Sunday, September 30, 2007

Give me your opinions....

WARNING! Long winded and possibly depressing post follows… if you can't bring yourself to read it, please go straight to the poll on the right, just below my profile and let me know what you think! Thank-you!

Well I am home from my holiday and it was really lovely to have the chance to relax and not to feel that there were literally dozens of “things” that needed to be done. I made it to "Books 07" and will be posting some thoughts about that a little later.

One of the scary things about holidays is that I always seem to spend some of the time doing a “life review”. I suspect this habit was developed in my early 20s when holidays were often spent with a dear friend. Her partner commented that we spent the whole time “dilemma-izing”, but really we enjoyed indulging in some cooperative navel-gazing, discussing plans for our careers, for travel, buying houses, whatever came up really. In those days I guess things were going in the right direction and it was pleasant to rake over it all and daydream of our successful futures, and how we might attain them!

Life is a little different now some 20 years later, and this type of “navel-gazing” can be a risky business. I have been thinking that I really need to diarize more fully my experience of living with CFS. The reason for this is that although I have been ill for over 16 years, I really feel that I still have not come to terms with the fact that I am a person living with a chronic illness, for which there is no known cure. Well, I accept that as a fact, but what are the consequences of that?

Of course, I have accepted it on some levels. I gave up work. That was forced on me very early in the piece. I applied for and was granted a Disability Pension. That was difficult psychologically and certainly seemed to be a step towards acceptance, outwardly at any rate. I have become much better at judging my limits and not over-committing myself as I hate letting people down. I have found a supportive doctor and other health professionals and I am “a good patient”, in that I follow their advice for the most part, and am diligent about taking my medications.

All these things are small details really and that’s why I can do them without necessarily coming to the natural conclusion that my prospects are severely limited. I suspect it was always the case, because I’ve always been a perfectionist, that I have become a “small detail” person. It’s not that I don’t set long-term goals, I do. (Perhaps even too long - when I first left uni I had a 10 year plan for my career as an occupational therapist!) However, I have to ask, are the goals realistic? I suspect they are not and even worse, that I am setting myself up to fail and making my day to day life much harder and more stressful than it needs to be.

Of course, there is a benefit in setting these sorts of goals even if they are unattainable – it gives me worries which equate more with the sort of concerns my friends have and keeps me from having to face the real issues of accepting and adapting to my CFS.

As I look at the sentence I have just written, I have to admit that this is a recurring pattern in my family. Even those of us who do more than bury our heads in the sand when faced with a reality we don’t like, often seem to get busy solving a tangential or associated problem, rather than attacking the core issue.

For a long time, while realizing that it was unlikely that I would recover completely, I always “hoped” I might get quite a lot better. Well enough to work part-time (and I don’t mean a couple of hours a week) and have a successful career, pretty much on terms of my own choosing.

In some ways this is understandable. After all, I have always wanted to be successful in a career. I saw it as the mark of my worth. I never dreamed of having children, a family. Being brought up almost as an only child (my brother and sister were married and left home before I was 7 years old) I didn’t experience a family as such – there was always just the triad of my mother, my father and me. And I think I was a bit like the pet who doesn’t realize he isn’t a person, I didn’t really think of myself as a child. So children never came into my calculations of my future.

A career however, was something which was always highly regarded, and as a child growing up in the 70s, the era of feminism, and doing quite well at school, a career was, well, a given. Issues with perfectionism and low self-esteem only made success in a career all the more necessary.

As well as my need for a career, I have to say that for a long time, the hope of a recovery was peddled to me. In fact, I don’t think any health professional has ever said those words: “you might never recover” to me. A lot of professionals talk about their previous successes with patients with CFS and the wackier they are, the more they shift the blame to you when you don’t recover, but that is another issue entirely….

So…I have spent a number of years studying for what I hoped would be my new life. However, over the past four or five years, the consequences of having a serious medical condition for over a decade have had an increasing toll and I have started developing other conditions actually caused by the damage the chronic infection is doing – first hypothyroidism and then diabetes insipidus (DI).

Despite the correction of my thyroxine levels to “the normal range”, my energy levels have never recovered to the place I was in prior the onset of hypothyroidism, 5 years ago. As for the DI, that has taken quite a while to understand and get under control (nearly a year) and I suspect that it will only add to factors which can be so easily knocked out of their uneasy equilibrium.

This has been a very long post, and if you have made it this far and not fallen asleep I’ll be greatly surprised! But if you will bear with me a little longer, I’d like to ask your opinion/s on whether I should include this sort of post in this blog? I believe I could benefit from the input of others dealing with similar issues, so I’d like to put them in a blog, rather than in a private journal. The question is as regular visitors, would you rather this sort of post was coralled in a separate blog, so that you don’t come upon it when you were just checking back to see how my artists book is going, or whatever…

Anyway there is a poll over on the right, just under my profile, so if you would be kind enough to give me your thoughts on this before you go…I’ll shut up!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gone fishin'

Well not really, but I have taken a week off and headed north to Cotton Tree on the Sunshine Coast for a week. You may be surprised to hear this, given that I am supposed to be head down and tail up working towards the end of my masters…well, thanks has to go to my wonderfully supportive and understanding supervisor, who has managed to talk the university into letting me have one more semester.

The past six weeks have been extremely stressful for me as I struggled my way through the worst winter flu season we’ve had here in Australia for years. Then I started a series of migraines, probably induced by stress. Gradually I fell about 3-4 weeks behind. With less than 12 weeks to go, I could see there was no way I could catch up.

The plan now is to take this week off - my first actual holiday (i.e. not a rest required due to illness) in a year. Then I will be back to work. I don’t intend to fritter this time away, but hopefully I can feel rather more relaxed – even with time off over Christmas, I now have a good 8 months to finish what I planned to complete by the end of November.

Before I left on hols I managed to finish taking photos of the distintegration of my clay portrait. When I get back I plan to work these up in Photoshop and use them in a clay concertina book. I also finally received my paper supplies that I had to order from Melbourne, so I will be able to finish Like Weather at last!

But speaking of weather, the sun is out, it’s 28 deg C and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, so I’m off for a walk on the beach….

Sunday, September 09, 2007

5th artists’ books+ multiples fair

Yesterday I headed off to this event, which is held at irregular intervals (whenever the organisers have the energy, I suspect!) When I first heard about the fair in April, I was sure I would have at least one book ready to contribute. And probably if I had made it a priority I would have, so I guess that maybe it pays to put your entry in and have a goal to work towards. Like Weather is so close to finished, I am sure it could have been ready. Artists books are still a very new area to me though, and I hesitated, just wanting to know a bit more about the fair and the whole deal.
Organised by Grahame Galleries and Editions who have established the Centre for the Artists Book here in Brisbane, the fair was not huge, but wide ranging. The multiples included some big names, and I mean BIG: Louise Bourgeois, Dieter Roth, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Holzer and a felt postcard by Joseph Beuys.
Jenny Holzer: wooden postcards

Plus the works by the major Ausralian names in artists books: Peter Lyssiotis, Bruno Leti, Ron McBurnie, Milan Milojevic, Judy Watson, Angela Cavalieri, GW Bot, Anne-Marie Hunter and Tim Moseley - the latter two both "manning" their stands.
Nevertheless, I have to say that some of my favourites were books submitted by individual artists who, certainly to me, were less well-known. As is often the case, some of the most interesting work seemed to be done by the students from QCA (Qld College of Art). I often find that students are unafraid to experiment and are not so constrained by convention - often they have to "make do" with cheaper materials, so this probably forces them to be particularly creative.

Following are some images I have taken from the Graham Galleries website (without permission, but with only good intentions) and for lots more, I recommend you visit there. Hopefully next time this event is held, I'll have some works to enter.

As a great lover of folded books, this one by Helen Malone (above), entitled The Battle Within, took my eye.
As did this beautiful one below, by Clyde McGill titled the list (the coda). The textures of the paper and the ink, together with the layering effect from the semi-translucency of the pages really appealed to me.

This was one of very few altered books, using the old World Book Encyclopedia. Anyone of my era will surely remember them. By Anne-Marie Hunter.

This was really one of my favourites - a series of 10 ink and gouache images unbound in a box. By Peter Crocker.

Afraid to Fail?

A couple of months ago, a lovely and well-meaning friend commented to me that I could get a job as a curator of a gallery when I finished my masters. At the time I responded by flippantly agreeing that I could, if they were happy for me to do the job from my bed. The suggestion was so obviously well-intended, that I did not even consider trying to explain how far from my true capacity a full-time job was.

Last week, over on velo-gubbed legs I read this extract from NMJ's soon to be published novel which stars as its main character, a young woman with CFS/ME.
Extract from 'The State of Me' (Ch 34) (Main character, Helen Fleet, talking): "I’m always measuring out my energy behind the scenes, but people don’t see it. They see you at a party and think you’re fine, they don’t see you resting all day to be able to go, and being wrecked all next day because you went."

And I realized that is the problem - they don't see how our life is, day by day. Hopefully, books like NMJ's will help with this problem. I think it is our responsibility to let PWOCFS (people without CFS) in to our lives so they can see what it is really like, because it comes back to people's expectations about a person who is ill, or a person who is disabled.

At present, the understanding seems to be black and white, an all or nothing condition. So if I can apply to do a masters, and be admitted to do it, then I must, basically, be normal. Even if I am currently in my fourth year of a three semester (full-time) course. I'm not sure what this means they believe - do they think I am faking? Or do they think I am recovered? I'm not sure. It's been a long time since anyone really suggested to my face that I wasn't ill, although I still occasionally sense someone eyeing me suspiciously, as if, perhaps, I am exaggerating wildly about the level of difficulty I have to live with.

There is another thing I think people who don't live with a chronic condition find it difficult to grasp. It is the fact that just attempting something when you have a chronic illness, is actually succeeding. If I sat at home and did not try to do things, then sure, I wouldn't fail at them. However, I think I might be failing at living my life, because setting goals and working for them, is as much a part of who I am, as being female is.

My husband commented to me the other day, that the chances of me actually completing this masters have never been better than 50:50. It made me stop and think, and I realized he is right, and I remembered that in the beginning, I was very clear about that in my own head (of course I didn't tell anyone at uni that!)

The thing is, I love to learn, and you don't need to complete a masters to still learn a lot from participating in the programme. If I don't manage to graduate, I will still have vastly increased my understanding of art, and my own practice. It's about the journey, as "they" are always saying. But I think "they" might also believe that I have failed if I don't finish. And maybe I will have, but that's okay, because you can't fail if you don't try...and I'm definitely going to keep trying.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Self Portraits - finally in progress

I have been wanting to get to my blog for days now, but things just seem to be getting in the way. This is just a brief update to post some photos of my Self Portrait piece as it is in-progress.
I started on this work months ago and this is my first attempt at putting all the pieces together in a studio space and assessing how they are working.
Day 1
These pictures show the first stages of the work, which is one which involves allowing a particular process to occur in the gallery (if it gets that far). Above is the first day: a self portrait made from wet clay and an inkjet print.
Day 2
This image shows day 2, with the clay cracking and the print fading.
The work will be followed day by day to document the process it undergoes. Originally I intended to simply contrast the active process of the clay portrait with the stable, preservation of the waxed portrait (see here). Now I can see that documenting the entire process and perhaps binding it into a book would be a better option.
I have also done some digital photos of the clay process as you saw here.