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.

Life & Death in Mortlake

It has been an intensely busy period, lots going on and no time to write about it.

My Uncle who lived in Mortlake for the last few decades died at home there the other week somewhat suddenly. On a gloriously bright Winter day the family gathered on Thursday at Mortlake Crematorium. I can’t say I knew my Uncle well; he was mostly very reserved. I do remember however, on announcing to my non-plussed wider family that I intended to study drama, he remarked that being able to act is a very valuable skill, and we all need that in life. He worked on the stock exchange all his career, in a role which involved writing regular analyses of the market.

It’s funny how life sometimes lines things up so neatly. On my way to the wake, walking through Mortlake I was able to pass by Vernon Hall where our forthcoming event will be held on Saturday December 15th. The door to the building was open and as if demonstrating exactly what I needed to witness, all the heating was on in the hall, full blast. We last used the space in July, so naturally there was concern that the ample heating would be as powerful in the middle of a cold Winter. I also wanted to check the kitchen where we will make mulled wine to see what kind of stove is in operation. All was looking good.

As all the family were leaving my Aunt’s house, it happened that I had been booked to model that evening not far away in Richmond Adult Community College. What a pleasant experience; in stark contrast to a recent gig where artists made me feel uncomfortable with their constant fussing and disagreements over my pose which lasted a few sessions, these folk, led by a very calm and confident tutor made no fuss at all. Though a long pose over several days, no tape was placed around me, no chalk or charcoal marks outlining my form, no photos to ensure an exact reconfiguration. They were simply relaxed, and with some highly proficient artists among the friendly group. All styles are embraced there and it is understood they are working from life, a live model who will move a little, but if you trust her and work with her, she will find the pose happily again and again. I noticed that I felt able to give a little more of myself because the atmosphere is so positive. Everyone is there including me because we enjoy what we do, so there is no need for petty gripes.

I have never come across a group so at ease with what they do and it was empowering to know it can be done like this. I will take that knowledge elsewhere with me. I think it has something to do with the group running for about 20 years and some of the artists having seen each others’ children grow up together. There are strong bonds there which far surpass pointless fuss. There is a loving and learning environment and each week a different class member brings in a book about a favourite artist and the group discuss the work and look at the pictures.

Workshop-wise we had another fine evening last Wednesday of new models and some with experience creating original poses in 2s, 3s and a bigger group one. Here are some images by artists who were present:

A model from the October event starts the session with a 10 minute pose. Picture by Francis Wardale in felt tip I believe

A model from the October event starts the session with a 10 minute pose. Picture by Francis Wardale in felt tip I believe

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A female duo pose sitting back to back, they had not met before

A female duo pose sitting back to back, they had not met before

The same pose in charcoal and pencil by Rade

The same pose in charcoal, chalk and pencil by Rade

15An angry king with his serf, 10 minute pose

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Part of a sequence of combat poses based on the Elgin marbles!

Part of a sequence of combat poses based on the Elgin marbles!

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Women having a tussle

Women having a tussle

a tricky 10 minute bending pose

a tricky 10 minute bending pose, coming to the aid of a floor bound figure

another viewpoint

another viewpoint

a group pose finale, 10 minutes frozen drunk at a party

a group pose finale, 10 minutes frozen drunk at a party

We are looking forward to celebrating life on Saturday 15th December, in the afternoon in Vernon Hall, Mortlake. Do get in touch if you would like to come and draw, paint or sculpt.

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

Northern Soul

Travel up North go back in time

Sun shines bright behind a blind

Food and sleep give way to

Tenderness between old friends

You talk a lot and my ears overload

Rest by a drum machine instead

In Leeds I see your origin

A gothic wave began here too

You have a madness which you control

There is a trust from so long ago

Were some moments when I wasn’t sure

Through your hate you push a nerve

To create, share words

With your voice, beats and tones

Sleeping with Mum while she dreams of Venus & Mars

My sister and I are looking after Mum while Dad is taking a rare and much needed break. I am floored once again by what Dad lives with. I am moved by love too.

Mum asks that one of us sleeps in her bed with her, basically because she feels safer like that. This is my call and though the closeness feels right, my sleep is interrupted for her noisy breathing. I do also feel grateful for the intimacy between us now which never there was before.

In the morning lots of energy is needed for all the processes of getting up, and most of that is Rebecca and I getting Mum up. Before breakfast is done I need a nap and we haven’t got ourselves organised yet.

The best part is the conversations that would never otherwise happen. We had hoped to take a bold trip out into Central London as we have done before, but that was without taking into consideration the extra mileage of doing everything else for Mum too. Usually a daytrip works when Dad and a carer have done the first part of the day for us. We are rethinking plans as I write.

Last night Mum dreamt she walked on the planets Mars and Venus, as she was in her 20s. Remarkable – she always dreams of being mobile and young, sometimes walking in outlandish places like the bottom of the ocean. She said she had thought of Botticelli’s painting ‘Venus and Mars’ yesterday.

Rebecca brought us tea in bed before the rigmarole begun. Mum mentioned her lack of confidence in life resulting in her getting few jobs and not having friends. After moving from East Berlin she didn’t really settle here. I remarked that she might have overlooked at least one type of confidence she didn’t lack, which was with men. She was beautiful and was rarely without a boyfriend, sometimes several. To hear her relating her past put fresh light on my own life patterns. I have been working on unpicking them to make positive changes, and I wonder how much more may I do.

I have a very big feeling about spending this quality time with Mum. It strikes me physically; I felt it growing in my belly area a day or 2 before coming here. It’s much bigger than us. It’s about love and it moves me. That she has changed so much, and her condition; she requires us to rethink ourselves makes her into a change-maker. It makes me rethink the way I live.

A few years ago faced with the imminent prospect of dying Mum told us all for the first time that she loved us. That love and openness have been growing.

Sandro Botticelli's 'Venus and Mars' depicts Mars asleep while Venus is awake and alert; meaning that love conquers war or love conquers all

Feeling the Love

I have been running on empty but I feel the love

While I stand before the people drawing me, the warmth inside of me just reaches out

All I feel is love, I am the love

I wish them every clarity of co-ordination and fulfilment as they connect eye to hand to paper

I send my being out towards them and give them all I am

Pure happiness is in me, around me, we feel it together

There is no worry, and I am not my body

I may be in it now, but I am love and light

I return to being my essence and that is what they feel whether they know it or not

In my place of comfort my body informs me how to move and what to express, it just does it

Because that’s what makes me feel the love

What Drives me towards my Goals, & the Healing Hands of Alessandra Malaspinal

My nigh on 5 month relationship with my boyfriend has allowed me to uncover many depths. It is his strong connection with my formative years that has fast-tracked our lurve and understanding. He seems to possess qualities which enable me to heal and flourish, and somehow I am filling in some sorely missed gaps for him too.

The other day, I realised I had spent too much time at his place, in his neighbourhood, which does necessarily bring back a few memories for me. I got angry and regretted it afterwards, but what I had spewed up did reveal to me so clearly what drives me.

He has unique capabilities in maintaining strong, solid friendships with some significant exes, and just all round good relations with several women in his life. He overall prefers the company of women, expressing the unlikely line that ‘they make more sense’! What I observe is that they trust him, don’t feel remotely inappropriately bothered by him. They can talk to him the way they might another woman, only any competitiveness is ruled out. Similar to the way gay men often make excellent female company.

Sometimes I find this state of affairs testing, though I also know that I may reap the best benefits from it. It can feel like they may have a tighter hold on him, rousing my jealousy, though it’s not the case. More that I am still a bit unused to this dynamic, and to sharing him thus. I am aware that he is protected, loved, by several women who adore him; what a way to keep me in line!

My own history of being far too involved with one man in my life and not having enough time for friends, is thrown into sharp relief. I want to open up now to have more close friends, and for the first time in a long time, to bring my friends towards knowing each other.

So what I realised when I had a recent outburst, is I had left a group of old friends over a decade ago, because I hadn’t been able to process and talk about my negative experiences with anyone around, save the man in my life at the time. What was troubling me inside I did not feel I could share with any of the other mates, where light-hearted banter was the norm. At least, I did not find the right outlet with anyone else, so my boyfriend bore the brunt. When that relationship ended, I had no emotional means to maintain active friendships within the group. I found a new boyfriend, and migrated socially, in a way repeating the same experience. This migration pattern occurred twice; each new relationship lasting around 5 years. By the end I was quite lonely, yet recently through Spirited Bodies I gained confidence, and felt ready to get back in touch with some old friends of my youth. Indeed, an astrological reading from over a year before had mentioned that I needed to ‘find’ my friendship group, as I was far too lonely! I had knocked on a few doors I suppose, but nothing felt right until I went back to the old ones. That is to say that completing a circular journey which brought me home to old friends, has also allowed newer friendships to acquire more grounded substance.

With my boyfriend now, I was jealous, of other women who took his and other platonic friendship for granted, which I struggle with. I bitched that they hadn’t been there for me all those years ago. It’s irrelevant now. How many friends was I not there for when I was too young to know any better? What does make sense is that my relative loneliness drove me forwards to create something new, as well as to reach out to others in a gesture of inclusivity. When I heard a friend complaining of a woman she did not like, who some years ago had been violent towards her and is part of a larger group of friends, in fact accepted by some of her friends, I found myself wanting to give the woman a chance – never having met her I could not judge her. Who knew why she had been in the bad place my friend had had the mischance to encounter? Particularly women I want to be ready to listen to. This woman may not be as privileged as some of the female friends that my friend is accustomed to. Privilege here refers not only to wealth, but also access to loving support.

What the above does omit is all sorts of other reasons I wandered into a wilderness; like needing a new lifestyle, and the recognition that slowly I would be harmonising relations with my biological family, and that that would have to happen before I could sort anything else out. I am far from alone in taking a meandering path. What drives me comes from earlier origins too, naturally.

Loving the Long-term Relationship

This propensity towards the long-term relationship just seems to attract more of the same. Despite all sorts of unfavourable conditions, I see now how the LTR has stood me in good stead. I have a nose for them; my support networks have not before been set up to cope with the single life. I work to redress that imbalance now, not in order to be single, but so that my relationship may last longer and grow richer.

Hardwired in me is a 7th sense for a sustained, engaging and emotional relationship. I don’t even think about it – my body tells me where to go. I volunteered to pose naked for my present boyfriend before I even knew why! My mind created other motives which weren’t without content… then I stopped eating and sleeping a while… girlfriends warned me at first fearing some danger, then later when my concentration failed to return from the ether, they told me to go to him.

Once the connection has been established, I am confident – even after a honeymoon may have dipped, that I can work through whatever I have to so that love builds, a snowball gathering momentum! Of course finding the right man to do that with is what keeps this blessing buzzing.

an advertising agency pays for its employees to learn to draw

A friend who took part in Spirited Bodies 2, Julia, brought a friend with her.  Alessandra took well to modelling and found it liberating as a woman approaching middle age. It brought out some of her natural vivaciousness and she did excel. Sadly the reality is that a woman her age is less likely to be booked than me, I mean she would likely have to go the extra mile to promote herself. Unless you are blessed with some unique physical feature, more averagely shaped women are less likely to get work as they age. I have learnt this through the SB project, and now hold off informing would-be models that work is guaranteed. I am a slim, bendy physical theatre performer who can stand on one leg for 15 minutes. Being in my mid 30s is not a problem. It might be for another woman.

Thankfully Alessandra has many talents, and one she is developing is the skill of transmitting energy to others by healing with reiki. Since meeting each other she has been practising on me, and on occasion I have taken the opportunity to draw her. It has been a fantastic way to get to know her. While I lie down, eyes closed, she holds hands above me, or sometimes lightly touching my skin. I feel warm, tingly sensations and relish a chance to concentrate on breathing. I let go of tension and appreciate her time immensely.

Bella Ragazza

HoneyMoon Currents

There was something about him as we were chopping up the vegetables, so gentle, a tenderness in his eyes and in the corner of his smile. I felt comfortable. He was cheeky too, in the subtlest of ways, as I could tell he did not want to offend me.

When we sat down to dinner I talked about my work and my project. About being a nude model and for some reason how other people see this. He asked if other people judged me for what I do, and I replied that everyone in my life had gotten used to what I do, though there were surely some more distant family members who looked down on it, but I hardly saw them. I don’t think they look down because of the nudity come to think of it, rather the low status and low pay, the insecurity it bodes for my future.

It was the most probing thing he said, maybe in his tone, and I probably enjoyed revealing a little more of myself. Most of all I liked that he wanted to know. He seemed interested in the right way.

I feel a current streaking through me, and I am not sure if it is anger any more. It feels more like vitality, energy, a healthy desire to move things, move myself forwards. I think it is the drive of my surging genes, coming into focus as I hit the ground stumbling at first, yet quickly picking myself up, brushing the dust off and launching straight for the next goal – I am in my mid 30s and there is no sign of a baby; I have successfully maintained black sheep status since puberty in my left-of-centre middle class with the most righteous of roots family – THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO! And I feel like a warrior woman with some comic turns!

Letting you show me how to Live

You know how women are to be loved

I love you for showing this

You unlock my secrets and my pain

And I know you can mend me too

You give me a strength to nurture growth

I wish all sweetness upon you

I trust you when I am anxious and when I am sad

That your friends would turn to you

Always and again, especially women

Know that they are safe with you

If they have been with you and loved you intimately

Or been very close to you

They know you will put your arms around them

Soothe their worries and their tears

With your Bear warmth