Lucumi (Yoruba descendant) by the Arara (Fon).
People in droves in Cuba venerate and petition him as is evidenced by the nationwide pilgrimage made to his shrine at El Ricon, a leprosarium and church dedicated to San Lazaro. People still chain cinder blocks to their feet and drag themselves miles to reenacted Babalu’s pilgrimage from Yorubaland to Dahomey. He is an eternal presence in the world.
For people with AIDS he is a means to recognize one’s own divinity. With AIDS you carried both a death and life bestowing presence with your own physical being. You could infect someone else and thus deal them death through intimate acquaintance with you. Or you could leave them alone and not engage them in your own pestilence. You had a clear choice, which was generally Babalu’s to make. So you realized that aspect of him in yourself. It’s not so easy with Covid because it kills so quickly. But maybe we can evidence Babalu in ourselves by following safety precautions like wearing masks and distancing ourselves lest we knowing or unknowingly kill others by infecting them. That is a god-like proclivity and a valid recognition of Babalu within ourselves!
I am thinking of offering the Babalu essay once more as a chapbook from Three Bones Society. I decided first to publish a chapbook from a diary entry from the late writer and AIDS activist, Cabell McLean with illustrations by Thomas van der Krogt called ‘I am Babalu’. In it, McLean poignantly recounts a dream in which he himself was Babalu. Hopefully, Cabell isn’t going to crawl out of the grave and kill me because it is just an unedited diary entry, and he was a perfectionist who thought nothing of rewriting and editing something a dozen times. But it’s something, along with Thomas van der Krogt’s original prints, for me and my business to pay tribute to the Babalu.

I am very aware that this is very much a time when Gurus of various levels of competence can gain a huge following. As a priest and also someone who has already lived through times where people have flailed around for meaning and succour, do you have any thoughts on this?

There have been some very dangerous religious profiteering and false prophets to emerge from the AIDS Pandemic. One of the earliest and most notorious examples of this is the Nation of Islam. In the 1980s, they proclaimed they had a medication called Kemron which was described as the African cure for AIDS. They peddled this to the African-American community, and charged in excess of $5,000 for a dose with no protocol for compassionate distribution. I think it is highly dubious that anyone involved in marketing it believed it worked. It had already been scientifically disproven. I think those involved had no empathy for AIDS patients in the black community. Indeed since many of them were homosexuals or drug users, they were probably viewed as expendable and an acceptable source of profiteering. It was a really bad situation.
Since then, you have had the rise of AIDS denier’s basically saying HIV does not cause AIDS. This was exemplified by Dr. Peter Duesberg among others. Most of advocates of this theory cloaked themselves in the language of New Age metaphysics and alternative medicine. Their impact reached its pinnacle in the late nineties and early parts of this century when effective medications became available. There were a number of pop culture celebrities embraced by the gay community who preached to their audiences not to take anti-HIV medicines and to employ herbal remedies. How many people listened to them and died unnecessarily is uncounted. But it emphasizes the importance that we need to listen to science when it comes to catastrophic illness. It’s just common sense.
I am in the unusual position of someone who feels he has been saved by both religion and medicine. When I made the saint, I was in pretty dire health. I had failed AZT and its companion medications. Albeit gave you another 12 months or so by initially combating the virus before failing to do so and those twelve months proved valuable for a lot of patients, so let’s not vilify those medications. I was able to enjoy a miraculous return to immune competence I feel largely due to the orisha, because there was not any medical intervention that took place in my case at the time I made santo. I enjoyed that for some years. However, I eventually saw a surge in viral load, my immune system fail and severe health complications develop ten years later. The situation was dire. This time there was effective medicine, and I took it. I got additional Santeria initiations at that time. However, I feel the orisha are pragmatic. If there is a medical remedy available to you, they expect you to be self-interested enough to take advantage of it. If your situation is untreatable, I have witnessed them effectively intervene in many circumstances. I think they are able to help when necessary. They expect you to do what you can for yourself. Certainly, with HIV, if you are able to get the medicine, they expect you to take it. (By the way, santeros in general are not shy about telling someone to go see a doctor, whether or not they recommend religious remedies.)
I hope that people facing Covid may effectively petition orisha. I think it will take time to figure out what specific spiritual remedies may work. They will not take the place of medical treatment or a vaccine. As a santero, you learn to do what you can. It took the Santeria community a bit of trial and error to figure out that the combination of bestowing santo and Babalu could buy people with AIDS time until effective medical intervention became available. I know a lot of them were trying herbal remedies first that didn’t seem to work, so there was trial and error. A lot of the Santeria community is highly susceptible to diabetes. Now getting medical treatment for this is the way to go. However, in the US a lot of people can’t afford insulin. One of the first bits of herbal medicine that you are taught as a santero is the preparation of a tea with an herb sacred to Babalu that helps to regulate sugar. It frequently produces medical benefit. It’s an example of doing what you can when the situation warrants in. The state of herbal medicine in Santeria has declined in recent years. In 2000 it was estimated that less than a dozen Santerial herbal medicine men were alive in Cuba, and most had no heirs. So a lot of practical sacred knowledge has been lost and continues to be. It reminds me the loss of continuity in the development of queer cultural expression due to AIDS. As you get older you face the loss of what was and could have been if we acted differently.

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Aside from the divination you do as a Santeria priest Eric, you are also a very experienced Tarot reader who has designed decks of your own and contributed atu to group designed decks. As with the aforementioned rise in interest in Spiritual leaders, I believe there are also many people who are clamouring to know what the future holds, and willing to pay someone to tell them. In view of the depth of some of the above questions this may seem a little trite to ask, but as a Priest, an artist and a diviner you work with patterns of behaviour and life and hey, you’ve acquired a fair bit of life wisdom over the years. What do you think on the matter? I’ll leave you to interpret and answer this question in any way you see fit!

I believe that divination is still profoundly important for people to take advantage of, whether it is in a counseling or religious capacity.
I perform tarot, astrology and religious divination. Having experience of life and its patterns makes one a better diviner. I’ve read for three decades using these various means and seeing how patterns in reading actually play out in real life helps you interpret what the oracle reveals to you. For instance, when I interpret odu, the units of information revealed in a Santeria reading, I can often reflect on how a particular odu has played out for me in a reading or how it has worked in the life of a client. The same is true for tarot and astrology. A diviner uses his/her own research as well as that developed historically to interpret oracles.
Briefly, let me delineate what value I think each technique holds. Tarot is very good for analysing and strategizing response to immediate situations. I view it as secular on practical. I try to stay true to the information revealed by the cards themselves. They may have predictive value. When a tarot reader delivers predictions, they should be based on the cards and the reader’s intuition, the rule being that you should not say something that isn’t actually revealed in the cards. One of the weaknesses I see in younger readers is their inability to effectively predict. They simply do not have the experience to realistically appreciate what may happen next. I often see talented young reader accurately reveal intimate details of a client’s life at that time that has not rational explanation for the reader knowing such. However, when it comes to telling a client what is likely to transpire and how they may which to handle it, the reader may well be basing his/her understanding of life based on watching Game of Thrones rather than realistic experience. Most people’s lives do not play out at such a dramatic pitch. You have to have a little distance and realism in how you do that sort of counseling.
Astrology is more scientific for me. I principally practice Cosmobiology, the methodology developed by Reinhold Ebertin that was taken up in the U.S. directly by Eleanora Kimmel, who happened to be one of my mentors/teachers. Interpretations for planetary configurations are based on research. But an important tenant of Cosmobiology is that man’s destiny is not entirely written by the stars. You have to look at the native’s individual situation and historical circumstances as being relevant factors into how planetary influences are likely to effect him. I also practice a type of esoteric astrology developed in Russia that combines a birth chart with the Thoth Tarot and Tree of Life. It is an effective means of examining one’s spiritual and creative potential. It is a deep dialogue that simply not for everyone. I often practically integrate some aspects of Cosmobiology in my interpretations.
When it comes to dilogun, the divinatory tool principally employed in Santeria, it is a religious rite for me. Folks need to understand it. Whether or not a client is a Santeria practitioner, he must make a statement at the beginning of a reading that he joins himself with the will of the orisha of his own free will. It is an extraordinarily accurate predictive tool. But it entails contracts with the orisha and ancestors to promote good fortune or allay bad fortune revealed. At this point, I’m not on board with performing such a reading with the general public over the phone. Depending on how long the necessity to quarantine continues, that attitude may change. I’m interested in seeing how elders handle it and learning from them what they see as best practices.

Thank you! Talking to you Eric was as wonderful and multi layered as I knew it would be. Reading of the past and present experiences of a mass of humanity can never convey as many facets and as much depth as a conversation with one person with insight, experience and compassion who lived through those times. I look forward to talking further in a virtual format.

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I have put the links to Eric’s website ‘The Three Bones Society’ at the top of the this page, as well as his contact e mail if anyone is interested in a reading from him. It is also well worth checking out his work that is exhibited on the fantastic Visual AIDS site at
https://visualaids.org/artists/eric-lerner
All of the images used in the interview are by Eric K Lerner.

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Art, Spirituality and Survival: Extract from an Interview with Eric K Lerner

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I’ve felt a pressing need to interview Eric K Lerner since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, however lockdown has caused both of us to be caught up in various time consuming necessary survival strategies and art projects, which have delayed our finishing something that will be eventually formatted as both a written and recorded interview.
However we are close to completion….very, very close!
I’m an impatient being so thought it would be interesting and relevant to give a taster of just one direction of our conversation.

Eric K Lerner is a self taught artist who has exhibited and sold his work globally.
Author of The AIDS CRISIS in America (1998) he has been involved with a number of AIDS service providers including AIDS Research Information Centre, Health Education Resource Organisation, Maryland State Health Department, Visual AIDS, ACTUP, and the American Indian Centre.
Eric is a Yoruba Priest who has also worked with the Tarot for more than 30 years.

http://www.threebonessociety.com

So pleased I could finally talk to you Eric. I interviewed you many years ago for my book ‘The Bloody Sacrifice’, and recently I have felt a pressing need to continue our dialogue. I believe that you have so much to contribute to the world at this crazed point in time and that your experiences during the last ‘plague’, the AIDS epidemic, is of huge contemporary relevance.
You were at the AIDS epicentre in New York and have the virus yourself. As well as seeing many people that you care for die from the illness, you also lost Cabell, your life partner. You wrote a book called ‘The AIDS Crisis in America’ and also coauthored ‘Babalu Aye Santeria and the Lord of Pestilence’.
As the coronavirus has gained momentum I have become more vociferous about my belief that you have things to say about where we are now that people would find interesting, helpful and supportive. Many years ago, when I discovered your article on Babalu Aye in ‘The Ashe Journal of Experimental Spirituality’ it was immense help for me in my struggles with my own virus…hep C.

Then, while we were batting around thoughts on our possible discussion on the matter, we were talking about the ACTUP movement, and a few days later Larry Kramer died, and we both knew it was time to do this!

Charlotte: Do you feel emotionally and practically better equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as you have already survived one virus that could be seen to predominantly target a specific sector of society?

Eric: Having AIDS certainly changed my fundamental concept of reality. Ultimately, I learned to perceive Babaluaye as being the spiritual source of both the HIV virus and the means of coping with it. Likewise, I see the world as being home to effective deities called orisha who profoundly engage us and are practically evident. I still draw on them in trying to come to terms with what’s happening. I largely attribute my ability to survive to them. But I recognize also that I have and had a very good doctor, advice from Cabell and a lot of fight within myself. Those factors do give me back bone to say I can give myself a good shot now. Although part of me thinks, “Really Babalu, again?”
A virus enjoys no political stripe, moral or ethnic identity. It is not a traditional life form because it needs a host’s DNA in order to reproduce unlike a bacteria, vegetable or animal. You cannot rationally expect it to play by logical rules, so you have to accept some things lie beyond our control. Now, with HIV, I learned that it is a way in which Babalu manifests himself, and I learned some really terrible direct lessons from him. To detail the most intimate ones would greatly stretch most folks credulity. I think one of the biggest lessons was AIDS provided the trigger for many who were profoundly alienated, those regarded as society’s dregs, to realize their lives mattered and were worth fighting for. Win or lose, that’s an empowering truth. I don’t see how Covid offers that. It kills you quickly, unlike HIV, and doesn’t leave time for reflection. Like HIV it disproportionately effects people of color in the U.S. which is largely do to the various ills of poverty. Covid victims are disenfranchised by the responses to their infection. They are immediately isolated. Those who are sickest lose any decision making control over their lives because they are placed in drug induced comas. They are stigmatized by being isolated from loved ones by medical dictate. People with AIDS were isolated through social and moral prerogatives. People could make a choice to reach out to those living and dying from AIDS with little to no physical risk to themselves. Obviously, with Covid, the risk is extreme.
Sometimes, I wonder if Covid is indeed a manifestation of Babalu. The most obvious incarnations of Covid are hopelessly evil politicians, not a demigod. Babalu is not warm and cuddly when he decimates a nation through the sweep of his broom. Historically, there have been lessons derived from his seemingly indifferent wrath. Perhaps he as an earth deity is letting us know that the earth is severely burdened by human overpopulation or that our political leadership is beneath contempt. Maybe he’s saying I am rightful King, not this alleged homonid with a fake tan who will stoke up the flames of hell to thus stoke his ego. I guess those could be valid interpretations. Perhaps, at least in the US, Jesus Christ himself just decided he need a break and to die, since his followers here have replaced him with the aforementioned alleged hominid. Random thought, maybe Pata en Llaga sees an opportunity to fill Christ’s void here with those who can see…
Maybe I am qualified to cope better because I have had to learn to delineate a devastating health crisis for a long time, and am at least prepared to give this current situation some serious attention. With AIDS, at times it reverberated like the old punk song, “Everybody is HIV positive,” especially when confronted with days when you saw four friends or peers drop dead. That type of experience was limited to very specific and unique groups. With Covid the list of victims is much more universalized, and this Pandemic irrevocably changes the world as we know it. What will it become? I don’t know. Humankind is a remarkably resilient animal species that has adapted to war, plague and famine before. Some of it will survive. Whether they will inhabit a world we could recognize is up for grabs.

Images both by Eric K Lerner. The upper image is ‘The Tower’ and the image below is ‘San Lazaro in the Levantine’

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The Dead Have Been Bothering Me Lately

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The dead have been bothering me lately.

Perhaps it is a punch that hadn’t completely connected until the lockdown eased and I moved beyond my isolated bubble and started to take stock of a wider picture.
Intellectually I have long been aware of the huge number of people that have died and are still dying, alone and frightened.
The structures that society, religion and spirituality provide during the death process have all dissolved and in this ultimate free fall, there are none of the usual hands to hold.
Many of these supports are a way of assuaging fear of what happens in the act of dying and beyond that.
When I have read the Tibetan Bardo/Bardo Thodol for the dead for instance, from my very layman’s perspective although ostensibly being about guidance of future incarnation, much of it is focused on encouragement of the dying or recent dead not to be confused or frightened.
I have been present at the moment of the death of others and whilst there are records of people smiling peacefully and passing from this life, in my experience it is similar to birth in that there is a flailing and struggling as everything separates and breaks down.
I’ve been think of this huge and prevalent fear; wondering where it goes and if it is left lingering in the empty spaces.
Sites of fatal accidents often have offerings left to mark the place and the event and also to honour the life departed, thus preventing the space from being a fear filled darkness.

I was discussing this with the funeral celebrant Rudolf Berger, who told me how some elderly people who don’t have coronavirus are dying because they no longer had visits or human contact and slip away after losing their desire to cling onto life. He also talked of how unnerving it is to mark with words someone’s life and death, when the mourners staring back at him were masked.
I wondered if grief is locked in by those masks.

A friend who is a priest from another tradition talked of being unable to source various offerings for the loa that he works with due to lockdown and consequent supply shortages.
The usual solace for some, in times of dis-ease, is found in churches of various denominations, but for months the doors of these places have been closed.

Years ago I spoke at a conference where a respected American academic said if you want to destroy all your credibility and all chances of funding say that you want to study what happens to us after we die.

I myself wrote on the topic in some depth and was particularly interested in how identity and strength in self and community was solidified with strong rituals, acknowledgements and honouring of the dead.

I realise there will no doubt be moments of silence introduced by governments to acknowledge and remember all of those taken by the virus, but will the lonely and fearful processes of passing also be considered?
Perhaps awareness that fear feeds fear, and loving focus and a lightly placed flower will help set free some of these frightened dead, and free the living as well.

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We Do Things Differently Here…


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As we edge into the messy easing of lockdown and I gear up to moving into our new reality, it is impossible to look back and try to chronicle the shifts and swings I have gone through in the last few weeks.
There was another ‘day of three naps’ and a temper flare when someone came to visit and rather than sitting in the garden, just wandered into my house. I have had a real sense of wonder as I caught up with various friends and found we could easily talk for hours, partially because we didn’t have to rush off anywhere and partially because our shared history and commonality had been long forgotten, neglected and taken for granted as the years raced on.
I was stunned how contrasting many people’s interpretation of lockdown was and came across acquaintances who had hairdressers come and visit and were both mobile and social, just kept it quiet and under the radar so as to avoid social shaming and condemnation.
However I guess humanity as a mass has its own personality and mind set and requires clear guidelines and rules when there is no remembered archive of behaviour to access, otherwise we become instinctual and reactive.
I find this fascinating to an extent and as I see the craziness manifesting as lockdown eases I wonder what core we will hang onto to help us negotiate the new realities that are being built,
I’m sure there will be a resurgence of cults of personalities as people search for meaning. I suspect that the truths being explored will move between political, spiritual, philosophical and social as people get in touch with what they feel is their greatest need.
I was talking to a friend yesterday and he referred to the rebuilding of the economy. I was playing the devils advocate and said why would rebuilding be necessary to those in a position of money and power if the present situation is acting in their benefit?
I wasn’t buying into conspiracy theories although I know many that do. There are plenty of alternative ideas and reasonings out there both in the mainstream and underground media; that is what information is, something to be played with and interpreted to fulfil whatever needs you have.
That is also what my art is about, assembling information, mainly encapsulated in memory bytes embedded in objects, and looking at them from different angles.
In other blogs I’ve mentioned how when the lockdown occurred I witnessed many creatives in a state of elation, viewing a period of isolation as a boon. However I just wasn’t feeling this creative siren song at all. I had been snowed under by streams of information and experiences that I had absolutely no reference to and no way to process. Everything was coming at me rather than through me and the through flow is how my process translating experience to art operates.
Eventually I realised that the way to get through this was to create a completely different way of transforming these happenings. I needed new and previously unexplored tools.
There was no frame of reference to hang onto so I worked with wax rather than bone. Bone creates a memory gateway, but if the memory isn’t giving me what I need, no matter how many ways I tried to view it, I had to go for something more malleable.
Then I started creating stages.
Surreal settings, perhaps slightly alien but in that strangeness they became all the more relevant.
The final touch was starting to work with animation, a technique that I have long wanted to learn, but just never had the time. I could freeform making the movable components whilst using animation to create the foundations for a new and progressive approach, and as any learning process is a notably mistake ridden and exploratory one, I am mirroring my own life process.
Animating these stages was not just about making art, it was also about animating possible life paths and in many respects was creating an altar with moving components that actively explored and achieved desires and needs.
A friend sent me a message today saying that she overheard someone say that the world ended in 2012 and we’re now living in a parallel universe.
Makes sense to me…

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Repetitive Strain

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This is going to be a difficult blog to write as I’m extremely scattered at the moment.
More all over the place than a mad woman’s shit, as my mother would less than delicately, but very accurately say.
Near the end of second month of the lockdown I had a feeling of clarity and of waking up to new perspectives.
Rather than passively going with the flow of things, keeping up to date with strands of information (well as much as I was able to whilst keeping a tenuous grip on my sanity) and doing my courses and gardening and art and exercise, I decided to be more proactive. I started to explore the government guidelines for reopening the charity shop I manage and look at what changes will be occurring at the university I’m starting at as an undergraduate later this year.
Sorting through the mountains of legalities and information really brought home to me how the rules or guidelines to modern existence are changing to the point where they are being completely rewritten.
O standard approaches are still holding a tenuous grip on things and I have no doubt people, businesses and institutions will be trying to adopt traditional approaches as much as possible, but simply enough, everything is reformatting.
The above is probably an obvious conclusion and the term ‘new normal’ has been bandied around for some time, but when I actually involved myself in the minutiae of how aspects of my life were affected I woke up from the lockdown I had been bubble dwelling in and experienced a dramatic sense of freedom.
I had experienced a similar buzz in my first few weeks of social isolation as I joined many others in adaptation practicalities such as setting up online networking and zoom meet ups, however that was still a means of achieving the same ends by new access routes.
What I realised recently was that objectives and desires also were changing, not just the ways to achieve them.
When I acknowledged this I felt for the first time a surge of creative freedom, as if a tightness and constraint in the way I expressed had disappeared.
I realised that many outsider artists (of which I am one, much as I dislike falling into the constraints of the definition) whose work is often characterised by tiny massed components and heavy overlay or intense detail, were doing that because they were working in a metaphorical box; be it an institution or surrounding societal judgement they/we were working within narrow parameters and needed to keep everything tight and reined in.
With this change in my perception came the courage to take creative risks.
I started to play again, trying new things, making a mess, making mistakes and experimenting with different mediums.

This elation still lingers some weeks on as I continue experimenting and pushing my boundaries, but I have had a grim few days recently.

Part of this is I am spending too much time online which is a compulsive obsessive practice that messes with me on every level and in recent months I haven’t had the balance that comes from outside stimulus and experiences.

Housed in my home shaped isolated chamber I am seeing actual happenings virtually that are horrendous. Although these injustices have been occurring for way too long (I am old enough to have experienced many of these repetitive historical loops and that in itself causes me to despair about the nature of the human race) and I feel incredibly powerless and impotent.

Years ago I was occasionally arrested, held in cells and hit by the police. Whilst I had often done something to invoke legal wrath, though never the abuse, I can still remember the agony (and I use that word deliberately ) of knowing this was not right, but still not being heard…it’s like screaming and there is a soundproof barrier between you and those you are directing your plea too.
Some people live their lives with that feeling.

I am very, very aware that at the moment the human race is this huge mass of caged, volatile potential energy, an enormous wave that is surging around looking for an outlet.
I’ve been caught up in it a few times over the past few days and it is exhausting and horrendous…do this or try this, no that’s wrong, you have to do this…

Flailing around listening to instructions being barked out by invisible online voices.

So as usual I am writing it out, expressing my stuff.

Tomorrow there is a protest in the city I live in and I will be attending.
I am not specifying what protest I am referring to as I don’t think its relevant to use a specific hashtag. I am talking about my reactions, not a movement in itself. I do not believe what I am saying here will help that cause, and I don’t want to earn readers by latching onto it.

I agonised over going to this march in view of virus spreading and social distancing but I believe that I have weighed up the pros and cons.

I live alone and have been social isolating for nearly three months, and I can social isolate for a week post march.
I will wear a mask and take care.
It is the right thing for me to do.

The rules no longer exist, and if structure is to be reformed, I must do what I can to help create something of beauty to replace it with.

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Zombies, A Damp Turgid Squib and General Self Obsession.

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I’m now into my second month of lockdown and today has been a damp, drab and turgid squib of a day.
To tell the truth this squib has been bloating around in the outer corner of my peripheral vision for a while now.
By and large I’ve coped pretty well with everything,and managed to maintain basic hygiene levels, stay positive and a retain a relatively good mindset.
O sure I have had my off days, but it has been a month since ‘the day of three necessary naps’ and I have kept busy in a productive albeit slower paced sort of way.
I have noticed that the numerous relevant humorous memes circulating the internet slowed down after the first month, as did the large amount of contact calls people made to each other. I also noticed that at AA Zoom meetings, whilst still being well attended, people were less likely to want to share than they had been, and there were more long silences in the sharing time.
Three days ago I had a shift where I felt as if things had finally come into a clear focus and something that I had been living like a practice dance routine, was now an ingrained pattern.
One thing that I have become aware of and that bothers me a lot is a growing, lurking low personal self esteem.
I suppose this is normal as the rug has been pulled out from underneath various of my raison d’etres, and if I am focusing more on what I can’t do rather than areas in which I have power, it is way too easy to obsess on body image, which is just plain tedious.
My ill fitting clothing doesn’t help with this superficial reaction, however I have a few rather splendid kaftans to waft around in and that is a great bandaid for an issue that I can properly address once I am able to leave the house freely.
I believe it isn’t good for anyone’s self esteem when those one puts trust in (however jaundiced that faith may be) such as the government and the media, obviously and systematically misinform you, treating you as if you are a low IQ bottom feeder. Spending obsessive hours trying to track down news footage to fill in the spaces isn’t good for the spirits either and I learned quite quickly I had to stop doing this or resign myself to becoming a basket case.
Until recently I exercised mind, body and creativity and even had moments of enjoying the space and time, when I was able to detach from the actual reasoning behind the lockdown.
Since my resident felines died after living exceptionally long lives and my flatmate and his two dogs moved out, I opted not to have another animal companion as I couldn’t cope with the pain of losing their company.
Saying that however, I am nearing an age (and living in an era) where it is highly possible that I will die first.
Anyway, word has obviously spread via the cat community that I am at home and in need, and I now have a parade of feline visitors that I will spot wandering in my garden or on the street outside and I’ll rush outside to greet them (my human neighbours and I have the same system of street signalling).

I have never watched television, and only see movies at a theatre as that is/was the only place that I could sit still long enough to concentrate.
Well I recently discovered a way around this; watch tripe that requires no concentration skills at all.
Hopefully this intellectual degeneration is just another fleeting aspect of lockdown syndrome and I’ll acknowledge that I watched ‘Cockneys and Zombies’ and spent two days mindlessly scrolling on my phone, let it go and NEVER do anything like it again.

Something that is odd, is that I am writing from my bubble about my reactions to a measure of containment put in place because the world outside my door is being ripped apart, and I am writing all about me. Such a terribly human reaction.
However I guess that is the only thing I can have impactful insight into, as everything else seems so beyond the boundaries of my reality and control.

That’s today’s written ramble done.
Now I will resume my daily French class, brush up on my Lightroom skills and maybe, just maybe, check out ‘Pride Prejudice and Zombies’ which was recently recommended to me.

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THE THINGS WE CARRY

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‘if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always an immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil – everything. All around you are things purely living, and you are among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self- your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by force of wanting it.’
‘The Things They Carried’ Tim O’Brien

I’m actually writing this at my desk, rather than in an awkward position on the sofa with e-cig, mobile phone, and coffee within easy and distracting reach.
Hearing that the lockdown is going to be in force for at least another three weeks precipitated a late night lying in bed analysis and crisis of being last night, and changing my mode of writing is to be a small symbolic tweak in aid of surviving the longer length of time in solitary.
This time seems very much an era about the destruction of ‘me’, where concepts of identifying myself by actions and titles have been thoroughly trashed.
Some of this was part of times natural progression. When my mother died I was no longer a daughter and around the same time I reached an age when I could no longer be considered to be young.
My animal companions died and I was not an animal owner, my relationship ended and I was no longer defined anymore as someone’s partner.
Negative conditioning is something I prefer to avoid but last night I decided to continue the stripping away so I could start building up again…since lockdown I’m not working, not exhibiting, not a frontline worker so therefore not a hero…
It goes on (and please bear in mind, as I said this is a process that has been going on for a while, so cataloguing it is a way of flipping it around and changing it rather than diving head first into nihilistic misery) and as time has passed in lockdown I have found my ability to articulate, even on zoom, has become more fraught and awkward and since creative communication is central to my core that caused not a few crisis’ of being.
The first 6 weeks of social isolation I have been incredibly busy trying to solve this crisis of being with the age old solution of ‘doing’. I’ve ‘done’ language classes, craft and art classes, decorated, gardened, spent time in nature, read, read and read more. Gradually as the things to do have faded and the books to read have become a blur of someone else’s words and insights that I find hard to focus on, I’ve spent more time just sitting outside in the garden allowing myself to simply be a human being, part of a flawed and sometimes wonderful race and also an element of a magnificent and sometimes brutal natural living world.
So I’ve become reduced but also become more.
I’ve realised that I am human, a social animal and though unique in many ways, I am also very like others of my species.
Thus my ego has been well and truly shattered.

I wonder if spirituality and cults of the personalities will rise during this time as I’m sure there are many other dissembled ‘me’s’ out there looking both inwards and outwards for restructuring guides.

O and an aside to finish with.
The quote that I placed at the top of this blog from Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’ addresses something that many of us have been noticing; the world seems brighter, birds are singing more loudly and nature seems greener and more vibrant than ever before. Theories that this is due to the rapid healing of nature as there is less pollution and less noise and human interference, are valid.
However perhaps it is simply that the human race is encountering its own mortality, and that has made us look and appreciate life, much more closely.

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