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I’ve just been doing some research for work-related art projects and have discovered the most AMAZING place, just here on our doorstep, with sculpture by the most incredible artists, and a fantastic vision and resource for Scotland…  I’d not heard of it before, although apparently it has only in the last couple of months opened it’s doors to the public.  I wanted to share my discovery of Jupiter Artland with you.  I’m currently planning visits and workshops and more visits and more workshops…

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

The funny thing is, I’d been planning a quick Andy Goldsworthy blog based around an article in The Guardian’s Travel section a couple of weekend’s ago – he’s been steadily installing artworks in mountain huts in a particular part of France, for discovery by visiting walkers.  Never really wanted to go on a walking holiday until I read about it, so I might yet come back and share that particular source of inspiration with you.
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I’ve finally had some time over the last few weeks to get back into reading.  For months I’ve been half-heartedly starting reading books then setting them aside to do the same with a different book.  Or I’ve been so tired and overwhelmed by stuff that I’ve just reverted to my tried and tested ‘comfort reads’.  It has therefore been an absolute joy to lose myself in a book where the story or the central thesis is unknown to me and is just awaiting discovery as I turn the pages.

So in the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading these books:

Thousand splendid suns

” A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini.  This was lent to me by a friend from work.  We’d been in a book group together and had read “The Kite Runner”, and this book is really in a similar vein.  I enjoyed it, and found I couldn’t escape from thinking that although it is a work of fiction (and subject to feeling a bit derived in places because of that, I felt) the experiences of the characters are not fiction for people who lived through those times in Afghanistan. 

 

TheRoad

The next book I read on holiday was Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.  Oh my goodness, this is a breathtaking, terrifying, and traumatic book to read.  The Guardian’s reviewer said it better than I could, so check their review out.

 

 

 

 

 

Art for God's sake

I read “The Road” over 3 evenings, but found it so overwhelmingly bleak that I had to read something else more positive and hopeful before I finally went to sleep.  This little book, barely more than a pamphlet really, was the solution.  “Art for God’s Sake” by Philip Graham Ryken came to me by happenstance.  A friend had been looking in a second-hand bookshop, noticed this wee book and bought it thinking I might like it – I was touched by this in itself.  The book itself is great, thought-provoking, clear, and, for me, inspirational as I think about returning to some form of art practice in the autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

the price of water in finstere

” The Price of Water in Finistere” by Bodil Malmsten is another book that sort of came to me, although this time I actually purchased it myself.  A good while back, perhaps during one of the times I was off work ill for a while, I had been listening to Radio 4 and this book (although I never picked up the full title, I didn’t forget the name Finistere) was a serialised ‘book of the week’.  The parts of it which I heard were just fantastic, and I still hear the narrator’s voice as I read it now.  I’ve only just started this one, and am in love with it already.  It’s witty and cutting, and paints a picture of a particular part of France which I would now love to visit.

Each of these books has fed, and is feeding, me, mind and soul.  God bless writers everywhere!  Have you read any good books lately?  I’ve also been pondering how I’d feel about one of those e-book things, the Kindle etc.  I think I would miss the feel of pages, I’d miss the texture of a weighty cover or a beautiful binding.  Give me another 10 years, I’m the living definition of a late-adopter.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

One of the things I am so supremely rubbish at is sharing my faith in any kind of cohesive and unembarrassed way.  I know that’s a ridiculous thing to admit to, it’s so contradictory to have a faith that you apparently lack sufficient faith in to declare.  I don’t think I lack faith in my faith (stick with me, I’ll get less convoluted soon), so much as lack faith in my ability to articulate it in a way which won’t make either me, or the person I’m speaking to, or God, cringe.  I have this deep-seated belief that everyone else in the whole world has more valid views than me, and is much more likely to ‘win’ any kind of debate I get embroiled in. About anything.

So (sweeping aside all of the can-of-worms implications hinted at above) I am utterly delighted and not a little baffled that our daughter (who is just 4) has the whole ‘talking about God’ thing cracked.  And I’m filled with thankfulness for the people in her life that have developed that faith and that confidence.  Not least the staff and volunteers at our church who are playing a fundamental role in this.

Last Sunday, at our church’s ‘Sunday Club’ (Sunday school if you prefer) she made a little badge which says ‘Jesus loves me’.  Now, safety pins, crushed cardboard and smudged felt tips aside, she thinks this badge is the coolest thing EVER, and has had it pinned to whatever top she’s wearing almost every moment since then.  She’s worn it to nursery 2 out of the 3 days she’s been there so far this week.  On the first day we worried her teachers might think it was a bit weird, or that her friends might tease her.  However, her teachers think it’s lovely, and today she came home from nursery having basically started a new fashion trend.  Her friends have been trying to copy the writing so they could make their own ‘Jesus loves me’ badge.  I love imagining that the staff (who have to be very non-partisan about these things) are sat helping children to write out ‘Jesus loves me’ because one little girl who is utterly unembarrassed about her beautiful baby-faith has proudly shown everyone her precious badge that, to her, marks that faith and is a statement that gives her great comfort.

Now, what lesson should I learn from this I wonder?

Read this today in The Guardian Online.  Sounds pretty exciting, although I’m unsure what makes it illegal in some countries and not in others.  I’ve always wanted to be a situationist anarchist…

Yesterday’s blanket of snow over much of Britain has produced a tide of coverage and comment in the media.  I particularly enjoyed reading Stuart Jeffries’ lovely ode to snow in today’s G2 in The Guardian.  It has made me wish I was in London (for once), I’d have loved to see such a magical transformation – not just of the physical landscape but the way people responded to and interacted with it.  It’s funny and very sweet, the way this kind of  ‘can’t go to work or school’ snow brings out the playfulness in us.

Today in Edinburgh the snow has vanished overnight.  People are talking about more coming but I don’t know if I believe them.  That said, it was a treat to see the Pentlands still blanketed in snow as I came home from work a wee while back.spaceball

Last week my work colleagues and I were privileged to receive some excellent training to give us an overview into autism as a spectrum.  It was provided by the Lothian Autistic Society and I can really recommend their training if anyone else is interested.

It was fascinating, at the start of the session, to hear across the full staff team that attended what experience and knowledge each of us had about autism.  I was fairly typical – I’ve worked at times with children who use our services who have autism (usually with Aspergers), I’ve sat in on a previous mini-training session when I was on placement as a student, I’ve read a couple of fantastic books.  And whilst none of my colleagues are approaching any kind of specialist knowledge, we all had a good broad base of understanding – but just didn’t feel like we did.

And that seems to be the funny thing about autism.  It seems so ‘other’ that we don’t feel comfortable with ourselves and our competence when we are with people who are placed somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Anyway, the training was outstanding and across the board I didn’t hear a single colleague (some of whom are normally default-setting-critical!) say it was any less than excellent and riveting.  What did I learn?  Essentially that autism is a brain difference, which results in the person with the condition responding to and interacting with the world in ways which are so different to us NTs (neurotypicals) it is really hard for us to understand the world from their point of view, and vice versa.

Simon Baron-Cohen (who, slightly bizarrely, is according to Wikipedia a cousin of Sasha Baron-Cohen aka Ali G and Borat) is one of the pre-eminent scientists in the field of autism and has led the way with much of the current thinking about the condition, from what I can gather.  One of the most interesting aspects of autism is that it would appear to be the working out of an ‘extreme male brain’.  This has been identified as being because autism seems to arise from an extreme level of testosterone present in a child even before birth.  This is, presumably, why autism is so much more common among males than females.

This has brought autism into the news as it now appears quite possible for there soon to be a prenatal screening test for autism, following on from the publication of a ground-breaking study in the British Journal of Psychology (as it has been described by The Guardian amongst others).  And the big, controversial question which has now sparked a great deal of debate is “would a prenatal screening test for autism be a good thing?”.  The underlying assumption is that parents who discovered their unborn child had autism (although the test would not be able to place them on the autistic spectrum, just give a blunt identification of the condition) would be likely to choose to abort that child. 

I think that would be an understandable choice (I’ve not worked with autistic children who can’t communicate, as they tend not to be in mainstream settings like the one I work in, but have witnessed the enormous challenge and stress families can face when they have a child somewhere on the autistic spectrum).  But the assumption is that autism is something ‘bad’, undesirable in itself.  Most autistic people are physically healthy, and it is believed that in fact it is the more able autists who will suffer through their condition, simply because they are able to interact with the neurotypical world enough to perceive and struggle with their difference to the world at large.  It gets very complicated, and Professor Baron-Cohen articulates the thinking that needs to begin now:

If there was a prenatal test for autism, would this be desirable?  What would we lose if children with autistic spectrum disorder were eliminated from the population?  We should start debating this…Some researchers or drug companies might see this as an opportunity to develop a prenatal treatment.  There are drugs that block testosterone.  But whether we’d want to would be a different matter.

If you want to read more about autism I can thoroughly recommend “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers Syndrome” by Luke Jackson, which he wrote when he was just 13 – it’s outstanding, insightful and very sweet.  The other book I read a few years back was “George and Sam” by Charlotte Moore, and it too is outstanding, very intelligently and (just as important) intelligibly written. 

I’d love to hear your own thoughts about this debate.

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