Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am

Words

22nd Oct 2017

Surviving Debt

I hate money. To clarify; I hate the stranglehold it has on people. I panic about squandering my savings before I can travel with it, a privilege really, because I used to panic at the amount I owed out. That was my life for twenty years. I had to end my debt before it ended me; here’s how I did it.

At 19, my Dad bought me my first car for driving to university and a credit card for buying petrol which he reimbursed at £80 per month. I lacked the maturity and responsibility for that to work out. Cards feel less real than money and they promote a sort of financial amnesia. You want a thing, and with a sliver of plastic that thing is yours and then you forget it ever happened. Gradually that credit card got used on anything I desired, and neither £80 per month or my part-time wage could keep up. I did not tell anybody this was happening, it barely even registered with me, it’s just how I lived and it slowly worsened. The rising numbers on my statements didn’t seem real either, so I continued without consequence into recklessness. One credit card became two and I maxed them both out. I got an overdraft to pay them off, then couldn’t get out of the overdraft. I got a loan to pay all of that off, then went straight back into the overdraft and racked up more debt on the cards with the loan on top. I consolidated all of that into a single, much bigger loan, and then started the whole process again. Within a few years I hit £16,ooo worth of debt where I stabilised because no one would lend to me any more, and settled into a cycle of minimum payments at maximum limits for years. Debt is not about the amount that you owe, but your relative ability to pay it back. I was never paying it back.

Living in debt is horrible, it’s a prison cell that you carry everywhere, a tremendous weight that you constantly strain to bear. I suffered from a persistent sense of dread that culminated periodically in panic attacks that would wake me in the night, gasping into the darkness like a hooked fish. I didn’t know how I was going to keep a roof over my head or feed myself. Every expense, bill and bank charge was suffocation on a loop, every knock at the door was a threat. I experienced a crippling social inadequacy, a continually demeaning avoidance of situations that required money, like going out with friends, and I lied about why because I was so embarrassed by my situation. This extended to lying to my parents because I didn’t want to let them down. I was unable to be generous so I felt miserly and unkind. Several of my relationships collapsed because of all this, I drained them of all support and myself of all respect. I felt undeserving of help because I knew I had caused the whole catastrophe myself. I don’t know how long I was treading water for, or how long I intended to try, until it all went from bad to worse. One day, the day after payday, I went to the cash machine and I had no money left. The entire month’s wage had vanished immediately on bills and rent and I stared blankly at the screen as tears rolled down my face. That was rock bottom. That was the moment I knew I had to turn my life around.

A friend referred me to a charity called Step Change (link below) and I signed up to their 5 year debt repayment plan. I hadn’t even conceived of the notion that there are companies who help people out of debt. They were friendly to deal with and the plan was manageable, so for the first time in a long time I could breathe again. Starting that program was the easy part, but debt is not just the money you don’t have, it is the habits you have created. If I didn’t make significant changes to my habits I would never climb out of the hole. I knew it would be challenging, but I wasn’t expecting it to be life changing. I sold my car for less than it was worth even though I was still repaying it, but then I started to walk everywhere and that made me fitter and less angry. I had to wear hand me down clothes because I couldn’t afford new ones, including office wear that didn’t fit, but that made me humble and less image conscious. I had only a few pounds per day for food, so I became a much more intelligent grocery shopper, bargain hunter and soup maker. I stopped buying any luxury items like books and DVD’s, and only spent money on either sustenance or experiences, which changed my whole view about what money was for. Most importantly of all, I started to say no to things. If something was unecessary, I politely declined it, and I learned to be thankful for what I already had. These weren’t just good lessons, they were a better way to live, and they forever changed what I meant when I said I ‘needed’ something.

The steps I took really only worked for me because I was never out of employment, had no dependants, and had fantastic friends and family around me. So what I have to say will not work for everyone, I’m sorry. If you are in a similar situation to the one I was in, here is what I have to offer you:-

  1. Admit you have a problem. Treat debt like you would an addiction*, you can’t tackle it until you accept it.
  2. Tell your support network. They’ll want to be part of the solution and not the problem.
  3. Get help and commit to it, whether it’s with a charity like Step Change or any other approach.
  4. Change you language by including your debt in the amount of money available to you. Stop saying ‘I have £xx left in my wage’, replace that with ‘I have minus £xx in total’. That will remind you not to blow money on a whim just because it’s in your wallet. It’s not your money.
  5. This last one is kind of dumb, but it worked so well I still use it today. On a daily basis, divide how much money is left in your account by how many days there are left in the month, use that figure as your maximum spend for that day, or less if you can manage. That way you’re in constant control of your money, aware of your reserve, and you’ll eliminate unnecessary expenditure.

In November 2014 I made my last payment to Step Change and my bank account finally reached zero; I could not have done it without them. In the end I paid back over £20,000 including all the interest and bank charges accrued within the 5 years, which is a staggering amount and highlights the fact that the lenders are not at all interested in anyone getting out of debt once they are in, it truly is a well laid trap. My life was made awful because of debt, but it has been made infinitely better as a result of going through it. So I cannot bring myself to regret the experience, in fact, I am thankful for it.

I hate money. That will never change, but I understand and respect it now. That’s a way better position to be in.

 

*I made a comparison here between debt and addiction which I feel is important. Clearly no one is addicted to being in debt, but the ability to spend money that isn’t yours on whatever you wish without immediate consequences is highly addictive. This is why getting out of debt begins with changing habits as well as adhering to a clear plan under the supervision of a support group. Addiction does not care what the drug is, nor should we.

 

www.stepchange.org

by Chris
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12th Oct 2017

Marijuana – A break up letter

My Dearest Mary Jane.

As I write these words to you I cannot help but feel sorrowful, I really never thought this day would come, but you must understand that what I am about to do takes strength, and I feel the presence of that strength grow with each passing moment.

You have no doubt noticed that I have been seeing you less and less over these past months, dropping slowly out of our old routine of daily contact, stretching to weekly contact, and now longer. This has been difficult for me, and some days I miss everything about you, from the way you smell to the way you make me feel. It is that latter point though that has driven me to this decision. I hope I can explain it to you. You have remained the same, but I’m afraid I have changed.

I remember what we were both like when we first met some twenty odd years ago, how right we were for each other, how immediately and unconditionally we fell in love. I first heard about you from all my old heroes, writers and artists whom I idolised, and from my contemporaries who were all enjoying a fleeting romance with you. Everybody told the same story, that you would open my eyes, that you would change the way I thought, that you would turn me on to so much about life and art, movies and music. Everything they said was true. When I fell for you, I fell hard. You were my everything then. I regret nothing.

Over time you continued to enhance so many parts of my life. I met fantastic people and I went to amazing places with you as the driving force. One by one however, those other people started to fade away, and I didn’t understand at the time why they would turn their backs on you, not like I do now.

Life wasn’t always good for me, I know you know that. Whilst I appreciate you being there for me during my darker days, it is here that our relationship began to sour. I leaned on you more and more as a way to get through my struggles, I turned you from a lover to a crutch. I never should have done that, and I know you’ll leap to my defence and say it isn’t true but please, I’ve thought about this for years, and it is true, all of it is true. I slowly manipulated you from being the support of my creativity to the fuel of my self destruction. I must own that. My life will never be OK if I don’t learn to withstand the pain of it myself, I cannot hide behind you anymore, your protection was my addiction. Like I said before, you never changed, I did.

I have grown so very much older now and I look upon your ever youthful face and can finally see that we want different things out of life, you are ready to find your next lover, but you cannot do that until I let you go. Mary Jane, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you have ever done for me, my life would be a paler thing without you. You have taught me so much and given so selflessly, I will always remember you with love and I will speak highly of you to anyone who will listen, my friend, my flame, my teacher, my rock, my light. I support your every ongoing endeavour, particularly your foray into the medical world. You are going to help so many people, and you will be in safer hands. So go to them now, for this particular man must accept that you no longer serve him at all, and with that he must be free of you, and free you in the process.

I try not to be a fool, I know the world, I know how messy the end of a relationship can be. I will still see you around, at parties, at the houses of my friends. I know there will still be the occasional flirt, maybe the odd stolen kiss. I get it. Things just happen sometimes, but that will fade, and the distance between us must be allowed to grow. I have to remind you that this break up is borne of strength, not weakness. So I will not relent or go back on this promise, you and I are done.

I will admire you from afar. I only hope that what I go on to become will earn your admiration in return. Please think of me fondly if you ever think of me at all, I no longer have space in my life for hate.

Chris. x

by Chris
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25th Sep 2017

Depression.

I always feel like I should be able to fix it somehow, if I can just trace everything backwards to my childhood and find the source of it, find the thing that is broken. I wish the problem was mechanical, a logical process of cause and effect, culminating in a resolution. It is not being comforted each time I cried. It is the first time I learned about death. It is my parents marriage falling apart. It is the cruelty of school. It is a chemical imbalance in my brain. It is an inability to connect. It is all of those things and more, or possibly none of them, either way it doesn’t matter.

In my teens I understood that not everyone saw and felt the world the same way I did; maybe all teens feel that, maybe that’s what being a teen is. My coping strategy then was comedy, and while it solved nothing it at least kept the gloom at bay. I’d get laughs out of my friends for validation reasons, I’d laugh at myself for sanity reasons. It didn’t always work, but it kept people around and I wasn’t a burden; nobody had to tolerate my affliction. My friend Dominic calls this part of me the ‘Court Jester’, and he gently reminds me when I fall back into that role.

By my late teens I was cutting myself. It was a form of transference, as though the surface level pain in my arms was easier to bear than the pain inside, with the added bonus of seeing it heal, something which the deeper pain never seemed inclined to do. That was short lived. A man called Mark, an ex lag who had once held up a petrol station with a shotgun, held a knife to my throat and told me that if I ever wanted to cut myself again that he would do it for me, and that I wouldn’t enjoy that one bit. I stopped immediately.

As I got older it grew with me, in sophistication and severity. It is not getting out of bed. It is not going out with friends. It is substance abuse. It is not eating properly. It is deliberately sabotaging relationships. It is fear of failure, and then ensuring it occurs. It is feeling too much, and feeling nothing at all. I blamed everything from my girlfriends, to my job, to my parents, to my education, to the political state of the world, and sometimes I remembered to blame myself. It didn’t matter. It persisted whether I attended to it or not. It does not relent. I actually wonder if I would feel abandoned without it now. It has become part of who I am.

These days when it comes I recognise it sooner, stress about it less, and accept it for what it is. Like a shapeless fog it moves slowly but stealthily so you’re always too late to get out of its way and it doesn’t fully leave for a few weeks after you’ve tackled it, but at least it leaves. Knowing it can be tackled is your weapon, remember that, especially when you feel too weak to use your tools:- Eat healthy food, take plenty of exercise, talk to your mates, do something creative, and ease off of any substance that takes your mind off things. You need your mind ON this thing, that’s the key. The slope is slippery and you will slide, but the slope is also long, so you might not slide off. Upon this slope we build our lives.

I believe you can make a friend of that black dog, but it is not your pet. It is wild. It is a hunter. You are either part of the pack or you are prey. As I write this tonight, on the very blog that has formed part of my creative life raft, I am definitely running with the pack, and all is well under the moon.

But I will take my turn as the hunted again some day. And we will see which of us has the greater resolve.

by Chris
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14th Sep 2017

Return to sender.

It has been five years since I posted anything to this site. I barely recognise myself in any of it anymore. It isn’t the homecoming I thought it would be.

It’s amazing how much has changed in that time, and also how much has stayed the same; both of which are painful. I no longer paint. I am 40 years old now. I still work in an office job. I still smoke. I am still single. This stasis has eroded the best of me, and I have, in fact, begun to fade.

As for turning my back on painting, that was hard. I just lost the time, space and inclination, I couldn’t even force it. Creativity came in fits and spurts, I wrote some stories and poems, but I struggled to keep it up. Denying myself the chance to create anything had the same effect as denying myself oxygen; I got ill, and depression is no joke. There had to be a way to get it back, to be interested in the world again, to add something to it. So I bought a camera, and I guess we’ll just see if that works out.

There is a journey that I have been planning for what seems like forever, it started as a wish, but I am now staring down the barrel of the reality of it all and I just might be a little bit afraid. I have no choice but to embark upon it, I have already waited too long and there is nothing left to learn here, but change is scary nonetheless. The journey is a physical one, it will take me across the planet to distant lands, to new experiences, maybe even some adventure. The journey is also an emotional one, for I must be honest with myself and accept that I have become a wreck, an automaton who has distanced himself from the pain of feelings; a state I must go to war against lest it become permanent. The journey is also a spiritual one, not in the usual vein of people who use terms like that, I don’t need religion or a guru, this is about becoming a version of myself that I am at peace with.

Three years ago I paid off all my debts. Since then I have saved up enough money to pack up my life and go travelling for a year. I nearly lost my mind doing it, office work is a form of mental torture, but I persevered and I’m getting out of the rut.

Something is coming. I have no idea what, but it will be here for you to read about. The words begin to form, the need to write them grows and it is time once more to document all this shit, in the vague hope that I have something left to say. This will be the genuine story of a genuine life. A man who has found himself at the halfway mark of his existence, and wants the final half to have value. So he quits his life and goes looking for something else.

I’ll keep you informed. It will be nice to have a friend along for the way.

 

by Chris
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14th Jul 2010

One Hundred Days Of Freedom.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Nelson Mandela

“What I like doing best is Nothing. It’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, “What are you going to do?” and you say “Oh, Nothing,” and then you go and do it. Doing Nothing means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear,

and not bothering.”

Winnie The Pooh

During this blog, there will be two opportunities for you to take your iron and ironing board out into the street and set fire to them. The first opportunity is now. Go. I’ll explain why in a moment.

Know that I am a lazy man. When I say ‘lazy’ I mean that I have an aversion to non-beneficial work, I have no requirement to be doing things to justify my existence. And I watch people. I watch BUSY people dutifully cram their every waking moment with a thousand menial tasks while I enjoy doing nothing in particular and I wonder which of us is right. From where I am sitting, it looks as though busy people are just poor souls that lack the imagination to stop being so bloody busy. (By the way, if this already sounds like you then answer me this, who the hell gave you ALL that shit to do? Take a break man, look out the window, notice the world hasn’t stopped turning just because you enjoyed life for a minute instead of toiling yourself into dust). A lot of the tasks that busy people do seem to be entirely devoid of purpose. Work for work’s sake. Chief among all pointless distractions is the time-eating absurdity that is ironing ones clothing.

The average person spends 55 minutes per week doing the ironing. That’s 47.6 hours per year. If you live as long as 65 and start ironing in your teens you’ll clock up around 100 days of ironing in your life. Your one life. Your only shot at existence on the only planet you’ll ever know.

Ever stop to think why you’re doing it? Because you want to appear smart? OK, that’s a reasonable answer; I’ll come back to that later. Luckily I am lazy and have plenty of time to ponder things like this so that you don’t have to. Here’s what I think:-

You could argue that ironing is one of the myriad human activities that mark a ‘civilised’ society, by which I mean it’s something we collectively perpetuate and so collectively support its value – This is important for several reasons.

  1. It means you already know that if no one else was doing it then you wouldn’t bother to do it either.
  2. ‘Civilised’ societies have the capacity to help the less fortunate but choose not to. Which means they are selfish. A difficult trait to find any merit in whatsoever. This makes me uneasy about being ‘civilised’ and hesitant about copying the actions of that society.
  3. ‘Backward’ or ‘uncivilised’ societies tend to place value on things like Family, Friendship, Love and the Land – never appearances, for appearances are paper thin. If a person is a bit of a dick then it won’t take long for people to figure that out and no amount of ironed clothes will save them. You cannot polish a turd.

We seem to be in danger of deluding ourselves that looking ones best is the same as being ones best. It isn’t. This is an unhealthy symptom of narcissism that dampens the spirit of altruism and I despise it. Your need for an image is your ego’s need for a physicality – remember that next time you’re in Top-Shop.

Let’s look at the two biggest appropriators of a world in which clothes magically take on more significance when they are hot and flat, the first of which is the Military. The Military are especially important here because they use ironing as a tool to destroy any unwanted defiance in their recruits. It is administered as a punishment and a way of maintaining control, of quashing the spirit of the individual. Paradoxically it is then used to create a sense of smart-new-self, of acceptance into the pack, which is then richly rewarded instilling pride and feelings of achievement, serving the purpose of making a soldier accept punishment with pride as he can no longer distinguish between the two – all things which make me nauseous and should put ironing in a sinister light. My Father is ex-Navy and learnt to iron with them. When he does the ironing at home he includes socks and tea-towels. I’ll run that one by you again in case you read it quickly without taking it in – A man in his 60’s who is intelligent and witty and has had some very important jobs, irons socks and tea towels. No matter how creased, socks immediately become foot shaped when you wear them, then you hide them in a shoe. Also what has your world come to when you feel it necessary to impress people with the appearance of your tea towels? This point alone should show you that indoctrinated ironing is a lunacy that extends beyond obsessive compulsive disorder, and that at least half of your washing pile has no right to be ironed.

The second of the two principle perpetrators is the world of corporate business; and it is here where we again strike at the very root of why you iron clothes in the first place – the perception of appearances. For at least one thousand years, clothes ironed flat have been a way of improving ones appearance so as to separate ones self from the dishevelled masses of the not-so-ironed. It was developed by the Chinese, a race whose class hierarchy is so demented that people die to uphold it, and for whom making a cup of tea involves a three hour ceremony – making them the most efficient time wasters in the world. So, pressed clothes are a means to simulate class and status and the corporate world has embraced and expanded this idea to include professionalism. A pressed suit gives the “effect” of the “representation” of reliability and business acumen.

Is it me or does that become obviously bollocks when it’s written down like that?

I have met some of the most immaculately dressed tossers in the world and I learnt very quickly not to judge by appearances. Even kids know this. I am regularly astonished to see people actually get impressed by a well ironed shirt and therefore taken in by the bullshit that hides behind it.

Here is a meeting of two potential business partners:-

Suit One: “I see you have taken the time to iron your shirt.”

Suit Two: “I see you have done the same.”

Suit One: “When I discovered that you had bankrupted four companies and had stolen from all your previous business partners I was worried there may be some issues concerning trust, but then I saw your professional ironed shirt and I see now that I was wrong to let facts get in the way of my faculty for decision making, when all I needed was blind faith in a flat material.”

Suit Two: “Quite.”

Suit One: “Let’s touch cocks.”

Little Red Riding Hood: “Why Grandma, what a crease-free nightie you have on.”

Wolf: “All the better to deceive you with, my dear.”

Outside of the Military and the image crazed corporations are the ordinary folk in the street. Remember when you said you ironed so you could look smart? Well let’s question that a little bit further now. Are you really so bothered about what other people think of your appearance that you want to squander hours of your precious life pandering to their (totally unquantifiable) opinions? Do you actually walk down the street thinking everyone is admiring your flat clothes? Well, they aren’t. If anything they just think you’re the person who was in front of them in the queue at Greggs and they don’t give a shit whether you’ve ironed or not. If you stop viewing life as a hollow fashion parade then you’ll stop endlessly trying to appeal to judges who AREN’T THERE. You wear clothes so you don’t die of exposure. End. You cannot be marginalised by them. The only thing your clothes should say about you is that you’re at the mercy of weather conditions and when you are stuck for something to piss away your hard earned cash on you don’t mind paying for a fashion designer to scrawl something on your t-shirt. Unless you buy your t-shirts from large high street shops like Burtons – whose T-shirt rack was hand picked by a blind donkey and is so crammed with clashing designs they are basically saying to you “We haven’t got a fucking clue what’s cool anymore, just buy something and hope for the best”.

When I see people in their homes unthinkingly ironing a mountain of clothes (including undergarments that never even get seen) on summer days I weep for them. I weep for their children who see this behaviour, assume it to be the norm and ready themselves for the day they’ll inherit the same ball and chain. I weep for the iron manufacturers whose very existence unwittingly binds us into a voluntary enslavement and anxiety that we can never be as well presented as we should be. When people say to me “I spent nearly two hours ironing yesterday” I feel like saying “Wow, you sure know how to squeeze the most out of your weekend, I wasted two hours yesterday doing drugs and fucking hookers in the endless sunshine, what an idiot, if only I’d had the foresight to get on top of making my clothes hot and flat instead”.

If I was king of the world I’d ban ironing immediately, I’d eradicate it from the history books. We’d live in a place where all clothes were creased simply because they were made from creasy material and it meant nothing more than that. Business men would have to rely on strength of character in order to gauge someone’s strength of character. The Military would have to come up with different means of psychological bullying (no problem there) and rely on their integrity in order to portray the pretence of their integrity. People in the street would have to get to know you in order to judge you. My father would be free. Most important of all, I’d give you your 100 days back in order to spend time with your loved ones. Or just doing nothing with me.

Always be wary about devoting your time to things you haven’t fully thought through. Was I talking about more than just housework here? You bet your ass I was.

If you were one of the people who didn’t set fire to their iron at the start of this blog, this is the second opportunity to do it.

Unless you ENJOY ironing, in which case knock yourselves out you weirdos.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 10 Comments »
16th Jun 2010

Fasen All Gates.

I suffer from a rare neurological disorder that prevents me from understanding how far distances are and how long it will take to walk them. It’s not a debilitating illness or even a proper disability, I can work and live quite normally with it, just don’t ever come on an afternoon stroll with me. Ever.

When I tell you it is probably just another 2 miles to the pub, it isn’t, it is 7 miles. When I tell you it will take us half an hour to get there, it won’t, it will take an hour and a half and when we get to the pub we won’t be friends anymore. It happens to me all the time. But I’m not lying you understand? It’s a neurological disorder. I believe it’s called “Getafuckingmapandawatch Disorder”; or I.D.I.O.T. as my mates refer to it.

Anyway, yesterday I succumbed to the effects of this malady in a most painful fashion. Yesterday was my birthday and I decided to tackle the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk all by myself. It is 23.5 miles long(ish) and takes in Pen-Y-Ghent (2,227 ft), Whernside (2,415 ft) and Ingleborough (2,372 ft). I thought it would be a memorable and challenging way to celebrate another year of life and something I could look back on fondly.

I was wrong on all counts.

Simply staring at the words “Twenty three and a half miles” gives you no indication at all as to how far that is. It is really, really, really far. It is unbelievably far multiplied by ten. Luckily, plenty of training will lessen the impact a walk of that magnitude will have on your body. Unluckily, I did absolutely no training whatsoever.

I didn’t even do any stretches.

Nobody has yet invented the words that correctly convey how stupid this is.

So, today I am typing this in a seated position because I cannot walk. It is hard to think about what to type because of the intense sunburn on my scalp, the stuffiness of the man-flu I have contracted and the endless shivering that marks a good honest bout of sunstroke. My lower back seems to have been replaced by a wet sponge and no longer supports anything above it. My hips are still burning, the muscles in my legs are so tight that going up and down stairs actually makes me wail and my feet are twisted broken replicas of their former selves. I seem to remember they used to have skin on them.

It was a fantastic day though…

I thought that when writing this I was going to wax lyrical about man and his landscape, or every step on the walk versus every step in life, or spending the anniversary of your birth doing something that proves you’re alive or something equally twee and uninteresting/obvious; and I probably have a bit but there was a much nicer way to sum things up which came in the form of an accidental discovery of a misspelled sign in a field on my trek.

It reminded me of the way everyone passes from one phase in life to the next, and the fact that when one is over and done with it should be correctly sealed shut so that you are free to move on from it, taking your experiences with you but letting go of your attachments.

Or something like that. You’ll work it out.

I finished the walk in 8 hours. If anybody wants to do it again with me I reckon we can do it in 3 hours. The pub’s just over the next hill…

by Chris
Posted in Words | 7 Comments »
9th Jun 2010

Rub Us Out.

The direction of the wind has changed

The lost look in your eyes remains

Hanging Frozen Twisted Tight

Uncertain in the streets tonight

Nothing ventured nothing gained

Crying puddles with the rain

Moving away and not returning

Forgetting all you should be learning

Sign your life upon the line

Drown the guilt in a glass of wine

You aren’t your job you aren’t your shoes

The innocence you had to lose

They don’t need to know your name

You’re just somewhere to lay the blame

The cruelest card you ever dealt

The blade on which you cut yourself

All your schemes and all your plans

The way she used to hold your hand

Bang your drum and stop your talking

Walk away and keep on walking

Can’t help the way we’re all the same

Can’t rub us out and start again.

by Chris
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18th May 2010

The Tooth Will Out.

I tell ya Kid I shoulda seen it comin, when that first scheming crack let me know I was housing a quitter I shoulda seen it comin. Course the seeing and the getting out the way are two different things, ask any old road-kill. Never figured myself an easy lush but still I wait for the hit like any good stool pigeon should and soon enough that tooth goes bad and works me over like the turncoat it is. Voices its resignation by poisoning my face and swelling me up like an engorged leech. An urgent memo, one might say. The upsettin thing is I raised that tooth like it was my own, now it bites the hand that feeds and I figure there’s more respectful ways to expire. Whole episode put me in mind of rats leaving a sinking ship, the ship being destroyed  not by wind and rain but by time, the storm of old age, the rot that don’t heal.

“Only da captain goes down wit da ship” laugh the rats, “we ain’t gonna croak on account of another mans mortality”. The kicker is I got no comeback to rat wisdom.

Now when it comes to the criminal assault of Dentistry I’m not a well connected man so I figure I’m gonna fall for the double bluff and get suckered up with some vicious backstreet practitioner, big mean fingers, never made it as a butcher and now empties sore heads for a fiver and a favour. Dead fish eyes and a smile so empty you know he tried his craft on his own incisors first. Probably enjoyed it. Maybe he took the “Do unto others….” gig too far, now he’s a junky for the extraction habit. Anyways I call the bureau and make my appointment and when the day comes I develop such a burning hatred for that weasel tooth I almost wish for the worst atrocity to bring it to its knees.

Wouldn’t you?

I’m despatched to a small community centre, invisible unless you’re invited, a pensioner’s yoga hall but with part time medical ambitions. There are forms to fill out first but I already dig the forms are only there to justify the filing cabinets so I only tick boxes that make me out to be a saint. I figure it’s the least I can do to lie to those that collect paper souls. The Doc calls me to the slaughter routine (white tiled abattoir to remove all sense of hope) and I see straight through the haze of disinfectant and that white coat and size him up immediately. He ain’t Johnny Local but he sure is professional, got hands that never dug a hole unless it was into gum and root. Cell walls littered with certificates and diplomas for placebo effect.

As neither of us are a fan of the small talk we get straight to it and he gives me a shot in the back of the mouth that makes my face fade into numbness, pure junk kick, stop you getting too uppity as you suffer the dental murder. Reckon he keeps the best stuff for personal. He clamps the tooth with some tool looks like it could take the nuts off the wheel of a bus and then he gets to wrenching from side to side. Cracking sound like an old branch. I can see it’s taking all his strength to twist me this way and that and I feel my head move like it wasn’t attached no more.

“Sweet Jesus this guy’s good” say the rats, “He pull off da whole head rather than deal wit da tooth, keeps down the expense”.

He’s quicker than a thief on a crowded subway and more voracious of intent. The tooth comes out in two halves in two minutes flat and I stare right in to its bastard soul as the doc makes to throw it in the trash. “Hold the front page Doc” I say through half a face, “Put the sonuvabitch in a baggy and I’ll take him home”. I got a real tasty vengeance planned soon as I get that Judas tooth back to the ranch.

I break out into the sunshine weighing about 6 grams less than I did on the way in, wondering if it will always take pure attrition to rob me of my youth. I figure no one ever really died of old age; they were just removed from general service one fragment at a time, all bought and paid for y’understand? I walk one block and already I got a crimson tide filling my mouth and I gotta spit. Now, Kid, when I tell ya that muck hit the sidewalk like I done slaughtered a pig there, well that’s only half the story. Make you wig to think of it. I thought I was gonna wig right there and then, ya dig? I only gotta walk another six blocks but suddenly my chances of survival are questionable. I’m emptyin quicker than an informant in the witness box. Don’t suppose swallowing blood puts it back in the right place neither. Anyway, I get the determination kick and make it home without emptying out altogether. I got the rounds to do and leastways dying today means a victorious tooth and I won’t give that sonuvabitch the satisfaction.

Recollect a run in with an old Chinese man runs this three gig outfit that makes him more greenbacks than a coke dealer on Wall Street in a recession. He got a Laundromat, a Restaurant and an Apothecary all in a row with doors knocked through all the walls so the same staff can service all three at once, no wasted time exiting one building to enter the next, no need to change aprons, maximises productivity, ya dig? The Chinaman is smart but he is also blind, been known to clean a suit in Demerol, prescribe Ajax for rheumatism and I hear it ain’t wise to eat the number 26 with noodles if you value your pancreas. But though he can’t see the end of his own bank account he sure got his philosophies down and when I went to see him (I’d eaten at the restaurant and therefore required the apothecary, I’m tellin ya Kid that Chinaman knew his business strategy) he lays me with this nugget: – “If I taunt you with Death every ten paces, you’ll show me what it is to live and walk a mile”. So now I got no comeback to Chinese wisdom neither, apart from it making less sense than rat wisdom.

I mailed the tooth to my ex-wife. It was the worst thing I could think to do to it.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 6 Comments »
20th Apr 2010

Song Of The Sleepless.

The night is still as a mill pond and I suspect it harbours the same forlorn depths. I’m staring through the window at the firmly shut doors of all the sleeping neighbours I have never spoken to on the other side of my street, lit with the lurid orange-grey pallor of what passes for a street light. Doors locked and bolted in pure metaphor. There is a deathly weight to things and as it stales the air I am resigned to the fact that tonight I will not sleep. Details are lost and forms are ill defined on either side of the window pane, blurred into a background that is both miles and inches away at the same time. The street an under water version of its day time self. I try to feel the same way.

For a large portion of my twenties I was stricken by fanciful ideas about faking my own death. Not constantly, it happened in waves. I was unhappy with my job and probably at the end of some wilting toy-romance that I no longer had the energy to terminate and the cyclic misery was sapping my spirit. The point to the plot, of course, was not the dying but the living, starting anew elsewhere as somebody else and leaving my entire tedious life behind me. Tabula rasa.

I would park my car up; abandon it off some lonely desolate country road, a deliberate illustration so the bereaved could really grasp my state of mind. Door flung open as though my exit were hurried and careless, money and documents blowing in the wind, a lost suicide with no note. I’d have headed north. I fantasised about working on a farm in Scotland. Something about the supposed simplicity of the land. The lack of responsibility in the face of the elements. I don’t know why it was Scotland in particular; it wasn’t anywhere I’d actually been. Maybe it didn’t even matter. When I finally died for real I wanted it to be on a mountain in India with no one around. The “no one around” was especially important. The snag being that I would’ve been there. I never go away.

There is a void in people that cannot be filled and the futility of our attempts is comedic when viewed from the correct angle. Tragic when lived from the wrong angle. I seldom meet anyone who acknowledges this. Even less those who know they are running, never those that know what they’re running from.

I see now that there was a part of me in those days that did not want to be me at all. An odd thing to imagine I suppose, this mini version of you in your head that is constantly annoyed at everything you do and wants out but cannot leave. Who is that? What am I doing to drive us apart? If I only knew how to listen to him. You see I don’t want to die or to run anymore, I want to hear. But he communicates only in sensations and that is a language that I have forgotten how to speak. What I can say for sure, is those sensations that were once borne of adolescent frustration and fear now manifest as the quiet mature introspections of an insomniac. Age has forged a cosy familiarity between us through all these long dark hours, some sort of intimacy, albeit back to back. A tacit coercion at best. I use our time together to quell the motion in my mind, to stem the tide, to mutely measure our comings and goings against the stoicism of the stars. Waiting for a hint of understanding. Wanting to work it all out for myself. To stop running. To fill the void. To start again.

The night is still as a mill pond and I suspect it harbours the same forlorn depths.

by Chris
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6th Apr 2010

Bored.

“THE CURE FOR BOREDOM IS CURIOSITY. THERE IS NO CURE FOR CURIOSITY.”

Dorothy Parker (attributed)

1893 – 1967.

Progress has been frustratingly sluggish of late. I procrastinate. I laze. I ponder. My absence is tangible.

It is a difficult truth to grasp that your passions are a double edged blade. Or at least they CAN be when you mismanage them. They are that which you most love and that which you most hate, and sometimes I hate to have to paint. I find these non-active periods anxious and disorienting and they have been known to last for months at a time. Is there a cure? Perhaps. Recently I have glimpsed a probable root cause of these deteriorations. Boredom.

I’ve bored myself with the work I’ve been doing. An overwhelming sense of ‘same old, same old.’ And it follows that if I’m bored with it then you probably are too. This was not my original intention. So let’s rewind.

A while ago I decided to paint a nude and a landscape. Two established disciplines that I have rarely done before and am in no such rush to do again. Actually, “decided” is a slightly misleading explanation of what I did – I felt I HAD to do them and so talked myself into believing it was a brilliant tactical manoeuvre. In reality it was a cretinous manoeuvre, with all the tactics of an exceptionally stupid worm. You see, all the art on my site is of a level of competence that I thought may bewilder some of the viewers. The notion struck me that it may be hard for people to work out if I was any good or just a scribbler of no consequence. My ego didn’t sleep for a week. It was a question I wanted answering as well.

I thought it would be useful to have an anchor point, something for people to easily identify and therefore judge the workmanship appropriately. Hence the nude and the landscape. I remember it making more sense at the time. Maybe I’d even learn something.

Well, I did learn something. I learned that the difference between Joy and Disappointment is all in the picture you think other people will like. I learned to drag my feet when I’m painting things that don’t really interest me. I learned how important Haagen Dazs is for combating depression. Not that there’s anything wrong with the paintings. I actually quite like them and did manage to refine my techniques a little while working on them. But they took too long to do because I wasn’t doing anything new and inventive, I was copying set forms from a photographic source and I felt a bit like I’d gone backwards. I do not believe the world has benefited from one more painted nude and a tree and I had lost all curiosity in either.

Mostly I hated the entire process.

So here’s the lesson and the point of this entry. People are smarter than you think. Certainly they are smart enough to look at an image and work out whether or not they like it. You don’t need to paint a chair better than Van Gogh or a sunset better than Turner or a woman with facial feature displacement better than Picasso. Just be good at what you are doing and people will get it. So get on with something interesting. Something that’s never been seen before. Don’t waste your time pandering to taste. Also, for me, I now know I want to learn to work much more quickly in order to retain interest and enthusiasm and not get traumatised by perfecting the tiniest detail that no one really sees anyway.

This year I want to start selling prints through the site. This requires a very different way for me to work due to the constraints around scanning the finished image and also in terms of content as I am hoping to appeal to a slightly wider audience than I have to date. In short, my future work has to comprise of more arresting ideas and visual play with a higher quality of finish. I’ll probably muck both of those up.

Finally a note on time management.

I have previously harped on about tracking my painting hours in a spreadsheet and what a wonderful thing it all was. Sound anal? Well, that’s because it is, and I’m pleased to inform you that I’ve stopped doing it again. It was starting to feel like logging the time was more important than the quality of work and the experience of doing it. I hated that. It no doubt contributed to the feeling of overall boredom and soul-death. I don’t need a spreadsheet to tell me when I’ve had a good day or a bad day, I know it instinctively. I work now when the motivation is there to do it and I enjoy that a lot more than forcing the painting because I want to do more hours this month than I did in February. It turns your creativity into a job, and it’s not a job it’s my life. I can reliably advise you not to do anything so reductive as tracking every second you spend in your labours – it absolutely takes all the magic out of it. And whatever you do that has no magic is the only true waste of your time. I have an empty spreadsheet to prove it.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 2 Comments »