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I am aware it has been over a week since I posted, and it’s not like me is it? As I sit here, not sleeping, again, I mull over the reason why. It is because I find myself, again, in one of those unbloggable periods. You know what I mean I’m sure. There are issues of privacy of others, confidentiality and I must confess also an element of tempting fate. The thing that I want to happen won’t happen if I blog about how much I want it to happen. So I don’t write. So instead of all that, which will have to wait for a series of resolutions and confirmations, I shall write about something else.

Teaching

It’s probably been a while since I wrote about that… Hang on… I’ll check… It was August, I very briefly mentioned a conversation with a student. Can’t be bothered to check back further. But while flicking back, it is obvious the games that are afoot have their roots in the months following the grand unveiling of “nine women”… The sea change again… To these things I will return when I can…

So, teaching…

I did an artist talk today to a group of first year training teachers. I spoke about my non-linear career path. I spoke of my practice, and my attitudes to education, and basically how it was too important to be left to politicians to bugger it up. I did this flowchart type handout thing with connecting arrows and so on, showing which bits of my work had led to others, which people had led to important changes and shifts in thinking. Then we played with some old bras…. And told each other stories…

I think, as I look at it, it is precisely this all-encompassing, non-linear aspect of my “career” (sorry, can’t do it without ” ” because I still don’t see it as that) that has formed my personal philosophy of education. I have taught pretty much every phase and in all sorts of odd settings over the last 35 years… Early years, pre-school, primary, special needs, adults with learning differences, FE, HE, workshops, practical skills, seminars, conferences, symposia, in galleries, shops, schools, colleges, universities, libraries, hospitals, fields, tents, sheds…. And in all that time, I haven’t stopped learning either. I never set out to be a teacher. It sort of happened to me while I was wasting time trying (or not trying) to do something else.

(Despite wanting to shake it off, education lies at the heart of my practice, whether I want it to or not. Those elements of interpersonal influence are really just education…. Maybe?)

What this life (ah, yes, life, rather than “career?”) gives me is actually quite a privileged view of the big picture. If I had school aged children now, in this political haystack of an education system, I would very seriously consider home education. Education throughout shouldn’t be led by a list of stuff to remember, but should be inspirational, full of wonder. I’ve known some pretty amazing, charismatic, inspiring teachers in my time, been taught by them, taught with them, and learned alongside them. These amazing individuals are being hammered mercilessly, and it’s time we told the hammerers to stop.

I now think it doesn’t really matter what you teach children, it’s more a matter of how. Reading can be taught in all sorts of ways, but a desire to read is the important bit. A love of stories and poems and songs can be fostered as soon as a child can hear and see. Same goes for maths, science, art, geography, history, music, languages, drama, dance, and even bloody business studies!

What matters is curiosity.

Getting out into the world and questioning it… Asking why. Everything else falls into place when you ask why. Everything is more understandable if you get your whole body involved. That’s what bodies are for, to collect the stuff to feed our brains. Sitting at a desk is never enough. Experience the world! Learn to get on with people. Especially people you don’t like, or agree with. Learn to grow things, cook things, learn to walk run dance skip jump… Learn how to look at the world and draw it, learn how paint works, how colours mix, how clay behaves. Learn about wood and how to build… Electricity, water… Weather… Learn how to interact with the world and suddenly the maths, English, science, etc has happened all by itself. That gets us up to about age eight maybe? Hahaha!

I find I don’t want to teach in the schools really now. But talking to teachers, even brand new training teachers is great. They aren’t yet jaded and worn down, they are idealistic, and keen and wonderful. These young people should be treated as the precious things they are, not beaten into some sort of political weapon to be used against each other. I hope that I’m not too old to see our government come to its senses (and any of the others left wanting in this area)… Would love to see a sensible shift towards common sense, away from the tail of data-gathering wagging the dog of what is really needed…

Idealistic romantic old bag? Moi?

Well yes, and unapologetic. In my experience, artists and musicians continue to educate themselves for the length of their lives, they continue to work until they die. No retirement. (Ah, yes, again, maybe that’s why I can’t call it a “career”?) This is in complete contrast with teachers, who at the moment seem to want to retire and get out as soon as possible, and to be frank, most of them look older than their years. Artists generally look and behave younger than their years. I wonder why that is then?


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I have often asked, of specific people, and of the world, through social media, “How do people cope with the world if they aren’t artists?”

It is a genuine question, as my response to atrocity and cruelty and everyday, ordinary nastiness is generally to shut myself away and work.

Shutting myself away is important. It sort of keeps me safe… (can of worms in itself)

Yesterday I told Facebook I was going away for a while. Those of you that know me as the Social  Media Whore will be astonished. But I can’t cope with it. I am emotionally unable to cope with the shit-storm of reaction to the awful attacks that happened in Paris. Not least because there’s this addendum of “oh, yeah, and Beirut, oh yeah, and Baghdad…” I find I am even troubled by people turning their profile pictures to the eiffel tower version of the CND logo. I am troubled that some people don’t know of its true, very specific, significance and call it “the peace sign”. I am troubled by the washing of profile pictures with the tricolour of France, as if this protest only matters now it is happening in Western Europe… Of course I have sympathy, of course I think it is a terrible terrible thing that these very few people have done to so many people. Of course, of course, of course…

But cruelty and atrocity happen every day all over the world. Everywhere, every day. I can’t watch the news, I can’t read the papers. I have not done so for many years now. I am uninformed, as opposed to misinformed. The media, ruled by very few, with a very self-interested agenda, are skewing, misinforming, misleading, manipulating. I have chosen to be uninformed. I am deliberately naïve. I am purposely idealist.

I am cloistered. My world shrinks while I process and deal with these things. My work is about people, and their affect on each other. I choose to look upon this from a positive angle. I could stitch and sing with blood and hatred. But I don’t think I would survive very long. I choose to look upon the ordinary, the loving, the sympathetic, the kindness, the lasting effects of love. Small amounts of unmeasurable kindness have huge unmeasurable effects.

One of my songwriting collaborators (The Pianist) has taken himself, his van, a load of materials, and his useful practical skills to Calais to help build shelters for refugees before the winter sets in. A week out of his life to take action over injustice and cruelty. The practicality might be measurable, but the effects of this kindness boundless.

http://brufordlow.tumblr.com

 

Another wrote a song about worn out shoes. Not a practical task, no. But hugely important. An unmeasurable thing. One song among so many. But this Bass Player is out there all the time, singing the song, or supporting others to sing their songs. He is ubiquitous around here, supports so many other bands, writers and musicians. What he provides is soul food. He makes life magical. Human. There is a sublime ordinariness about him. I’m picking on him as a representative of the artists and musicians who go out and do it…

https://soundcloud.com/davethebass

 

Art and music are ever present. In Paris galleries, and in the makeshift camps of Calais, and in the worst places humans exist. We strive for the pinnacle of philosophy and feed each other’s souls. ART IS IMPORTANT…

So what do I do? I shut myself away. That seems no longer enough. So now what do I do to make sense of the world that will also spread a bit of love and kindness? My work lies packed in boxes for nobody to see.

I may have to make changes… but how to do that while protecting my emotional strength and mental health?


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I love how words move their meaning around. Like a living thing.

I have often been known to quote Terry Pratchett. I think it comes from having had a teenage boy when Pratchett was at his most prolific. I read the books after my son, or at the same time as he left them about the house. One of the great things about TP is the way the books mean more, the more other stuff you read. And the other stuff you read has a light shone on it by TP… Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare… Jane Austen… Conan Doyle….

I digress, but a common theme in Pratchett is the power of words (“The truth shall make ye fret”). Moveable type is considered dangerous, as it is thought the metal remembers the meaning of one thing, when being rearranged to make another.
(I love this… It fits with my work so readily!)

About six months ago I wrote some lyrics….Thanks to the training of my songwriting mentor Dan Whitehouse, all my written ideas are dated and titled. Even if they are written on my phone or on the back of an envelope, as soon as possible they are transferred to my handwritten notebook and organised. Even if they consist of just a rhyming couplet. I think this is why so many of my songs have single word titles, because their conception is sometimes small and insignificant, a key word is used, and sticks.

Anyway… I digress again…
Six months ago I wrote this song, well the lyrics at least. I thought it was about the small amount of words it takes to wreck a relationship… The title is “Five Words” (not one word, and not five, but two).
It turns out to be about something slightly different. The five words uttered end the relationship, but are now spoken by the other party. They have moved to a different mouth. I prefer this. It is stronger. The truth is suddenly exposed, the fog has cleared…
The words have moved, their meaning has changed. The song is a living thing. As I sing it (my wonderful band mates have found the perfect melody for it) my emphasis is different. It’s now not sung with a sad heart but with a chin held high and determined. Excellent news.

A note about the handwritten notebook: In the absence of pen and paper, I have spoken into my phone, or tapped the words into my phone notepad, but nothing works quite as well as real ink to real paper. It has to be ink. Pencil is too easily erased. Ink in the wrong place can be crossed out, but remains there, either to be resurrected for use in the missing bridge or chorus (I’m crap at writing choruses, they interrupt my narrative)… Or they might be the starting point for a different song.
There is also that direct connection from brain to page… A creative stroke, mark making… Often a word is chosen for the way it looks on the page, handwritten, not just for its meaning. I like that.

At songwriters circle this week, Jonny said he didn’t like my opening line for the song “Jealousy”. He didn’t like the word “droop” in the line
“My eyelids droop, but I won’t go to bed”
He said it jumped out, jarred… Disturbed….
Other options? Closed, fell…? No. They drooped. In that way eyelids do when you battle sleep.
Being disturbed by a word can be good… It puts you on alert for the next thing… Keeps you awake…

Some words pin down exactly the feeling you want…. Until of course, they decide to change their own meaning while you’re not paying attention….


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Being awake when everyone else is asleep is called insomnia.

It’s just a different cycle. Some nights I get five hours, which seems to work ok, if you add an hour of lazy reading one end, and lazy breakfast eating the other, seven hours rest in bed is within the normal range I’m sure. Sometimes this is three hours. Sometimes two, three hour chunks, with a cup of tea in the middle (don’t go on at me about caffeine, in personal tests this makes absolutely no difference at all). It seems to me, looking at things such as middle of the night facebook activity, I’m not alone. There is an argument that looking at these shiny devices doesn’t help. The shiny device hasn’t woken me up, the shiny device provides quiet, contained, productive activity during periods of wakefulness, so I don’t wake others.

Among artists and musicians I know, this state of being is so common you might as well call it normal. For many, the lifestyle led is so haphazard that sleep is welcomed when it comes, and other things done when it doesn’t. We go with the flow it seems. We occasionally have afternoon naps.

Being asleep when everyone else is awake is called lazy.

Others can try to be helpful: I’ve been told by certain people not to have an afternoon nap, as I won’t sleep at night. (I’m not three years old.) I’ve been told don’t drink tea or coffee, don’t eat cheese, eat my main meal during the day, do yoga, go for a walk, have a bath, count backwards from 100, breathe properly…. Everyone has a solution to my problem.

Apparently my reluctance to do all these things means I’m just being silly. I bring it on myself. It’s attention seeking. Actually, it’s the opposite of that. I don’t want a cure. I’m not asking for advice. I don’t want to medicalise this. Sometimes I’m tired. So are other people. Most of the time I’m fine, most of the time other people are, sometimes they are tired and irritable. I don’t tell them their breathing is all wrong. I wish I’d never said anything, but while I was in a proper job “not sleeping very much” was an issue.

I am a lucky “insomniac” in that I now don’t have to be up and alert at 06:45 every weekday. I can follow my natural pattern for the most part. That works for me. I’m less tired when I can do what I need. Less tired when I shake off the need to conform to a societal norm.

So I have decided it should become a mission to find another word for insomnia. I don’t have a sleep problem. Actually I do ok now I’ve stopped worrying about it. I look at the clock now… It’s 05:40. I got up at 04:25. I’ve had a cup of tea, listened to a recording from yesterday and written some notes. And I’ve written this. I fed the cat and let her out. She doesn’t have a problem with that. I may read a little afterwards, then possibly go back to bed for a couple of hours. I wake at 04:25 refreshed, I shall wake again at 08:45 refreshed too I expect.

Sleep well, dear reader, whatever the time is!


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