Shining Solo

imageI had my first boyfriend, in the most flexible use of the term, in my early teens. He was large, homely, sub normal intellectually and a member of the ‘Satan’s Slaves’ motorcycle gang. We had nothing in common and he had no redeeming features whatsoever aside from having a penis and seeming to be a progression from teenage crushes on poster image men.

Despite the low quality of this male, I felt it validated me in some way and that I had become more acceptable to my peers by ‘having a someone’.

Fast forward 35 years and hundreds of relationships (yes, hundreds, I have neither staying power nor taste, although standards of a sort did develop later in life when my drug and alcohol consumption stopped).

In sobriety I started going out with consistently intelligent creative men, with the occasional abusive or horrific one sneaking into the mix to provide fantastic sex, stimulus of low self esteem and a huge reminder of my obsessive compulsive personality.

I just couldn’t seem to maintain an intimate relationship for any period of time without eventually finding the need to run.

In my early forties I thought briefly of Internet dating but I couldn’t imagine how I would condense my personality into the necessary précis and I’ve never been part of a culture that revolves around dating so the concept was an anomoly for me anyway.

My sobriety also removes the alcohol fuelled sexual initiative that often seems necessary in first stages of most relationships, and lack of drinking skills can intimidate some future partners.

I have friends with similar histories as sex workers, one of whom who is in recovery also (she was the one who when I said that I’d fallen in love exclaimed understandingly,‘o you poor thing!’) and one of whom isn’t.

The woman who is in recovery is sexually active but has given up on finding someone to be with permanently. The other friend was involved with someone, but unfortunately he reacted badly to the revelation that she had been a sex worker and threw up then fled when he was told, though perhaps she did give him too graphic an example of her working years.

Actually my years as a prostitute I didn’t find to be an issue when I have become sexually involved with most men, although they would rather not know the details (if they did I think it would be a tad disturbing). The main problem that blocks intimacy for me, isn’t my past, my madnesses, my constant need for adventure and stimulus or even my art work that uses road kill; rather it is something broken in me that no amount of therapy and self help books can fix.

So in my mid forties I chose to be alone as being involved with someone always seemed to result in my becoming lost in the life and needs of another.

For a long time as a single person, I shone. I developed creatively and emotionally and was incredibly happy.

Then I went and met someone that pressed all my buttons, someone so much like me that every time I knew I needed to walk away I instead thought… but I do that and did that too…I also hate phone calls, I’m unreliable, I’m manic obsessive controlling and addictive but hey- he’s got a job which is a first for me amongst my rather left field partners, so maybe that makes everything okay.

This pseudo relationship with the type of person I tend to call ‘the punisher’ (not in a BDSM sort of way but more in a let myself be put down and feel less than, sort of way) did have one advantage.

It reminded me that I do have a capacity to love, and you know,I would actually like to be close to someone again.

Change is always possible if I’m willing to take the risk, and risk taking is something I’m incredibly good at.

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Seasonal Incoming

imageI’m an artist and writer but still hold down a necessary day job to maintain both financial and mental stability.

This day job is in retail, working in a magical and fantastical shop selling curios and jewellery.

The wonderful fripperies that inhabit my workplace don’t detract from that vital addendum in all retail environments; customers.

As I was being given money for a transaction yesterday (together with a used and slightly damp tissue) I started thinking about my work over the years in sales. This thought process was probably highlighted by the awareness that Christmas is coming, something which is considered by shop workers with the same accompanying emotions that characters in Game of Thrones view the approach of winter.

This will be my 21st Christmas working here. Twenty one years of sleeplessness, mania and close encounters with the seasonal human herd instinct combined with their issues, rage and consumer pressure.

I’m not Christian so Christmas isn’t something I celebrate and usually I arrange to be be flying out of the country for somewhere warmer on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. However even if I did align my spirituality with the traditional Christian calendar I believe that my working in retail for so long would have well and truly destroyed any festive spirit that the celebration brings.

As a career choice, especially for someone so shy, shop work would not seem to be an obvious choice.

However I have a knack for finding things, and viewing them in a different light. I also am a story teller and to many people the purchase of an object is as much about the experience of the object and its story, as the piece itself.

My years of working as a palmist and tarot reader also stand me in good steed. The cold reading that fills in the gaps that divination sometimes cannot give, grants insights into customers lives and needs and ways of relating, and also creates a depth of communication that satisfies my own insatiable curiosity about people.

However all of this becomes redundant at Christmas when individuals secede into a mass and all too often I simply become a bleary adding machine and permanently active automotom.

Christmas is the time of the year when businesses succeed or fail, when memories of Christmas experiences past rule emotions, and when the priorities of religious festivities blur into pressure, obligation, materialism and debt.

There is of course a mysticism and love hidden in this morass but working in a retail environment you rarely see it unless it’s on late night television or during a long distance phone call to an absent loved one when the season becomes an abstraction of unity and hope.

Still, I can thank God that I don’t work in an environment that makes the office party a necessary part of the proceedings. Now they sound absolutely terrifying.

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A Woman of Substance.

imageI spent a month in a detox unit in Dartford, followed by seven months in a women’s only treatment centre in Kent. I was then transferred to a secondary treatment centre, again only for women, in Bristol.

The focus in this final facility wasn’t actually on addiction per se but on other issues resulting from rape and abuse such as eating disorders and self harm. This centre attempted to teach us how to cope with these things and learn to live safely in a wider world.

After leaving there, I spent a year in a dry house before I was allocated a council flat.

Why am I writing about this? It was all so long ago, nearly twenty years now and surely the past is another country?

Today finds me as a published author, a woman who is strong and independent. A woman who travels alone to venues both nationally and internationally to present her art and ideas. I’m not well off but I am warm, fed and live a happy and fulfilling life.

I don’t drink or take drugs, and although I work hard at maintaining my friendships I just can’t seem to maintain a long term intimate relationship nor manage to stay off anti depressants for long before the demons come roaring back into my life.

I was talking to a friend recently and telling her about some of the tragic, broken women I met in the treatment centres I was in (all of which only accepted women they felt had completely bottomed and burned out) and I found myself thinking that I must have been in a terrible state to be considered to fit into these environments.

I decided to remember the person I was when I first emerged from these facilities, maybe give myself a little break from self castigations about what I haven’t managed to do in my life and affirmation for what I have done.

Perhaps I may give others a bit of hope too.

Moving from my room in the dry house with its own electric metre and communal kitchen and bathroom but no living room, into a flat, was incredibly difficult to adjust to.

I was so used to a tiny allotted sleeping area, generally shared, that having more than one room of my own was an anomaly that took a very long time to adapt to.

I was organised and regimented in my life. Lists and order seemed to be a way of trying to hold it everything together.

I worked all the time and was fanatical about attending meetings because I simply did not know what else to do.

Basic personal care was difficult and an ongoing battle. Learning to cook for myself and eat well was a long long process and I think for my first three years in recovery I lived off caffeine and sugar.

So I didn’t eat, exercised constantly and worked incessantly.

In most respects life was all new and often full of great adventures and joy. I’d never had sex with someone straight before, didn’t know how to dance without being inebriated and although I had always loved clothes I had no sense of personal style or awareness how I looked.

I was also terrified nearly all of the time.

I would duck or flinch when a person moved too quickly and had great anxiety in social situations, often to the point I would have ‘fear sweats’ which is a stress related, prolific and very pungent form of perspiration.

I went on my first holiday in sobriety with a boyfriend, another recovering addict,  and handed over my spending money to him as I couldn’t trust myself with any amount of cash in case I spent it on drugs.

I was passive,vulnerable and prone to panic attacks and bouts of self harming.

Gradually I took some risks and started growing into myself. As I learned to channel creatively I became messy and more chaotic (I think that’s the real me, truth to tell).

I learned to nurture myself, stopped self harming, started operating as one with my poor battered body.

Writing this now I realise that I fitted in all too well with the other patients at the facilities I was in. Needing the occasional course of anti depressants or not being able to cope with a long term relationship isn’t such an awful thing perhaps, in the grand scheme of my life.

I’m doing just fine.

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Lost in Transit

imageI began doing unpaid voluntary work in my early teens.

I didn’t analyse why I started doing this. Perhaps it was altruism, pathological ‘caretaking’ behaviour or simply curiosity. Whatever the reasons, I enjoyed it and was strangely good at it.

I eventually qualified that perhaps I was giving back to a society that had supported me through very bad times, but that was a relatively recent reasoning.

I visited the elderly, assisted teaching disabled people to ride horses, taught rehabilitating drug addicts yoga and helped set up fundraising stalls.

Years ago when I was living in Hong Kong, a friend of a friend asked me to give a perk up and make up session to a very young Vietnamese girl who was in hospital and had lost her hair due to cancer treatments.

After spending several hours with the young woman in what proved to be a lovely, albeit very sad visit I was asked to help out in the Vietnamese closed refugee camp at Cape Collinson.

The camp was in the midst of a still active correctional facility. In the prison grounds was a building surrounded by a moat and barbed wire, and this was where the refugees were placed.

Most of the later waves of refugees tended to be ill educated (and thus unwanted by possibly rehousing countries) and were fisherman, farmers or manual labourers. On arrival they would initially be inclined to be fit, and as the concrete surrounding the building wasn’t enough enough to accommodate even a basket ball game, a lot of physical tension built up amongst the residents. This tension was probably exacerbated by being able to look out of their wire enclosed island and see convicted criminals wandering around the grounds in the surrounding prison.

The camp was clean but stark. Everyone, including the families, had a bunking area that was wide enough to include bedding and a few possessions, though most had lost near everything on their journey from Vietnam.

On my first day at the facility I was to help distribute toys that had been donated to the children. Every resident under eight was to receive a plastic dinosaur if they were a boy, and doll if they were a girl.

Bearing in mind that these people had nothing and were bored and frustrated and combine that with it being difficult to ascertain the age of Asian children, the consequent riot shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

Surrounded by hysteria and parents thrusting children at us in the fear of missing out, myself and the other staff ended up barricaded in the office until the security guards broke up the crowds.

I used to just hang out on occasion and talk to people. I’d listen to horror stories about the boat journey from Vietnam, and dreams of wonderful rose tinted countries that would hopefully become a future home for the refugees.

I’m not a qualified English teacher, but simply enough my role was to help these people fill in basic paperwork, all the more difficult as it wasn’t unusual for my pupils to be illiterate in their own language.

The classes were often interrupted by the security forces. On one occasion it was to remove several of my pupils who had suspected Cholera, but more often it was to take away people who had broken rules in some way and needed to be put in ‘the dog house’.

I made enquiries into this and it seems that this camp had been used to house civilian prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation and outside the moat was a small concrete dug out that had been used as a punishment cell. This was still in use, and was referred to by the Vietnamese internees, as ‘the dog house’.

I volunteered here for a while, but gradually life overload and other commitments meant I needed to step back from the work.

Some  time later I watched on the news the beginning of the forced repatriation of third time Vietnamese Refugee returnees, and cried.

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Full Moon in Aries

imageToday was a strange day. I went to the Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons and in the exhibits saw many examples of terrible human pain, but also of the transcendental beauty of life. A little later I went to an exhibition on the history of Bedlam which included art work created by the mentally ill; more suffering and again, more incredible beauty.

The person who was supposed to be spending the day with me has disappeared into a work bubble that pushes aside everything else and warrants no disturbance even for love and adventure.

Today has been about walking and looking, and thinking.

Age is an odd thing. One minute I was a disturbed teenager, struggling with huge emotional pain and fighting to survive and make sense of my place in the world. I surface from this mire, and thirty years have slipped by.

I have become a different person who has learned to swim in shallow safer waters and time suddenly seems too short to try and do everything I feel I need to achieve.

I see photographs of people I haven’t seen for years and they are now a different shape; bigger, smaller or simply more cylindrical. They have less teeth,less hair,more lines and more focus on their physical limitations.

Children I knew are now adults with progeny of their own,and illnesses that made me fear for my mortality twenty years ago, don’t seem such an issue now.

I sit in trains that pass multitudes of houses and think how every one of those homes hold lives that have experienced so much even if it was ‘just’ the beige carpet 9–5 lives of proverbial quiet desperation.

I want to shake people to say grab the opportunities, change things, love, take risks. Don’t simply wait till pain and chance follow their natural inclinations, but twist the skein and the weave a little, to make something that shimmers and shines.

However I admit being a fast moving hamster who has failed meditation lessons. I’m no longer frightened but simply in a hurry, so every moment becomes of maximum importance.

I have no goals, no particular direction, just the knowledge that as so much falls away in importance: the hang ups with looks; the focus on weight and with worrying what people think; something new rises to the forefront and that what really matters, is to live every moment in entirety.

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Interview with Art Dealer and Gallery Owner, Stephen Romano

me

 Stephen Romano (extreme left) with Joe Coleman and friends at the opening reception of ‘Opus Hypnogogia’.

So what makes art dealers select the pieces that they do? Commercial instinct? A certain aesthetic?
In many spheres, art is simply, all about the money. Money for investment, money to launder and money to translate into status. However, there must be some collectors who are in it for more than just financial gain or its associative power, or am I a deluded idealist, destined to starve in an attic rather than ‘get real’.
I have noticed that there are collectors of both art and antiquities that gravitate towards the indefinable, not the object itself but the feel of the object. I do it myself with bones and found items, opening myself up to what is contained rather than the container.
I talked once to a very urbane, very important antiquities dealer about this after I’d wandered through a 4 story Georgian house that contained just a fraction of his collection.
I presented my own experiences to him of going for the feel rather than the outward appearance, and he said he did the same.
In the antiques trade it is called having ‘the eye’, the ability to see beyond.
However, in art as with antiquities there are those who are in it purely for financial gain, and there are those that walk in their world for love, but balance their collecting with a professionalism that communicates their passion and makes its perpetuation possible.
I’ve come across reference to Stephen Romano’s Gallery and the artists exhibited there on various occasions. Although there was an eclecticism in the work shown, there was also a continuing thread of power and spirituality in all the work displayed.
While I was in New York we had tried to meet up to talk further but circumstances thwarted us. Thus I’d initially tried to interview Stephen in a more formal manner via e mail, but I can get over excitable and avalanche people with words and as someone who likes to think before he replies (unlike hyper reactive me) we decided to have a more relaxed approach so we conversed over a meandering face book message thread.
I’ve  removed many of my interruptions and comments from the following, as they interfered with the flow of the discussion.

Where are you from originally?
Montreal I guess, hard to draw a line where the story begins, so perhaps best to say Canada.

How long has art been part of your journey?
I’ve been drawing since I was 2. I had an aunt who was a successful Canadian abstract artist, she would bring me books on Durer, Bosch, Rembrandt and Dali. She encouraged me, enriched me. I always knew that I was going to be an artist, there was never any doubt.

She sounds a gift of a woman!
I struggled through high school as an outsider, I was in bands and stuff.

As a singer or a musician?
Singer…just always trying to find my place.

I could never get that ‘school-days are the best days of your life’ rubbish…
I was banging my head against the wall and then found the works of Anton LaVey when I was 13 or 14 which was a shot in the arm for my morale, and a huge affirmation for me.
Then later I went to community college and met ‘a master’ Ray Robinson who introduced me to deeper stuff, Castaneda, Shree Rajneesh and de Chardin.
Anyway, all the while the goal was to become a practising artist, which I did well into my 30’s. Then I hit my endgame, I was making black squares, essentially filled with rhetoric. So I went off into the world of art dealing. I just disengaged my passion for making art altogether.

Was the art you were creating spiritual?
The art? No more like Ad Reinhardt and Gerhard Mertz. ThinkArt!

Wow- was that change of directions difficult or just a transference of creativity?
Totally hard. Like a withdrawal from heroin. It was in my blood but I was tired of living a marginalized life, somehow art dealing was more empowering, so I apprenticed with a few major people, learned the ropes and the game and ten years later I was a private art dealer, doing well.

So what did these major people teach you?
Presentation is everything.
Know your facts all the way down the line.
Life is once, show up for it.
Always have the artist’s integrity at the forefront.
Don’t try to sell your friendship, sell the work.
Only present works you would want for yourself.

You love what you do?
Sure of course. It’s all I think about, that’s how I got to here.

Or is it just a job?
It’s not a job at all. I don’t even remotely think in that way. I had a job once, it was awful.

So what presses your buttons? From what I have seen of the art that you gravitate towards, there is a real mysticism and power in what you’re attracted to?
I have a background in contemporary but also Outsider and folk art, vernacular art. To me the whole thing is about, self-perpetuation and expanding your boundaries. Going through dark waters to find one truer light. An awakening, otherwise we are just specimens of a species that procreates and produces fertiliser. What sets us up from the other animals basically is our ability to perpetuate our intellect into the realms of the esoteric, the spiritual, the meta.
Now I would argue apes and dolphins and whales and others have the ability to do that as well and are as soulful as we are, more actually. The highest order of sentient beings is not actually man but as a generalised self-referential concept, let’s just start with that.
So…here’s my pitch.
Given the vastness of space, that we live in a universe that has no known boundary, the concept of the scale of spatial infinity is one that does JUST fit into our brains. I’m talking about the actual known cosmic space, not internal universe and the vastness of the breadth of time. That… what is it…12 billion years since the big bang theory, and we aren’t even sure of that any more. Time will flow infinitely into the future regardless of whether we survive as a species or not.
So we live for a very brief time, in a very microcosmic space.

O yes, life is so very, very short.
Given that realisation, one would be likely to succumb to despair and the hopelessness of our existence yeah?

Depends on who you are
Yeah, yeah, but I mean the average person or the general population, not the exceptions.

OK…
So what is the purpose? Well in my experience and that’s all I’m talking about anyway, what sustains me out of that angst is the need for self-actualisation, the perpetuation of the spiritual, contact with the higher order.

I relate!
And that to me is achieved through culture, specifically the visual arts. I consider the visual arts to be the jewel in the crown of our cultural achievements, I mean you don’t go to The Met to go shopping, you go for self-enrichment. I mean you COULD I guess, but you’d be missing the point. So there we are face to face with a great art work, having a primary experience with the real thing, not the JPEG. And we are so humbled that for 5 seconds we manage to turn off our internal dialogue lose our self-importance and be in the NOW and somehow through this experience we get a sense, maybe on an intuitive level I don’t know, that our potential as a species is so much greater. It is what de Chardin would call a ‘Biophilic’ moment as opposed to say, looking at something that dumb’s down our perceptual senses which I would call a ‘necrophilic’ moment, one that embraces the death of the psyche.

Like TV?
Sure, or Andy Warhol, or Jeff Koons not that I dislike them particularly, for me, and here’s where it gets beautiful, for me the TRUE artist has a shamanistic role to perpetuate the sense of hope and optimism and love and unity in our culture. To reintroduce and re inject the sense of magic, THAT is the true artist to me, not the showman.

Agreed but in my mind to also guide through the hopes and fears and taboos.
The ones who want fame and money and to be irreverent, again I don’t hate those guys I just don’t take them seriously. The true artist, they are the ones who will perpetuate a culture of good will, who will unlock our greater potential those are the artists that I love.

You’re walking a fine line here between the worlds. Visible/Invisible, corporate/counter-culture
O well, the true warrior, let me find the exact quote, it’s magnificent.

‘The art of the true warrior is to balance the terror of being alive, with the wonder of being alive’ Carlos Castaneda

Perfect! I stagger continuously between the two…
The great art is nothing more than that IMHO
The true artist…the work they make, is in itself not a representation of secondary experience. That art doesn’t interest me, it is primary experience in and of itself. An act of magic; the artist takes a strand, socially, politically and spiritually.

Okay, so if you perceive the true artist to be a shaman, what is the role of the curator and the art dealer?
The presenter, nothing more (or less hahaha)

Surely if you think in those terms, you see yourself as going from being a shaman to a presenter which isn’t perhaps emotionally affirming, though perhaps more materially so?
That’s difficult to comment on, and sometimes there is an itch under my skin to return to art making, like heading into an electromagnetic storm, but my sense of self-preservation redirects me!

O creating is a bloody descent, no two ways about it- when I stopped using drugs/drinking, my artistic process was terrifying as it was such an emotional and spiritual rock and roll of a journey, that often threatened my sobriety.
I’ve been clean and sober for 28 years.

Wow…only 20 years for me! So was getting sober part of your reason for changing your creative direction?
I guess…or part of it.

At this point Stephen and I went off on various tangents before he took me on a journey of some of the art that has passed through his hands, ‘a quick tour’ as he says. An incredibly intense quick tour as all the work affected me, whether I liked the specific piece or not, and although he recently shut his Gallery he seems to be incredibly busy for the next year or so, with various art related activities at a level way beyond my ken.
However, Stephen does talk of the Gallery ‘being an ecosystem of artists, enthusiasts, collectors, writers and of course what goes on the walls’ and ‘the plays within plays that occur within the exhibition space’ and he obviously genuinely loved his Brooklyn Gallery, although is philosophical about its shutting.
Somehow, I can’t see Stephen Romano not having his own Gallery to work magic in, for very long.

http://www.romanoart.com
http://www.shishigami.com

1

Anonymous Spirit Photo, mid Western American, c 1880.

2

Wolfgang Grasse ‘Merry Go Round’ 2000

4

William Mortenson ‘Preparation for the Sabboth’ c 1930, manipulated photograph.

 

 

 

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Making My Mark

image

It’s been two weeks since my return from New York and I’m slipping back into my usual, mundane reality. It wasn’t until I returned to England that I clicked that, hey, I essentially was paid to go to New York.

It was a huge realisation.

My explorations of the city alternated with recording the arts blog that my grant required, meeting and interviewing people, and preparing for the talk at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy. I’d be up at two in the morning writing,  and would find myself thinking, have I got some sort of problem, some sort of pathological issue that means even a holiday has to have a ulterior purpose that creates the need for me to work constantly.

When I had the revelation that essentially I was being financially compensated to do what I loved doing, it was overwhelming and wonderful.

Okay the money didn’t quite cover costs, but at this point of elation I’m not going to quibble.

This turning point has been recorded in the appropriate manner, with a new tattoo.

Years ago rites of passage for me were marked by scars. I had drugs to spend my money on, so tattoo work wasn’t an option.

That changed when I got sober.

The first tattoo I had done was a pentagram at the base of my spine to protect me, which also laid to rest a particularly nasty attack I suffered just before I cleaned up.

Further tattoos developed from there. Every one was a talisman, marked a rite of passage or honoured someone I loved who had died.

Someone in A.A said to me once that they were just another form of self harm. I looked at the burns on my arms, the scars on my wrists, the still visible abscess and track marks and remember who I was when I did that to myself.

No comparison.

Each tattoo acknowledges the emergence of an aspect of my self that I love, like and respect.

So now I have a badger tattoo on my arm; a feisty, powerful psychopomp that marks another forward journey, and its permanent companionship for me on many more adventures.

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