Wednesday, 1 April 2015
In the epigraph, Anneliese Mackintosh states: '68% happened; 32% did not happen; I will never tell' and this teasing game of fiction and biography that she sets in motion parched my mouth with anticipation for what was to come. It doesn’t matter whether the work that follows is a searing and amazingly frank account of a life lived in the fast lane, or a cunning character study through fiction. The writing is first rate: quick, luscious, direct. Her approach to language mirrors her protagonist’s approach to life: she charges at a thing, she doesn't shirk, she tells stories full of heart that make the spaces between people feel less vast than they sometimes might.
One of the joys of reading is in discovering different ways of living life, different responses to the challenges and joys it throws up. We most often do this by reading about cultures other than our own, and at times the more harrowing the better in this sort of reading. (See the universal love of Khaled Hosseini’s pity-porn novels of Afghanistan for one example.) But we are sadly less willing to read books that present a different view of life in our own society, or that treat with empathy subjects we would rather believe did not happen. In this searing, unflinching book, we get a first-hand view of one experience of life with Borderline Personality Disorder. It is a book that asks us to reappraise our expectations for behavior, often uncomfortably so. And that, in my opinion, is one of the things that the arts should be all about.
In its nihilistic rejection of convention and vibrant lust for life Any Other Mouth reminded me of AM Homes brilliant novel Music for Torching. But much more than this exciting, blackly comic read, it feels important too. Important, as understanding perspectives on life different from your own always are. It may be a bit of a Marmite book, and will undoubtedly provoke some anger by some people who feel the content is not always 'appropriate' but perhaps because of this, it is a book that should be widely read. Any Other Mouth is engaging, unexpected, gripping, poignant, shocking and exciting. A great read.
(Note: One word of caution: the blurb for this book doesn’t really make any sense! How do you react when you discover your boyfriend is cheating on you with his dead grandma? You don’t. It’s doesn’t happen like that! Don’t be put off, Any Other Mouth is not as ridiculous as the blurb suggests!)
Friday, 20 March 2015
What Is Literature
It is being listened to. And it is listening hard: opening the ear and the eye and the heart to that which has never been part of you, and that which has lain within you all along.
It is itself. And this is enough. And it is incomparably bigger.
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Saturday, 6 December 2014
Megan Serena Ruddock
Megan is my beautiful talented generous considerate hilarious kind wife. We have been together 12 years, and married for 10. We met when I was still a teenager and I fell for her immediately. Of course I did! She sent me an album that remains one of the best things I've ever heard and we talked endlessly. But what is remarkable is that she saw in my skinny lonely immaturity someone worth knowing. And every day since she has supported me in feeling that I could make anything of my life. She has made sure I felt loved, challenged me when I needed it, and ensured I never got too big for my boots. She is my best friend and the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don't tell her that enough.
Megan is the bravest person I know. She moved to a whole different country by herself and has built a life here. And she has the bravery to stand up for what she believes in regardless of what it costs her. She's driven by this moral code to be considerate to everyone, to do no harm at all, and to support and empathise with those who need it most. She cares for everyone, from the snail on the pavement in the morning to the person pushing everyone away. She's a champion of the disadvantaged, the very epitome of what a good Christian should be.
Megan isn't afraid to be herself. She drinks absinthe at lunch on accessions. She often describes herself as simultaneously 10 years old (she just started collecting Sylvanian Families) and 70 (last year she took a course in Ancient Hebrew!). But she is also 21 and 39 and 47 and 53 and every other age there is. I can't list all the courses she had taken or signed up for. She is a polymath: everything interests her in some way or another. She is the self-development Queen, there is nothing about her she isn't prepared to interrogate, challenge and improve if she doesn't like what she finds. And she's quite probably the best quiz team player in the world!
Megan is also hilarious. No one I have ever known has such a sly, black humour, as she does. She is brilliant at word play, and she's self-deprecating and finds humour in herself at every turn. When she laughs her whole face comes alive and her eyes sparkle. She has this mini-smile wrinkle above her top lip that appears when she smiles - it never ceases to make me happy. I think her laughter is the best thing in the world. It is explosive and all encompassing and feels like freedom.
We have fun together. She is the creative genius behind Cheers (possibly the worlds most comprehensive stuffed animal society). She invented Dogwarts (stolen by Aardman as a joke in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit), and basically wrote the penguin and lemur characters for Madagascar. To our cats she is the sporty chaser, the trick trainer, the treater. She scoops them up and gives them medicine. And they love her for it because somehow they know she would never do anything bad to them.
Sadly life isn't always as kind to Megan as she is to it. She's had a pretty tough time these last few years with people not realising how infinitely capable she is. With people treating her horribly. And that sucks for her, it really does. But what I find remarkable is that she has this amazing capacity to take a bad hand and keep fighting. Nothing lessens her belief in people, her hope that tomorrow will be better, or her desire to turn today around.
Megan shows me what goodness is. She's so much better than I am. And I would be nothing without her. I love her with all my heart. And I thought you - and she - should know this.
Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Remix Summit is a global network of conferences that bring together culture, technology and entrepreneurship for an intensive set of discussions and presentations on some of the cutting edge work happening in these areas. I attended day one of the two day event, hosted at Google Town Hall in the heart of London's West End, which featured presentations by the likes of Tate, Secret Cinema, the Mayor of London's cultural office, and Manchester International Festival. Some were excellent, and there were interesting conversations around them. But overall the day proved frustrating for a number of reasons. Here are a few quick thoughts and some challenges for Day 2 tomorrow.
1. On whose terms? I probably should have realised that a conference backed by technology and media partners Google and Bloomburg would be technology centred. Nothing wrong with that: I'm writing this on my Galaxy Note 3 while listening to music on the same device, and have been tweeting throughout the day. I like technology. But the traditional arts world felt sidelined. Almost everything that was discussed was through a commercial or tech prism, focusing on how technology built communities and reached wide audiences. It sometimes seemed that technology was being seen as the savior of art. That without it, art stayed behind locked doors in austere buildings. As though standing in a gallery or on a street corner admiring a painting, sitting forward in the midst of a play, reading a book, singing along to an album, or feeling that yearn to move in the midst of dance were not enough if they weren't somehow augmented by a screen.
Clearly this is problematic. Despite a day filled with words, it is the experience of reading Liz Berry's Black Country on the underground this morning that will stay with me. There has to be a place for quiet, calm reflection, or loud furious reflection in this world and the arts provide this. We don't always have to be doing things on digital and social media platforms to be producing great work.
As Fabien Riggall said: 'We want to use technology, not be used by it'.
How we in the arts articulate different values and challenge the profit-chasing bubble thinking of the technology world may be one of the challenges for day 2.
2. There is a world outside those ivory towers. Be they the towers of national arts organisations or multinational conglomerates, there was an absence of social responsibility today. The Barbican aside, no one gave any prominence to social deprevation or how technology, culture or entrepreneurship could work to improve the lives we live and reach those whose horizons are narrowest. We talked briefly about art for arts sake, and the whole day seemed to be technology for technologies sake, and while I admire and value this there also needs to be time for art, technology and culture that works with real people and changes communities. A deliberately provocative comment towards the end of the night suggested that art in the regions was basically just community theatre and all a bit naff and amateurish. This pissed me off! It is absolutely possible to produce excellent work that is made in and with communities and makes those places better to live in. It's time to end the dichotomy between excellence and instrumentalism. We can (and many do!) do both!
3. Stop telling me how great your work is. I thought this was a conference not a sales pitch. I'm not trying to silence good work, but some ideas, some perspectives, some challenges. All these would have made for a broader and more impactful conversation.
4. Don't over programme! It is something everyone who produces events should remember. That a good event is often the result of time to breathe, to ask questions and challenge thinking, to share and drill down. With 3 or 4 people often speaking in only a 40 minute event, time was squashed. At one point a speaker was interrupted, quite rudely, mid flow. There needed more space. Less is more.
Where an individual was given time to talk, they were worth listening to. Alex Poots from Manchester International Festival was fascinating on the importance of giving power to artists. Sir Nicolas Kenyon from The Barbican was equally inspiring on working with local communities and the subtle shifts technology can give to a wide range of different productions. And Fabien Riggall from Secret Cinema told stories and gave more than just a sales pitch, he presented a vision and a story and a call to action.
Sadly, and despite some interesting speakers, the panels were largely sales pitches mashed together. Which was a shame.
5. Hosting is a responsibility, not doing it well is rude. If you advertise an 8am breakfast start, deliver that, or at least apologise for keeping guests hungry and waiting an hour to be let in. And then make sure there is sufficient cups and sandwiches and teabags for everyone. It's basic stuff, sadly.
And to finish it off, my quote of the day:
'Those who aim to give the public what they want begin by underestimating the public taste. They end by debauching it.'
Monday, 10 November 2014
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Friday, 7 November 2014
I read to relax. And to escape from myself and the world around me and all the interconnectivity of technology. And I read to dive headfirst into the world, to learn about other people and the world around me. I like to read in the bath. It is a sanctum if you will, where technology frazzles and drowns and my imagination can billow steam-like around me. About 5 years ago I decided to rename our bathroom ‘the pub’ so that I felt less anti-social about the time I spend reading and now when I go home in the evening and say to my wife ‘I’m going to the pub’, it makes reading feel cool. And I like that, for even an enthusiast like me sometimes feels apologetic about reading. I need to read. If I don’t find time to read, I get stressed and frantic, I get grumpy, and I get self-involved. And what is interesting is that research increasingly shows that this is the case for many people.
- In a series of reports and studies over the last decade, reading has been shown to be of huge personal, social, health, and economic benefit. Reading has been shown to have all sorts of impressive qualities including:
- Enhancing people’s life chances, civic and social engagement, employment prospects, and quality of life;
- Busting stress and providing real health benefits such as delaying the onset of dementia;
- Reducing cases of reoffending in prisoners and those on parole;
- Improving theory of mind, a common measure of empathetic ability.
- The first is having an idea.
- The second is doing something. Reading is doing something. In reading we are co-creators of a story. But now it gets interesting...
- Number 3 in the approach to being an artist is thinking about what you are doing. This is really important. Thinking. Reflecting. An artist isn’t just someone who creates. An artist is someone who thinks about what they create. A reader artist is someone who thinks about what they read.
- And the fourth is sharing it with others.
- Reading is fundamental to modern life. More reading is done now than ever before. Never forget that when people say that reading is no longer cool.
- Reading is fundamental to writing. But it is valuable enough, enjoyable enough, in and of itself. Never try to squish reading into other outcomes lest you lose what is great about it.
- Don't think it is easier to give people a pen and paper and encourage them to write than it is to give them a library card and encourage them to read. And if it is, think about what that says about how you are talking about reading.
- Be passionate. Otherwise, why should anyone believe you?
- Support exploration. Take a journey together. Reading is an adventure.
- Don’t dictate, empower.
- Never ever underestimate people.