Thursday 29 December 2011

Less Of The Inner, More Of The Outer Life Please

I feel you have been patiently dealing with my inner life in recent blogs. It is time now to tell you of all the amazing things that happen in my outer life, rendering you speechless with wonder at the richness of my world.  I shall try not to tell you much about how I feel about any given subject, and I will try not to become philosophical or go inwards, as they say.  Let me develop for you a small time line.

November was exhibition in Birmingham -Birmingham and back - Soul Midwife training in Dorset and back - Birmingham again and back - and Birmingham and back - home

December was unpack - clean studio - assess exhibition - rest - eat - go to bed - plan Christmas - go back to bed - think a little - make decision to do nothing more until January 2012 - have Christmas - award myself OBE for getting through Christmas - do this blog.

It was a hard month, November.  From Alan's birthday concert in Crawley we travelled deep into the night with my car packed to the gunnels with A Graceful Death paintings and Stuff, to a Premier Inn just outside Birmingham, from where we took off early the next morning to park inside the Bull Ring. We had a window of about 3 minutes to unpack the whole exhibition outside the church, St Martin in the Bull Ring, in which we were to show the A Graceful Death for the whole month of November.  Alan suggested, with typical problem solving focus, that I drive along the pavement through the market stalls to the side door of the church where we were to unload and so I did.  I left Alan to carry everything into the church while I drove back through the market stalls and pavement, back into the one way traffic going far, far away from the Bull Ring towards Manchester and Edinburgh, and back, and round and round until eventually, hours later, I found a place to park.

Cut now to mid November and I am off to Dorset to train with the very inspiring Felicity Warner, on a Soul Midwife course.  I have longed to do this work, and so going to train with Felicity and meet all the people on the course, was just the bees knees.  A Soul Midwife is an emotional and spiritual companion and support for the dying.  It is work that needs to be done, and there are many of us who are deeply moved to work with the dying. I met Nurses, Old Peoples Home Managers, Witches, Shamans, a Funeral Director, Counsellors and Healers on this course in Dorset, all of us fascinated with each other and what had brought us to Felicity and this work.  Just before I left to drive to Dorset, I was told that my dear Aunt Kit, my beautiful, funny, clever, wicked Aunt Kit, had lain down that afternoon on her sofa, and died.  I had visited her just a few days before, and now she was gone.  Just for the logistics of this month of November - Kit lived in Birmingham.  I went to the exhibition in Birmingham and back three times, and to Kit's, also in Birmingham and quite separate from the exhibition, to visit twice, and then, by mid November, back to Birmingham for a return trip again for Kit's funeral.  And in the middle I did a three day training course in Dorset.  There and back.  This is how the Queen feels, going round and round the world.  I was only really doing Bognor to Birmingham on a kind of ridiculous loop, with Dorset and back thrown in for pudding, but we all have to start somewhere.

Enough!  November ended and December began.  December was a winding down of all the travel, organising, meeting and greeting that happens in exhibitions.  I finished Rev Rachel Mann's portrait

which you can see is perfect for her.  She is a Heavy Metal fan, has her own Heavy Metal band and will do, if asked, fabulous zombie imitations.  Rachel has tattoos, attitude, intelligence and energy.  She also has a condition that renders her very ill very often, and so to do as much as she does do, she must have an iron will.  Rev Rachel Mann is a force to be reckoned with.  This portrait is 4' tall and about 2.5' wide.  Anyhow, I finished this, and another couple of paintings, and an Angel, by which time I was thinking about how I did not care to do Christmas, and I may have to play at being a bit potty so that I didn't have to take any responsibility.  I also thought that I would take the rest of the month of December off, in order to sooth my jangled nerves and deal with Things in the home.

Christmas was lovely.  I didn't have to do any cooking, my Beautiful Daughter did all of that, and made herself extremely angry in the process. She escaped to my mother, aged 81, to let off steam, which is awfully good of my old Mum.  My old Mum is only 5'3" and Daughter, passionate and Shakespearean when having a meltdown, is just under 6'.   Fiercely Independent Son is deeply unhappy at the moment.  He has always found life difficult, and is near breaking point.   I think he is now just Lost and Furious Son;  he and Daughter do not get on at the moment.  Each wishes the other a spell in Afghanistan without body armour, so it is good that my elderly mother took the Daughter on Boxing Day.  Youngest Son though, aged 15, got a fab report from school, and seems to be less interested in Boxing and Thumping, has not been arrested for at least 2 months, and so I do not know what to call him now.  Instead of thinking that a blood stained shirt is a badge of honour, he seems to think a nice night in revising physics really cuts the mustard.  What happened?  Well, he was the twice on the receiving end of some tom foolery by a rather unprincipled fellow, who is known for his fisticuffs, and managed to escape with cuts and bruises the first time, but had to be hospitalised with a broken nose and possible concussion the second time.  So Youngest Son is a bit more thoughtful now about things.  Let us talk this through, he will say in future.  Let us come to a compromise and shake hands together as friends. 

Christmas was lovely because Cousin Maddy and her daughter came, plus Eileen, my dear photographer friend, plus my old Dad, and of course, Alan.  It was lovely because I took a back seat and said Yes to everything, making everyone very happy indeed except for Daughter who howled with rage and went to her Grandmother and Lost and Furious Son who also howled with rage and told us all that his friend was going to give him sleeping pills to help him sleep.  Maddy, trained health care professional, took over here and as far as I know, Lost and Furious Son has not been sleeping unduly long and we think, we hope,  that she averted that one.  But Christmas was lovely.  Next year, as I live in Bognor, we are thinking of hiring some chalets in Butlins so that we don't have to do a thing, and there are bouncers already employed on the premises.

So to end now, you have some idea of the Outer Life Events over the last few months.  Soon, on 1st January, I will have to be serious about what to do next year.  Or maybe, I will consider that on the 3rd.  Because on the 2nd, how about this, I am taking 81 year old Mum to Birmingham and back for the day!  Why?  We are going to collect Kit's ashes and go through her flat.  And, I am not telling you anything about how I feel about it, nor do I have any philosophical bon mots to say.  In keeping with only the Outer Life this blog, I am going to bed and taking a tray of tea and mince pies with me.  If I feel sick, I won't tell you about it.

Monday 19 December 2011

How Exactly Do You Climb Every Mountain?

How exactly is it done?  You believe you can.  That is how it is done.  You read in a book or hear someone say You too can climb as far as you wish.  Say it daily, and believe! You say with feeling and passion, I can climb mountains!  You look for signs in your life for clues about climbing mountains, you see them everywhere, and you stay where you are. Feeling anxious, you think, if I know how to climb my mountain, why am I still here? Here, then, is my thought for today.  If all it took to change things were words, then we would all be changing all the time. We would find ourselves half way up our mountains in no time, relieved that all it took were instructions and a good pair of shoes; we would keep our eye on the summit as it approached thinking, with a wry smile, that all it took was someone to tell us.

I have read and re read so many books that inspired me to reach for the stars.  Do it!  They cry.  You can do it!  All you have to do is believe and the whole world is yours. I love these books, I love how simple they make it sound - you too have the right to success, to happiness and to wealth.  All you have to do is this - and the This is to tell yourself that you can.  Books with chapters on how your mind can change, how you can re train yourself, and how you deserve this thing that you crave so deeply (whatever it is).  And all through the books are little testimonies of how things are so easy if you go with the flow, ask for them, how the spirit guides you to wherever you want to go and how the still small voice within is always talking sense.  Oh oh oh, I say as I read them, I too can be just like this, my still small voice will tell me how to get the Arts Council to fund A Graceful Death, the spirit will lead me to thousands of pounds and the mountain I shall climb, is called Grants and Funds!  Now I shall train my mind to will it into being since it is mine for the taking!

Oh but I still have to make a proposal.  How long is the proposal?  Many thousands of words.  And many thousands of pertinent and detailed questions.  This is not an easy mountain, I say, but my still small voice says I can have it so on I go.  Eventually I send off a deeply complicated form, millions of pages long, and sit back with my eyes going round and round like a cartoon hypnotist, and feel that this is, if I have done the thinking right, all mine.  It isn't.  I don't get the funding and the Arts Council are very detailed in their assessment of why I don't qualify.  So I have done it wrong, I didn't believe enough.  Those words I read were right, and I didn't apply them properly. Woe, time to throw the books away.  If only I had understood what it was that I was being encouraged to believe, then what I had to say in my proposal would have thrilled the Arts Council, which would as a single body, have thumped the table with their fists and bellowed By Gum, that woman is a genius!  Write her a cheque and don't stint on the noughts.

Perhaps I need to read some more words.  My mountain is unassailable.  Time to find another book to tell me what to do.

To climb any mountain, you have to start at the bottom.  How dull.  You have to stand at the bottom with your strong boots, in all the mud and the sun beating down on your unprotected head, and work it all out.  If you think you can will yourself up towards the top, you can't.  What I am finding is that no amount of believing and thinking can make those cold calls for me.  I still have to do it.  No amount of reading and telling myself in the mirror Every day and every way it's mine all mine, will excuse me from the hard work of taking the time to learn my way through whatever it is I want to do.  I had to stand back from A Graceful Death and ask myself, what exactly am I doing and what, precisely, planet am I on?  The Arts Council were right as it happens.  My proposal was not realistic, and putting the exhibition on in Westminster Abbey with Carmina Burana sung live on a loop and real cannons as in the 1812 Overture was never going to be easy.

When I first went to University, I was astonished to find that all people didn't think as I did.  I shall just tell them, I thought.  Once they know, they will think like me, and all will be well.  All I had to do, I reasoned, was to explain myself and then we will all be able to agree.  With me.  Oh but they didn't agree, not at all.  Even though I had explained everything to whoever was listening, most people argued back and didn't change their minds at all, in fact they tried to tell me what was right!  The nerve!  When I had made it all so clear, what on earth was there to disagree with?  I remember having a strong debate with a fellow student and finding a good dozen or so others listening in with deep concentration.  At one point, they all cheered and said She's right, you know, you lost the argument, and they were talking to me!  Hold on, I thought, I have explained it all to you, she isn't right, and I where did all you lot come from? I was very sorry for the lot of them.

My first self help books said Hey, change your mind and everything will follow.  Well, yes.  But I still had to find my clients and still had to paint their portraits.  I tried changing my mind about people who didn't want a painting, and think them into wanting one, but they had no idea that I was doing it and carried on doing whatever people do when they say No thanks, toodle-oo. 

Back to these mountains that we intend to climb then.  How do we climb them?  How does anyone climb them?  Asking those who are at the top how they did it will be no help.  Well, they will say, we just did.  And what self help books did you use, we will call up to them.  Leaning over to hear us and cupping their ear, they will look surprised and say, Self help book?  I don't know what you mean.  I haven't the time.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Philosophy, Mine, According To Me.

I met a lovely lady this morning, at a party in the Day Centre within our local Hospice.  It was a party for all of us who volunteer there. She told me, long before we asked each other our names, that she did Philosophy.  She told me why, and told me where I could do it too, and I was very taken with her.  She told me she has had to struggle with being judgemental, and that it has taught her to live in the now and to not be judgemental any more.  Gosh I thought, loads of people spend loads of time and money trying to live in the now.  Clever lady.  With that, she said she must mingle and off she went, leaving my Now and entering into a whole group of other Nows.

So I stayed where I was and thought of Philosophy.  I thought idly that if an Artist sat down in Bognor Regis, along the lines of a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere, would that cause the Nikkei index to crash somewhere else, along the lines of the butterfly wings causing an avalanche on the other side of the globe?  I liked this.  Cause and effect.  I remembered that when I was a small child, my father used to drive me mad, pointing to a bottle on the table and saying How do I know that this bottle is still in the room if I go out of the room and can't see it?  What if, I thought, my paintings only exist if you are able to see them, and they are not really there at all when you turn your back?  Oh goodness.  How funny. I sell my clients paintings that disappear when they turn their backs, and only reappear when they turn round again.  Or do they?

My own philosophy then.  What is my own philosophy?  I have thought about this and I don't think I have one.  Do you have one?  Do you have a philosophy to cover your life, your actions, your beliefs?  I do have beliefs that could be called philosophical, like Love is better than Hate, and We are all but Shadows in the Cave of Life and so on.  Keep it Simple is a good one to begin with, and would make sense. Though if that was my only philosophy, and I stuck to it all the time, I would be dreadfully boring.  The Keep it Simple philosophy would be become a motto and I would be rather constrained by it.  Perhaps one needs more than one philosophy.  A simple central fundamental one, with others like ever increasing circles around it to mop up all the mood changes, the variations, the different angles, and to make it OK to not quite stick to it if the situation changes. So Keep it Simple would be the basic philosophy, and the concentric circles may be It's not so Simple, then Complicated is OK, then Complicated and Simple Paradox, leading outwards to Chaos is Fun and ending up with Pass the Axe I'm Coming In.

I don't have a philosophy.  I hadn't really thought about it until I met the Day Hospice philosopher.  I have mottoes, I have ever changing beliefs and ideas, and I often haven't a clue what I am talking about.  Like now.  But, I can make that my philosophy; Not knowing what you are Talking about is the Font of all Wisdom.  I expect someone else has already done that though, it sounds rather sensible and both vague and controversial enough to provoke at least some discussion.

Maybe I shall think of a personal philosophy.  All is flux, I am told.  This is flux in action. I like to keep things simple, I like the idea that all is random and I also like the idea that all is not random. I love the flux idea.  I looked up a list of philosophies and was thrilled that these were listed amongst the hundred or so other philosophies- Chaos Theory, Defeatism, Digital Philosophy, Fanaticism, Leaderless Resistance and Voluntaryism.  This is the tip of the iceburg, I could have stopped at Universal Reconciliation and been relieved to find that they believe that all beings, despite their sins, are reconciled at some point with God.  I did stop at Quietism, because I like quiet, and read that - "By re-formulating supposed problems in a way that makes the misguided reasoning from which they arise apparent, the quietist hopes to put an end to man's confusion, and help return to a state of intellectual quietude."  It was the intellectual quietitude after having my problems reformulated and my misguided reasoning blown to bits, that appealed to me.  So, then, I shall be a Quietist.  I picture myself sitting quietly on a chair by the window looking blissfully vacant, having returned at last to some intellectual quietitude, as the children riot around me.  There is our mother, they will say.  It is a good thing that her supposed problems were only a product of her misguided reasoning.  Isn't it a relief that she has now become intellectually quiet.  And even though she looks goofy now, she will, at some point, be reconciled with God. 

My philosophy then, according to me, is that we should all be Quiet.  That, and that although other people are often right, I am always right.  (With reference there to Lucy Martin, author, linguist, entrepreneur and party animal, who said it to me when I was not very articulate and immediately I found my voice.  Thank you Lucy Martin.  You are right.)

Friday 2 December 2011

Don't Mess With Me, I'm Successful

Yes.  Don't.  I am successful and I may bite.

I was reading some self improvement books recently and in all of them we are encouraged to think positive and to practice affirmations.  This is the one I came up with, and it feels good.  A little uncharacteristically violent, but good.  I need another affirmation, though, to help me get over anyone who does mess with me, and I am forced to bite them.  That feels scary, so perhaps I am not quite there yet. 

However, I think that I am successful.  My life is very busy, and I run my life on many different levels, mostly, but certainly not only, that of an Artist and that of a Mother.  I have just come back from Birmingham where I took down my A Graceful Death exhibition from where it was showing for the month of November, and I have tied that all in with training to be a Soul Midwife.  My children, all of them, are in the throes of growing up and being both wonderful and ghastly all at the same time.  They are powerful, emotional creatures, tall and blonde and terrifying, and two of them are legally adult now.  Crikey.  You wouldn't know it.  The one who is not quite an adult yet, is being encouraged to do rugby to keep his anger in check, and is going to be nice one day, I am told.  The other two, oh the other two - I love them all so passionately, but they are off in an orbit that only young adults of that age can inhabit.  Whatever happens, it is all my fault;  I was born aged 51 and though well meaning, am very blameworthy at all times.  But, I am successful here too, because all of them do like me and are still alive.  They are ridiculously healthy and full of adventure and opinions.  (Frighteningly so.)  I am successful because I raised them alone and without a leader, as the great Horace Rumpole would have said, and I done, as kids these days say, good.

I am successful as a painter.  I paint well, and I work hard at it.  My success is that I can do it, I know how to paint and I have tons of experience.  People can recognise themselves in the portraits that I do, thank goodness.  And the Angels that I paint are full of love and kindness, which helps people to like them.  What else am I successful at?  Thinking.  Yes I am extraordinarily successful at thinking.  I can sit and think for ages, and sometimes, I can tell you about it when I am finished.  My success here, is simply in the act of thinking.  Like Pooh Bear, I can think think think for hours.  The next stage, what to do with it, is not quite so successful. 

I am successful at making tea.  I know how to make a mean pot of tea and keep it warm.  I have tons of teacosys, the best of which was made by Mrs Smith of fame, and is in the shape of a fancy iced cup cake.  A total genius, is Mrs Smith.  I am successful at drinking tea.  I know how to do that even in my sleep, and no one can fault me on my methods.  A resounding success - similar to the eating cake successes.  Very clever at that, very practiced.

I am brilliant at being nice.  I am so nice I can make you cry.  I like people, I am sure they are all glorious creatures and like me as much as I like them.  Even when I find out that they are not so nice, I am stuck in the being nice groove, and have to continue.  And do you know, they respond, often, in kind?  Not nice people are nice to me.  I am successful therefore, at being nice.

What I would like to be successful with, is making money.  I do not make much money.  It escapes me, I forget about it, I don't understand it and I don't think about it.  I have enough to live on, but I don't have nor think about having, an excess.  Many of my friends are clever about business and making money, they do it with ease and aplomb, but me - I am too busy being nice, and thinking, and drinking tea, and painting paintings, and being a Soul Midwife in training.  I am not that bad, but I do lack the killer instinct.  Which makes the affirmation I chose at the beginning of this blog, quite interesting.  It is about getting in touch with the assertive me, the tough, ruthless and menacing me. The biting bit is about harnessing the missing killer instinct.  The books say that if I repeat this affirmation as if it were a mantra, I will surprise myself and all will go my way.  Even more than it does at the moment. 

The Bognor papers will report that a suspected Artist has been making money from startled passers by in Bognor High Street, after barking Don't mess with me, I'm successful and pocketing the subsequent donations made in order to escape.  Some have reported bite marks on their trousers...