Spirited Sound, Love and Life

I want to begin a while back, because this road has been a long journey. This year has been more challenging, but also finally a turning point – in my art, with Spirited Bodies, and in my love life. It all happens at once, yet in stages. I get challenged about why I am sharing the personal, in an art project which is supposedly more for the benefit of others, and I respond, because when I was a younger woman I missed an older female role model, who had the appropriate life experience. I struggled with that, until things gradually fell more into place. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone who purported to understand, and I’d know if they really did. Any more privileged woman who thought she knew best, definitely didn’t. Now of course, I may be the more privileged woman for many, but I am happy to share that it hasn’t always felt thus, and if in some way my message can reach distant others, that is what was in my heart all along.

In short since late May, this year has included several frustrated attempts at connections with venues and individuals with whom I seemingly failed to build a rapport. Trans activists (who were not actually trans themselves) with whom it was impossible to have a sensible discussion about trans issues and how they intersect with the needs of cis women rape survivors in some cases. Competitive women with similar projects to mine, who either viewed me with suspicion, or just thought they knew better. Community collectives who were not open enough to host Spirited Bodies! What could be more appropriate for a community…?

Earlier in the Summer I met Sarah Kent at Brockley Open Studios, in my neighbourhood. We got chatting in artist Gill Hickman’s studio, and something resonated. I attended Sarah’s soundbath and experienced the healing sounds on the floor of her living room. I felt at ease with her, as well as moved by the intense yet soothing vibes. She said expect changes in the next few days, and ideally make space for them.

What I hadn’t known was that my old friend Michael, had died that day or the day before… and I found out a few hours after the soundbath. Michael’s death, for me marked a turning point, a shift of focus. In the middle of Summer this news penetrated layers of the fabric of my being. It took me back to the late 90s when I knew him best, the times and the company we shared. Though I had not been so in touch with Michael in recent years, his strong uncompromising world view sank into me as I relooked at the world through his imagined eyes and the filtered lens of the girl I used to be. Somehow both introvert and extrovert, rebellious, even fearless. The power of youth! While most of us had mellowed, to be fair including Michael in his own minor way, really he had sustained a strikingly similar mentality to what we all remembered. I instantly felt tougher, unaffected by petty crises previously around me. For a while I was invincible! Untouchable. I thought of Michael a lot.

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

My erstwhile longterm relationship that had been faltering, now felt briefly healing again. My partner, connected to the old tribe including Michael, understood intimately my feelings, but the ending of our relationship was imminent. We had drifted apart, and I craved cohesion in my life. A nervous breakdown at one of my modelling jobs alerted me that something had to give. I could not visualise a future that felt fitting, under my current circumstances. The breakdown involved intense feelings of being violated by the artists sculpting me, when in fact I was also aware that neither they nor the tutor (who is one of my favourites) was responsible. The conditions of my life were so disadvantaging me, that I could not see light in my routine. To make a success of my art projects I needed all energies and people in my life to point decidedly the same way, otherwise it was dissipating. I needed freedom. We technically had an open relationship, so when I did find closeness with a new partner, it took me a little while to realise that I could not be so intimate with two men simultaneously. The new relationship rapidly came to mean so much more to me than I could have anticipated. So intense is this new connection that it felt prudent to break up with Aaron. Simple is better; and freshly blossoming love deserves the richest, most fertile ground in which to take root.

In my new partner I found a fellow life model and writer, as well as an enthusiast of all my projects, sharing much passion in nude art adventures, and travel, something I had missed in the past. I also found so much love I hadn’t dreamed of, expected, in one with apparently such different background. His openness, sensitivity, intelligence and understanding take my breath away. As the Autumn took hold, this new excitement grew, and grows. I am in love.

Spirited Bodies again feels in a good place. I have resolved some issues, and feel confident about the involvement of men modelling again. For Spirited Sound I didn’t take any chances with male models. I knew all of the chosen ones personally and felt 100% safe with them. With the help of my partner and other trusted male models, we are creating an exceedingly safe space for everyone. That’s not to exclude the trusted women models from this equation, or the artists, but it was mainly an issue with deceptively inappropriate male models, so feels apt to be solved first, by male models.

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15, at the Bargehouse, Oxo Building, Southbank

The healing power of Spirited Bodies is very important to me. I have explored this a few ways; in more intimate workshops, through interviewing models (and artists) about their experience and playing their recorded voices during sessions. Now with Spirited Sound, a new, more direct, less personal but more universal model has been born. The sound instantly seemed to free up the format, necessarily instigating greater experimentation. Traditional life drawing standards according to the wants of some artists are thrown out. This is all about the Spirited Bodies, and this time we tried some movement poses which was a beautiful way to discover even greater harmony as a group. Three minutes of very slowly opening up from a closed posture into something more expansive, and five minutes of flickering gently together, moving as flames of a fire burning brighter and closer.

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The session was divided into 4 sections, each representing an element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Shorter and movement poses in the first 2 parts, then longer poses for Water and Earth. The models connected with each other when they felt drawn to, as they collectively expressed themselves elementally. Dynamic and expansive for Fire, including a slightly longer Scene from Hell – the fallen among the devils. Light and floaty for Air, as well as being blown together in a very strong gust of wind. Flowing waves for Water where the models lay variously in a row, some interconnecting; and pure grounded connection for Earth, each model occupying their own comfortable (I hope!) space. It was a big pleasure to work with the group of models, several I have gotten to know over time with Spirited Bodies, including professionals who enjoy the deepening experience a lot. They create a warm atmosphere for any newcomer.

5 minutes blowing in the wind

5 minutes blowing in the wind

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Spirited Sound happened because I had connected with Sarah, and she was interested and happy to bring her sound art to Spirited Bodies. It was her idea to work with the elements as a theme, and she created sounds to fit each mood, to accompany and inspire the models (and artists), and weave a layer of vibrational texture into the space. There were bells, singing bowls (including one large one containing water), large gongs, a rainstick, a jingly instrument which when shaken lightly produces an array of gently tingling bell sounds of different notes.

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Spirited Bodies becomes something more layered with the inclusion of sound art; another type of art is intersecting with the life modelling and drawing. A new relationship emerges between musician and models (and artists). Is the sound influencing the models, or vice versa? A bit of an exchange for sure. At one end of the room Sarah laid out her instruments, from where she could see all the action (and stillness) of the models. Had we been in the larger attic space as originally planned, she may have arranged herself in more spread out fashion around the room in order to move about and be among artists and models, so that sounds would emerge from different areas and directions, possibly moving too. Sarah and her instruments could have been linked to the visual aspect of the artists’ attention, perhaps appearing in the art, as positioned within the scenes of poses. The attic also had a particular atmosphere which would have lent itself well to the gravitas of gongs, however it turned out that heating and lighting that space was a task beyond the electricity supply. It was great as it was, but it would also have been fantastic for Sarah to have been slightly more integrated with artists and models. Nevertheless, her presence and sound creation were deeply felt and appreciated by all. This was a joyful collaboration which I hope we may explore again.

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I feel more comfortable with the trans inclusion (to women’s sessions) now. This is very delicate, but it’s important to be open. I sometimes feel that a separate group for women only – excluding non-transitioned trans women – will be helpful (particularly for cis women rape survivors, of whom there are probably more than the entire population of non-transitioned trans women). I will tread carefully. One thought is that, if women’s events are open to all trans women regardless of transition, that gesture is what is important. Possibly those trans women themselves are not interested to come along, and may well realise that their inclusion can be tricky; without wanting to be divisive, there are very different needs at play.

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The issue of competitive women is being resolved too. I am not taking this personally, but see it as symptomatic of us women, learning how to share our power. This might seem odd to be so gendered, but I do think we are not so familiar as men are, with having power in the first place, and often if we do, we are encouraged to beat off the competition. This doesn’t make sense when our projects are about liberation and empowerment, for all, not just some elite. These higher principles must filter through otherwise projects will die.

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Leaving you with a few more pictures of artwork from Spirited Sound. We were very fortunate to have a lovely photographer with us at the event too, so there will be photos of the group of models to follow at some stage. Also, I am just planning an event for December, so keep looking out! And a blog post about the women’s event at Bargehouse will also come soon.

Watery bodies

Watery bodies

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With much gratitude to all the models, artists, and Sarah, as well as Kathy, Angie and Jenny from the Southbank Festival of Creativity at the Bargehouse

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Stormy Nights of Transformation

In 1987 I was 10. About this time of year there was a very memorable storm, you may recall, not dissimilar to the one on outside tonight (in London, UK). Trees collapsed, cars were smashed, gardens were destroyed, and I felt a fascination with this touch of wildness in our city and indeed beyond.

I wrote a story inspired by that night, for creative writing was my favourite outlet for self expression. In the fiction I was preparing for a Halloween fancy dress competition, which seemed fairly significant at the time, not least because my arch nemesis would be competing with me, and to me at any rate it might as well just have been me and her in the contest. I knew she was hotly tipped as the favourite; being richer and possessing finer garments standing her in perhaps better stead. I was unperturbed, and created for myself a unique costume fashioned from bin-liners, and rolled a black cardboard cone hat, adding some details by sticking on old scraps of material. Nothing fancy but the best I could muster. I reckoned further points may be scored for originality and style, the way an outfit was worn as much as the clothes themselves.

I laid my costume out before I went to bed, the night before the big day. That was the night of the manic storm, and nothing was the same after. In the morning I discovered that our back garden had been blown several blocks away and a tree fallen on Dad’s car. What more despite being apparently safe inside, my carefully crafted costume had been shredded, crumpled and broken beyond repair. I was distraught and could not conceive how this might have happened. The rest of my room was ok; it was most alarming. I thought I could no longer enter the competition and felt utterly disappointed, with a sense of void as to how this came about. Sighing and tearful I left the room to tell my Mum who was busy getting my brother ready for the day and making breakfast. There was no hope for this day I had so looked forward to.

But on returning to the bedroom I saw an unfamiliar object in my midst, positioned where I might have missed it before, high up on the cupboard. A shiney white cardboard box sat quietly and expectantly, with considerable promise. Tentatively I approached, reached for it and took it in my hands, examined it and removed the lid. What was this! A brand new beautiful black velvet and lace ensemble, complete with sparkly hat and shiney pointy shoes! I was flabbergasted, gobsmacked and temporarily frozen in disbelief. Everything was going to be all right after all. But how? Never mind that, the important thing was, did it fit? What do you think? It was the best fit since my Grandmother had stopped making handmade clothes for us because she was tracking down her first husband on the other side of the world. From the starry hat, lacey gloves, velvet frock and cape to the snug ankle boots, I was perfectly decked out. There was even a wand, but I was not sure about that and thought it might get in the way; I was a witch not a fairy, so I tucked it into my left boot. Over the moon, I set to shadowing my eyes and heightening my lips. My parents were contending with immense loss – you could just about spy the remnants of the shed and eucalyptus tree a few gardens away. The insurance line was jammed, in fact I don’t think the phone worked at all. I easily persuaded them I’d be fine on the bus.

I was still nervous even though I was better dressed in the new cloak than possibly I ever had been. I think the unexplained element of arriving in this attire put me a little on edge – not only was I not used to it, but also, part of me questionned my right to be in it. What if it was a mistake, or worse a trick? But who could hatch such a plot? I was flummoxed. Broken into by my arch-rival Gwendoline’s steely intent to trip me up and foil my desire (since our last run-in at the fairground when from high up on the wheel I poured some noxious concoction on her head)? We had been very good friends once, but she resisted strongly when I suggested we open up our friendship to others in the neighbourhood. While she might have motivation the practicalities did not support this. She could not have the keys to my home, and all the windows were tightly closed in this time of storm. The beautiful outfit could be a sign of her original devotion to me, but there would have to be a catch… Maybe more weirdly, I had been visited by fairies in the night, performing magic? Either way I barely dared entertain these thoughts further which had been lurking in my adrenaline fuelled glances on the top deck of the 43 bus. I arrived at the town hall, sounding my heels on the steps and escorted myself into the tall brick building to register my participation. What would the others be wearing? What would Gwendoline be conjuring? Could it be as incredible as my dress? As a final touch, on the way out of my house I had grabbed a broom which was scattered in what was left of the front garden to complete the look. I walked into the hall and found a place to watch others from, leaning on the broomstick nonchalantly.

The speeches and parades went by in a bit of a blur as I found it tricky to focus on the formalities. I could make out Gwendoline on the other side of the room, though really she ceased to be as important now I had arrived. It seemed that everything was out of my hands now anyway; the unusual events of the night and morning had taken care of that, and this awareness started to settle. My Mum and brother arrived shortly before the adjudication was made, and I was grateful to not be alone. This place was a little way from home so I didn’t know many others there particularly well. I just knew that Gwen would take part as we had talked about it and planned it before the split transpired. I think when the mayor or whoever he was announced my winning, I was no more stunned than I had already become accustomed to. I glowed nonetheless, overwhelmed with pride and joy to have succeeded in my special quest. Why did I want to be the best? Probably because I was tired of Gwendoline behaving like she was superior all the time. I wanted to shut her up. And winning is fun. I’m not sure if there was money, a prize or a crown, but not long after being acknowledged as the winner, I got on my broomstick, quite conscious that miracles or magic were entirely possible, and flew off before everybody’s incredulous eyes, and out through a high window!

A few months later in early February I sat an entrance exam to a girls grammar school. For the English section I basically rewrote this story as one of the titles was ‘The Stormy Night’, and that was what got me into the school I spent the next five years in as my maths was fairly basic.

It gives me great pleasure to remember the story (and the story of the story), unfortunately I do not have the original with me, though it’s possible that it is housed in my parents’ attic.

Apart from this reminisence I wanted to tell you that Spirited Bodies is going to have a break soon. We will cease events and workshops for some months as the routine has taken hold and its grip is lethal. We were meant to be less predictable, for therein lies the most potent magic. What ought to be extraordinarily remarkable occasions, were in danger of being overlooked, become commonplace in my spectrum. I don’t mean the extravaganza just gone, but the monthly sessions where in fact more new people come to celebrate some milestone, than at the recent biggie. Each of those moments deserves more attention, and the time to regard each potential participant; who will benefit most, and will the group bring out the best in each other?

Managing men has been an ongoing matter. So many want to take part, but who has the most honourable intentions? You cannot tell from a simple questionnaire, or even necessarily meeting. But the most nervous women involved and sometimes our team who are less immersed than I am pick up on energies once the nude proceedings are in action. Artists too remark of male models not in it for a purpose befitting us. Meanwhile I am so preoccupied with replicating ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, and everybody’s comfort that much that is important eludes me. And while I do all the admin and run the show, I cannot be all things to all people.

So clearly we need time to change. We have a good strong team, and we will work more as such in the coming months, refashioning the Spirited Bodies experience. Newer team members especially Thelma felt strongly that we must return to our core, what the original mission was. This was about the models’ transformation, and it was about women modelling for the first time to experience a remarkable transition towards confidence. We reconnected with the founder, Morimda to hear in her words what inspired her, and as well she took the time to join in a little.

Meanwhile I want some time away from the overwhelming admin; I want to travel a bit and get back to writing and performance. I have felt like I was doing the project more for others and no longer so much for myself as it used to be. I need to give back to me. But I know Spirited Bodies will keep calling me back too, and at the right time, something magical will emerge again. Happy Halloween fellow spirits!

If you would like to join in an all female event coming up very soon before we take our break, click here for more details on how to get involved and do not hesitate to get in touch. Making the decision to refocus our mission has freed me up to feel appropriately enthused about our final events! There are 2 more sessions at Holborn (see Workshops & Events) as well as the aforementioned new opportunity for women. In addition a small exhibition of some of the Spirited Bodies art work will be on display in the Sh! shop in Hoxton throughout November. Please note this shop is a women’s shop and men may only go in accompanied by a woman, except on Tuesday evenings between 6 and 8pm which are ‘Gents Tuesdays’. As we come to the end of this season we celebrate Spirited Bodies’ 3rd anniversary.

IMAG1324Magic shoes from a recent costumed session Thelma & I did in Tadworth!

Thelma & I being ladies who lunch

Thelma & I being ladies who lunch

On Sexuality, Disability & Mental Health; or Sustainable Living

From when I was a child, I can remember wanting my Mum to be better, wanting to make her happy. It was perhaps the strongest emotional drive in me. Long before she was diagnosed with MS, I knew she was deeply unhappy, which was expressed mainly through her anger. I wanted her to be ok. It was what I wished for when I blew out the candles, or the tooth fairy visited.

So now I attract partners, sometimes friends that I would like to fix. Habit.

Mum did get better. Not physically, but emotionally she is the most reliably happy person in the family. Definitely not angry. To be fair Seroxat has a lot to do with that, but so does my Father’s unerring loving care towards her. Truly in my experience anti-depressants have never suited a person so well. I think knowing she will never move her body again by herself, gives her conscience clear reign at accepting the drugs. Inside she is very sad at what has become of her, but that is successfully suppressed, and she shows immense gratitude for all she does have, always professing sheer joy in her state of being. As well as the suppression of pain, there is the countering effect of transformation, and I do mean spiritual. Mum knows that in the height of her youth and health, she was unable to appreciate what she had, so dogged was she by anger and lack of confidence. Now that she has lost the use of limbs, sometimes eyes, sometimes mind; she knows more keenly what she had previously, but much more than the value of these physical aids, she is now open to love in her life in a way which she never was before. Most people I know on anti-depressants still get depressed, but not Mum. They really work with her, year after year.

from a recent Drawing Theatre session I did with Paul Kindersley

from a recent Drawing Theatre session I did with Paul Kindersley

On Wednesday 7th August, Mum will be modelling with Spirited Bodies, and this time (she took part before clothed for portrait with Dad) she will be nude. She is really excited about this, saying that although she doesn’t particularly think her body is beautiful, the idea that people will spend time drawing her is very incredible and uplifting. She says it feels like a gift, and she recognises she may be a role model for other disabled people to take part in future. She may not have a wide pose range, but my Goodness can she hold still.

I still have issues on occasion about being asked to look after her. Doesn’t happen very often. I am busy in my life, the other side of London, whizzing this way and that, my parents have their routine and I don’t see them a lot. My brother and sister are much closer to home. I would resent caring for my Mother as I felt I lost a number of years due to her earlier negativity, lack of love for me. On top of this, I have in recent years felt as if I have lost my Father for the enormous task of taking care of Mum. He is exhausted and needs every bit of free non-family time for himself. So I raised this point not long ago, and now we are in the process of reclaiming that forgotten Father/Daughter relationship which may be the precedent for some of the most crucial relationships I form.

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Spirited Bodies is a challenge to keep flourishing – sometimes I recognise in writing the familiar spiel in emails and documents, I have lost some of the necessary passion and zeal to lift this off the ground. Become normal, ordinary, I forget how magical it is! Others in the team get judged by family for putting so much time into life modelling and this project, when before they held high earning jobs, keeping their families in the trappings they are accustomed. This is a real test on relationships, for loved ones to see past the financial value, and appreciate what it is that makes them happy. In our case life modelling and taking that further to others.

model Kayleigh

model Kayleigh

This societal/monetary pressure is a most damaging force, an unfortunate reckoner, and in this respect I am grateful for my rebellious youth which long ago set a precedent for not being expected to achieve or earn in a certain way. And I surround myself with people who understand that and do not judge me for my nude activities. It can be a harsh shock when I find myself in less than usual territory in the company of ‘normals’! But I am getting better at it.

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Attracting a damaged mate has opened up a new vista as I retread the possibilities of more open relationship. I am a dynamic being full of expression and desire, so a physically weaker character with whom I fell in love, cannot hold permanently my capacity. I was getting desperate, thought of splitting up – but we didn’t really want that. I entertained the idea of becoming a surrogate – offering myself for the (sexual) healing of others and my financial gain, but it didn’t quite click. I thought of exercising after long, long pause the lesbian in me, and here I hit a note. I realised my experience of cunt has been so much more limited than mine of cock, and all related hormones. I thought how empowering to feel comfortable with cunt, to know others’ and their ways, not just my own. To know them intimately. Last time I investigated I would have been on drugs or pissed; there was room for so much more exploration. And breasts – if you do not have large ones yourself, how wonderful to feel another’s pendulous pair!

Kayleigh is not my lover, but I love these pictures and wanted to use them

Of all the possibilities this seemed least threatening to my boyfriend, or most reasonable. There is also a feminist argument for it. Men remain so tightly bonded by comparison, and we women must catch up if ever we are to match status. My boyfriend is appreciative of this sentiment.

And so I found myself another lover, and what a difference it makes. She has a delicate touch, so sensual; I feel new with her and myself opening with abandon. I feel such gratitude for this amazing opportunity to be intimate with two people, and I am much more thoughtful and peaceful with my boyfriend as a result. I want to cherish him more and show appreciation for his understanding. Before he felt burdened to try to keep up with my numerous social activities which of course he could not begin to; now this obligation is shared! Both my boyfriend and my girlfriend have varying degrees of social phobia, but spurred on by the prospect of keeping up each of their sides of the bargain, we find harmony. Finally I might not turn up almost everywhere alone (despite having someone at home for me), which sometimes created an awkward impression. Now I can really keep my friends guessing!

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On Mental Health: (because recent events have brought me closer to the realm of mental health concerning others)

I learnt young that falling into the system could be damaging. I saw my Grand-Mother drugged in a corner, barely present, except on wild occasion as she stopped her meds, and released the wacky conversations with ghosts in the room. Decades of drugs, Electric-Shock Treatment and institutionalisation took care of her (paranoid schizophrenic) but she looked so innocent to me. She had been the first woman in her town in Lancashire to get into Oxford University where she read English, and met her husband, a colonial type of the old boys network. She had once been very intelligent, not at all ‘mad’, but something had driven her to insanity. After my Grandparents died, old family friends revealed that Grandpa’s blatant affairs had been the trigger; whilst they were living out in Africa, far from her home, and her alone with the children.

As a child I considered; if I was mad and I probably am, I never wanted any authority to get hold of me. The world is mad obviously, so I’d rather take care of myself. I appreciate this doesn’t work for everyone, and that the system though far from perfect, has moved on from ’50s strategies.

I’ve never been attracted to men of a certain class either.

I just wanted to use these lovely pictures which have no direct relation to the post

I just wanted to use these lovely pictures which have no direct relation to the post

Spirited Bodies is proud to be part of The Sex Maniacs Ball in September, which is a fundraising event for The Outsiders Trust to enable disabled people to meet partners and celebrate their sexuality. There may be a life modelling workshop, as well as a nude disco along with various other nude activities and therapies.

Workshopping the Right Side of my Brain

I remember the streets from when Chris used to live here, and I was 18. A life time ago and the emotions flood back like it was yesterday – the power of place. Days/nights we would stay up sticking needles in our arms, procuring substances from the other side of town, late night motorbike rides and 24 hour chemists for junkies. A different me.

It’s a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart, a physical sensation and almost a tear as I hold the pose so perfectly for local artists in Kingsgate Studios. I still feel so much love for him. I’ll never share moments like that again. I was so young, really a child dressed as and in fact a whore! So selfish and stupid; sometimes he wouldn’t let me sleep for pushing me to try thinking a bit more.

He is I realise a benchmark for all subsequent boyfriends. There comes a point in each new relationship when I find myself asking if I love my partner as much as I still love Chris. I mean as a person. They rarely match up and it has been the crux of more than one break up. I don’t want to be with Chris, I find him very annoying, but at the core of him there is something that my DNA responds to. He is like family, and by some quirk of fate he is my Dad’s technical support for his computer. My parents who rejected Chris and screamed him out of their house, now get to see him in grown up (!) form and wonder why they behaved so badly.
This strong dose of nostalgia confronts me as I pose and reminds me of the power of that love even if I hardly see him now. There’s nothing like it, and it is empowering.

Here are some of my fairly basic drawings from workshops for Spirited Bodies, and one from ‘Still Life’ (see previous post).

I think a 10 minute pose – I concentrated on the model closest

At workshops about half the participants pose nude and half clothed

very quick sketchings

Sue MacClaine in ‘Still Life’, acting a bit pissed; I enjoyed foreshortening challenge

Guidelines for Joining the Sex Industry

Ever since I started talking freely about my past in the sex industry people have asked me ‘how do they get into it?’

I think if you want to get into the sex industry, you just do it. You shouldn’t need to think about it too much; it’s very much a doing thing.

It helps if you don’t mind the idea of casual sex with strangers. In fact any aversion to that will be a definite hindrance and I would give the sex industry a miss. You could try juggling, hot air ballooning or just wash dishes. It depends what you want to get out of it.

When I got involved, to be fair, I did think about it a bit. Gramp complained to Mum that I looked like a prostitute, and she’d made a prediction concerning my in turns insane/whorish then star-studded career to be. Guess I went with it. And given my wardrobe and bent for casual, mindless sex, it seemed most natural AND lucrative. Being dumped horrendously by my first love kick started the proceedings; from there I developed an obsession for going home with strange men.

You might want a special website or business cards these days. That did not occur to me in 1995. I just went with the flow. And being young and pretty daft I didn’t mind being employed by assholes. I thought it might be character forming. And you get to meet more people, and there’s less organising, when the truly important matters in life are about dancing and getting wasted on Saturday night to a very select soundtrack. I wanted to live!

But your own business is another matter entirely. Do you masquerade as something legal or does that even matter? What can you advertise and where, and who do you want to attract? What if you don’t know anyone in the industry? I believe if you really want it you’ll find it.

If it turns out you actually are looking for a few decent lovers and a new income, escorting may not be the answer. It comes down to selling sex, so you must remember not to dress that up too much. You might be lucky and get some fun clients. But they are not the same as lovers.

A good exception is when a woman becomes a state employed sex healer, like for wounded ex-soldiers. In this capacity a bond may be formed. She may teach him how to appreciate sex.

So if you wanted to go about selling some sexual healing, it may be more rewarding. Of course you’d have to be pretty confident about what you were selling. You could promote yourself as available for mending broken hearts. You could mention that due to the intensity of your work, you can only manage a few customers at a time, and they must be carefully selected by you so there is a good match. That way you may guarantee quality and integrity. You could suggest examples of people you think you could or would like to heal. Maybe they would be ill or disabled, older, have suffered some catastrophe or been at war. Doesn’t sound like a lucrative market, if a very appreciative one. But you never know. If it makes you happy, there will be a way I say. My recommendation for discovering yourself, who you want to be involved with when doing this work, and why, is to write freely from your heart and try to describe as best you can what you want to express, the role you want to fill, the whole purpose.

If it is a political statement, that alone may not carry enough weight. If it’s emotional, get to the bottom of it. But most of all if it does seem to be your niche, try to describe what you would get from and give to, how you might experience your encounters in this domain. Words of this order, not too fancy either, may be what you put on your site to let people know what you’re about. It just helps to know clearly, have a picture of it working well.

I would love to hear from people with more experience of this than me. There is so much I don’t know.

Drawing From The Past (written 18 months ago) ~ Dedicated to Old Friends

I remember my last day in Soho; Kez was on the door and I was the only girl around. There would normally have been two of us, but the Sunday afternoon shift was particularly insidious. It was a come down to top them all off; just as the drugs were wearing thin, you had to wank off some desperate middle-aged loser. After, I would sneak through the door at the back of my room, into the old theatre space where at one time real shows would have taken place; the curtains, pillars and feathered props now stained and dusty were all that remained of the original Soho Cabaret. Not merely lewd acts performed one on one in under-decorated, poorly lit back rooms. Behind a pillar I tightened the tourniquet and pierced my arm; only a few hours to go, or perhaps not for once. I told Kez I’d had enough and he was sweet. A couple of years older than me and of slight build, he was unusually sensitive and to me seemed unlikely for a doorman of an illegal sex industry establishment. Still, like so many employees of that scene, he was born around it. I would pay him my rent plus a generous tip and then he could close since no other girl had shown up.

I took the opportunity of letting big fat Jimmy – the Glaswegian boss – know of my intention to ditch the job when he descended the stairs from the street. He predicted defensively, “You’ll be back. You’ll definitely be back. All the girls always come back to this job.” I said, “I won’t,” and was sure that I meant it, all the more sure for his affirmation. He didn’t know what was within me, what potential I held. He could not see that, otherwise he wouldn’t have been managing peepshows and brothels.

There was a degree of planning involved. I had flights booked, and I knew change was in the air; I’d never flown before. Ok it was to Amsterdam, so no great departure in ambiance, but subtle change. This time I’d walk round the notorious red light zone and I’d be a tourist, just a tourist; not a product for hire. I’d swap injectables for smokables, and I’d smoke in public with everyone else. I’d meet people too, and they wouldn’t know me or what I’d done; just a girl on holiday by herself for the first time.

I was lucky, and not for the last time; I was not from that world and I did not belong there. Yet for a while it fed, clothed and moved me, its alternative corruption infecting my growing mind. So overt was its otherness that the appeal engendered liberation, I had allowed myself to deviate from tired conventionality of suburban middle classes. In those dens of neon cocktails and painted ladies all types of men would enter to sample whatever was available, most remarkable to me was the broad spectrum of male type. Not what I had expected but although particular types proliferated, all classes and races were represented. I even had one customer of the ‘new man’ category, and he was so charming that he refused the offered favours and asked to merely talk with me, not dirty just real.

I could see that Kez was my male counterpart for that year. Bright and alert his blue eyes flashed as he questioned me. Brought up by a heroin addicted father he was staunchly averse to drug use. My own use was borderline, not fully trapped or forced to horrendous measures I engaged in a lifestyle that distanced me from many for a long time to come. But I had arrived on the scene with a ready-made visa to leave at some given point. Prior to my first shift at ‘Girls Girls Girls’, I had completed my A levels. Generally poor but when the grades came through a couple of months later, an A in English Lit was all that really counted for me from that time in the 6th form. I could have continued unhappily to take up my place at the University of East Anglia in English and Film, but around the time that I first tried injecting in the Spring, a new friend, Chris, asked me what I wanted to do with the following year. I responded that I intended to be a junkie, and so it was; and surely that was where I could learn most since there I would open myself more freely and as I felt, have the greatest chance of undoing years of socialisation and the negative affects of unhappy upbringing. I was not lonely or in bad company and the people I met interested me for their difference as well as norm-breaking vitality. Generally intelligent, their backgrounds seemed truly diverse. Drop outs and misfits from all walks of life congregated at the Slimelight in those days – an appealing mixture of the very upper class and utterly working class, many eastern as well as northern Europeans.

My last customer was an Indian chap who expected to get it all for £1.50, the misguided fool, but what aching pleasure I took informing him that he almost got what he wanted (not actually true) except that I had just at that exact moment quit and there was no one else to do the job! If there had been any doubt in my mind that today was my last there, he had quelled it.

How a girl like myself stuck it out there as long as I did may be down to certain chance factors. I don’t think I would have lasted so long in a conventional lap dancing venue for example. I don’t have that sort of pin-up feminine appeal, and alongside those sorts of ladies I don’t generally fare so favourably; I cannot always be bothered with much make up and rarely make time to shave my legs. At the Soho Cabaret one had greater freedom and could even play one’s own choice of music in the room. True – the sex acts were more full-on than mere dancing requires, but I could appreciate the irony of being accompanied by Ministry’s ‘So What’, Hole’s ‘Teenage Whore’ or Therapy’s ‘Teeth Grinder’ instead of being forced to listen to the usual inane shit. There is a particular variety of cheesy nineties dance music, the chart sort, tracks such as ‘Scat Man’ that to this day bring a shiver to the back of my head, as they were part of the looped soundtrack in ‘Girls Girls Girls’.

I don’t recall the other girls too well; on a busy shift we wouldn’t see each other much. One lady was my age now and had presumably been doing that in some form or another since her teens. Her brother she told me was a rent boy in Kings Cross. I just didn’t know anyone else like that and mature and kind as she was, I knew I never wanted that life for as long as she’d done it. But she probably didn’t know too many drop out would be students, or maybe she did. Certainly in the dancing establishments a wider variety of women worked, but down in the Cabaret, I’d have to say it was more down and out. Few were open about their drug habits although I remember Baz, another abbreviated doorman, this time of characteristic stocky bouncer-like build, claiming to be addicted to ecstasy. Not a drug famed for hooking one, he said he required at least ten a day and regularly took scores. Baz was eager to find a willing female to join him in Amsterdam working in a sex club, performing ten hours a day for a tidy sum. None were tempted, apparently not even his girlfriend.

A good shift would see me rolling home in a taxi with £500 in my bag – I’d never seen so much money before. It more than paid for my relatively cheap habits. Once a week, our dealer would visit on a Wednesday evening. A pattern quickly emerged of thereby staying up till Friday before resting in time for the weekend’s madness. Clubs on Friday and Saturday, maybe a gig on Sunday, sometimes I found it exhausting, I was not made even at that age for such relentless tumult. The emotional fall-out was contributing to my weakness considerably. Obviously I had fallen out largely with my family, mainly Mother, and whilst on one level felt such enormous relief at being shot of them and having found a new family, on another I was less strong. There was despite huge claims to genuineness, a lot of superficiality going on in that scene (The Slimelight) unsurprisingly. In the first case there was undeniably a pressure to be hot, incredibly sexy, at all times in public i.e. with friends, clubbing and at work. My identity was enmeshed with my appearance and also being suitably flirty and perhaps outrageous. I think I am naturally more introverted, and that time was a test to that personal aspect.

Secondly, despite mutual fucked-up-ness, fellow clubbing friends seemed to be less extricated in awkward emotionally trying employment. Some had been there before I knew them but their use there had fortunately expired. Unemployment may have been healthier, but never having had money, I indulged in a kind of independence. Looking back I see that I must have substituted real independence for a very compromising financial one. And what I had not counted on was how much more difficult it would be to actually re-enter the ‘middle class’ world of college and meaningful employment. I changed, and subtly my esteem reduced. Yes, I achieved a sort of would-be fame within the scene as desirable, model female, but to very few really. Drugs gave a missing confidence its first voice.

There were the effects of being sex symbol to an older male crowd. I used to marvel at the high proportion of beautiful women around, it could be a lovely and fascinating place to look at people, the Slimelight. Bold as I tried to appear, various wanted a piece of the action, and those close enough did their best to dig a portion out no matter the damage. I found my main partner quite a head fuck though it is apparent to me that I was easily his equal if slightly less knowing. To be the ‘boyfriend’ of one so wanted and even vulnerable for a lack of direction cannot have been any picnic. To this day I do not think anyone has taught me more. He had lived it all and more before, so his seven years senior to me could have been twenty-seven. It took me many more to get over him for I am sure I think that I may never be in quite such strife as I was then.

Hard as it has been to re-integrate, one beauty of such a past is that from there any improvement may be more easily appreciated. When I realised I could hold down a straight though dull job ushering at the National Theatre, I stayed for years unsure what else I could do. It was nigh on impossible to get sacked from that position as long as you didn’t try to work whilst blatantly drunk, disregarding sick audience members collapsing in the auditorium!

What had occurred with Mum? I remember her mental deterioration more than physical and on learning of her condition felt certain of karma. I had wished her dead since so young and now she was dying, already dead inside, if she had ever lived. In the evenings she’d scream, in the loft I’d drown her out with Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend. Irreparably unhappy, her minute world could only descend to angry ranting. I checked the music press for gigs, and set out on a night of adventure as her hatred drove me away. I found no mirror to my own sense of dereliction in those around me at school, so I went it alone in order to find new company.

Jimmy was right; I did go back. Only a few months ago I was posing naked in Wardour Street to a room of twenty-somethings, mainly men; however it was the life drawing group at the Moving Picture Company, an animation studio. I recalled my very first experience of nudity in that area. Ok, I’d worked the clip joints in my underwear, but before employing my best female friend and I, Jimmy wanted to see us stripped entirely naked in his office on Frith Street. It was simply to ascertain whether we had any unsightly scars or tattoos and lasted seconds.

They used to call her ‘the Amazon woman’ as she stood tall in a doorway on Rupert Street telling most people to fuck off when she was supposed to be enticing them downstairs. Her long red hair, striking height, menacing make up and revealing attire constructed from bullets and metal plates, together with attitude earned her such reputation. She didn’t last long in those jobs and quickly had to search elsewhere, probably for the best. She got involved with a new boyfriend shortly after beginning at the Cabaret and he didn’t react well to such vulgar means of earning, so soon she missed enough shifts to be sacked. I stuck it out alone; well, someone had to pay the rent, and unlike hers, my parents were not sending emergency cheques. Her fall out with her folks was less personal than my situation, rather religious in substance. From an obscure Christian sect her upbringing had been sheltered, so her rebellion was ideological more than emotional. Her Mother wrote imploring, loving letters which she unreservedly rejected but I could see the problem was actually less deep.

She was an extreme character, enormously attractive in so many ways. In the beginning we grew closer and closer, protecting and teaching one another. She was quite awesome to behold and her mental capacities matched up to the image. With no time for fools, she believed the world would end imminently, as soon as whichever world leader pressed the little red button. She condemned those who had children and was convinced the whole world could only be woken up by putting enough acid in the water. Other forces were also at play and our differing agendas became apparent. In some ways she was brighter than me with less heavy burden dragging her down. Simultaneously she was childish and arrogant, developing strong bitchy tendencies which eventually distanced her from many. That included me, and we never really got close again. I will always have respect and admiration for her single-mindedness and ambition. Today she lives in Jerusalem, teaching cello and singing to Palestinian children. She’d never played or sung before she left the scene.

I met her at the right time for we both needed to move and at 18 could benefit from each other’s company. A friend found us a basement of a warehouse which we rented under the guise of artists for our studio. Flouting the contract we moved in, installing cooker and bath. We knocked down plasterboard walls to create largely open plan space and a thousand square feet were decorated with unique artworks and particular lighting. Trawling the fetish clubs we drummed up business for our becoming dungeon; bankers and judges visited for punishment and humiliation, and this was the side of the sex industry that interested me most. Paid very well for what was at times surreal and often fun, we invented abstract games to employ our slaves. They longed to be feminised, pissed on and beaten; we took pleasure in providing the pain. One gentleman requested to stay for an entire weekend; well, that was a mistake. After a while we got so bored of him we couldn’t be bothered to keep up the act, and he left prematurely disillusioned!

To clarify: if domination was so financially rewarding and uncompromising mentally, why did I maintain my seedy job in Soho? Because, being a dominatrix was fun sometimes, but if I’d had to make more of an effort or done it more regularly, it would have been like any other job, and inconveniently it was in our home. It was illegal and with men visiting more frequently we may have aroused suspicion and needed full time security – not just boyfriends lurking in the bedroom. Four years imprisonment would have been standard. Soho gave me a more convenient stability.

The rest of the time our home was populated by various of our cohorts, and was a fantastic venue for parties. Our acid punch was highly memorable and I made many new friends on these occasions. It is the dancing and the celebrating that I miss most from that time. I have at times gone back to visit – the clubs that is, since that home was lost long ago. It will never be the same as when my hormones pulsated vibrantly to those industrial beats, my emotional heart feeling the earliest signs of independence. How I connected to that place, those people! At best euphoria, and not always drug induced.

Chris would deliver me to Brewer Street in the afternoons as I rushed to my position. So much of this city I saw from the back of his motorcycle, speeding dealer to den, Soho to Angel. I felt safe whatever risk we took; he alone I trusted, but also betrayed, though, in such circumstances who could blame me?

His story moved me, made mine seem innocuous; how dangerous! To save such potential, for I adored him and knew he was made for far better things; yet how I unsettled him! He knew me too well and rebuked that I might learn myself better, for my own sake.

In the end I became tired of the endless rounds of junkies arriving, mostly males, so geeky. I could do without, and a new job waitressing twelve hour days altered my pattern and introduced me to another world. I desperately needed to move on and took whatever opportunistic move life granted. It came in the form of a random Italian.

So I ask; what can one do when one has been trained so effectively in making a living by removing one’s clothes? Is it a disease and treatment available? Or will it end my days naked, only my body to store my secrets?

I seem to occupy a place just marginally, barely significant, inconsequential. Sometimes I feel most alive these days as I take Mum out in her wheel chair; whirl her on a dance floor or smash through commuting bankers to hold up a bus. Yes, my Mother and I have come a long way since my teenage rebellion and the beginning of her Multiple Sclerosis. The right things have been said, but sometimes it’s so hard to put the past behind you. I went to drama school unready for precocious and sophisticated young ladies fresh from privileged homes; when the whole point of drama is to connect, I floundered, little commonality between us. I graduated but my main achievement was putting myself in therapy; the stress of the final year saw me retreating weekly to a women’s group for those struggling with drug problems. Many drama students find that time a life changing one; it hardly registered on the scale after my formative years, and I didn’t know how to share that. I did try; my final practical dissertation was an attempted physical theatre piece, inspired by my Soho/Slimelight gap years. Not casting from my classmates I enlisted Chris, my ex, to tell his tale with me, as well as Rebecca, my sister, who was just starting at the same drama school.

A very good old friend, Chris, drawn by me the other day.

Getting Back to my own Life

Years of taking my clothes off for artists has brought me to a point of wanting to change roles, to find my own model to work out poses with, and then take my time finding his essence and bringing that out.

Just over a month ago I found an artist I wanted to work with individually as his muse, and grow with him in a new artistic relationship. This is proving mutually beneficial and he has honoured our dialogue by getting undressed for me too.

In the Summer of ’89, my Grandfather, John Wolfard, had saved up enough money for a visit to his homeland. He had left the United States in 1948 when on attempting to marry an English woman and bring her to live with him, the FBI intervened. Both John and my Grandmother-to-be were members of the Communist party, and in his case, the only people who knew (in the US) were his ex-wife, and the friend who had signed him up. These were cagey times, and after Mary’s entry was denied on this count, and there had been some interrogation, John knew the only thing was to quit his home and head for Europe. He couldn’t get more than a travel visa, but he was hopeful. As it happened, Mary and her Communist connections were able to find him basic work, and later, when no renewal was afforded, migration became the modus operandi.

Gramp, as we called him, said that this one and only visit home after all those years, was the best thing that he had ever done. He stayed with his brother Hilton and spent time catching up with his 1st wife (there had been 5 in all) Olga. They had married young, but meeting in their 70s, it was sad to feel how bonds were still there, and yet, by then it seemed too late to go back for good. East Berlin was his home and would be the place where he died, if only physically still part of the East.

He left the US for love – of a woman. Political beliefs came into it massively, but without the promise of her it could have been more tempting to remain as many did, and lie low during the witch-hunt season.

He also left an academic career which could not be grafted on to the East German system or indeed any in the 2nd world which was his oyster. Sure he could translate materials bound to leave the East, but this jolting move was not one he had planned on.

To me it seems a shame to never fully settle after so many years; due to lack of choice, so that when that option finally came when Gramp was a pensioner, he was no longer able to wholly appreciate it. In order to just visit the old country he had saved money by each year crossing the Berlin Wall (which pensioners were allowed to make a day trip doing annually) and receiving the sum which the West Germans had put aside for the souls who braved the crossing; a welcome gift. This had been stashed for a few years until enough was made for the plane fare. Ironically this all culminated in the same year that East Germany ceased to exist.

From this tale my Mother’s life began, and in her migration to London I also find parallels in my own life. Time seems to  quicken. With the speed of communication now, repeated family patterns may emerge sooner.

I felt I was exiled from life a while, removed from my natural group and stuck in a limbo, unable to settle. To be able to reconnect now with a vital development of my self from bygone days makes me feel more whole. The man I model for and who also poses for me, is part of an old friendship group. It feels like coming home. Such a joyful feeling to achieve that. Even the room he lives in carries old energies that remind me so strongly of our youth – he has lived in it (and so have some others) since the time that I too had a room like that. A room with narcotics bouncing off the walls, freaks at every turn and sex coming up from the floor! A den of such proclivity. It excites me. How sorry I was when I had to leave my room like that, my underground flat, 12 years ago. But at least this remaining one has daylight. And although everything seems more fragmented than I imagined, people are still there – sparks in the air waiting to fly.

Aaron England