Saturday 26 February 2022

What do I really think? Publicly? I can't tell you that.


Keeping mum. 

What do I really think?  Publicly?  I can't tell you that.  Friendships depend on you not knowing. I need support for my work so it is best that I don't say, although luckily, no one has asked me incendiary questions recently and so for the time being, I am safe.

This is not quite how my life is, I am not in that terrible position where I have to, or choose to, make public choices about life, politics or health.  I am not a politician or a famous person or an activist, I don't belong in the great big world of opinions and pronouncements.  This is a huge relief, I would not survive at all, I don't like conflict and I absolutely hate annoying people (though I know, I do annoy some of you sometimes).  I like peace, agreement, harmony and happiness.  I live alone in my colourful house and it is filled with loveliness because no one is here to challenge it.  I find refuge and real happiness here but oh.  When I look outside at what is going on in the world, I am very alarmed. 

I do not have a television or a radio, and I do not read the newspapers.  This is a choice I made two years ago when I began to question the stories I was hearing and reading, and so decided to stop hearing and reading them.  I was as bad as anyone else, very comfortable in being right about everything and so when I began to see cracks in the stories that gave me so much comfort and moral correctness, much against my will, I had to let go of trusting everything I heard and read, and start again.   Instead, I looked around me at the life of my family and friends, and based much of my local knowledge of what was happening to them.  I have a huge network of both, so felt very updated at least on their lives and times.  For news and updates from further afield and abroad, I found podcasts by as many sensible people as I could, and expanded my horizons.  I looked on YouTube and found a vast array of news from many different angles, and now I feel I know as much as I did before, but from a few more perspectives than before I banned newspapers, radios and televisions from my life.  

But back to not saying what I really think - I have come to this conclusion while watching people get

Fisticuffs online
into trouble on social and mainstream media.  I have, for the life of me I don't know why, a Twitter account which I don't use except to see how mean other people are being to each other.  I have Facebook and Instagram accounts to post my jolly stories and see what my friends and people I like are doing but of course, it never is just about our friends; once I have checked in on them, I am drawn into reading and watching conversations, posts and articles that sometimes make me wonder what planet I am on.  And here is the difficulty.  I cannot tell you what they are, or what they are about, because all these points of view and opinions seem so very personal to the people that put them up and to those that reply and either argue or agree, that if I even hinted at what they are I would be in on the fisticuffs if any of them read this and took offense.  I may incur the kind of wrath that I see around me, so the best thing is to say nothing at all and only whisper my opinions to my closest friends and tell them to keep it to themselves.  

I read news on social media and You Tube and am send snippets of more news by my family and friends that make me wary of letting anyone know what I think and believe.  I admit, that as far as lockdowns go I have spoken my mind, and I do know there is footage of me on the anti lockdown and anti vaccine mandate marches in London and for that I got a wee bit of flack.  Those really did count as incendiary opinions, though surprisingly an awful lot of response was positive.  Still, it gave me a taste of thinking things that other people wanted me to stop thinking.  

There are so many contentious things online.  I wonder if it is the same in real life?  I look online and see that people are divided into hysterically opposing teams.  There is footage of them all being very rude and unbalanced about each other, whatever it is they are fighting about.  There are so many subjects it is dangerous to engage in.  Despite the fact checkers checking their opponents out of existence, they have not stopped all the shouting.  I went onto Twitter just now to see people misreading what other people had said and using all manner of horrid words in their responses.  It is the same on other social media platforms, and sometimes I see things I utterly disagree with too and think are bonkers but I do not respond.  Even though sometimes I want to say something really witty and cutting, I don't because then I am entering the battle.  And it is a one sided, unwinnable, irrational battle that goes nowhere and does no good.  And online, it appears, if one is wrong enough, one loses ones job and has to hide from angry mobs.  I don't want any of that, I need you all to support my work and love me, I really can't have my opinions and beliefs made public at all just in case.  But I have noticed in real life, I don't see any of this behaviour.  No one I know shouts people down if they are speaking in public.  I don't have any friends who scream at other people or break windows in mostly peaceful protests.  That may be because I live in Bognor Regis, and we don't seem to do a lot of that kind of thing here. It does happen in the wider world, and has already happened to lots of prominent people though, and I am horrified that it does.  But so far, because I have not said anything too wrong, I have got away with thinking unsafe things - such that they are because never having tested them I do not know, I am just guessing by seeing who gets bashed and why on social and main stream media.

I aspired to this
 Perhaps I am showing my age.  Perhaps we humans were always thus, and I just think in my youth everyone behaved better.  But we didn't have the internet and so the dissatisfied youth of my day had pitched battles in the town centres instead.  I remember football hooligans fighting each other with broken bottles, I remember dreadful gangs looking for foreign youths to attack at night after the pubs closed, I remember being very afraid of a terrible thing called skinheads.  And when I saw one, they looked so odd in their braces, boots and shaved heads that I would run away.  And then I remember Punks.  They were all about anarchy and spitting and mayhem.  I was 16 then and thought they were a great idea and so became a kind of fairy version of one.  I wore all the clothes, did my hair like a goth and wore tons of black eye makeup.  I didn't spit though, or throw up on anyone.  Punks, being into anarchy and destruction, could wreck the joint in no time at all. I didn't do that, but I did put safety pins all over my clothes like they did though of course, they put them in their ears, noses and mouths too.  I wafted on the edge of punkdom feeling very grown up and not getting hurt.

But my parents and my grandparents thought the world was ending when they saw me joining in the anarchy as a pseudo punk.  Oh how they lamented the way we youngsters were going.  No one did this in their day they cried - until they remembered the teddy boys of the 1950s causing trouble and the astonishment around Bill Haley's record Rock Around The Clock which ushered in Rock and Roll and the end of civilisation.  At the time, none of it was heard of.  It seems that each new generation has it's own version of bad behaviour.  It just seems the ones we were involved in were better and the stuff going on now is worse than we ever were.

So back to not saying what I really think on social media.  While writing this, I am thinking, it doesn't really matter what I think.  I don't post my feelings online because I am private and it isn't because you lot may come after me with a pitchfork (of course you won't, I am just being dramatic), it is because I don't want to. Whatever everyone else is doing and saying, it is nothing really to do with me, and even though I get a bit anxious when I see how much nonsense there is, no one needs to know my deepest thoughts unless they are a close friend and standing next to me. I get drawn into checking the madness, and getting cross about it, which is nothing but wasted energy.  And actually, I don't really care what they are all saying.  It isn't anything to do with me, I have my work and my life taking up as much time as I have to spare, so I am actually living in real time with real people and projects.  I think I have sorted my thinking out now.  Thank you for listening, I am fine now.  I had better not say any more than I love kittens and Mother Theresa, and that I want to save Polar Bears.  Now I can still be friends with everyone and have you all support my work.  Phew.  

What was the world coming to.

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Saturday 12 February 2022

How dare lots of strangers not give me likes and loves?

Fed up and pouting

I got fed up recently.  As I stamped my foot, folded my arms and pouted, and as the words, "It's not fair," formed on my lips, a little angel tapped me on the shoulder and whispered into my ear, "Look at what you already have."

And therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said. 

To backtrack, what has led me to this point of pouting and stamping my tiny feet, is summed up as follows.  I am creating the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition. Despite having wonderful help and support, there is only me creating this work and putting it together, and it is a huge amount of work;  I am trying to complete nine new portraits and nine new stories all before 12 May. That is fine, it is just as it should be, it is my project and and I asked for those paintings and stories.  But I work very hard for long hours and often become discouraged as I can feel underappreciated for the time I put into what I do. What I am trying to say is that I didn't think I was getting enough online attention.

What made me frown and refuse to go on was looking on social media and seeing other people were more successful than me. I looked at people who seemed to sweep the public before them with (in my opinion) barely anything to say, I looked at people who seemed to have it all, and I looked at my own social media presence and thought, Damn.  Nobody loves me.

Before I show some common sense and insight, how did I get to this point?

I am sixty one years old, slightly unconventional, and drawn to work with difficult subjects such as the end of life (see the A Graceful Death exhibition) and as you know, Addiction. I am established as an artist and have made good and bad decisions along the way.  It has been both wonderful to follow my heart and a struggle to make ends meet over the years.  However delightful it is to have the time now to create my own projects because I no longer have dependent children at home, it is also very demanding.  Each portrait I do starts out like a toddlers drawing.  It is that bad.  I never show anyone my works in progress unless they look good; my aim is to present you with a fantastic painting. I try not to allow anyone to see the utter rubbish I produce at the beginning, preferring you to think I knock them off without effort because I am clever.  It actually takes a great deal of time to think of, create and finish any work of art but I keep that secret.  We don't get to see me struggle, we don't get to see my bad days and we certainly don't get to see my mistakes.  I once spent a long time painting someone with a fascinating face, only to find, when I stood away from it at the end, that I had painted the eyes so far apart they were almost on the side of his head.  I had painted ET.  There was no choice but to re paint the eyes and put them where they should be.  It turned out fine in the end, and I never admitted this mistake to anyone.  It took a great deal longer to re paint the eyes as all our features are linked to each other, and the whole face needed to be redone.  But no one knew this because I presented the painting as if were effortless, and easy, because I didn't want anyone to know I was only human.  

How my paintings start. They get better. 

 My social media profile has me as a fairly unconventional, uncomplicated, artist, grandmother and eater of food.  I'm always having tea and wholesome get togethers with my friends, I have loads of grandbabies always turning up, and I always look as if I am having an effortlessly grand time.  When my friends say that I always seem so happy, and I have such a wonderful life, I confess that my online life is pure Hollywood.  It is a very well crafted bubble of jolliness, even when everything is falling about me in ruins.  You wouldn't love it, I say, if I show you my really fat days when I do absolutely nothing but avoid my Urgent To Do list and eat crisps.  

Working hard to create art, busting a gut to organise an exhibition while looking after grandchildren and having fun times with my friends, should make me irresistible online and get me millions of followers, likes and hearts.  I should be drowning in comments like Tell me more, and OMG you're so amazing.  But I am not.  And I think, why not?  What is wrong with me?  Why don't you all love me?

It is a slippery slope to madness. The angel who whispered into my ear to ask me to look at what I already have was very wise.  It is so simple, and when I had a look, I was reminded again that the online world is not real.  My real world is real, and in my real world I can look my friends in the eyes and feel the warmth of their friendship.  In my real world, I am surrounded by support for my work, surrounded by happiness from my friends and surrounded by a sense of belonging from my family.  I had a team meeting recently to update everyone on the upcoming exhibition and afterwards, with lists written and ideas discussed, I was struck by how amazing all those in the meeting are.  These people are with me, they are full of quality and strength, and they are the real thing.  I don't need a heart from a stranger on social media with these people on my team.  This lot are full of hearts.  And good ideas.  What else have I got that I was not seeing?  I have feedback on the paintings I am doing from the people in them.  They love the paintings, they love their words on them.  They mean it, and they say it to my face in my studio, they don't text me and send me an emoji. What else do I already have?

I have a sense of community in my community.  I have a sense of purpose in my work.  If things get really tough I can count on my brothers who I know will help me out, on my friends, who will listen and do what they can.  And, about those friends, I have them everywhere.  In Ghana, in Dublin, in London, in Bognor, in Birmingham and many more places.  They don't need to send me likes and hearts for me to know they are there. They are still expected to contribute to my Crowdfunding pages and Patreon requests however, and if they don't, I know where they live.  

What else do I have?  I have a sense of wellbeing.  I have a sense of anticipation about the future and a sense that the future is huge, and exciting, and a little unnerving.  I have all this outside of my computer and when I am finished in my studio, I can walk out if it and into my kitchen where I can experience, in real life, fresh bread and butter and jam.  

To conclude, online life is seductive if I let it. If I am creating sheer Hollywood with the stories that I post, then so is everyone else.  That angel who tapped me on the shoulder and told me to look at what I already had knew what it was talking about.  My life isn't virtual, it is real.  What do I know about who is watching me on social media, and what their lives are like?  And really, what gives me more satisfaction - brain storming with my friends over tea and chocolates, or having fifty strangers give me a thumbs up or a heart?  It is really nice having attention online.  But it isn't real life. Real life is when my friend Gill took me out to lunch at a new arty cafe in Littlehampton and fed me sweet potatoes and rock buns.  And when someone tells me my home is light and loving. And when my four year old grandson tells me I forget things because I am so old and soon I will have to die.  That is definitely not virtual. 

With the grandbabies, not dying quite yet.  But still, in the real world.

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