No shortcuts.

It’s strange to know that you’re doing all the right things and still just aren’t _right_ yet. Whenever something goes wrong in your world, you want it to be a case of figuring out which bolt’s come loose, tightening it up a bit, and going on your merry way. But it doesn’t work that way. Fixes happen, but not immediately. Conversations take a while to work through, counselling referrals don’t rock up immediately, even meds take four to six weeks to begin to take effect, and I’m only on week three.

And so at the moment, my prevailing emotion – if you can call it that – is ‘meh’. I dip into sadness sometimes – today, the second of two days with little human contact after a Thursday/Friday/Saturday flurry with people I love, has been a hard one – and when I’m with people I care about I can reach happy, too. But mostly, it’s a shoulder-slumping, everything-takes-longer, visible-on-my-face meh. With some bonus guilt for making other people worry when they see that.

And it’s hard work pasting a cheery or even neutral public face on top of that. It’s hard work balancing the need to avoid totally isolating myself with the need to step back a little from environments in which I feel I need to be ‘on’. Heck, at the moment it’s hard work getting out of bed and it’s hard work eating a reasonable amount of food. Those are things that I talk myself into, not because I’m flailing around sadly but because I just… don’t have the impetus. I’m like a car whose engine turns over a few times before the ignition sparks into life.

But I’ve been mired here in Depressionville before, some years ago, and I’ve learned some lessons and some self-management strategies. I know that I need to be gentle with myself but not drift too far from my usual routines, I know what helps me to sleep, and I know that if my appetite and inclination aren’t prompting me and I can’t summon the energy to cook, I can still use the clock as a guide to eating regularly and fill my fridge with reasonably healthy easy options so that I don’t lose any more weight than has already inadvertently fallen off me.

I know that although they take time to work, the meds will help. I’ve taken the initial steps for counselling referral, and I’ve told my wonderfully supportive boss. I’ve looked up some classes that, when I feel a little stronger, will hopefully help me build on that strength both physically and emotionally. I know that this time around, I can be open with the people in my life.

I know that although there are no shortcuts, this will pass.

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Art Exhibition: Kafou at Nottingham Contemporary

On Friday, I spent a fascinating couple of hours checking out the latest exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary – Kafou. Out of all of the exhibitions I’ve seen there since this fantastic and much-to-be-recommended space opened I reckon this one was the most up my alley.

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Kafou is a celebration of Haitian art, in which themes of Voodoo rituals and the Haitian revolution recur as frequently as the gloriously vibrant colours that make the word ‘celebration’ seem more appropriate than it often is when used in the context of art exhibitions 😉 There’s some dark stuff there, none of the artists featured are likely to delight fans of the literal and the photographic, and despite the best efforts of the exhibition notes I’m sure I didn’t get all of the symbolism (though a surprising amount of it will seem oddly familiar for those of you who have read Pratchett’s Witches Abroad!), but as a fan of colour and symbolism I found it largely both beautiful and fascinating. It’s not just painting, though that forms the bulk of the exhibit – there are also some gloriously rough-at-the-edges sculptures, some stunning and vast beadwork scenes for the textiles fans, and a few original, suspiciously torn and stained, ritual cloths.

One thing that utterly charmed me was the few parents and grandparents that I saw taking quite young children round (I’m guessing they didn’t dwell on the one or two rather surreal depictions of devil-related nightmares!) and really encouraging a completely natural appreciation of the work. I love art (though I can’t for the life of me draw or paint – that seems to be a ‘one per generation’ thing in my family, and my sister nabbed it!), but like literature it does tend to suffer a bit from people wanting to over-analyse and over-dissect. It pays, I think, to consider themes and symbols and metaphor, but I can’t help feeling that the people who focus on a particular brushstroke (or sentence, if we’re talking literature) to the Nth degree are in danger of losing the impact of the whole while they peer at the detail trying to figure out the artist’s putative intentions – because so much of any artistic expression is in what feels right.

That’s not to say that elements of the whole aren’t placed very deliberately – of course they are, and of course you work a certain way to create a certain feel – but if you tried to design by checklist and focused on Your Big Intent (instead of on the actual process of creation) for every word or brushstroke instead of following your instincts to some extent I think you’d soon cripple yourself with analysis and risk ending up with something rather clinical. Perfecting the way your message is conveyed is what sketches and first drafts are for, after all 😉

So, you can see why there’s something rather magical to me about children simply being encouraged to put into words what’s made them light up or step back to take in a picture properly. It’s tapping into their instinctive appreciation, getting them to put into words what a painting has made them feel, what’s caught their eye. What The Artist Intended can come later, after the connection with the work has already been made.

I’m not saying that analysis is bad – far from it! Having an idea what the artist was working towards or focusing on while working helps to inform your appreciation of the work, cultural context helps decode things you otherwise may have missed, and semiotics is a fascinating study in itself and a rich seam to mine when studying any piece of art or literature.  But these things aren’t to be used to carefully take apart a creation and view it piece-by-piece – I much prefer to think of them as aiming to augment my understanding of a work as a whole. They create the nod of recognition, the smile at an in-joke that personalises the piece a little more for you. The close-up study helps – but you do need to remember to read to the end and consider your impression of the novel as a whole, or to take a few steps back and view the painting from a distance.

I guess you could say the same of a lot of elements of life.

On Writing: Last night, I dreamt a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile…

Last night, I dreamt that a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile and then got eaten by a shark.

Are you someone who remembers your dreams? The ones you have at night, while your unconscious mind is in charge, not the other sort. I remember only some of them – I guess they’re the ones that are most likely to wake me up for one reason or another – but they leave the general impression that my unconscious mind is rather energetic.

And I realised today just how far they tie in with my writing.

The dreams I can remember in the mornings are the type of writing I’m most likely to produce. They almost all involve gore, sex, or running. I’ve not written fiction for several months, but there’s a certain style, as there is with every writer. The most recent writings are erotica, but I entered  a short story contest a while back with a piece of straight fiction that had a running theme and got some pleasingly promising feedback.

All through my childhood and teens, though, I wrote horror . I remember painstakingly making a handwritten book when I was seven or eight – it had a decidedly bloody theme involving someone being chased through a forest, and would have been a comic if I could draw – I remember trying to illustrate certain scenes but being so unsatisfied with the results that I didn’t include those pages in the final product. I remember a story involving ritual sacrifice that I wrote for my GCSE English Language course getting one of the highest marks in the class  – and the comment that the teacher did not care for my subject matter (all credit to him for marking the piece according to its merit even though he really didn’t like it!).

I remember trying to write everyday things and finding that while I could conjure the scenes, I didn’t know quite what to do with them once I’d done so. They were nicely (if a little amateurishly!) drawn, but they lacked action and purpose – snapshot rather than movie.

Last night, I dreamt that a woman named September smiled a tremulous smile and then got eaten by a shark.