I went along to a conversation event today about the the Medway and Swale Creative People and Places bid. One of the discussions was about engaging people in the local creative opportunities outside of the usual suspects, those already interested or involved. This is a familiar problem. I’ve been working as a youth and community worker for the past 11 years, there are always groups of people willing and ready to get involved, whilst some who might benefit the most can need a bit more encouragement. Some people will always complain about poor publicity or lack of information, but I think this is sometimes a distraction. Another problem can be geography, lack of transport or that some places seem to have a monopoly on things like creative activities, whilst others have little going on. Some places have more resources to attract activity and others might have acquired a reputation that puts people off. Some people will travel quite far from where they live to get to something interesting, but ignore things closer to their doorstep. This can seem a bit like a tube map, where some journeys are connected by a direct route, but may take longer than a quick walk and others can seem complicated, but save loads of time. Maybe tracing the routes people think and move around a place could help understand how to better communicate opportunities and involve more people in fun stuff. Rather than sending out blanket publicity or creating endless directories of resources, it might be better to look at existing ways people find out or get involved with other things. Most of my time as a youth work was spent as a detached worker (working with young people in parks, bus shelters, shopping centres and other places they already chose to meet). Some wouldn’t have come to a purpose built youth club and others would have liked to, but due to where they lived, didn’t have the opportunity. My role was to develop projects with young people, where they met and based on their ideas, needs and situation. A few would tell us where to go, but the majority spent time with us, getting involved to a varied degree and working with us regularly. Perhaps some creative opportunities could be happen in places where people already meet or pass through, involving people in everyday creative experiences, rather than expecting them to attend an event or show. Poetry workshops outside of Tescos or pottery classes at the pub might seem unusual, but they might be one way of involving people who wouldn’t normally get involved.
Those who are confident and interested will usually seek out activities that interest them or create them for themselves. Some might lack this confidence or have had bad experiences of being part of something or joining in. In the case of creative activities, people may feel they lack ability or that an activity is only for a privileged or gifted few. Like many, they may have simply got out of the habit of joining in to taking part in something.
Through youth work, I have noticed young people stepping back from activities or things they have previously enjoyed due to the judgement or peers and worrying too much about what people think about them. I really wanted to learn how to play the guitar when I was 12, but the same stupid concerns about the reaction of others (not helped by watching them visiting that reaction on plenty of others) put me off until much later. I learnt to hide any sign of interest, excitement or effort for fear of judgement and social isolation. By the end of secondary school, I had almost blended in with the rest of the drones. Ironically, a big part of fitting in with other people was developing a resistance to joining in or getting involved. Of course, most of the drones were hiding something more interesting, and a few had the confidence to stand up and be themselves, whilst others were so unpopular that it didn’t matter either way. Fortunately, I snapped out of it, but I wonder what it would have been like not to have had to? I wonder how many people never snap out of it, either choosing not to or lacking the choice? At the meeting, one person said the great thing about the arts is that people can switch on at any time.
My pulse is used to a sedate 80 beats a minute, and is somewhat confused by its current pattern. The stress of pushing my limbs and breathing, further than a long flight of stairs, has awakened dormant chemistry and stretched flesh, with once muscular potential, into shambling action. Fortunately the crisp bright morning (where there should have been snow) stimulated my skin, eyes, morning breath and maybe even a few lazy brain cells. It helped me open my eyes a little more.
Running and writing is what it sounds like. An amount of running followed by and amount of writing. Best to avoid to many variables at this point. I’m not entirely sure how far or fast I can cope with at the moment. Last night’s pizza weighs heavy on my mind, cheese oozing though tightly packed arteries to a grumbling heart. I tell myself this isn’t the punishing gruel of a new years resolution delayed, or a lifestyle improvement designed to keep up with the exercise fads of the masses. I saw a tweet the other day mocking the slacker generations drift towards the ‘fitter-happier’ paradigm they swore to avoid. I try to convince myself of something more poetic. A battle of mind and body, straight from Hemingway’s Nietzschean desire for a more physical approach to writing. If I want to toughen the calluses of my mind, I’d better get moving or at least stand up while I’m typing this. Despite doubting the sincerity of my self as the ‘superman’, there is some kind of battle going on here. Not fighting the flab as such, but perhaps proving a point or sparing with demon or two. The best way to get me to do something, is usually to tell me its impossible, or at the least beyond my capabilities. Sadly this has rarely worked with feats of physicality, which I have often been ready to abandon. An image occurs of myself aged 12, helped by two happier runners to finish the 1500 metres in last place. Painfully wheezing across the line to the jeers of my idling peers, who had long before recovered their repose. I am not sure who pissed me off more, I expected the jeers, but the helpers confused me. I wasn’t used to sympathy and didn’t like the smell of it. This moment of humiliation still smarts, I told myself the problem was technique. Others alternated between running and walking, I tried to run the whole way, thinking to do otherwise would be cheating. Unaccustomed to the burning pain and death/life feel of hard exercise, I drained to a slow motion jog, ridiculous to see, as the walk/runners tripped past me. I have learnt my lesson and this morning I alternated, uncertain whether my thirty-four year old body would allow me to push quite as hard as in my teens. At least there were no jeering punks to or happy helpers. I ran solo.
This experiment was inspired by a half-cut conversation with Mr Erwin last week, about the merits of mixing physical exercise and creative pursuits. Having written inconsistently for many years, hoping to get something useful from the monkeys on my back, I have tried all sorts of challenges and tools to increase my output. Some have worked to various degrees and I think I might be on the right path, but maybe running will help me travel a bit quicker. Sometimes these attempts feel like those of 80’s TV heroes, completing arcane challenges to get home, only to find themselves foiled ad-infinitum, battling ever onwards to eventual cancellation. Its has to be worth a try though, and if not, I hope to enjoy the episodes.
Its going to be a busy month, I’ve not had much time to write new material recently due to writing my dissertation, but hope to get a lot more active from December. Have had a really inspiring day at Rochester Lit Fest’s ‘Unfinished’ event. Brilliant event and great to talk to other bloggers from all sorts of backgrounds – including creatives, political and lifestyle writers. Also enjoyed reading some pieces as part of the Basement Gothic and chat about all those little problems that prevent us from getting stuff finished, as well as getting insight into how people get round those problems or turn them to their advantage. Its always reassuring to know your not struggling alone.
Anyway, here’s two things that are coming up that might be of interest to some of you…
From 1pm on Sunday 28th October, some of the guys from Cinovice and I are teaming up to film scenes for a short Zombie film on the Great Lines in Gillingham. We’ll be meeting opposite the leisure centre and will be finished no later than 5pm. If anyone is interested, join the Facebook page by following this link We will be the ones dressed like Zombies.
On Wednesday 31st October join us at the Dot Cafe for an evening of sci-fi and horror short stories from local writers, inspired by the Medway Towns. Featuring some peculiar FX, ‘The Sci-Fi Soundboard, Short Improv Challenge’ plus an extra special tin-foil hat making competition. Please let me know if you are interested in reading or taking part in the improv. Join the Facebook group HERE
This nasty little tale is my contribution to the ME4 writers short and nasties collection, which can be downloaded at: http://roysmith.podbean.com/
He throws open the shutters that have kept out the past few days and wicked light invades our hidden world. I had watched you drift into endless sleep, as your tiny nails cut into the palm of my hand, waiting whilst your breath whispered to pathetic silence. A man of straight lines, dressed in black with a coachman’s hat and cane; his servant carrying assorted boxes, as he stands stiff at the centre of my room. Through thin wire glasses his yellow eyes flit from my chair to the bed where you sleep no more.
I heard you cry that night; a choking fit then nothing. Left alone in silence with your porcelain skin and gentle face, hoping for one more sign of life, but knowing it would never come. Your father sent this shade to solve his guilt, to grab one last glimpse of his fading creation and free himself of the obligations his family would never allow. He never met you, but I saw him looking back at me every time you laughed or smiled and even when you lied. They kept us well, or so they had me suppose. A terraced house upon a hill overlooking the banks; a small house, but clean, surrounded by boat builders, dockers and their whining wives. The family sent us money, just enough, but not so much, yet we were happy and I loved you dearly. They will send no more, after today I am worthless, and despite this I know your father cared for us, though was far to weak to show it.
The straight line man and his bulky assistant pull wood and metal apparatus from their weathered boxes, building a scaffold to hold the heavy machine they move with such care. They bolt and screw and tighten each part, so the thing stands firm in the centre of the room, pointing down at where you lay. He powders your face and ruffles your hair, not happy with your sweat stuck curls, twisting them around his fingers and pulling to spring. You lay too straight my beautiful boy. He turns you to the wall and puts his knee behind yours, forcing a bend with a crack, before flipping you back to face his lens, propped up on a tear soaked pillow. My nails scratch at the arms of the chair and I feel my blood racing as I watch him manipulate your fragile limbs. You mustn’t fear my child, you have no more need of this broken body.
I met your father whilst I was working at his mother’s house. She rarely spoke, but everyone obeyed; her few words were bitter-cold and empty of kindness. He was the life in that house, as you were in mine. When he was away the days dragged on in mechanic isolation, unchanging and grey. That long summer he left a trail of smiles behind him, I ached for the relief of his presence, the lightness brought by his casual words. We loved one night, time caught and kept and there you were, a secret in my belly. Her screeched orders sent me packing, hidden behind these prison walls; to birth you here and raise you, in silence away from him and her.
He hides beneath a darkened cape that flows from atop the metal box. The cloth of his pristine suit stretches over his hunched back, close to ripping and I swear the daggers of his shoulder blades protrude in the way of severed waxen wings. I cannot watch and bury my head within my hands, he twists and turns the dials of his vicious lens, clicking and snapping into some ghastly configuration. I look up at your peaceful face and feel your love beaming back at me from your unnatural pose, your painted eyes staring into nothing, but somehow pleading.
Click. I scream, as searing white floods the room, blinding it hangs and fades in a permanent instant. I find myself caught between light and dark, your image burning into my mind. You glow, outlined with streaks of colour and wherever I look you follow, inescapably staring into my soul, accusing, reaching out to cling to earthly things.
I am alone now in the fading day; the room is empty, cleansed of any memory of you. Upon the bed lies a husk. There is no sign of who you were, all that is left is a featureless form, dried of emotion, there is nothing inside. It is not you. He has taken any part that remained, stolen away the only thing that kept me. And as he walked away, I swear those boxes seemed to sit heavy in his servants arms then in the sunset glow I caught a sideways glimpse of unfolding leather wings.
If I survive to be old,
I hope that by then society will have learnt that experience does not equal wisdom,
and that survival may only indicate the dodging of many bullets.
If they treat me with reverence,
let it be for my achievements and not from any misguided sentimentality,
they should chide me for my follies
and ignore my foolish advice, but without cruelty or intention to cause pain.
Leave me alone when needed and expect me to function as best I can,
it is a wickedness to control through care,
or to diminish through sympathy.
For now I shall run towards the bullets
and try not to wince if they scrape my skin,
I might need it when I am baggy.