Fireworks of my mind

For as long as I can remember I have been blessed (and/or cursed) with being highly sensitive alongside an excellent long term memory, strong sense of empathy, curiosity to know more than the surface area that I am told or learnt, a vivid imagination that opens doors to new worlds, and highly visual mind that paints these. The world around me acts like fireworks with one thing firing off these, which together makes up something uniquely special. I am only ever sad that I have yet to find media beyond the spoken or written word to share these with others, perhaps an installation of some kind. However, I am uncertain if they would understand or get what they are saying and/or showing, as sometimes something very personal or just of that moment in time so may not be able to replicate it again.

As a child I felt like that many grown ups were just as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had written in Le Petit Prince (‘The Little Prince’) with no imagination, with only my Great Uncle able to tell the difference between a hat and a boa constrictor that ate an elephant. Teachers told me to write about what I knew, not the stories I felt from the world around me from reading newspapers to watching starving people in Ethiopia with famine or war hit families in Bosnia and Iraq all of which called out from beyond the television screen to the rivers and hills with the animals that called them home that I passed regularly when out with family on foot, bus or car. I wanted to tell their stories, the empath in me wished it could do more than watch my fellow humans hurting in ways I could never imagine and giving money felt like a tablet that never cured anything. As well exploring the rivers and hills to tell the stories that people like my ancestors would have known and told the tales of. Being a grown up I still want to tell these stories. but now more determined than ever that I do, as they need to be seen and heard with their own voices not through the biased lenses of the media or anthropomorphise into cutesy images that no longer speak to the younger generation.

My family enjoy the arts and are highly musical: as a child my father and I enjoyed visiting art sales in the local area and beyond, as well as his own painting (sadly I do not remember what he painted) to the playing organ, often Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with a passion you could feel as his fingers touched the keys and were escaping to the worlds he was playing as I sat beside him equally immersed in this world but with my spin; where as my mother sings alto in choirs and plays the piano a little but lacks the artistry with it as almost a painting with numbers not colour when she does, and does not get art beyond the popular artists of Monet and Turner. This I often find when I hear mainstream pop musicians their voices are similar, perhaps as they are not investing in the emotion, feelings and story of the lyrics and music, which with autotuning have become quite grey and maybe because they did not create it  to begin with (despite claims they have done, but perhaps only changed the odd word if that) and was written for profit not as a piece of art to be admired, it truly is disposable.

The song Pure Imagination from ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ for me celebrates imagination and showing us that it is all around us if we let it. Our imagination can be a comforting way to escape harsh realities in our present world rather than dwelling on what has or is hurting us now, which with an outlet can stop the pain from flowing for a while. I find it hard to understand, despite my empathy, those that may see this is childish or day dreaming when great ideas to art works can come from it, but then I remember an art installation I saw a few years back with the following quote:  we live in a contrasting world – where imagination is a luxury for some but a necessity for others”. I find anything and everything can start the fireworks display in my brain, from something I have seen or heard, a picture to a quote to a song or video, I never know what will next and that is part of the enjoyment and excitement as it is endless.

One example of my recent fireworks display was walking back from a shopping centre/mall on Easter Monday. I have walked down that street umpteen times, yet rarely walk up it as it is a steep hill, which may explain why I had never spotted an old mile stone on it, simply showing Edinburgh 2 miles. I stared at it for a good minute and took a picture of it before walking on but then my imagination kicked in, what was this street and area like when this milestone was new. I am now watching the 21st century disappear around me and be replaced by how it may have looked around three hundred years previously when there were distinct villages all over that are now part of the city of Edinburgh. As my visual mind and imagination worked in tandem to create a scene so different to the one I now found myself in, as tried to use my senses to get a clearer idea of what it was like to be there then. After about five minutes I took my phone out to investigate further the area as curiosity was now wanting a piece of what imagination and mind were doing, as I could not draw or paint the scene I decided to let it and return to the 21st century. I discovered that author and creator of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle had lived during his childhood aged seven to nine (1868-1888) around two minutes from where I had seen the milestone, which ticked a box in my head as to why the doctor’s surgery by the shopping centre/mall bore his name. The house he lived has recently been restored, and believe me I had to resist running back to look and see! Learning this created fresh ideas and colours to paint into the scene, ensuring Arthur was the little boy at one of the houses, that I will continue to see for some time when passing that street.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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The art of being me

On Friday morning I sat for an hour in an art gallery looking at a sea of paintings of people from times past; a few were of religious significance to the Christian faith, others were special commissions to show the sitters proclaimed importance and others were of a person in the crowd watching an event unfold around them. I considered how times had changed as saw people around me reaching for their mobile phones to take selfies of themselves with paintings they liked as captured themselves in that moment. I opened my sketch book and started to think on how I would draw me, with the opening lines of the Ben Folds’ Five song Best imitation of myself playing in my head.
In times past I would have drawn an ogre with big ears and nose, as thought with all the laughing and pointing to comments on how ugly I was that must be a fair representation of how the world saw me. I sometimes wish I had MC Escher’s talents, as love Hand with reflecting sphere as to me it is the ultimate self portrait but it is way beyond my drawing ability as an artist. However, as drawings are highly subjective, unlike photographs that are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space, it made me question who I am at that moment looking at these great works of art.
I have learnt to appreciate, respect and love the woman I am but in my head at first it was more like a cubist portrait by Pablo Picasso, for example Woman in hat and fur collar and The weeping womanIt was then I saw a rag doll image in the style of Picasso enter in my mind, so it was that I focused on as I began to draw. As I drew the form became less rag and Picasso more patchwork one. For each patch was something that had happened in life (good and bad) in the past (be it yesterday, last month or over three decades ago) that has left an impression on the person I am today, stitched together with love, respect and appreciation of those closest to me.
I also acknowledged whilst drawing that I have faults,  I am not perfect, but then again what or who is? I smiled as thought of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, which is  sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The paintings around me had looked so perfect at first glance and thought of modern popular culture pictures, which are heavily stylised and edited to create images of people that are unrealistic. In the same way I would never know how realistic these paintings were of the people in them and how much was to the artist’s interpretation of the person(s) there in.
As I finished my drawing I decided it belonged only in my sketch book and not have a life beyond the book as not everything we see or do needs the world to see it. For art to me is a personal way of telling the story in heart and soul, life’s journey at that moment in time, giving it voice, sound and colour. Thus, perhaps in time I may paint a picture that looked more like those in the paintings in the gallery, but knew the one in my sketch pad was just as beautiful because it represented some things nobody could take away from or replicate if drawing or painting a portrait of me, as was me by me.
© Fi S. J. Brown

Therapeutic Photography

When I tell my story to others I sometimes mention how I overcame years to decades of self hate, self loathing, low esteem, and general dislike for who I thought I was to how I thought I actually looked to the outside world. For readers that do not know until I was about 34 I used to think I looked like the love child of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein’s monster.

I could not look in the mirror, and when photographs were taken of me there were always problems. When I was a pre-teen my photograph from school showed the photographer’s umbrella reflecting in my eyes, it looked like I had mushrooms growing from them, which planted a seed in my head. By my teens I had developed Alopecia universalis, I had no hair anywhere on my body, which combined with bullying and my ultra controlling mother left me feeling like the Victorian freak of old. When in my twenties my eldest brother would continue to point and laugh at me as he had since my earliest days, like many did in the street. When he took a photograph of me, usually for graduation from university, 99% of the time my eyes would be shut; he would find this funny and equally not understand how someone could react that quickly to a flash. I am highly sensitive to many things including light, so yes my eyes seemed to break this rule, and leave me in pieces. I would be called moody as did not want my photograph taken at all, why should I when it always ended up the same way?

By the age of 28 I was having psychodynamic therapy on a weekly basis and had begun using a Fuji camera to take the town I was living in and for fieldwork in Italy. In May 2007 I decided to try take a picture of me with it against some Roman remains, with all the emotions of the past racing to the present combined with thoughts of what do I look like and how do you smile? As my camera was a digital single-lens reflex  (DSLR) I could see immediately the result, which made me jump back hitting the Roman bathhouse with my head and stared at the image it showed for a good five minutes. Was that really what the rest of the world saw when they looked at me? I showed it to one person, my supposed then boyfriend, on my return from Italy. He laughed in my face as he acknowledged it was indeed me. I was scared by what this meant but at the same time I knew the image was of someone deeply unhappy.

It was not until my breakdown and suicide attempt the following year that I began using therapeutic photography in an attempt to see me and begin to repair all the years of hate to perhaps learn to learn to love me for me. Judy Weiser defined therapeutic photography as the name for photo-based activities that are self-initiated and conducted by oneself (or as part of an organized group or project), but where no formal therapy is taking place and no therapist or counsellor needs to be involved. Why use photography, aside from it being one of my hobbies? Photography shows how I actually appeared to others, not the horizontally-reversed image from a mirror or distorted one in my head that I would have drawn. Also, a photograph could let me see parts I would not ordinarily be able to see, e.g. my profile or back, when asleep or in action, or simply being me. Unlike drawings, which are highly subjective, photographs are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space. 

It was not an easy road, even looking back on those early photographs now I can see how far I had to go and come. The first part of me I began to appreciate were my eyes, they are grey-green but appear more grey when depressed, and remembered the old phrase – eyes are the windows to the soul, which I was now beginning to understand. Gradually over the years I saw this woman developing in them that I could relate to and see as the me the world did, she was not a freak or ogre nor was she this glamorous movie star, and you know what I was almost fine with it. 

In 2012, Yoko Ono launched her #smilesfilm, which I decided as I was developing my creative self as much as learning to embrace my full self why not enter a picture of me smiling? I did and in that moment I no longer saw the girl or woman of the past, I saw me in the present moment smiling and content. By March 2014 I had grown so much from that photograph that during the no make up selfie craze for cancer I made a split second decision to post one without my wig as I next to never wear make up as burns my skin if I try and do not see the point in having a chemical mask, I felt like it would be my most honest picture ever and another milestone in the journey. The photograph has 112 likes on my Facebook profile with 142 comments, as well as messages on inbox, e-mail and text, all full of encouragement. I looked at that photograph last month and smiled at what doing that had meant to me then as it does now. 

I do not manipulate images like they appear in magazines, websites and the media, so my photographs are the truest representation of me at that moment. Many of you now reading this take a selfie with a mobile/cellphone several times a day may never understand this journey but others may be where I have been. We are all beautiful in our own way and accepting how we are without resorting to extreme change can be tempting but all they can be band aids over deep wounds. I highly recommend trying therapeutic photography, do not expect results today but explore and learn to love the most amazing person you will ever know, yourself.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

Art and mindfulness

Look around you, what is the closest piece of art you can see? It maybe a copy of a painting as your computer or phone’s wallpaper, it maybe a tapestry on the wall, a photograph framed of a memory, which now all that remains is that solitary image, a vase made of glass or clay with flowers freshly picked from the garden, a doodle drawn while talking on the telephone last night, the mug that holds the now cold mug of tea, or a piece of music on YouTube. Art is everywhere and anywhere around us, fighting for our eyes attention before letting the other senses join in the party. We all live in our own museums and art galleries of our own device and curation.
 
Now imagine you came from a distant future, try to see through the eyes of some futuristic persona, and look at the piece of art you chose again with fresh eyes. Each one is full of unique colour, shape, purpose, texture, age, and design. Note in your mind or write down what your piece of art has. For example: I’m looking at cross stitch that hangs in the middle of my bookcase, which has my name and birth date upon it, but there is a flaw in the A as one x was stitched in the wrong place. Also, the child does not look like me as it has blonde hair and I am a brunette. Finally, I look at the flowers of pink and purple falling like rain from the sky that match the umbrella or parachute I’m attached to as I come to land in a gap between four houses.
 
Works of art gather meanings beyond the surface because we give them one; sometimes trying to understand the mind of the artist that made, but it could also be something that we have added sentimentality to, maybe it is an every day object that we do not look at beyond the function of it, and occasionally it is seen as something disposable as was only belonging to that one moment. By considering seeing them with eyes of the future we see new meanings that they may have otherwise never had, as the way we see them is based past and not what they mean to us now. We get so used to seeing the every day around us, they lose their original stories and why or how we chose to have them. What would archaeologist of the future think?!
 
This is like seeing our problems and/or issues, by seeing them with fresh eyes we can see them a different way and see how they impact on us now. For example realising the abuse we suffered as a child occurred twenty five years ago, but acknowledging the amazing things we have done despite this pain and beautiful person we are that would hurt nobody. Equally, it maybe a regret for not taking an action, which we feel may have brought us happiness and/or success, but remember we have things in the present that also make us happy with their own successes. Be focused not just on the present moment but appreciating what we have now is what matters.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

Living is…

Living is a piece of music that is our tune,

Breathing and heart are the rhythm and beat,

Speaking is the lyrics of our unique adventure,

Meeting others make the key major or minor,

Being true to ourselves is the harmonious melody,

And copying another is a bad cover version.

 

Living is a piece of art that is our masterpiece,

Seeing is the world painted with our eyes in multicolour,

Touching and feelings are sculpted into shapes,

Hearing vibrates and echoes form the layers of paint,

Smelling is the essence of ourselves distilled,

And tasting is being satisfied with what we have.

 

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Glass Vase a.k.a Life

Life, in the words of one of my favourite authors (Neil Gaiman) is “a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal“. With the recent deaths of musicians and actors that we have all admired (maybe even idolised or fancied) for many years; from David Bowie to Lemmy, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, we feel we have lost part of ourselves as they wrote the soundtrack to our lives or a distant friend that never judged but was there in the background. As a result I have been thinking about the fragility of life, which to me is best thought of as like a glass vase held in a toddler’s hands, which could shatter in an instant.

No amount of preparation is able to prepare any of us for death only that that it will happen one day; nor can we protect ourselves or those we love from the impact of it. The shards of glass are like the bits of the person now gone; there are things we all may like or admire in a person, but equally there are bits only some people saw like the unique design that made them who they were or with the addition of flowers they became like an amazing support that many took for granted. At first we may try in vain to glue the shards back together before realising we cannot bring back what is gone, and the water on the floor increasing as the tears fall from our eyes like a river meeting the sea. Even when the shards are put in the bin, there is still part of them that will forever be part of us, as had a shared history (good and bad). Some may think getting a new vase will be the same, but it will not have the memories and identity that the one now gone had, and can never truly replace it.

However, it is important not to be scared of the vase shattering but remembering what the vase meaning is to us every day as can mean different things to different people, just as life can be different for us all. It can vary in the colours/shape/form because we all come in different ones, the only thing we share is being human and it is the diversity that is our true artistic self. It does not matter where the vase is, be it on a broken shelf in a run down house or a museum as created by some artisan of note, we all matter to someone. What that is can vary too; a vase may hold flowers that a loved one gave us to mark our birthday or Valentine’s Day, it also may have bought at an art gallery shop after enjoying an exhibition by a favourite artist or the colour fitted with the new décor of our living room. Finally, remember no vase is truly perfectly made, just as we all have flaws or hidden defects, perfection is a lie we tell each other as a way to convince ourselves as much as others. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

Art therapy 

The German philosopher Nietzsche describes how art can be a force for healing the wounds of emotional trauma. His words illustrate the link that exists between creativity and spirituality. He points to the usefulness of art making as a form of communication that can access the depth of human suffering and in so doing allow the artist to transcend pain and re-experience existence from a new perspective.

As someone that uses creativity as therapy at times I can relate to this. From my earliest years I have been known for my emotional sensitivity, which to those that do not understand call it extreme. Thus it makes sense to express myself in creative form, freedom not from judgement but to be me. For example turning my camera on myself showed me the person not the distorted image the logical part of my brain kept trying to paint as muted the creative part.

From writing to photography and music, or visiting galleries and museums, art continues to help me cope with pains past and present. They give a voice to what I or others cannot say aloud through muted fear to visuals in my mind that paint life as I see it. By being creative I see things from the different perspectives I see in the world; seeing the larger picture of multicolour and multisensory not tunnel visioned to paint it black and white with all being x or y it is often depicted as.

Art to me is self expression using different media to show how life is between the extremes and a snapshot of how life is in our world. So write, paint, photograph, sew or knit wherever and whenever you like, we set the rules not anyone else as it is our life lived our way, warts and all.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Imperfect

What is perfect? Does such a concept truly exist? We all seem to strive towards it, yet it seems that it is permanent flux and not something that can truly ever be grasped. How two people see perfection maybe very different; one may look to remove any trace of so called flaws or imperfections and this maybe from wearing glasses to their inability to do a task or the beliefs they may hold; where as the other may share some of these ideals, what makes it perfect to them maybe quite different, brunette vs. blond for example.

When we look for a partner we sometimes develop a fantasy of someone we’d love to have, yet even if someone looked say like our favourite celebrity crush, what of their personality? Does it not say far more about someone than an outer shell does? Sometimes we try lose weight to reach that “perfect weight”, which even if we did make, maintaining it is far harder, so is it really so perfect? Also supermarkets that want all they sell to be a certain way, uniform in shape and size, so they are “perfect” by their standards.

Take a step back and the ridiculousness of it jumps out, like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” pointing out to all that nothing is truly perfect as highly subjective and unlikely. Imperfection or flawed is something that is frowned upon, yet can be seen wherever we turn from rust on the door handle to grey hairs or wrinkles upon our face, and the four from six glasses now left from a gift from a friend. Writers to painters and musicians all strive for the perfect work but isn’t what they create beautiful because it is not?

We see images in the media from newspapers to magazines and websites to social media altered to show someone else’s vision of perfection as how they actually look is imperfect; the image the camera took needed to be altered or manipulated to meet an idea of a perfect image. What is wrong with seeing someone how they actually are? On a person do flaws not show character and their story? In a writing song with lyrics and music it is creating a balance not reaching for a perfect blend of both. Is imperfection not in fact real beauty?

From Japan comes the aesthetic term “Wabi Sabi”, which can be defined as: “a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.” Perhaps we need to learn to see this more in the world around us, not replacing something because it is old and dated, or broken and chipped, even dying hair and botox injections. Who are we really to judge something or someone as perfect, when the world around us imperfect and flawed by nature?

© Fi S. J. Brown

Birthdays

Birthdays are curious events when we stop to think about them, a celebration of us being alive and the passing of time. Sometimes we stop to think of those who have been part of the journey with us, those that left lasting impressions (good and bad), and those that are no longer with us that we would give anything to have just one more meal with them.

Today marks my father’s 78th birthday, a leading paediatric neurologist across the world, achieving many things but alas I shall not be marking it with him. In my early years he was the parent I loved to be around, from visiting antique shops and art fairs, to museums and bookshops, although a very busy man he was the big arms of comfort that when needed were there.

Equally, he was the one that introduced me to politics and to open my mind to what was going on in a greater context than my own bit of the world. We’d regularly watch together current affairs shows like World in action, The Cook Report and Panorama, with documentaries by the great John Pilger and supplemented with the comedy of Monty Python and Blackadder

That all changed twenty five years ago, I felt abandoned by him as he left to live his new life and even asked him at the time “why are you leaving me with her“, the answer of “because I have to” still rings in my ears and sends my eyes gushing like a great waterfall. I would sit glue eyed not to the soap operas but the news broadcasts as felt his presence when not there.

In the years since he has let me down, often a conversation to explain a situation was needed; from the birth of my half sister (rather than discovering via a card dumped on my brother as he ran out the door) to after my near suicide attempt being told I could not stay with him (we’d been estranged for a decade and been in contact 18 months when it happened).

My father’s achievements in medicine and to the world we live are quite impressive but as a man I feel I do not know who he is. Regardless of what he did or did not do, he will always be my father and the 21st of May I’ll always pause to think about him. So happy birthday to him, thank you for the good memories and hope he continues to be happy in his senior years.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The written word: Past, present and future

What would our ancestors say of how we tell stories via the written word, when many could not do so. Instead they would use art from painting and music to tell them and pass them on to the next generation. Even today being able to read and write is a luxury that many of us that can, forget.

Something I have often pondered is, if time travel were possible when or what would I most like to visit. I decided recently that for me it would be the ancient library in Alexandria because I would not only like to see what was in it but ultimately what was in it and answering who really did set fire to it.

The thought of books on fire reminded me of the excellent “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. The book tells of a dystopian future vision of America in which books are banned and if found they are burnt. When I first read it over 15 years ago I could not imagine a world with no books.

However, today we have electronic readers today such as kindles, the word always reminds me of kindling. I will admit to not being much of a fan as love the smell and feel of books. So are they kindling of the fire to destroy books and the written word? No, I would not go quite that far.

However, it does make me wonder about edits to texts, books we regard as classics, if the original text will remain unaltered? Then again, how many books we do read now have gone through changes? The Bible, has probably been spun and purposefully mistranslated for centuries.

I have this concern as have heard it with music, as an artist produces a remastered greatest hits with subtle changes in the music from the originals. Equally, I have seen edits in movies and television, to make them more suitable for a set time frame or feel something isn’t appropriate any more.

So what is the future for the written word? More and more we are publishing our own work, from fan fiction to novels, but are people actually reading more? Yet original creative thought and work seems to be declining, as we see and hear old ideas rehashed. I can only hope for the future.

© Fi S. J. Brown