I am a very small dog.
In the recent two years of my eight year life, I have lived in a loving home.
For six years prior to that, I was owned by a woman who bred show dogs.
By the time I was one year old I was a star. I was shown at Crufts which though very frightening and stressful for me, when I won my category it meant that I was consequently treated very well.
However it was soon discovered I couldn’t breed and suddenly I was worth nothing.
As with the rest of my pack, I lived in a garage, and when I lost my value I rarely was taken out.
As I was small I was the last of the pack to reach the food bowl and was often hungry and needed to constantly forage the floor for scraps; a ‘hoovering’ habit I have to this day.
When my new owners took me in they didn’t realise the life I had lived and were unable understand why I wasn’t house trained. They took me to the vet and were told that all my teeth were rotten and needed to be removed and that I was severely malnourished. The vet said, simply enough, dogs such as myself were a common byproduct of the dog show circuit and if he could, he would ban Crufts.
I had never been on a walk (aside from my parading around a ring many years ago in my show girl incarnation) and was confused when I first felt rain.
When I find a patch of sun I just sit in it and feel the warmth flooding through me, and though my eyes are still cloudy from years in a dark space they are now life filled and brave .
I’m not quite sure how to behave so I imitate the other dog in this house. She is the same breed as me but was rescued at several months old from an American puppy farm so she was bred adhering to a different formula. Unlike myself she had her tail and ears cropped and is at least twice my size.
Initially I didn’t know how to bark, but now I do which my human companions are perhaps not so pleased about as my fellow canine has indicated our job is to defend our humans and this requires vigilance and loud demonstrations of intent.
Despite this new found voice my primary form of communication is snuffling and grunting as I was bred to have a very flat face with tiny nostrils which makes drinking water rather high risk and means when I sleep deeply, as I now do, I snore very, very loudly.
I am very loving and very loved and though I sometimes have behaviours that the humans I live with find difficult, they want to make the rest of my life happy and healthy to make up for the time when I was only of value if I could make money.
I am a very small dog but I am now treated as if I am the biggest and most valuable creature alive.
I am a very small dog.
I need to update my website and have been neglectful of my social networking. A sculpture that I sold was destroyed by the professional art packers I hired to transport it, so I’m presently locked in an insurance battle to get my costs covered to travel across the country to try and repair it.
This is art.
I used to say yes to near every invite to talk and recently I was asked to speak on the sex industry at one of a series of presentations. It looked financially lucrative and good for my ‘profile’ but I intuited that it was angled as a sensationalist topic to pull in the punters and whilst I can appreciate this, I don’t want to bare my soul and aspects of my long ago past for that agenda.
Another aspect of art.
I’ve been working more in my day job which hasn’t been too much of an ordeal as the weather has been too grim to either inspire or to make journeys to my damp shed to create. When I work more frequently in my mundane job it’s all about fashion and jewellery which though inherently creative, triggers a desire to submerge oneself in that sphere. This requires more money, more work and less time available for personal expression.
I’ve been going to concerts, travelling, reading and gardening and whilst I’ve an exhibition date coming up I have found myself thinking, ‘why am I doing this, can’t I simply create as a part of my life without the need to sell or perform or produce to order?’
I’ve reached a point where being a commercial success is unlikely (though as Sylvia Plath said, these miracles of radiance do occur) and perhaps I should just settle down to a comfortable life where I have a creative hobby and a shed full of strange things and not need to burn myself out by pushing myself emotionally, physically and financially in the name of art?
My sister told me that five years after graduated from her M.A in Fine Art, only one person from her class was a full time artist.
I can understand that as the energy required and the risks and sacrifices necessary to even have a chance to become a successful artist, are huge.
Being highly kinetic I managed in my late 30’s and 40’s to work full time and write and create in my evenings. I was willing and able to live on a shoe string, sleep on floors and grubby couches, travel on the most basic level and go without food if necessary.
Relationships and basic comforts were secondary to art.
I regret none of this, but basically in order to succeed it isn’t simply about talent but about how you can utilise yourself, or be utilised, as a commodity.
Artists such as Winehouse, Avicii and Michael Jackson who were all dedicated to their expression and ended up harnessed, overworked and destroyed, occur so often as to appear to be the norm.
Remember Prince in his ‘Slave’ incarnation?
The publishing world and art world are perhaps more subtle than the musical one, but the commodification of art is still very present.
I was interviewed by someone about my being an ‘outsider or untrained artist’ – a label that fits me but like all labels can be a constraint. However as I told my interviewer, whilst I don’t have the benefit of training in materials, skills and marketing, I am my own master and can follow my path and do what I choose in order to express.
My publisher is specific to outsider or counter cultural writers and whilst he is always saying ‘try to sell your books/mention them in your talks etc’ and needs to make a living for himself, he was willing to publish my work because of its content and validity, as well as the possibility it could be commercially viable.
I’m luckier than most as though I still need to work part time to keep things ticking over financially. I can create and not only sell my work but gain the stimulus that putting your art forward to an audience gains.
I know a Juilliard graduate who works on cruise ships, a very well known performer who after 30 years in the public eye and a huge cult following has no home or savings, and many, many hugely talented people who have an audience but rely on social security to survive.
Success is quantifiable and judging myself in the terms of others may give me insight, and perhaps a tad of angst but the long and short of it is, it won’t stop me doing what I do.
Now I’ve said my bit and emotionally vented, it’s time to retire to my shed and create, and tonight I may well finally catch up with my website and social networking tasks.
There is much derision and mockery of the midlife crisis, most of it focused on men. Men with new gym memberships, new wardrobes, guitars, girlfriends and motorbikes and a few gold necklaces and articles of speedo swimwear thrown into the mix, are the butt of the same sort of humour that catergorises angry or outspoken women as being ‘on the rag’ or having PMT.
Perhaps men are more obvious targets than women of the same age who are considered to be going through ‘the change’ and generally depicted as not having as much fun. Instead of a gym membership and new hobbies they have disorientation, weight gain and unruly hair growths.
Either way the jokes are a way of taking away the power of what could be seen as an anarchic act, behaviour that is railing against the pricks and conventions of right behaviour.
When the young rebel, they can change the world. They create art and perspectives and new regimes or fall by the wayside of drugs and early death. They see a world they need to find a place in, and they don’t necessarily choose to accept this, even if it causes suffering and rage.
As we hit our middle years, we have found our place and some of us have found that place doesn’t fit and that all the energy that we have poured into it seems unacknowledged or wasted.
I have friends in their fifties who have committed their lives to various professions or workplaces who are now tossed on the waste heap, undermined and broken.
Other people I know have killed themselves; a tragedy that I had always thought was the bastion of youth and the mentally ill, but is also an answer to those who have walked a path that led nowhere, and have no energy or strength left to find another approach.
I see middle aged people who look in the mirror and see a face and body that doesn’t fit their memory of themselves and their appearance either needs to be adapted or accepted, derided and ignored.
This physical malaise is symptomatic of an internal disquiet. Again it’s about an exterior world that doesn’t fulfil the needs of the interior one.
Older generations chose to accept. Accept the redundancies, the rejections, the disillusions. Create mockeries of those who don’t buckle down, whilst making the best of things for themselves.
I’m writing this as an observer as I have so many crisis of directions in my life that are simply ‘me’ related rather than age related, however for some time I have been seeing so many friends who are in dark hard places, and whilst some have crumbled, others have pushed the status quo, challenged convention and done amazing things.
Crisis can create revelations and great, positive change. Deride it a your risk.
‘When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed that you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again, and yet again.’- Ursula K. Le Guin in Tehanu
I needed to borrow money from my flat mate again to get through the month, and when I eat, it never seems to be enough.
A month ago I was happy, and simply enough there was nothing to say, nothing to blog about.
For the first time in my life I have a creatively satisfying job that I love, and whilst I’m not well off I have enough to live on.
The hep c virus has stayed gone and the Damocles knife that hung over me for so much of my life is absent so there is no fear but also perhaps no driving force.
When I’m not working in my day job I used to write or be in my shed creating, now I shop or watch TV.
Of course things are happening in my life; when you’re in your 50’s there is an acceleration of loss and pain around you and your own memories and choices become more fully clothed; but I seemed to have moved through it, in a position to support others and be relatively unscathed myself.
I am still making things, but with no goal, and I have been creating jewellery which I’ve been giving to people until there is no one left to give to.
So I’m not unhappy, just drifting a bit. Sampling a life that doesn’t seem to quite satisfy me, something I realised at four o’clock this morning as I woke up, had a cigarette and checked my bank balance to find that the unnecessary make up and shoes that I bought on yesterday’s pay day, have tripped me into the proverbial red.
However it is the end of a long winter and I’ve never been too good with the grey.
My garden is starting to wake up, and amidst the snow I see hints of all the work I did on it last year, and I realise that I need an excitement, a creative project that sets me on fire, something that lights me up and triggers obsession and passion, takes me to the edge and drains me and gives me purpose and meaning.
I need the madness and the fear and the juggling act with my stability.
When I was younger I found it through drugs and brutal relationships and later I submerged myself in alternative coping mechanisms and passionate spiritual explorations.
Eventually I rediscovered my art and words which reconciled everything, but for me there seems to be a need to not just create, but to direct that process.
I think its time to plan an exhibition….
For someone with such an acquisitive streak as myself, a person who leaves the house and invariably comes back with more, regards finding a discarded screw or bolt with excitement and for whom a clearance skip is a possible cornucopia, being giving a Christmas gift of a book on Minimalism is somewhat of a curse.
Like 90% of the population I am presently in the midst of a New Year clear out of excess and I did contemplate binning the evil, white toned glossy book but decided to at least read it first.
Minimalism is a dream of mine but somehow the concept of space, white and light doesn’t seem to work so easily in the UK. For me there is further difficulty as my art necessitates the collection of found objects that most would find rubbish but I see as holders of memory and potential.
I also have a natural love of colours and textures with a surrealist witch’s kitchen aesthetic, embodied in apothecary jars filled with odd things and corners cluttered with curiosities.
Couple this with living in a shared small space and having what is known in antique dealer terminology as ‘the eye’ i.e being able to walk into a charity shop and find a hand painted Persian kohl pot or vintage Pucci scarf for a pound, and you have the minimalists anti-christ.
The only way to avoid becoming the sort of person that documentaries are made about, the woman whose only entry into the house is through a tiny crawl space of stuff leading to a four inch X four inch sleeping nest, is by either being a dealer, having a shop, or joining a support group of some sort.
So I give great gifts, run market stalls, and am constantly trying to clear (without of course touching the pile of said rusty bolts, discarded toys and such like that may one day become the basis of a sculpture).
I also have a shed which is an absolute joy, and where the real me can reign supreme and no minimalist seeds can sow their evil.
I was at a Peter Blake exhibition some years ago and as I was marvelling at his art work and inspirational collections of objects such as Tom Thumbs shoes, I queried the curator as to where Mr Blake stored all his things and was told he had SEVEN sheds, which evoked major envy in me.
Of course I pour over the beautiful minimalist Instagram pages, mostly based in Australia or areas with a similar climate in shades of white and blues, and invariably expensively furnished.
I noticed in the aforementioned book that I was given, that Apple and Steve Jobs are respective Zen gods, and the minimalist lifestyle was an expensive one- but I suppose if I didn’t buy 1000 £1 objects I would be able to buy one gleaming high tech, multi tasking necessity with shining sides and no embedded finger marks, archaic food stains or history crusted into it.
As a young child my family moved constantly, sometimes as often as every three months. The travel allowance was one suitcase. Bedding, furniture kitchen wear and household essentials were either provided in our next home (which was sometimes a hotel) or bought new but cheaply enough to be discarded on the next move. Clothes, toys ornaments were also left behind- there was no sentimentality or attachment allowed towards objects, only a view that they were anchors that one must be willing to discard.
So I’m caught between extremes- my desires and past conditioning, and my own innate cluttered and creative nature.
Today I have three large carrier bags ready to go to a charity shop, but I must simply drop them off and leave, because at this time of year everyone else is clearing space and reading books about expensive minimalist lifestyles, and I just know there are all sorts of strange, stained objects calling out for me to take them home.
I was on holiday in Chiang Mai with my family. We had been there many times before and had always managed to avoid the ubiquitous elephant ride, but for some reason on this particular visit my parents decided to stop at one of the roadside elephant rides.
Apparently these animals were ‘working elephants’ and the rides for tourists were only a sideline.
From a comfort and safety point of view I didnt like the look of the whole business. Yes, it definitely looked a bit frightening as the huge beasts trundled up and down hills, jiggling its passenger load.
I wasn’t sure what a happy healthy elephant looked like, but these creatures really didn’t look to be either.
I simply didn’t want to ride one. There was no point, they looked miserable and if it was about contributing to the local economy surely there was another way.
Unfortunately my mother mistook my reticence for cowardice and started to harangue me, as if my lack of enthusiasm was a fear to be conquered rather than an instinctive repulsion.
Being encouraged to challenge a perceived fear escalated to being bullied which is never pleasant, but when the diatribe is being delivered by a seriously ill woman attached to oxygen tank, it somehow stings more.
So I rode an elephant and it was horrible.
I slid and bounced around on the last elephant in the procession, watching my mother and stepfather in front of me seemingly enjoy the ride.
Near needless to say I was on a naughty elephant with a predilection for doing its own thing, and mid bounce I heard the most awful, heart rending, dog like yelping.
It was the creature I was riding. The scythe like contraption that the mahout was yielding was designed to hook around the elephant’s ear, and gauge the tender skin at the back of it when the animal misbehaved, thus the heart rending yelps.
Some years later I was again on holiday with my parents, this time in Sri Lanka where elephants are protected. My mother’s health had declined further so she spent most of her time in the hotel or waiting in the car whilst my stepfather and I would explore various sites.
I’d noticed various observation posts in the trees and was told it was because elephants could suddenly ‘turn’ and wipe out villages and do incredible damage, so numerous manned watch posts were a necessity.
The car we were in was driving along a stretch of road between two rice paddies when a motorbike some way ahead of us, sideways screeched to a halt, which forced us to also rapidly brake.The driver indicated that elephants were approaching, and as we watched, two of the creatures swayed their powerful way across the road and through the fields into the jungle.
It was incredible just watching these magnificent animals move, and my mother was particularly riveted, muttering how different they were when they were free.
My mother died several months later but both incidents must have been preying on her mind, because just before she went into the hospital for the final time, she told me that she was so, so sorry that she pushed me into riding the elephant.
The day after Boxing Day and I am in a cosy room at my sister’s house that smells more than vaguely sulphurous, sporting two impressive fat and sugar fuelled spots on my face and writing this whilst everyone is still asleep.
Working for so long in retail gives me a more than jaundiced view of the holiday season as I am part of the less salubrious side of Christmas; the dark side of consumerism bridled to the demon reindeer of media driven panic and greed, galloping to the abyss of temporary satiation.
Yeah, I’m jaded.
Not being Christian and not having children tends to remove any redeeming features of the event. However spots, flatulence and cynicism aside there is a glimmer of something special in the season.
For everyone I know, myself included, there seems to be a necessary argument or family fall out included in the seasonal proceedings
The older you get the greater this conflict can be as time adds layers of complexity, issues, and bitterness that all seem to feel the need to come spewing out to add to that festive feeling.
As always, Ms Passive-Agressive aka myself hides in my bedroom after that conflict, unable to flee as the travel infrastructure in the Uk has invariable collapsed at this time of the year, and there is no escape.
The thing is, it passes.
O yeah, I know families that let this standardised emotional explosion destroy them, but like all family orientated rites of passage such as death, marriage, or growing up teenagers, we are put in a position to make choices.
Do we value our family? Are they a unit, that though invariable flawed,is worth fighting for, worth accepting that we treasure them so much that they can get under our skin and perhaps deeply hurt us, but they also have the capacity to be know us better, and to love us more than anyone.
I don’t want to go all Disney and fuzzy warm hearted because that’s not my style, but maybe I’ll get just a little bit soft as I reach for the remaining few chocolate biscuits and my second coffee of the day.
I’m blessed and cursed to be part of a vibrant, creative and intelligent extended family. We feel deeply and have had a lot of pain and drama in our lives. The upshot of this tension builds and blows at Christmas. Sometimes this is because we haven’t communicated enough in the year, sometimes it’s simply because we’re tired or have had the past smashing on our door needing a festering outing, but the conflict and pain is a blip in the fullness of a multi faceted, deep and real relationship.
This year I didn’t storm out. I stayed,consumed enough chocolate to make me pass out into a dribble laden doze on at least 4 occasions every day, and had conversations and intimacy with a group of people who know me like no other.