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It’s been a very exciting year… And it’s not over yet!

When I fill in the evaluation form for the Arts Council, does anyone know if there’s a section for Gobsmackery?

I’ve done things this year I never thought I’d do. I’ve been places I never dreamed I’d go. I’ve met people that have rocked my world.

The year has opened doors, introduced new possibilities… I just have to get in the car and drive there…

This weekend sees the launch of my new website. Over the years since I first had a website, the more work I’ve done, the less I have on the site. Each update has meant simplification, deletion, rationalisation, clarity. Each time I have a go at it I get rid of stuff. This latest go is even more brutal. A complete rebuild on a different platform. Leaner meaner fighting machiner!
(For which I must thank Briony Lewis, Life Model and Tech Geek extraordinaire… A talented woman with an unerring skill for spotting the right time to put the kettle on!)

Each update has signified a shift in thinking, a statement that I am more sure of myself. Compared to earlier versions, this one is practically naked. I’ve stripped out most of the text, halved the menu, halved the images. The photos are mostly done now by professionals, not me with my phone. Songs have become more prominent and are embedded. Video is way up there.

Education has disappeared. That’s not to say I don’t teach any more, or I don’t think it’s important: just that this isn’t the place for it. The people who are likely to hire me for educational work already know who I am and where I am. Also, I don’t want to work with children in schools any more. It’s there in my cv/bio. It is important to me that I did it. I am passionate that children get first class art, design and craft education. But I truly believe I’m not the right person to deliver it at the sharp end any more… I’m sure as anything that if, at some point, I get grandchildren, visits to Grandma will be messy. I anticipate baking and paint. Possibly on the same table. Probably at the same time. Stains on floor and walls will be seen as trophies and memories… But 30 children at a time can be someone else’s job.

The quilts have gone too. There were far too many of these, and they skewed emphasis. I have a house full of quilts. That’s what they’re for… Snuggling up under at home. I don’t need them on my website. I’m not making them for anyone else, and to be honest I’m not making them for me any more either. Gone!

In addition to my own launch, my friend Bruford Low and I wrote a song together that is now available on iTunes and Spotify… Go on…. Download it…. I know you want to…
It’s called Jealousy
This is very exciting… Hand trembly – brain fizzy – excuse me while I pop to the loo – exciting!

Next week, three more friends and I have booked time together in my studio to write. As part of the Songwriting Circle agenda, we collaborated and wrote a song. We have decided to do it again. It took a couple of pushes by our esteemed leader, Dan. I think this was almost by way of giving permission… allowing ourselves to do it, valuing the art as it were, giving time to something that could be brilliant!

So, on the outside it might look like I’ve just updated my website. It has greater significance. I am not that woman any more…

There’s a story told in the Songwriting Circle… And I think it originally came from Bruce Springsteen (not that he’s in the circle, it’s just his story)… That all the different versions of him are all in the same car… But the person he is now is doing the driving. That’s how it should be. The eighteen year old me that I recently posted a photo of on Facebook, she had no idea! So she should definitely not be driving!

(oh how I loved that stripy blazer!)

 


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People have said to me “I don’t know how you get time to blog when you are so busy!”

Other bloggers have said to me that when they are busy they have no time to blog, but when they have time to blog they have nothing to say.

I can sort of understand that, but I can also say that it doesn’t quite work that way for me.

My blog has become part of the process. Totally integrated into my practice. It is through writing the blog to a (mostly) unseen audience that I can get things into perspective and make sense of them.

I have mentioned that things aren’t going so well in the studio.They are still not, really, but I’ve been plugging away. I don’t believe in artists’ or writers’ block. You can poo-poo that if you like, its just my opinion. I could sit there feeling sorry for myself, or, I can get on with stuff. By “stuff” I mean I sort the place out, take things off the wall, put things up, make tea, invite other artists and musicians in. I trick the musicians into a collaboration (generally using a combination of beer and baking) and have a jolly time. With the artists we talk about the work and show each other what we are doing, including the work we are stuck on. Usually at some point, during the talking, the enforced stitching, and the tea, a connection is made and off I go again. If I’m up a cul-de-sac, then it’s my responsibility to reverse and try a different way, not someone else’s, or God’s, or Fate. Get on with it and stop making excuses. Of course… if you don’t want to, that’s a different problem, not a “block”!

I’m up a cul-de-sac. There. Admitted.

It has been a little longer than usual between posts. This isn’t because I don’t have anything to write, it’s more about what angle I write from. This is maybe the key for me. A description of my day, my breakfast, or even my work isn’t enough. It isn’t what I want to read in other people’s blogs, and it isn’t what I write in my own because it doesn’t get me anywhere. I wanted to get out of the cul-de-sac I think, before I posted again.

What I want to write about is cause and effect. Events and people, being affected by each other…Up to now, for quite a while now, this is how it has been:

  1. I did this today, with x, and y.
  2. It made me feel Q
  3. I remembered feeling Q about 20 years ago
  4. Q is what my mother used to warn me about
  5. This dress is like the one she wore.
  6. Take it out on the dress.
  7. X and Y think it reminds them of something completely different.
  8. Conversation ensues, the swapping of stories and memories
  9. A group of words lodge themselves in my brain and join up with others.
  10. A philosophy forms and attaches itself to existing philosophies
  11. A song happens.
  12. The song lodges in the ears of A and B
  13. A and B sing it in B and Q (but not the Q I mentioned before)
  14. C hears it… sings it two hours later without any idea where it came from.
  15. Strands of song, story and stitch have had an effect…

 

Of course, I’m not one to follow a recipe. There’s always the possibility that 11 happens somewhere between 4 and 6…

Throw into that mix a coincidence, an opportunity, or too much gluten, and anything can happen.

This week, somewhere between 7 and 10, P wrote a song too!

Which brings me to the Songwriting Circle. Something in one of my rambling blogs sparked a thought and a philosophy for someone else, and she wrote a very beautiful, very moving song. I loved it! Cause and Effect…

But I’ve stalled…

I’m prone to looking at things out of the corner of my eye, because sometimes, sneaking up on something sideways gives you a truer view. Maybe, I’m not really getting into making anything because something else is in the way. An opportunity I should give time and credence to. A while back, during a set-up collaboration session, I got shut in a room with three other songwriters. An hour later we had a really good, fully formed song. We were thrilled with ourselves. It has taken a while, but we have decided we should pursue this relationship. It worked well. We got on well, we all had different things to contribute… so we have made a date. This time, 3 or 4 hours, just to see what happens…

I reverse out of the cul-de-sac….

I clearly still have a chip on my shoulder about not being a “proper” musician. Why on earth would these three experienced writers, performers and excellent musicians want to write with me ffs? Also, I am a visual artist, so who the hell do I think I am writing songs? This is the me that often looks back at me from the mirror.

This week, I have chosen to ignore that version of me. I prefer the opinion of the other me. The other me looks slightly askance at things, the corner of the eye thing…

The other me is rather a show-off. The other me has bought a charity shop blue velvet jacket “to sing in”. The other me writes good songs. The other me is interesting to those other writers because she isn’t a musician. Things come out a little bit wonky, but that can be exciting, different. The other me doesn’t break the rules, because she doesn’t know them. The other me has hundreds of lyrics waiting for music. It is about time, I think, that the chippy me got elbowed out of the way by the velvet-clad singing me. Because that one, at the moment, knows exactly where she’s going.

 

The dead-end is the cause. So a change in direction… don’t know for how long… is the effect.

My ideas lately, formed, but not yet in the visual, have spoken of the effect we have on each other. It seems that instead of illustrating it, I get to live it instead…

 

I should trust the other one to drive for a while.

 

 


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This may well be a bit of a ramble… because until I get writing I am not quite sure where it is going.

If you read or listen to my blog often, you’re probably used to that, so here goes…

 

The interconnectedness of everything… the practice of everyday life as mentioned before. I have been talking to another artist about this again. The trouble is, I tend to forget, if not reminded.

I have a friend who says that my happiness should not be governed by other people. And I agree, up to a point. Our single/couple status should not be a factor in our happiness. Being half a stone lighter shouldn’t. Someone else’s state of mind shouldn’t. All sorts of things shouldn’t. But also, I find that this business of us rubbing off on each other should be a factor in our happiness.

I feel very emotional this week about many things.

The first is the way that so many people have responded to the refugee crisis, while our politicians try to score points. Fuck the points, physically, or metaphorically, grab someone’s hand, pull them out of the water, give them a meal, a blanket, a roof, and help them find their children. It’s a no-brainer, and yet some people seem to think they have to protect their second homes and tell everyone we have no room. Of course there is room for someone this terrified, this much in need. The least we can do, have done, is let those people in power know that it is not acceptable to do nothing. Let the world know that if our politicians do nothing they are not representing us. Since when did kindness become synonymous with weakness?

The second is Jeremy Corbyn. For the first time in so very very long, I see a politician with principles and a moral compass, who says what he means and means what he says. About bloody time. I don’t want any more waxy faced privately educated Oxbridge Tory bullies with only themselves in their heads and no idea of what is going on in the real world. Neither am I interested in Labour politicians pretending to be like them so they get a vote. That’s not how it works. I’ve been longing for socialism. Longing for someone to say no, to say that we need to look after the weakest. The strongest and richest can, and always have, been able to look after themselves. Our status as decent human beings rests on how we treat the homeless, the ill, the poor, and people who have fled their homes to save their children from dreadful atrocity.

We rub off on each other. I am the first generation daughter of immigrant parents. I am proud of how hard they worked to get me to where I am. I’m not rich. But I am so very very fortunate to have  been born in the UK. I have a home, a family, an income, and I’m doing what I love. If you look at just the numbers, we are poor. But I don’t feel it. I feel rich.

 

I call to mind Hundertwasser’s five skins: skin, clothes, home, identity and earth. We wear these five skins, my skin affects your skin, and we all affect the world, and the world affects us.

http://www.hundertwasser.com/skin

(I’m not espousing all of his ideas, but some have a simplistic idealism, and I defend the rights of all of us to think, create and express how the world could be different)

Our home skin is shifting slightly… our elder son is getting married, we welcome a new family member into our lives. Our younger son is shifting rooms, university homes, and prepares for the fact that this time next year, with a bit of luck and lots of hard work, he will have a brand new shiny teaching job. In preparation and celebration, I cut fabric for bunting, I wash and iron bedlinen for a new double bed, I move furniture around the house to reconfigure the sleeping arrangements, while trying to make it as welcoming as possible for everyone, so they feel part of this skin we gather around us.

If we do this on a larger scale, we will gather around us another generation of refugees and immigrants who will enrich us as a nation. This small island is brilliant at welcoming others and shuffling about to accommodate, and rubbing up against so that our food and our clothing and the styles of our homes and the layers of our skin merge and combine.

 

I’m having trouble with my art work at the moment. It encapsulates many of these topics. My unhappiness about the big things affects the small things. While my internal and intrinsic self is happy, there are external stressors which disrupt and undermine it.

My art practice is the work of trying to make sense of it all, to attempt to come to terms with the things I cannot change, whilst rejoicing in those I can. Some days this seems an impossible, ridiculous and stupidly pointless task. Other days it seems like the most important thing anyone can be is an artist.

 

 

 


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You can only go with that gut feeling can’t you?

In the studio, with the making, things aren’t going well. Everything either looks twee and stupid, or contrived and derivative of someone else, something else, or a re-hash of what has gone before. I’m not getting that tingling in my fingers that tells me to stitch faster because I’m onto something. Four garments hang against the wall, stitched, but mocking me: “Is this all you can come up with?”

Meanwhile in another part of my head, words swim about and get scribbled onto the page as fast as they can. Emotional concepts derive links from overheard conversations and common memories. The workings of other people’s minds are puzzled over and speculated upon and the rumblings end up as barely legible scrawl in my songwriting notebook. Sometimes they crowd me out, getting themselves from my brain to the page without thought until I discover them there later,  like the outpourings of someone possessed. Some of this scribble, is, of course, absolute bollocks. But occasionally, there’s a seedling amongst the manure.

Meanwhile in another part of my world, I had another performance last night. I puzzle over this too. It was received well, very well actually… I had comments and compliments about my words, and my singing. I hesitate to take it to heart, as I feel a huge part of how I am received is the fact I have Dan sat next to me. He has a quiet brilliance, a presence that I am sure rubs off on me, and that I have learned from. I bask in reflected glory. He is also validation: “If Dan Whitehouse is playing with her she must be good!” This is much like “If the Arts Council gave her the money, it must be good!”

I am cautious to be swayed too much by this… but… this is where the buzz is coming from lately…

Have I been bitten by the bug of instant gratification – an audience that claps and cheers (and whistles! Dear God!) immediately the final note is sung?

The thing is… the reason I want to go to the studio tomorrow is to record, not to stitch or draw. So I should follow that. I always tidy my studio desk and put things away and clean up before I come home. Despite my house being a tip, my studio is really tidy. This surprised me from day 1. I had always presumed that if I had a studio “It would be great because I could leave things out and pick up the next day”… what I have found is that it isn’t like this AT ALL…. and it never has been. What happens is, I want to go into the studio every day with the excitement of the fact that I would NOT feel duty bound, beholden, guilty. I want to go into the studio every day with the excitement of the fact that ANYTHING is possible… and that MUST be the case every day I walk through the door…

So, the garments that mock me will stay hung on the wall, and I shall ignore them. I’m going to plug the mic in. I’m going to sing, and write and record.

Meanwhile, in another part of my house, there are pieces of work, throughout my creative life, that have been unceremoniously abandoned. There was the half made dress… The elaborate stump work embroidery, the dragonfly tapestry… the half quilted quilt… they were just dumped, in favour of the idea that followed, never to be returned to. My obsession with songwriting and recording and singing could quite possibly herald another such sea-change… I can smell salt in the air…

I won’t have any idea if this is the case until it has happened, until maybe a year on… when the garment hanging on the wall is covered in dust, or I have thrown it in a corner and pinned lyrics to the wall instead…

 

 

 WATER

I stared at the bottom of the boat I just fell from

Could see the tree dappled sunlight

Saw the pink cloud expand

My blood drifted in rings round the ends of the willow boughs

I could see the shouting

Movement slowed by the screen of the surface

I felt calm and peaceful and wanted to stay

They pulled me from the quiet water like a second birth

The sound slapped me as I rejoined the world

 

I stay away from the water now, because it calls me back

I won’t trust myself to not dive back in

to find peace again.

 


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Well this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been talking about isn’t it? The affect one person has on another, and the different ways to express that.
Spoons.
Some people are “spoon neutral” in that they don’t rub off on you in any way. Some people use up all your spoons in a very short time. Negativity has to be guarded against. Deflect it with spoons!
Some people give you more. In their company you relax. Your mind is stimulated. Ideas flow. Connections are made.
It’s not difficult to understand why I went straight into the studio and made a little something on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I met Sonia Boué for the first time after about a year of online conversation and mutual blog reading, and subsequent discussion.
Sonia’s post about the meeting can be found here….

Sonia Boué is the sort of person who puts me in a positive spoon situation.

(Spoon theory, one of the topics of our conversation, can be found here if you’re not familiar with it
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory)

I didn’t feel I had to put on the mask, or try to be something I’m not. Probably because of online discussions and reading about her work with neurodiversity, I went in knowing that she would accept whatever I was. I don’t want to make that sound like I’m a difficult person to get on with, I don’t think I am. But knowing that someone is accepting of difference means that you don’t need to shut the weird stuff away until you know them better. There was always the risk I suppose that we wouldn’t get on. But I also felt, going into this long anticipated meeting, that that eventuality would be accepted too, without animosity.
And that is a gift.

It was funny we ordered the same food and the same tea. It was funny we both pulled a face at the discarded gherkin!

We laughed. We talked about some serious stuff. We made connections in our thoughts. Talking about your thoughts on your art is the best way to move it forward. Finding ways to express yourself out loud gives rise to clearer understanding.

My mind went *ping* as I talked about an acquaintance who used up all my spoons, and whose conversation worried away at me and wore holes through the cloth like little beads… I made a pinched up face and rubbed my thumbs and forefingers together…. And this little piece had to be made.

I wrote in the previous post about how the work was feeling way too “nice”…. We talked about what the visual effects of the negative spoon people. We mentioned razor blades. On the way to the studio I thought about sandpaper and cheese graters… Rasps and files… I’ve been very delicately withdrawing threads. It’s time to get nasty!

Thank you for a very wonderful afternoon Sonia… I’m sure it will happen again now we have found this mutual meeting place. While I sat waiting, I thought “we can always walk around the park or look at the exhibition if conversation seems awkward” haha!!!! We didn’t shut up for about three and a half hours!
(We did look at the exhibition, but not out of social necessity)

We also talked about family, education, parenting… Discovered we had similar philosophies. We pulled horrified faces and went “oh no!” At all the right places in each other’s monologues of interpersonal disaster.
Both of us being performers of one sort or another, it feels good to have an appreciative audience for life’s tales. I feel a song coming on ….

Here’s to the next verse!


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