To be honest, I’ve always been both fascinated by and simultaneously repulsed by Tracey Emin’s art.  It’s always seemed to me so brutal and so ‘flesh ripped open, here, look at me, look how gross this can be’.  It makes me feel uncomfortable, but somehow, like driving past a car crash, I just can’t stop myself looking at it.

I have a Tracey Emin book which I’ve only managed to glance at (am I afraid of her?).  It was a gift from my sister, very thoughtful and shows me she knows my fascinations, but I can’t quite face up to it somehow.  Even now a quick flick through has shown me at least half a dozen chapter headings my inner schoolmarm feels queasy at contemplating. 

But today I found myself getting excited as I jumped into my car to drive to work after stopping to pick up The Guardian to read at lunch time.  “How to draw by Tracey Emin” the header said.  So at lunch time I lost myself in the 3 pages of her drawings and her writings about her drawings.  Now, Tracey’s not one for a subtle image, nothing coy or twee.  And, being easily embarrassed, it was surprising to me that I was so blown away by her drawings that the content of a couple of them didn’t cause me to hide under my desk while I looked at them. 

In fact, her love for drawing and the power of art to become what we feel and what we remember is infused through the whole feature, for me anyway.  I was especially -moved? is that a bit cliched? – by her drawing ‘Ripped Up’ from 1995 and the accompanying text about the memories of having abortions.  Tonight I found a related section in her book ‘Strangeland’ and it stopped me in my tracks with it’s pain and honesty.  I can’t quite bring myself to quote it here, but instead I’ll quote her text from The Guardian today:

In 1995, even though things were going much, much better for me, I was still plagued with the memory of my abortions from 1990.  Mainly, because the first abortion I had didn’t work.  I was very ill and had to have another emergency operation.  Along with the pain and the guilt, I felt that I had to find a way to deal with this.  I made a series of drawings called Abortion. How It Feels, followed by another series called A Week from Hell.  I have tried to do abortion drawings since then, but they have never had the same intensity.  I think in 1995 I was still feeling the trauma of what Ihad been through.  I had just about stopped the yearning for a baby, and was coming to terms with my own creativity instead.  I know abortion is different for every woman, but I suffered the most digusting amount of guilt – when, actually, all I had done was make the right decision.

Tracey Emin's Ripped Up, 1995

“Ripped Up” 1995 Tracey Emin

I find it so challenging to contemplate that depth of honesty and truth and personal pain in someone’s artwork.  I admire it, although as I look at a return to art-making myself I wonder if it’s something I wish to aspire to.  My illustration background was always about expressing other people’s ideas, other people’s thoughts.  Why do people enter the art disciplines they do?  Are illustrators there to represent the world on behalf of others or to carve their own unique path of expression? 

Anyway, I’m no Tracey Emin but there are lessons  I should learn from her I think.

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So this last week saw me take what I feel is a pretty momentous step, and which I’m both delighted with and terrified about.

I qualified as a community education worker 8 years ago, and that role has both defined me and expressed what is important to me ever since.  It took me a long time to ‘find’ the profession too, I’d had my fair share of years in the wilderness wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my time here on earth, and I suppose it was no small coincidence that all the various little jobs, volunteering roles and areas of interests were what eventually channelled me into doing a postgrad professional qualification to enable me to practice as a community educator.  I have also been so blessed to have the chance to work for an amazing organisation for most of my post-qualification years.

So why, then, have I just quit my job?!

Since becoming a mum, in fact since becoming pregnant 5 years ago I’ve had a sort of split in my mind.  I wanted to continue to do the work I loved, that I could see also did so much good, but I wanted to not have the mad juggling act of parenthood combined with busy working life.  Financially we were in no position for me to stop working, and to be honest when our daughter was a baby I was glad to reclaim my self, to have a space where I was independent again (as much as any employee can be anyway).  As the years have gone by we have intermittently re-examined that position to see if our finances offered flexibility for other choices to be made, but until now that has been a pretty laughable proposition.

But this last 6 months or so have brought together a number of jigsaw pieces.  I’ve rediscovered a passion for art practice, and have had some creative juices stirred which could do with an outlet.  Our daughter is about to begin school and that presented new organisational challenges which we were struggling to reconcile (whilst being aware that everyone else manages these things somehow!).  As my mum is facing a longish period of ill-health and I’m feeling the distance between us, it would be great to have a bit more time and flexibility to head up to my parents to help out now and again.  And finally, once our daughter heads off to school we’ll free up enough money (from nursery fees no longer being paid) to make a career break for me a realistic idea.

We worked all this out about 3 weeks ago, spent a couple of weeks mulling it over, praying it through, and finally, last Monday I handed in my notice.  I’m not leaving immediately, I’ll be there for the rest of the summer but already my mind is shifting to new projects for the autumn, my eye is being cast calculatedly around the house as I assess areas to tackle when I have time.  I’m reimagining my mornings, getting up very slightly later, walking our daughter to school rain or shine (I’m getting rid of my car too, won’t need it) and getting to know other parents in the area as we gather at the school gates.  I’ve been busy looking at art and craft workshops I’d like to do, pondering possibilities and just listening to what excites my soul as I consider opportunities.

I also had a small crisis moment, induced at last week’s small group in our home.  So tell me, what do I say now when I get asked what I do?  I hate ‘housewife’, it sounds empty and demeaning.  (is that just me?  would I feel different if I hadn’t been a working parent?)  Apparently I’m going to be on a ‘career break’, but since I never regarded myself as having a career that doesn’t seem right either!  And although I have an art degree and I’m planning on (in a gentle and not particularly purposeful way) taking time to do more art, I baulk at calling myself an artist – artists are people other than me, I feel.

Can I still be a community educator even if I don’t have anyone to ‘educate’?!

I wonder how long it’ll take me to reconcile this?  I’m sure I’m not the first person, the first woman to feel like this, and I certainly won’t be the last so any insight and guidance will be much appreciated.

Found this remarkable interpretation of consumer society.  Statistics as art…now that’s got to be worth a little look.  The world really is a greedy place.  Or should I say full of greedy people?

I’ve not felt too much like blogging for the last few weeks.  After having a bug that just bugged and bugged, I got back to work and life at full tilt, and my brain hasn’t had too much capacity to hold on to thoughts for any longer than it takes me to think them.  I began to wonder if I’d had some kind of attention-deficit bug, with lasting effects.  But finally, tonight, at the end of another full and challenging week, I find myself getting to the heart of the matter.  My thoughts have in fact been focussed on a couple of very specific things, which have consumed all my energies – but weirdly I didn’t make the connection with my ‘bloggers block’ until today.  I can only write about one of them just now…

A few weeks ago my mum found out she has a form of cancer.  It’s effectively a kind of skin cancer but is in a place where it could give her some pretty nasty problems if it were to become just a wee bit bigger or spread beyond the surface of the skin.  Surgery will be a last resort as it would in all likelihood leave my mum facing a life reliant on medical support and intervention.  So they’ve been looking at the ‘best of the rest’.

The outcome, we found out this week, is likely to be good, so that’s encouraging.  However, (and I have no previous experience of cancers to draw upon so don’t know if this is typical or atypical of the cancer she has, or other kinds) the process she needs to go through to get to that good outcome is going to be horrendous for her.  She will get a couple of doses of chemo topping and tailing the bulk of her treatment, which is radiotherapy for five days a week, for five weeks.  The oncologist warned her it’s going to be excruciatingly painful, and she’s going to feel really poorly for a good while (she’s already in pain now, so not much to look forward to there). 

How are my parents coping with this?  My mum sounds stoic and resigned, my dad, well he sounds frightened.  And it is frightening, to face pain in the hope of a restoration of health but without guarantees.  To find yourself wondering how much pain you can bear, how you will respond to this unknown dragon.

I see us and we are all lost children in the woods, holding hands as we gaze fearfully into the dark night.  We are wondering which is the right path to safety and what monsters we will have to face down on the way.  We are wide-eyed with worry and just want to be back safe at home where it is warm and secure and there is a locked door between us and the scary world.  I want to close my eyes to make it go away, and yet these night when I do that all I find is the picture of my mum, small and purse-lipped and she tries to find the strength to cope with this. 

I wonder what God sees when he sees my mum, and my dad? I wonder what he will do?

As some of you may remember, last spring/summer saw my very first foray into growing vegetables.  I had very humble results, and learned more from my mistakes than my successes, the principle lesson being in never underestimating the destructive power of slugs (those little dudes have got evil appetites for anything growing). 

This year I’ve been aiming to expand my repertoire a little.  So far we have 3 potato planters at various stages of sprouting; a blueberry bush planted last year looking promising for our first crop later this year; strawberry plants in a container currently flowering away; another container beginning to show the first seedlings of rocket; some overwintering onions getting up to speed if they can survive the attention of wood pigeons; beetroot seed planted but still thinking about germination; chives, mint, parsley, oregano, sage all getting going in the herb corner of the garden; various kinds of salad leaves and lettuces recently planted hopefully in an old stone sink… and in the house, courgette plants and seeds, tomato seedlings, pea shoots, basil, rosemary (bit dubious about this, managed to grow miniature mushrooms last year when I tried to cultivate rosemary but hey, can’t hurt to try and figure out where I’m going wrong).  I’ve tried not to plant anything we are unlikely to either eat/use or share, and also have plans once the weather is a bit more consistently frost -free to plant carrots, spring onions, perhaps a few brassicas, maybe sweetcorn. 

It’s exciting and ridiculously rewarding to watch tiny shoots emerge from the soil, stretching towards the sun and often seeming to grow so fast you can practically hear the squeak of stems.  I have discovered I like to get my fingers muddy (although the inadvertent touching of a slug or other unappealing beastie does induce a tendency to retch – I was never a big fan of mini-beasts, even as a child), and find it satisfying to work earth towards a fine tilth.  Actually this last one is more of a dream than a reality.  Unnurtured, our garden’s soil is a heavy clay pan, so dense I could probably spend my time better setting up a kiln and fashioning rustic pots out of the clay.  Thank goodness for the wonders of compost, raised beds and container gardening.

Anyway, all this is by way of a heads up.  Coming soon, no doubt, will be lots of rants about the pestilences inflicting themselves on my veggies, pleas for anti-slug measures and eventually some self-satisfied pictures of my first harvests of the year.  I’m so excited!

Time has once again been on my mind. 

A while back our pastor told us that the speed of God is 3 miles an hour (I am paraphrasing…), because that’s walking speed.  It’s the speed we need to travel at to connect with His world and to notice the people around us, to become aware of and attuned to our environment.

A few sermons back we heard that you can’t hurry a tomato – and I love the message of waiting and expectation that is implied.

Then at the weekend, after a rotten few weeks of being poorly, and finally enjoying being on the mend, I was excited to receive the latest edition of Jamie Magazine, Jamie Oliver’s most recent adventure in publishing.  It was full of lush photography, gorgeous recipes, and some lovely evocative articles.  My favourite was about a winemaker in Beirut, whose passion and relish for wine and for his country infused everything he said.

I loved this:

“This is my Beirut,” says Serge, in his soft, exotically accented English. “And these are my babies, they improve with age.” He waves an immaculate cuff over the six or seven million bottles of vintage Musar, that are quietly, splendidly maturing in cool damp dark cellar cut deep into the flanks of Mount Lebanon.

“My wines need time”,  [Serge] states, “Time to grow, time to mature, time to taste.  Now, ” as he eases the corks from bottle after venerable bottle, “let us take our time.”

A few weeks back I read a little filler article in the Guardian about a journalist’s one-day attempt to ‘go slow’.  It was a bit of a half-hearted effort really, and seemed to mainly consist of her getting stressed about not getting stuff done.  It made me think once again about the obstacles which lie in our way as we pay lip-service to slowing down, to relishing life.  I don’t live a crazy manic life really, but it’s very full and busy enough to always have stuff undone.  Not so unusual really, but in terms of appreciating the world I’m in (in the micro as well as macro sense) and in terms of simply paying attention to those who come my way, most of the time life is too much of a blur to be that intentional about it.  And that just isn’t good enough really.

So I’m brought to wondering if that’s the underlying blessing of being ill so often, and in particular having a really horrible bug that has floored me for the last fortnight and intermittently for the 3 weeks prior to that.  ‘Go slow, take a little time’ became a command to be obeyed, not a suggestion to be shrugged off.

And so now, as I return to ‘normal’  I look back over the last five days in particular, as I felt less ill and more on the mend.  The afternoons spent curled on a garden chair in my pyjamas and dressing gown, cup of tea at my side, unread paper on my knee as I listened to the blackbirds singing, watched the apple blossom begin to flower, saw blue tits begin making their home in the bird box on the side of the garage.  The drowsing in the sunshine, the time taken to mull over interesting articles in the paper or magazines, the long chats with friends and family on the phone.  The sowing of seeds, the gentle easing of seedlings into pots and vegetable plots.  Time to reflect, infused with the hope and promise of spring.

I like going slow.  Taking my time is my favourite thing.  Looking another person in the eye and being entirely focussed on them – “love the one” as we’ve heard in church recently – is a powerful experience and a powerful gift to give to another person. 

So as I return to life with a little less leisure, (but hopefully a lot more health) I am holding on to those thoughts, those aspirations and aim to moment by moment put them into practice.  A little time well spent.

Ive read a couple of really interesting articles over the last few days, and have had that funny experience of two quite separate people in entirely separate contexts making points that resonated together for me.  The first article was in last Saturday’s Guardian, an interview by Viv Groskop with Boris Cyrulnik in The Guardian on Saturday, about Boris Cyrulnik.  He is a well-known figure in France, having done amazing work in helping children to overcome childhood trauma.  The article in itself was though-provoking, and I’d now quite like to read his book “Resilience” which is out in English now. 

The second article was in the Education section of today’s Guardian, and is an interview with Scotland’s exiting Children’s Commissioner, Kathleen Marshall (of whom I’m a big fan) by Jackie Kemp.  You can read the full interview here.  I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

What the two articles have in common was a moment of ‘looking back, looking forward’, and the resulting concern for our children and young people which ensues.

To quote from the Cyrulnik article firstly:

In so-called “normal” family life, if such a thing really exists, he [Cyrulnik] has one area of concern. Whereas he is appalled that, within living memory, people still thought it was acceptable to inflict physical punishment on children, he is equally worried about doing damage by allowing the child to be the centre of the universe. “We have done a lot of work on children who are ‘over-invested’,” he says. Some parents who have been hurt in childhood let their children do what they want. These children develop badly. “Over-investment is a form of impoverishment in itself, because it ends up that the child is only supposed to love one person – this self-sacrificing, all-permitting parent. This is a prison for the child.”

The idea of love, of care becoming so overwhelming it is an imprisonment for the child is disturbing, and seems like an extreme and unusual expression of that care, but modern society compartmentalises us away from community.  Perhaps it is not such a big leap?  The interview with Kathleen Marshall makes this connection more clear still, and it is her expression of this which I have encountered most in my professional (and personal) life:

The first of the UK’s children’s commissioners to leave office, Marshall has spoken out in several areas, sometimes not in quite the way one might expect. She has attacked the “risk-averse” culture around children’s safety and the bureaucracy around volunteering with children. Research she commissioned showed almost half of those questioned said they wouldn’t volunteer for fear of being accused of harming a child.

Barbed wire

“We say we wrap kids in cotton wool, but I say, because we have become so fearful of them and for them, we wrap them up in barbed wire and put up a sign that says, keep out, don’t touch,” she says. “And that is not good for children because they can’t develop the relationships they need with adults who are going to nurture them.”

Isn’t it funny how we can ‘care’ so much it is damaging?  The idea of cotton-wool kids is no longer a new one, sadly, and it is entirely true that this level of over-protection actually imprisons children.  But what is stranger still is that somewhere down the line there is a disconnect.  Those ‘caring’ boundaries place the adults responsible out of reach of the children too.  How do you express care and concern for a child if your relationship with them is not just boundaried but ‘out of bounds’? 

Kathleen goes on to talk about a leaflet she produced with some particular wording included that consulted children had asked for:

At the behest of children she was consulting with, Marshall included the word “love” in a leaflet for children in care about what they should expect. She recounts getting an official letter saying: “Love is not a word we use here in Glasgow and it is not something we expect of our care workers or our residential workers.”

“Perhaps we shouldn’t use the word because it has some other connotations,” Marshall says, “but it is what the young people come back to again and again. I worry that we are so busy running round filling in forms and checking up on everyone and worrying about stuff that we are not giving young people the time they need to build relationships when what they really long for is people who really care about them.”

(emphasis my own)

Of course ‘love’ is a word full of connotations.  But how worrying that we now live in a society where those connotations cannot be wholly good and wholly desirable.  When exactly did we manage to turn love into a dirty word?

There’s probably a lot more I could talk about here, but I’ve been sick for AGES now, and my brain is only functioning creakily.  Hope what I’ve written is intelligible.

 

 

[kreativ+blogger+award.jpg]

How exciting!  Lucy has given me a blogging award (along with some of my other favourite bloggers too, I feel very privileged).  Here’s what I need to do in exchange:

  1. Post the award on your blog, and link to the person who gave you the award (done that, and please check out Lucy’s lovely blog)
  2. List seven things you love
  3. List seven blogs you love (just seven?)
  4. E-mail or comment on those blogs to let the people know you’ve given them the award

Seven things I love?

  1. My little family – husband and daughter, and the collection of special toys who play such an important part in our four year old’s life that they Had Better Never Get Lost
  2. Following Jesus (although, to be absolutely honest, there are also times when I grind my teeth with frustration at how this works out in my life)
  3. Our church and in particular our small group, not forgetting the friends, near and far, who are extended family and form our daughter’s God Squad (because we couldn’t choose between them when it came to thinking about godparents, they’re all so amazing and special to us)
  4. Painting, drawing, making. I do this in spurts of energy and then long periods elapse where it just gets sidelined…
  5. …but the compensation is I get to work somewhere I can enable children, adults, colleagues to be creative and that is often enough
  6. The sea.  It scares me but I love it.  Beautiful sandy beaches are great but I’ve almost always lived in proximity to the North Sea, and so it’s the wind-swept dunes and grey thundering waves that make my heart beat a little faster
  7. Books.  I love reading, and always have way too many on the go at once, so it takes me ages to get any one book finished unless I’m using it as a ‘comfort read’ when I’m feeling low or as a break from more challenging reads.  I confess I also love books as objects (our oversized living room bookcase is testament to that), and am trying hard not to be envious of one of my colleagues who is also a book-lover and collects first editions.  THAT would not be good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll go and visit her books. I mean her.

Seven blogs I love (Nb. Lucy’s already namechecked a couple of my favourites, so I’ll let them enjoy their awards from her and award seven completely different ones)

  1. I have to mention my husband’s blog (The State That I Am In). It’s a fantastic blog with a strong musical undercurrent. I would love it even if he wasn’t my husband, I promise!
  2. Fourth Space is the blog of one of our small group friends.  It’s so thought-provoking, lots of creative and analytical thinking and processing (for both blog author and blog reader).
  3. Have you checked out Coffee Shop Journal? It’s a really great read, reflections on life, faith and more, book reviews and thoughtful applications of lessons learned, and always written with grace and humility. 
  4. The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus is in many ways (for me) the perfect blog.  All pictures!!!  I don’t know how he comes up with these fresh, funny and often cutting images so frequently.  Man or machine?! No machine could be this creative and offer such a human and humane perspective on the world.
  5. Without Wax (I even love the name of this blog) is another thought-provoking look at the world through the eyes of Pete, a pastor at Cross Point Church in Tennessee.  He uses video clips and other resources really well, and has got a massive readership judging by the average number of comments each post seems to get.  It is also one of the blogs I read that reminds me that there is a cultural difference between our two countries, which I really enjoy being exposed to.
  6. New Life From Old is the blog of another small group friend.  He doesn’t post too often, but always has something worth checking out.  He’s a scientist and is rigorous in his examination of faith through this lens.  He’s really creative in how he works this out in his life and the world (although I don’t think he’d use that word about himself), and deserves massive respect for his engagement with difficult and controversial issues.
  7. Last but not least I’ve just got to mention Wish Jar,which is the blog of author, illustrator and guerilla artist Keri Smith.  I LOVE her work, and every time I read her blog I get exposed to something I’ve never come across before.

I hope you enjoy checking these guys out if you’ve not had a look before.  (By the way sorry about the weird mix of fonts and sizes, can’t seem to fix it today for some reason.  Hope it’s still readable)

I came across this today in my sick-bed internet wanderings (This is my third mini-post today, can you tell I’m getting bored of being unwell?!).  I had heard of Galgael before, and although I’m still exploring what they are about, I’m really drawn to the work they do, the life they lead in Govan.  This little Youtube clip gives a flavour.

There’s a real model of community, of shared life and the sharing of hope, the restoration of dignity and the practical sharing of skills.  We need visionary people, like Colin MacLeod,the man who started up Galgael, so much in our world, and we also need generous-hearted people like those who joined with him to share and to realise the vision.

Lincoln Twittered about this, which sent me riffling through my paper version of the Guardian.  Very amusing.

My favourite bit is the “From the archive” section which has some Twitterised historical moments from the newspaper archives.

From the archive

Highlights from the Guardian’s Twitterised news archive

1927
OMG first successful transatlantic air flight wow, pretty cool! Boring day
otherwise *sigh*

1940
W Churchill giving speech NOW – “we shall fight on the beaches … we shall never surrender” check YouTube later for the rest

1961
Listening 2 new band “The Beatles”

1989
Berlin Wall falls! Majority view of Twitterers = it’s a historic moment! What do you think??? Have your say

1997
RT@mohammedalfayed: FYI NeilHamilton, Harrods boss offering £££ 4 questions in House of Commons! Check it out

Anyone seen any other good April Fools in the media today?

I’m feeling really lousy today (have been since the weekend) so it’s so great to have something to make me smile.  It was a work of minor genius to come up with the April Fool in the Guardian, and they must have had so much fun coming up with the archived Twitters.  Well done Rio Palof, who wrote the piece.

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