Creativity, Sobriety and Chester P

Creativity is an overused word. We are all creative. The process is the important factor. Sourcing that piece of you that puts fire in your belly. It doesn’t have to be painting. Or writing. Or music. Creativity has no mould for stereotypes.

I’ve written about drugs before. How to explain what drugs are to a child. Why people use drugs (you can read it in my book). Because people use them for a reason. And there’s no question they’ve played their part in my life. Some opening paths, answering questions I already knew the answers to. Connecting with nature. Dancing in the sharp shadows of enlightenment. Positive and negative. Dark and light. Seeing life from all angles. Embracing decay.

Artists lining my shelves have nearly all at one stage taken, enjoyed, written about and been consumed by drugs. Suffering it all. Coming back for more. Bill Hicks, Nick Cave, Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway, Reznor, Hendrix, Manson, Iggy Pop. Safe to say there’s a fascination there for me. The connection to the elusive self that these drugs provide. Or the escape from that self. And what then? Do the semantics of that art produced then lose colour and heat in sobriety? Does the artist lose faith in their work while they lose faith in themselves? What happens to the fire when all the fun stops?

Chester P is one of the founding members of the legendary UK hip hop crew Taskforce. Known for his freestyling I was initially drawn to his lyrics. Nightmares. Beauty. Jaw dropping at times.

Having met Chester some time ago we had touched on his then more recent sobriety. It was clear to me at the time it was having a positive affect on his life. More recently I wanted to ask the man some questions. And this is what he said.

Is it fair to say that without certain drugs you would not be as successful as you are?

No I think it’s fair to say without certain drugs I would be more successful than I am, smoking weed habitually everyday for the best part of 30 years definitely left me somewhat reclusive, cocaine almost killed me and certainly knocked the wind out my creative sail, that said I became as successful as I intended I am not one for fame, I enjoy a humble life out of a constant limelight.

Is it fair to say that without certain drugs you would not be as self aware as you are?

Yes I think it’s fair to say things like L.S.D played a huge part in my awareness in general, along with many other hallucogens, but L.S.D I have been an avid user of, I have had many enlightening moments using it, on the flip side it’s not something to abuse and I am a very excessive person with an addictive personality so I have had my fair share of trouble with acid and all drugs too, it’s about knowing the difference between recreational drug use and taking drugs for spiritual purposes, and L.S.D particularly will kick your arse if it’s used abusively.

Describe your first trip for me

In all honesty it was a very long time ago, I was taking L.S.D every day of my life between the age of 14 to 16 and I honestly can’t remember my first all I do know is it was a thing that instantly became a part of my world, there are great experiences within the realms of acid.

Which drugs would you advocate and which would you question?

I question anything being used as a crutch to help you through reality, now I am older I can see that spiritual enlightenment is not found in the highs and lows of “drugs” it is something within us that must be unlocked, I will admit that you can attain shortcuts to wisdom via certain substances but these shortcuts can in fact be dangerous to your spiritual well being as they take you somewhere you may not of been naturally prepared for and can leave you severely depressed after it’s worn off, I think L.S.D is a beautiful thing used in the right environment for the right reason with the right people, but all our experiences are different and it really won’t agree with some people, meditation and working the middle path inwardly would be far more rewarding as tools to spiritual enlightenment though.

Do you feel your approach to work has changed since you’ve become sober?

Being sober for me was a matter of life and death, as I said I’m excessive and had an alcohol problem which would always lead me to cocaine and anyone honest with themselves who has or does take cocaine should admit that it’s the closest thing to the devil around, I had to stop doing it I was on a £150 a day habit in my 30’s, it destroyed my world, it ruined my soul, so funnily enough one night on L.S.D I had an epiphany, a realisation or a moment of clarity, and I saw who I was through honest eyes and then saw who I was supposed to be, and felt a strength grow inside me, like in a rocky film (anyone of them as they all have this scene) when he’s losing the fight and against the ropes being pulped, and he suddenly snaps out of it and fights back and goes on to defeat his opponent, that was me, I became tee total because if I continued smoking I would drink and if I drank I would sniff and that is my downfall, I am aware not everyone has the same excessiveness and if you take drugs and enjoy it in moderation and it brings you happiness I’m not trying to say don’t, I’m saying as long as you use drugs and they don’t use you then it’s ok, but we must analyse the fact that escapism is not really going to help in the long run, we must all of us face our reality one day, and the sooner the better.

Has accessing your creative powers become easier? Was it a challenge at first?

I always convinced myself weed was a major factor in my creativity, scared I wouldn’t be creative without it, I threw these cautions to the wind, in my mind I would rather of lost my creative flare and get sober than stay high and write poems, thankfully it wasn’t the case, I realise it is me who is creative weed was just something I did daily and I never knew how I wound live without it, or who I was without even, I’m much happier and much more creative than I had been, as a young man in my late teens up to my late 20’s I was highly prolific, this is not due to drugs it’s due to age, becoming in tune with my opinions and learning to express them creatively, I write less now than those days but I wasn’t really writing at all throughout the past 5 years, cocaine was all I was thinking about, sadly.

A lot has been written about the mental health benefits of certain hallucinogens. What’s your take?

Mental health will be affected in both positive and negative ways, what goes up must come down, for some people it could be really dangerous as they may not be ready to cope with what they find in their subconscious minds, for some it may awaken sleeping wisdoms and offer beautiful alternatives to the world they know, for all of us we must acknowledge there is good and bad in everything, don’t expect one without the other.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of going clean?

No advice really, if you want it you will do it, when you realise all the fun has gone, and it only brings a monotonous pain then you will quit, some things are obviously harder to quit than others alcohol and heroin have severe physical withdrawal symptoms, (I never took heroin as I saw it’s damage first hand) not so easy to stop, but it’s all a matter of will, I have a huge strength of will I saw it like I was being bullied and all tough talk aside I will not let no one or thing bully me!

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

I would never rule the world, I long for a day we as humans find confidence and self awareness enough to rule ourselves, individually, I seek not the power to rule and refuse to be ruled, I am governed by the natural laws of magnetism, I study hermetic laws, inner alchemy, I wish only for freedom for all, be here now, anywhere else is futile, love yourself and all life that surrounds you, learn that we are all one, I mean the planets, stars, suns and moons, the animals and people, the trees and plants we all share one cosmic soul! Respect that soul and a lot of understanding will open for you!

Peace and love.

Huge respect to Chester for taking the time to not only share his wisdom but to do so with such honesty. You can follow him at @ChesterP_TF for more of the same.

And for the uninitiated here is a great start.

Slight Mishap

one gentle throne
a blink of an idea
lost in the sludge
buried in the nadir of this construct
who makes the iron freeze
no fire left
There is a light for all of us
buried in ourselves.
Hope is there, in these new stories
spun by the young.
Take hold of each other.
Vote us.

The Same Sun

We watch the sun go down
but we don’t. We engage at technology.
Immersed in our augmented status. Evolving some vicious digital ghost.
Whirling dismally in fat houses.
Panicking.
The same sun rises. We somehow convince ourselves that it is the way of things. A bold survival.
It’s going to be fine.

We watch the sun go down
our village burned.
We watch our fathers die from bullets and brute force. We are made to watch soldiers rape our mothers, sisters.
United by dark horror we are hungry
helpless. Scratching for hope.
The same sun rises. We somehow convince ourselves that it is the way of things. A bold survival.
It’s going to be fine.

We watch the sun go down.
Reckless in some heady drug. Chemical flashes.
Touching, feeling rooted with the self.
Sliding through crowds of people all looking exactly the same.
Sand between our sex and beauty examples surround us.
Night lessons in thumping, short bursts.
The same sun rises. We somehow convince ourselves that it is the way of things. A bold survival.
It’s going to be fine.

We watch the sun go down.
Perching on the bones of our house, still warm from the bombings.
Most of us dead. My father obliterated.
There is some food.
We have icy rocks in our chests. It is hard to find reasons to keep going.
Then we have our children. It gets cold at night. Some will die still.
We wait for something. More death, perhaps. I kiss my brother on his face.
The same sun rises. We somehow convince ourselves that it is the way of things. A bold survival.
It’s going to be fine.

We watch the sun go down.
In silent wealth. Bleeding desires with torniquets heavy.
It’s a dull and terrible life
without satisfaction.
We are rarely blessed, always it is never enough.
Misery. Dull and rich in a house far away from the hot pulse of some other life.
The same sun rises. We somehow convince ourselves that it is the way of things. A bold survival.
It’s going to be fine.

@Birthing4Blokes

Mark Harris contacted me a long time ago, saying lovely things about the first chapter or so of my book. Ever since then I’ve kept a close eye on what he’s been up to. This man speaks of holy unions. A beautiful truth. I’ll let him speak for himself.

I’ve been a midwife since 1994 and a nurse before. I’ve trained in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming to the point of being a trainer. I’ve done youth work and taught in further education. Now I work as a midwife but mainly in birth education. I’ve just authored a book called Men Love and Birth the book your pregnant lover wants you to read and I’m writing a book on fatherhood at the moment. My focus at this moment is doing workshops all over the country and more recently in Europe. The workshop focuses on teaching men about birth. Mainly birth professionals tend to come, anti-natal teachers, hypnotherapists, doulas and midwives and it explores all the things we’ve discussed in this interview. I also run a professional programme for birth professionals called A Conversation. They call me and we have a conversation about what’s happening in their practice and their life. I guess you’d call it coaching or mentoring but I prefer to call it a conversation because inside these conversations it kind of loosens up both of our presuppositions about what’s real in the world and new possibilities become available. I also run Birthing for Blokes workshops for men supporting their partners through the birthing process. I am also a co-presenter on a podcast called Sprogcast and that’s a monthly look at what is current in the birth and early childhood world with an interview with someone high profile in the birthing world. Me and my co presenter Karen Hall speak about current research and that’s Sprogcast.

MarkHarris

Why did you become a midwife?

Well I come from a rough working class background and for the first seventeen years of my life I was absorbed in surviving. Whatever that means to a young man growing up seeking to be accepted. Seeking to be liked by others. I got involved with sports in a big way but was rubbish at school and got kicked out late on with no qualifications whatsoever. Having got myself wound up in a group of second generation mods that were quite aggressive, tribal but there was a real sense of belonging there. My daughter reminded me that I used to tell a story of us having nuclear fallout parkas and stealing Sainsburys trolley handles and stitching them in the linings of our parkas so that we always had a means of protection. They were wild years in a big family. Five sisters, three brothers with very little money and about the age of sixteen I started to get worried about dying. Not because of the violence (I came close but I never did) really more to do with wanting to make a difference in life, wanting to have an impact on the world in some way. Sounds cheesy when I say it now but it was a bit of an existential crisis. I didn’t know why I was here and I decided through loads of reading and thinking that being a nurse would suit me. I wanted to care. I wanted to be involved with supporting people. A long story short I sat the general nurse council test which you could do in England but you can’t now and I passed and I got accepted on the RGN SRM programme and qualified as a nurse. Very soon after qualifying as a nurse I realised that the physical aspects of the role were less and less and less and the management paper part of the work was more and more and more and I was being pulled away from the very things I loved the most. Being with people. My mate was the very first ever midwife who was a man in Warwickshire at the time there were 62 men out of 32000 and he rang me up saying “Mark! Mark! ‘Midwife’ it’s a verb! It’s a verb!”

“Calm down Dave what do you mean it’s a verb?” I said.

He said “It comes from the middle English (mid meaning with and wife meaning woman) and he interpreted it to mean as it’s something you do. It’s who you’re being. It’s not a noun but it’s an expression of who you’re being and you can’t be a midwife without being with woman. It’s kind of core, it’s part of the genetic makeup of what it means to be a midwife. So he said give it a go so I did and when I qualified in 1994 there were 62 men out of 32000 and as we currently speak in 2015 there are 122 men out of 48000. That’s why I became a midwife and I was hooked with being with women.

What angers you the most?

People that have polarised positions not being kind and gentle with each other as human beings. People getting lost in their strongly held beliefs and truths. And being so lost and so in their reality tunnel, because we all are. We’re all engaging with reality indirectly. But they’re kind of lost in their view of the world to such an extent that they can’t hear what other people are saying and I think it leads to us losing a bit of our humanity and it angers me when I lose touch with my own compassion and kindness. That angers me the most.

There’s lots on information about parenthood now. I feel the spirituality of birth, and how this is taught and discussed, is missing from the agenda. For various reasons and for both sexes to a degree. Do you agree?

At the root of what I write about and what I teach is, if you like, a spiritual understanding about life that doesn’t really include a necessarily personified deity. I think all the religious books advisedly call them myths, but not myths in terms of their content not being true, but myths in terms of them being stories that teach us truth that we can experience. At the root of my teaching is an understanding that men and women both have masculine and feminine energy. Every person on the planet was a female before 12 weeks and then the differentiation occurs biologically and every man and woman has the same makeup of hormones in their bodies. But what happens is those hormones dance in different ways so you have a masculine endocrine dance or a feminine endocrine dance. There’s a sliding scale to it, it’s not just black and white. And we’ve all met men who have a feminine essence and women with a masculine essence. In truth the masculine and the feminine expresses itself and that’s life occurring. For me relationship is a spiritual experience. Life itself is a spiritual experience. I intuit that I have a predominately masculine essence. I seek and crave freedom. Nothingness. Oblivion. Being just the spacious awareness of life occurring. That’s home for me and my masculine essence. But the feminine is dancing energy, creative energy. It’s happening. It’s occurring. And the masculine and the feminine meet and that’s life occurring! It’s a uniquely spiritual happening in my opinion. The only thing I can be sure about in life is that I am. And that’s the quintessential expression of masculine energy that meets life occurring on a day to day basis.

I start my teaching with our experiences of differences when we relate to men and women and then I move on to the neuro-physical, biological differences that occur in the human species. Then I track that to ancient traditions, Indian and Chinese traditions of Ying and Yang and then I trace it back further to the story of evolutionary biological adaptations. All of that gives a framework for my teaching but at its core it’s a spiritual message. But quite well hidden.

What scares you the most?

Being as candid as I can I have beliefs and fears around not having the money to pay the bills. And at the moment although I’m working with that fear that’s what scares me the most on a personal level. On a global level who knows? I cease being afraid about it in many ways because fear doesn’t serve the purpose of taking action and that’s what I notice when I have these personal fears about paying the bills is when I write about those and isolate what the core beliefs are that I’m actually believing that are creating that fear then the beliefs get to be shaken a bit, loosened a bit so that I can see a different way. I guess what scares me most is being locked into a way of seeing that doesn’t allow me to spy and detect the other possibilities.

What are your hopes for the future?

I have a declaration if you like that generates possibility for me and that I am the reinvention of birth education for men and same sex couples worldwide. I’d like my book to be read by 500,000 men throughout the world in different languages. My main hope for the future is that I want each of my six children and six grandchildren to experience life from the foundation of happiness not to achieve happiness.

What advice would you give the earlier version of you?

Chill out. Don’t worry too much about the hallucinations you have for the future. Remember that life doesn’t occur in a future place because the future doesn’t exist apart from the hallucination I have about what it might turn out like. And the past is of course just a collection of stories I’ve invented. Live more for the things that you’re actually doing rather than what you’re expecting to do.

I very much agree with the worshipping mentalist when you are talking about birth. Do men struggle with the idea of this?

A woman birthing has been a mystery to men for generations. And it still is a mystery that the masculine generated birth structures are trying to solve. When men hear about some of the differences that occur in how a woman’s neuro-physiology is experiencing the world compared to theirs they resign themselves that they’ll never know completely in their experience what it means to be a woman. So the mystery element stays in place. But that worship for reverence to this mystery generates certainly in me, and in some of the men I talk to, a sense of respect of awe and amazement in the presence of birth which is certainly productive to the kind of connection of that a woman craves when she’s giving birth.

Finally what are your top three albums?

I listen to Muse. I enjoy Ed Sheeran, anything he does. I like singer songwriters. Hmm. I want to say something cool. I was listening to some retro Johnny Cash signing Danny Boy and Bridge over troubled Waters. They’re the ones I’m listening to at the moment.

While deeply honoured to have Mark donate some precious time I found myself quite humbled by his words. His talents shine and, while I transcribed his words for this interview, his advice thumps a faster beat when he speaks. Have a listen to this interview here and indeed Sprogcast for some parenting backup. Any expectant fathers would be wise to pick up a copy of his brilliant book here. Today especially these precious words of truth and kindness hold a hot light. Do follow Mark at @Birthing4Blokes.

Tagged , , ,

@badlydoodled

I only met Pete in person recently. I’d heard lots about him, wondered if perhaps we’d be a match as friends. My partner is keen to get me “out there” to meet more people. I’m not sure where this place is but, from what I hear about Pete, he sounds like he’s filling a similar space to me. Then I started reading his online comics. I saw something sparkling. That feeling when you witness a special thing, and you can’t quite explain it. Like a comfortable button being pressed at the bottom of your heart. Here is something special. Here is some destiny with noticeable traction.

I predict great things for Pete. I see many already. Do take some time to read the words I sent to @badlydoodled and the words he, indeed, sent back to me.

Pete
38
Danish
Dad
Husband
Lived here for 15 years
Works in an office all day
Pretty nice guy when you get to know me
Good at baking bread
Lover of crisps and chips
Hardly ever drank tea or ate curries until I moved to the UK
Likes Danish football and music
Likes long walks on the beach
And pancakes

What’s the cruellest thing you’ve ever witnessed?

On the insanely busy roads of Delhi I once spotted a man without legs begging. He used his arms to move the piece of wood he sat on, to navigate between all the rickshaws and cars. As he rolled past our rickshaw the person in the car next to us spat at the poor guy. I don’t understand people who do such things. There really is no excuse.

My mum once bought me a bin bag of “Roy of the Rovers” comics in a car boot sale. I was four at the time. The smell of old, festering paper is one of my first olfactory memories. That and rain etched car journeys. What are yours?

Many Danish suburban home smells mixed in to one. In the 80s, the Danish version of Grandstand, would show English football on Saturday afternoons. I’d often do that next to our wood fire, at the same time as my Dad would fill the air with his pipe smoking…so lots of smoke smells. That and the smell of newly mown grass.

What three titles would you recommend for a newcomer to comics?

Ooh that’s a tough one. I grew up raiding the library every week for all the great European comics; Lucky Luke, Asterix, everything by Franquin, the Spirou et Fantasio albums by Tome and Janry, Tintin etc, but I wouldn’t be able to single out specific titles. I then had a long break from comics for no particular reason. About 10 years ago I rediscovered the medium through the many great graphic novels out there, and I’ve really enjoyed exploring all the great titles that are now available. I could recommend Maus and From Hell or the many amazing titles by Ed Brubaker or Adrian Tomine, as they are all incredible books, but my favourites are by other creators.

I love everything by Joe Sacco so one of his books. Probably “Footnotes from Gaza” which is amazing, and illustrates well how different peoples’ memory of one event can differ so dramatically.

Guy Delisle is another great storyteller but very different from Sacco. His “Jerusalem” is brilliant.

And every single book by Chris Ware. He is so imaginative and has such a recognisable style. His books look amazing, and even if his stories were rubbish, you could spend years staring at the artwork in total awe of this man. “Jimmy Corrigan” is brilliant, but his newest “Building Stories” is so innovative and just incredible, that any newcomer must read it, just to get a flavour of what this medium can do that no other is able to do.

So, that was loads more than 3 books, but our newcomer will thank me for this. You’re welcome.

What is obvious in your work is how much you clearly love your son and, at the same time, find him hilarious. Would you say your creativity has been kindled by his very existence? Or, to put it another way, has parenthood ignited something inside you that perhaps might not have been realised without him?

No Oskar. No comic. I never knew that I wanted to do this and it was a total coincidence that it happened. I had made lots of notes of the funny things he would come out with since he was about three years old. My wife designed a book for me and all my “bloody notes” as she put it, so I used it for all this. I would update this every now and then but never really knew what to do with it. I was afraid that one day it would be forgotten and then what was the point. Around the same time I got really fed up with not really having any kind of hobby. I have always been fairly creative and it annoyed me to bits that all I did now was go to work and come home and do nothing in the evening. I thought that I should take up photography again, but I had no good camera and no time to take photos, other than photos of Oskar. And then I thought, why not do something with those bits of dialogue and comments I had noted down. “Fatherhood. Badly Doodled.” was born.

It’s been great ever since. I was not good at drawing at the beginning so it has been a journey for me too, where I have improved my drawing skills, refined my style and had a sense of achievement by seeing how far I’ve come since those first drawing in Paint. It has also made me more aware of what my son says and I am sure I am more tuned in to his monologues etc now, than I was back in the day. It sounds like I didn’t use to listen to him, but I think most parents know that sometimes you just have to put the mute button on when they don’t stop talking.

So, yes. No Oskar. No doodles, and luckily he finds them quite funny too.

You’re a keen tack on Twitter. Without even trying. What is your take on social media?

To start with I had no idea what it was all about and I had no idea how to engage with people, or how to get people to look at my work. I still don’t really understand this but I know a lot more now than I did 18 months ago. I started out by finding a list of comic artists on Twitter. The list was humongous and I never made it past the letter A before I got insanely bored by asking them to be friends with me. However, over time, and I have no idea how this happened, I started “meeting” likeminded webcomic creators on Twitter. People who creates the most amazing comics, some of them daily strips, and with so many different themes. It was a real eye opener. I had no idea that there were so many of them out there and quickly found out two things; my comic was by no means the only one about being a father/parent, and the comics community on Twitter is incredible and so supportive. Again I had no idea how massive this community is.

So back to your question. I use Twitter a lot. It’s the place where I get most followers and most feedback from, so it has been a great place to spread the word about my work. I try to engage with other artists, but I wish I had more time to do so, and it is one of things I’d like to get better at. So, I do try to use social media. Facebook is a funny one and I am not sure how much I get out of that one. My page grows by 1 follower a month so this is not the place where I get to promote my website. On the other hand, it’s the main promotional platform for all my friends and family so definitely has a place. I also publish on other platforms like Tumblr (which is the platform I used at the beginning) but that grows even slower than my Facebook page, and finally I have started using Instagram but this is mainly a platform where I can share my drawing progress and the occasional cartoon. This is the platform I understand the least.

So I am trying to learn all the time and at some point I am sure I will crack social media. I have no idea what a good amount of followers is or what is a good number of website visitors, so I still have much to learn. There are still a few other places to try out like Reddit and Pinterest…

Do you draw digitally or with pen and paper? I’ve always thought new technology/software must be a drag for comic artists. Discuss.

I draw with various pens and pencils on card/thick paper. Around the beginning of the year I started using a non-photo blue pencil (that scanners don’t pick up on) for my outlines and that has really improved my drawings. Around the same time I got a selection of pens in different sizes which made it even easier to play around with my drawings than before, so these two tools instantly improved my life and my drawings. I use technology a bit. I use Photoshop Elements to correct mistakes, sometimes I add the text on there as well (I’ve created my own font) and also to colour in large areas.

I have thought about drawing digitally and I get the impression that a large amount of artists do that these days. Their work is amazing and I get the idea that it’s a real skill to draw that way. However, I am happy with the way I do it. I like to play around with my pens, I can sit on the sofa and watch Netflix with my wife while I draw. I sit in front of a computer all day at work so I don’t want my hobby/evening job to be in front of the screen too.

Top five films.
As a former film student this is impossible. Even if I wasn’t a former film student this would be impossible as it really depends on my mood.

  1. The film that moves me the most is a Canadian film called Last Night from 1998. It’s about the end of the world, but without all the drama and explosions of other Armageddon movies. It is very funny and very moving.
  2. Since most of the films I watch these days are cartoons I feel like I have to put one on this list. I love Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 and 2. Amazing gags and amazing characters.
  3. I love First Blood and there is nothing you can do or say to make me change that. It’s a great film.
  4. Old detective novels, especially Raymond Chandler, have a big place in my heart, as does Film Noir. I am not sure I can pick a specific favourite as there are so many great films from that period; The Third Man, Double Indemnity and Big Sleep. Pick one.
  5. Finally it’s a toss-up between Alien and all zombie movies ever made. I can’t decide.

Top five comics

I’ve already mentioned some of these previously.

  • Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. One of the best books I have ever read. It’s incredibly moving, the artwork is incredible and atmospheric and everyone should read this. Everyone.
  • Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. Sacco is one of my absolute favourite writers/artists, and this is my favourite, although all his books are brilliant.
  • Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth by Chris Ware. Another of my absolute favourites. His style, innovative ideas and imagination blows my mind.
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I always assumed that everyone knew this, but every time I have mentioned it to colleagues they just stare at me. Clearly not everyone knows how amazing this comic strip is. I introduced it to my son last year and he loves it and reads it every morning before school. So much that he wants to dress up as Calvin/Spaceman Spiff/Stupendous Man at the next World Book Day
  • There are so many more I want to mention but can’t. Anything by Guy Delisle, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine and Charles Burns. The Criminal and Femme Fatale series by Ed Brubaker, or Maus and From Hell which are both momumental. There are so many amazing graphic novels/comics out there, not to mention all the talented webcomic artists out there

What makes you feel comfortable?

When I can relax. Drawing is a very relaxing thing to do so I am always very comfortable in those situations. Being by the sea is very comforting too. Finally those moments where your child curls up next to you on the sofa for you to sit and read together or watch another of the loud cartoons he likes, that is probably the most comfortable moment I can think off. When I know he is content and happy.

What lessons do you really want to pass on to your son?
Ok this is a bit cheesy but; be kind to others, be empathetic, positive, inquisitive, explore, learn, fail, follow your heart, be true to yourself, learn languages, travel, read, don’t work in Events like me, don’t get a job in an office, and don’t ever change.

What are you afraid of?

That anything bad happens to him. Things that are out of our control like serious illnesses or accidents. Also, him becoming a money grabbing, selfish, banker, who exploits us common folk. That does potentially go against my advice for your previous question as I said he should follow his heart. Well, if this is what he wants to do he should NOT follow his heart.

Lastly, if you could have any team of writers, artists etc compose the comic masterpiece of your very own life, who would you choose?

I see a multi-platform event here. Comics will be written, films about the process will be produced and performance artists will brighten up the streets of London in the months leading up to the event. Every single one of them dressed up as Toulouse Letrec and miming sequences of my life to confused, and intrigued, tourists who would rather be left alone.

Since my life isn’t really that eventful it would need to be someone who can find the small stories in ordinary lives. Someone like Adrian Tomine would be great at that. Although, I had some odd experiences travelling in my early 20s and for that Joe Sacco would be a good artist to get on board. It would also need to be funny, as I am a hilarious person, so someone funny like the Swedish Martin Kellerman who wrote a great comic strip called Rocky. I imagine this collaboration would be designed by Chris Ware.

Yes, that would be rather, as my son would say (due to excessive US cartoon consumption), awesome.

Some lovely words and crafted insights from Pete here. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for donating his precious time to me. You can follow Pete at @badlydoodled and read his brilliant, heart smashing comic Fatherhood. Badly Doodled here. I especially enjoy watching a creative talent flourish and sharpen. Through his strip archives Pete’s love for the art and his family grow symbiotically, which is all an audience can ask for. Check it.

Tagged , , , ,

Feedback

Hi Sam,

Firstly we’d like to congratulate you on reaching this stage. After managing to complete your fourth and final year of your degree whilst simultaneously becoming a father for the first time, it’s clearly been a journey for you.

The following time you spent teaching children scuba diving was commendable. Then of course you chose to fulfil some necessity somewhere else. Which we were concerned about at first. But you knew then after a time. You knew when you first walked through the doors of that job centre, sat behind a desk and started helping people. You were never late for that job.

Here we come to your time spent working with children. Since your second child started nursery you have clearly shown a genuine connection to the place, the children and the brilliant, fascinating people that work there. You can be assured, and have been advised accordingly, that all feedback from this area has been positive. The gardening, cooking, singing (perhaps not eh?😉 Why you choose to pour every minute of your time into your daughters life and then volunteer, for free, for weeks on end with even more early years children is beyond me. But know of course that your time and help is always appreciated.

We spoke briefly about your belief in the importance of the early years, your interest in how the education system is shaped around them and how much you enjoy it. Out of all the weird, brilliant, symbolic things you have achieved with your life this is clearly the one that keeps you the happiest.

On a technical note it is admirable that you passed both the literal and numerical tests within one week after having only 4 days to revise for both. It is clear that you are perfectly capable of all that you desire.

Sadly, as we discussed Sam, things aren’t as they should be in this case. I would hope that we’ve all learned something out of this.

Yours in gratitude. If I can be of any help my door is always open.

Solitary

I like my own company. I can spend a long time on my own quite happily. This has always been the case. Happily introverted. Before I met my partner I’d spend nearly all of my time alone. Happily. I don’t have close friends. I don’t want any. I’ve had them before. Didn’t work out too well for me.

These hermit based tendencies are not the behavioural patterns required to engage, amuse, raise and teach a three year old. It’s not fair on her. I don’t want my daughter to assume my sensibilities about people are normal. They’re not. These are the lessons that I have learnt.

Indirectly my three year old is teaching me how to become more sociable. I’ll give you an example. We love going swimming. It’s a special time for both of us. But I shrink at the thought of bumping into someone we know. Someone ruining our special time. Some awkward conversation with someone I barely know who clearly doesn’t want anything to do with me. But Eve can’t wait to bump into someone. Which is great. It demonstrates that she hasn’t been that afflicted with my horrendous shyness. And I’m still not over mine. I’m nearly 40 years old. Last week Eve swam over to a little girl and her mum, looked back at me and said “Daddy are you coming over to meet this little girl with me or not?” The water nearly started boiling I was that embarrassed. Ashamed of myself. Some hairy, grown ass adult who should know better.

Last year our circumstances changed considerably. I lost my job, was out of work for nearly a year, credit cards, baliffs, crippling debt and all the shit that comes with that. We had to take her out of school. We nearly broke. And each and every day we’d be woken by a smiling little girl, hair exploding in the light of the morning. None of this is her fault. She didn’t mash credit cards, lose her job, spend all evening drinking, forget to pay that bill. None of this is her fault. She didn’t choose to be here. Essentially my moral code can’t help but stop any of my trials and tribulations becoming hers. So far it’s working, but I’m not sure how long I can keep up the pretence.

The mornings are the worst. She wakes at 05:30 or thereabouts every day. She’s three. She is surrounded by stimuli, waited on hand and foot, wants for nothing and everything. As soon as she awakes until midday chaotic combinations of the following take place: painting; puppet shows; bug collecting; Lego; drawing; visiting friends; calling my parents; tea parties; doctors and nurses; baking; gardening; reading; music making; writing; basketball; trips to the park; more trips to the park etc.

Somewhere in-between these odd fragments of time I clean. Tidy up her toys. Tidy up my toys. Wash clothes. Open red topped letters. Make desperate, pleading phonecalls. Try and make some friends. Worry. Scream into a pillow.

I don’t want my failures in life to bleed into hers somehow. To make everything rotten. But it is hard work to stem what you would usually let flow. Especially when it’s only you holding everyone together.

But I’ll say this. In these shattered, frenzied hours my daughter will be far more concerned about when she’s getting another toy pony. She will be hard at work ensuring that she gets what she wants, that she goes home when she wants, she eats what she wants and that she does whatever she wants. When you work as hard as you can, with the focus of ensuring she has the best day she possibly can, it cuts to the gut when it clearly isn’t good enough for her. Even though I know it is.

Give me a day or two of solitude. Long enough to sort our lives out. Just to stay on the line long enough to the bank without her demanding I do my Fireman Sam impression. Just one more time.

Tagged

(review) Echoes of the Underground: A Footsoldier’s Tales

I discovered this title through the more traditional author marketing campaign. Meeting the author face to face.

And what a pleasure it was, it is and shall always be.

Having been on the hunt for a copy of “Brainstorm” by Bryan Talbot I discovered that Lee Harris (the original publisher of Brainstorm and good friend of Talbot) sells brand new copies over the counter at “Alchemy”, the headshop he still runs in the frenzied, colourful guts of Portbello road. It was at this time he told he about the completion of “Echoes of the Underground”, asking most graciously if I would read it.

Covering his beginnings in South Africa before moving into a thought provoking account of the numerous individuals encountered in his life Harris has collected articles, insights and personal recollections over what appears to be a troubling but rich lifetime. Lee manages to capture his experiences of the sixties with a high degree of lucidity. His intelligent discussions around LSD, the Arts Lab and numerous other counter culture topics are a brilliant insight into the general mindset of the time. The capturing of the flux and reflux of the creative spirit, and the legalities surrounding the march of the free thinkers, is quite astounding.

As Harris recounts his time with various beautiful creatures of the time his curiosity and genuine interest in the human soul is evident. Lee is a curious and soulful individual indeed, as well as being a gentle and powerful writer. The memories he recounts read as if you are there with him, reeling in psychedelic delirium, frothing in hedonism, swimming in history.

In this Harris takes you by the hand through the multi-layered strands of his memories. If you’re looking for a genuine, applicable, honest account of the sixties culture look no further. Lee will be only too happy to take those rose tinted spectacles from your face.

A brilliant account of a lifetime that now seems a galaxy away.

@KrakenKreations

I interviewed Cath Janes some time ago now. I’d started reading her excellent blog and for many reasons could not pull myself away. This was a digital space with a heart to it. A large, thumping, flesh wrapped cluster bomb of a heart. I have to say I think I even fell in love with Cath. A bit. Her rage was a lull in the ocean for me. Her fury was my lullaby. A flat tide rolling over boiling water.

Then it all went a bit quiet. The edges blurred. Some break in stride I noticed. Then, one fiery morning, her public became witness to the birth of Kraken Creations, in her words “Handmade rays of sunshine for you and your home, online shop and one-woman war against ditzy florals.” I scratched my head. Had the claws retracted? Had the scaly form sunk deeper still in that volcanic tomb? I wanted to know more. Pray Miss Janes, tell me more.

Give me a vision of a typical day for you in five words.

Coffee, inspiration, determination, fun, coffee.

So what happened? First rage now sewing?

When I started writing on www.thekrakenwakes.org it was because I was recovering from a very serious mental breakdown, one which ended my career as a freelance broadsheet journalist. I’ve always felt passionately about social issues (and social idiocies) and the blog gave me a chance to get interested in writing again but without the pressure of deadlines or having to pay the mortgage. I found putting my rage into words deeply therapeutic and enormous fun. During this time I rediscovered my love of sewing, something I had abandoned and forgotten about during my career. I took it up again to give my days purpose and creativity and to give me something to look forward to. By the time I felt well enough to start earning money and coping with the outside world it was a no-brainer to turn my sewing hobby into a business which is now www.krakenkreations.co.uk. I enjoyed working alone and under my own steam so went for it. It shocks a lot of people when they hear the ever-enraged kraken now sews for a living but when they see some of the very sweary things I embroider it all makes sense.

You’ve raised a point recently about how female crafters squander their skills by endlessly making ‘home sweet home’ plaques and pink bunting. What do you feel is at the heart of the problem AND why aren’t there more male crafters?

The problem is multi-layered. In terms of what women make, I truly think that women have been told for so long that pink is a female colour that they naturally use it in products that are aimed at women. It’s a rut that millions of women fall into and in, my experience, it’s not until alternatives are pointed out to them that they see there is another way. The high street and its obsession with pink for women also gives the impression that pink is what women want to buy so when women set up their craft businesses they emulate this. As someone who sews, even mainstream fabrics are essentially floral which even gives us sewists less choice when we make our own items. Talk to any woman who eschews the pink and floral and they’ll tell you how hard it can be to find alternative prints. In all, it’s easier to go with the pink, floral flow than to forge your own way and this is what a lot of women do.

As for male crafters, there are a lot out there but they tend towards things like woordworking or metal crafts (in my experience). Women completely dominate the craft market at the mo and I suspect that is because they can do it from home and around the kids and they are falling back on skills they were taught in school. Also, the whole marketing of sewing at the mo is at women which doesn’t encourage men to do it too. You can pick up all sorts of sewing mags but many of them won’t have a single pic of a man in them. Saying that, The Great British Sewing Bee has a male judge (Patrick Grant) and this year a man won it so hopefully things are changing.

How do you organise your time? Seriously.

I am very structured. I go to my sewing shed every morning at about 9.30am and work for as long as I can until I pick up my daughter from school or after-school club. What I do during the day depends on whether I have commissions or want to start a new range of products. This means I either sew all day long or spend some of the day developing new patterns, assessing what I think will sell well if I make it, looking in books for inspiration, taking pics to share on the internet etc. This is all interspersed with social networking, without which I’d not sell anything. Mondays are utterly dedicated to scheduling my networking tweets for the week (it’s tedious but worth it) and planning how I want my week on the internet to look. Social media for crafters is an ever-hungry beast and I have to stay inventive to stay seen. Many people think that crafting means waiting for the muse to appear before floating around in a creative daze but the reality is way more business-like than that if you want to make money from what you do.

What first drew me to you was your clear strength and belief in yourself. Do you feel that self belief is key to sourcing your own creativity?

I have to admit to not always having self-belief and having days where I whimper and panic over whether I am doing the right things! I think self-belief is vital in being creative because if you assume you won’t be good at something you won’t even try it, which is the death knell for creativity. Crafting often consists of lots of fuck-ups but you learn and move on. Being fearful of those fuck-ups means you never try and therefore never succeed. On the walls of my sewing shed I have lot of images that I love and a few messages that make me keep going. One of them is by the author Neil Gaiman, explaining that he hopes the year to come is full of mistakes because it’s mistakes that lead us down exciting paths. I look at that every day. When setting up Kraken Kreations I went though a period of thinking, “What if it’s shit? What if I can’t do it?” but my husband reminded me that there was nothing to lose and he was right. If you have nothing to lose, fucking-up really isn’t fucking-up at all.

At what point did you think “I can actually do this”?

Really? Honestly? About three weeks ago. Kraken Kreations has been open for nine months and even though I know I’m on the right track it’s only in the last three weeks that I feel I’ve got a real grip on the balance of running a business again. After having a mental breakdown it can take a long time to stop doubting your abilities and I feel as if those doubts, those negative voices that crop up (I call it Shit FM because it used to play all of the time in my head when I was ill) are finally gone. This is the closest I have felt to a fully functioning human since 2010, the worst point of my breakdown!

How do you talk to your kids about self belief?

Oh, Kraken Junior gets endless pep talks from me. She says she wants to be an astronaut? I say, “If that’s what you want to do, do it!”. If she wants to roll about in a puddle of mud I say the same thing (unless I am dying with tiredness and need to collapse). Nothing but nothing makes me rage more than when parents tell their kids they’ll never be this or that because that’s not what ‘normal’ people do. When I see the amount of potential a child has it’s a crime to not encourage it. I try to be practical about these things too. If Kraken Junior wants to open a toy hospital (thanks Doc McStuffins!) we talk about what it would take to achieve that and how she can put that into action. It’s about encouraging her to see a problem or a goal, deconstruct it and find solutions. I think a huge part of self-belief can be about breaking issues down into manageable pieces and then making them work. You gain confidence and belief along the way.

Have you had any “personal” message requests you just couldn’t sew? If so please tell me what they are.

None yet. I’ll sew most things but nothing that involves Catholics, Tories, UKIP or the EDL. That covers most of the vile in the world.

Have your experiences made you think/act differently as a parent?

I’d certainly say that my happiness has a massive impact on the happiness of the family. When I had PND and PTSD, after giving birth to Kraken Junior, I was very ill for a long time and it completely impacted on my relationship with my girl. I didn’t even think she was my child for the first couple of years. Because of this I don’t know if I would have acted differently as a mum without having gone through my mental illness first. I only know life with it. However, my self realisation very clearly projects a strong image of me to my child. She sees me doing what I love and being self motivated enough to start my own business which I think teaches her so many things. She’s seven and already talks about having her own businesses, just like me, when she is older (a toy clinic mixed with a post office is the latest). My self realisation also makes me very conscious of allowing Kraken Junior to do what she loves because I now know that this is the key to most things in life. Parents set such a huge example to their kids and I want the lessons I have learned from my experience to be passed onto her.

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

Bloody hell! What a question! Don’t ask me how I’d pay for all of this or achieve it but how about:

Equality across gender, sexual, economic, health, social and political divides;
Eradication of the pink/ blue ‘rule’ for girls and boys;
Earlier retirement age for people who want to spend their remaining working days being creative;
The glorious smell of babies’ heads to be pumped into every household;
The use of blood, not blue water, in tampon ads.

A massive thank you to Cath for taking the time to give such an in-depth view of her life, some brilliant pearls of wisdom and a fat chunk of honesty. Do take a wander over to Kraken Kreations. The customer service is second to none. And lovingly sweary.

Tagged ,