Vita Brevit, Ars Longa

January 28, 2017

I had a very strange reaction to the news of the death of actor John hurt this morning.  I couldn’t wrap my head around it. In so many of his most memorable roles he seemed to always be dying, from the chest bursting scene in Alien, being tortured as Winston Smith in 1984, his brave struggle against cancer in Champion to the mercurials agent provocateur in Carl Sagan’s Contact surving beyond normal means due to the influence of unimaginable wealth, John has always been dying. I haven’t been far from death of late, from my saxophonist friend to my own brush with the grim reaper a year ago now, mortality has been a constant shadow. 

The coming to terms with the fragility of my body has become a key factor of late, having as I do enough trouble dealing with the fragility of my mind. I get spots in front of my eyes every time I sneeze or cough and I have to run a risk assessment in my head for every item I pick up before I do it. Things came to a head last week when after six weeks of struggling when I had to admit that, at 1.5 kilos in weight, just holding up the recent Alan Moore novel was beyond my capacity, leading me to re-buy it for my kindle. 

One of my favourite t shirts features a momento mori consisting of signifiers of art, creativity and learning. It’s hard to find one in t shirt form that doesn’t look like something you would pick up at a heavy metal concert. Having a bloody great skull in the middle of a design tends to do that. The Latin means simply Life is short, Death is long. A reminder that we only have one life and that we better make the most of it, not that I really need one judging from the above. In fact, I can hear the ticking of the doomsday clock so loudly that I find it hard to waste I second of my time if I don’t have to. I suppose everyone has a different notion of what time well spent is though. Sitting on my arse, staring at the sea, or just feeling the warmth on my skin on a sunny day is time well spent, as much as making some art, reading a book or making something lovely, sitting in an office isn’t, or a meeting or indeed being around anyone you simply don’t want to.

I have an almost allergic reaction to being around people I don’t want to be around, I don’t suffer fools gladly. I can’t bear users, or people who kick off if you don’t go to their thing. People who constantly talk and talk over people, people who only like you if you meet their definition of cool, people who only like you if you are of use to them, bullies, boasters, controlling people, the cruel and the cliquey and unkind. Every single second I have spent in the company of people like that is a second I shall never get back, a second too long. I spent too long with low self esteem, I struggle with it still. when I was younger, being  pushed around by people like that and I simply won’t engage anymore, it’s probably not the best way to cope with people like that, but there are worse.

Here is where the real problem kicks in though… I spend an awful lot of time crawling back into bed and trying to go back to sleep. Suffering from depression is a horrible waste of time, it eats away at you, making you seize up, or crawl along at a snail’s pace before you just simply cannot cope with being conscious any longer. How do you marry a condition that eats away at your time and energy with a desperate need to wring out every drop of life and from what’s left from your time on this planet? It’s deeply frustrating, the only upside of it being the sense of purpose and urgency I get when I feel well. I feel like that today and will crawl under the covers soon, hoping I will crawl out later and some internal brain mechanism will have rebooted again, well, for a while anyway.

So on I walk, limp, hobble and crawl, to my inevitable end, hopefully by the most scenic and purposeful route I can imagine. 

When you wish upon a star…

June 4, 2016

I’ve been struggling as to whether I should press the ‘publish’ button on this particular blog. My judgement regarding my blogs has been patchy in the past to say the least. Some things are just so terrible that you cannot wrap your head around them. You try to comprehend the magnitude of their level of awfulness and it just slips through your head, impossible to hold on to for more than a few moments. Today I was confronted by one of those things, albeit indirectly I hasten to add. 

I was walking along in my own little world, lost in thought. Not nice thought I must admit, just the usual low grade resignation, frustration and depression that has of late set up home in my head, kicked it’s shoes and socks off and got nice and comfy. Then the phone rang, it was that funny tone that signifies a Facebook phone call coming through. It was one of my first Hastings friends. I met her around nine years ago when I was involved in an abusive friendship and, after I had been drained of all the money I had, and was left vulnerable and friendless in a strange new town. She had some terrible news for me, which was that another friend I met at the same mental health hub’s little boy had just died after a long illness. I remember this child being born, I even knitted her some baby clothes for him I seem to remember. I knew he had been ill for a while now but I just figured he would get over it… 

I had last seen him and the rest of his family about a year ago under the oddest of circumstances. It was a lovely day,  my then lady friend and I where sitting on a bench in the middle of nowhere in the South Downs. We were road testing some new thermos flasks and admiring the view across a valley. Things were already taking a bizarre turn as the air began to fill with a flock of paragliders, their multi coloured canopies floating through the sky in front of us. We watched for a while, marvelling at their exploits as we sipped our coffee and nibbled at an impromptu picnic courtesy of the petrol station’s co op shop.  I heard a very distinctive voice in the periphery, that of a lady from the beginnings of my new life in Hastings. She had her family in tow, including her husband, her son and her youngest whom I had not met before . I remember thinking what a lovely family they were and after a little chit chat they were gone, off on their own outing.

The future is a funny thing, I didn’t know then what sadness in a mundane and self indulgent way awaited me and in a truly hideous way the nuclear family unit that had just wandered around the corner of the path and out of view. The person at my side had her own ordeals to face too, of which I won’t comment.

Back to today and me standing, shell shocked, in the street. My brain going into ‘does not compute’ mode. Death is not an unfamiliar thing to me, my own father died almost twenty years ago now and his loss still feels like a punch to the chest every time I think of it. I made matters worse by not dealing with it at the time, burying myself in work and filling my head with anything to make the pain go away, being booze, drugs, ridiculous  projects to help tie up my thoughts and generally anything and everything but looking at the dark void inside me where one of a human beings anchors resides. In a sense, we are our mothers and our fathers and the loss of one leaves us flailing about in the wind, struggling to redefine who we are. When we don’t deal with that pain as we should it can eat away at us from the inside. As for losing a child though… The mortality of those much younger than ourselves is something mercurial, it slides away from our conciousness, too painful to comprehend. It’s something that is filed away under ‘somebody else’s problems’ as we should be long gone from the world and know nothing of it. Except sometimes it isn’t, it is very much someone’s problem and problem then is the most insulting of under statements. 

I was asked by this caller to design an image for a sympathy card, an image to celebrate the life of a boy of seven, gone too soon. The question is, just how the hell do you that? Nothing is going to make a difference, nothing will get that child back, certainly not a piece of artwork. But yet it’s something, and sometimes something is all you can do. And something is sometimes better than nothing. Hopefully this is one of those times. It had been a strange day already, a heavy sea mist hung in the air. It was going to be one of those cold lonely days that I would struggle to get to the end of, of which there have been far too many of late and it was a slightly macabre way to be given a purpose but purpose it was nonetheless. 

I took a phrase on a Facebook photo as a starting point “our supersonic boy” imagining a rocket ship, trailing a rainbow with a child going on an adventure, waved off  by his family. I had in mind that Shakespeare quote “That undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns” or in Peter Pan terms “death is an awfully big adventure “. I do really hope what I have done is ok, to tell you the truth I honestly don’t know, my judgement has completely gone on this. I don’t even know what to say any more, I think I will end this here…

Someone I would like to meet in heaven.

May 15, 2016

I had a rather lovely experience earlier today. I was having a long walk along the seafront, as I have done pretty much every day since I recovered from my heart op, and a friend of mine called me over.A friend I know from accessing the same mental health support services. I hadn’t seen this chap for a while but he had obviously been keeping track of my recent health problems via faceblurt and the following rapid decline in my mental health for a very long, painful and destructive few months. Strangly enough I didn’t share the worst of it, like the smackhead like state of my arms once the nurses started running out of places to take blood or insert canulars and they started to get more and more creative, particularly when the blood thinning drugs started to make me hemorrhage all over the place.  We talked about the operation and my week of having a death sentence hanging over my head that was preceded by a couple of months of merrily dragging myself and heavy crap up and down hills whilst oblivious of said death sentence. Anyway, the conversation turned to the aforementioned losing of the plot. It was done in the manner of a couple of Vietnam vets, people  who who have seen terrible things and experienced far more unpleasantness in life than they should have. With looks, nods and gestures we established that I was not currently bonkers (well,not so much) and that the storm had metaphorically passed. Then he said the loveliest of things to me, it went something like this…

 “I’m so glad to see you, I’m so glad you are on the mend. I know we aren’t close friends but you are one of those people I’m always happy to see and when I get to heaven I would love to be met by someone like you smiling at me because I know everything will be ok.” 

We had a brief chuckle about how that would neccesatate me being dead and I laughed inwardly about the number of people who would; a) wish me dead and b) expect me to be heading in the other direction but I’ll take a complement when it’s offered. 

I’ve been mulling this over ever since, pondering the absurdity of someone as flawed as myself reaching any kind of beatification. I pondered how I would draw myself as an angel, as I am now or as a slender twenty one year old with a head of flowing hair, an idealised Chris. The truth is though that, apart from wobbles, I am quite comfortable as I am really. 

Then I pondered who I would like to be waiting for me and it could only be one person really, my father. Although I’d be scared of what he would have to say to me. He was a curious fellow with a deep sense of doing what was right. It’s important to note that right isn’t always the same as legal and in some cases it might not even be kind. He would happily syphon petrol from his work’s van to go in the family car and when I was a child he stuffed jewellery and some fancy wrist watches in my nappy whilst going through customs back from a family holiday in the tax haven of jersey. Yet if  he saw a parent smacking a child in public he would flash them a very quick look at his driving license or golf club membership and tell them he was a plain clothed policeman and that he and his team will be watching them from then on and if they did it again they would have a nasty accident down the police station’s badly lit stairs. He’d seen some terrible things, my father, during the war, friends blown to pieces, hideous tropical diseases and cruelty.and earlier, the mindless, insular nature of small communities and the way they drag people down. He should have ended up down the mine, growing up in a Yorkshire pit village but he had his own mind and when the Second World War came along he got on a boat, got out and got away. Regardless of what various socialist groups or British movies may tell you, there is no dignity in being covered in filth, deep in the dark of the earth, ’til your lungs silt up, your back locks and your hands petrify into claws from the heavy machinery.  My dad was determined that I would never do a job where I got my hands dirty and that I would not be a plumber / heating engineer like him or my brother, although being a permanently poor arty type, I often with I earn the kind of money that the average plumber does. My dad was a hopeless businessman though, he would fit a new pump or an expensive part of a boiler and only charge for a tap washer if they were a pensioner. My father, hard as nails and soft as shit.  I hope he isn’t too cross with some of my less impressive crazy moments… Whoops!

That’s assuming that there is an afterlife, which I severely doubt. I thought I might get some notion of one in hospital or some sense of enlightenment from the extreme pain I experienced or the extreme nature of having ones insides cored through with a bunch of tubes and cables but, nope!, nothing. I’m still the same stupid, totally fallible and deeply flawed person I was when I went in. I guess the nearest I get to any sense of self redemption is the knowledge of what a spectacular mess I have made of various things. Self awareness is a start I guess… And that’s something.

Anyway, it was a lovely thing for someone to say and it made my day, plus the sun came out. Yippee!  

Things wot I learnt whilst going for a coffee. by Chris Hoggins aged 44 and 23/24ths

June 10, 2015

butterfliesTime is a funny thing, some days go by in a flash whilst other days are so slow and painful that they become a feat of endurance to get through. Time has been dragging for a while now, my last week has been spent, blowing up black and white images to the equivalent size of a double bed mattress and subtly altering them in photoshop. I got through roughly 4 a day for four days and on one of those days in particular the day was so long, hard and painful that I was amazed that I got through it in one piece.

Surfacing from a severe bout of depression is a bit like waking up after you have been on an alcoholic bender. You stumble around trying to assess the damages both physical and psychological, work out what you can fix and what you can’t. I won’t lie, I always come up with some really good ideas when I am going a bit nuts, but also some really stupid ones. The only real difference is that when you are drunk, you have the excuse of not remembering what you did, I do. I wouldn’t say I felt normal today, I don’t even know what that means any more but I do feel a level of normality. Sort of.

By contrast to the last week, time positively whizzed past this morning. Freed from the drag of photoshop hell,  I threw all the necessary files that were needed to produce the Bexhill Colouring book on to a memory stick and headed down to the printers. I felt such a feeling of achievement, weeks of research, drawing, and editing, all whilst suffering from the worst bout of depression for over a year,  all on something the size of a packet of chewing gum. When I got down to the printers though, I felt like someone had popped my favourite red balloon. The lady in front of me in the queue to be served was picking up the hymn sheets / orders of service that she’d had printed for her late father’s funeral. I really could feel her pain. That tired way that she was trying to keep herself from falling apart by keeping busy and keeping talking. Exhausted as I have been myself, of late, and feeling stressed by the notion of having to engage in polite conversation with a total stranger, I had to acknowledge that her need was much greater than mine at that moment. I have to be honest though, part of me was really miffed. For the first time in a fortnight or so, I wanted to go “yay me!” but instead I merely handed over my memory stick and got out as soon as I could. Lesson learnt. It is rarely about me, even when I really need it to be.

Next stop, Kassa, my favourite coffee vendor in the whole world. I had managed to acquire my favourite seat for once and got to enjoy my coffee whilst staring at the sea from the dubious comfort of the squidgy sofa that has been reinforced with a sheet of plywood. The usual suspects were holding court and I managed to avoid catching anyone’s eye and getting sucked into a conversation. What was fascinating though was a couple trying to teach their three/four year old daughter what asymmetrical meant. First though, they needed to explain symmetry. They went through a whole routine about two arms, two legs, two eyes etc but the little girl just became confused and fidgety. At no point did either of them think to mention about painting butterflies by folding over a sheet of paper with blobs of different coloured paint on it. Lesson learnt. Grown-ups are silly!

I went in what used to be my favourite bakers on a day when the staff were less likely to now give me the evils. (long story) and all the staff were in the back of the shop, surprisingly, not hiding from me this time. Whilst waiting, some other guy walked in, and on the pretext of perusing the stock, managed to work his way in front of me and caught the attention of the assistant first, Now  in this sort of situation, I would usually let whoever get served before me, but this time I spoke up and made sure I was served first. Lesson learnt. Instead of feeling bad for not standing up for yourself, you can feel just as bad for standing up for yourself.

Lastly, as I was heading home, I heard someone call out to me. It was a co-worker from a charity for adults with learning difficulties that I work for sometimes. The organisation facilitates them in creating artworks and performing in their own drama and dance pieces. I was very disappointed when, a week ago, awkward circumstances made it impossible for me to go to their private view and when I was informed that the students were having their own little low key celebration just for them and it was happening at that very moment, it made my day. It was so lovely to see all the people that I’d worked with and to see their work in the form of cards, prints, tea towels, badges and original artworks and they in turn were pleased to see me. The only fly in the ointment was that one very vocal member was missing. I have a deep affinity for the chap in question and his presence was instantly missed. I discovered that he could not come because there was no longer the funding available for him to attend all the classes that he wished to due to cut that this evil, vindictive, government that we suffer under in (not so) great britain. I could feel the anger boiling inside me, I know myself only too well how it feels to be shut out, cut off, marginalised in more ways than one and for this to happen with a man who lacks the ability to grasp why this is happening I find deeply upsetting. Lesson learned. The pure hearted will love you for who you are and what you do. Lesson not needed to be learnt (because I already know it). When self-centred, selfish, greedy and damaged people get the opportunity, they will ruin the world for everyone and pick on the people who are most vulnerable first.

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