Rebel, My Best Mate.

Now I have to admit, I don’t really know where to start with writing this one. You see, a few weeks ago I was on a creative roll. I was loving throwing down the creative thoughts whizzing around my head, and putting them out there in a bid to inspire.

But today, I’m trying to dig as deep as I can to find some words. I’m trying to take a leaf out of my own book when I’ve been jabbering on about ‘art’. I’m pleading with my head to let me use what has been a really tough few weeks to create something, anything, in a bid to help me deal with things. In my Art. Is. Important post (click here to have a gander) I wrote: ‘sometimes my brain doesn’t allow me to start this process right away, so I feel like I have to endure raw emotion at it’s most concentrated. Sometimes art can’t just step in and take the bull by the horns.‘ These past few weeks has been one big, prime example of the above. And I feel like I have to apologise in advance because this is a bit of an emotional one for me.

 

Two weeks ago today, I lost my best friend of 13 and a halfish years. My dog, Rebel.

 

Now, before we start, I don’t really care to hear the whole ‘he’s just a dog’, ‘ohhhh your dog? ah I thought it was a family member the way you’ve been carrying on’ business. If you’re thinking that, I’ll want to punch you in the face for being ignorant and you’re not welcome here today.

 

Luckily, I haven’t had much of that over the past few weeks. In fact, I’ve been completely blown away by the messages I’ve received, the memories people have shared and the love and support I have been shown by friends near and far. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs but Rebel was an old man, he had his troubles and, though it breaks my heart to say, it was just his time to go.

 

Reb had been through EVERYTHING with me over the past 13, nearly 14, years. So many highs, so many lows. He even made it to prime time Saturday evening TV. He was my constant. Honestly, I know I’m bias, but he was the most terrific animal I’d ever known. He let me dress him in stupid things when he was a puppy, he sang along to my saxophone playing as I practised (or he was probably crying because it mostly sounded dreadful), he collected giant sticks from the park and would walk all the way home with them in his mouth (which pleased Mam & Dad, when they left the front door and tripped over them), he’d bark angrily at the postman from afar only to greet him with love up close (all bark, no action), he’d go to the bookies with Dad and scrounge biscuits, he’d be in the kitchen within 3 seconds of hearing the biscuit tin clattering… I could go on for days. He was an all round champion of a dog, with qualities of a human. Actually, he was more intelligent than some humans I know. He was such a presence. Even being home alone on an evening, I’d feel safer just knowing that he was chilling in another room in the house. If he was laid in the kitchen, and I started crying for whatever reason in my bedroom, he’d be by my side within seconds. When I’d arrive home from London, after moving away and having not being home for months due to college, he’d greet me with throwing himself on the floor to have his belly scratched, whilst crying happily and wagging his tail profusely. If I was away, Mam used to put him on FaceTime or put the phone to his ear and he would recognise the voice and react. As he got older, he stopped resisting cuddles and he started to cuddle back. When I hadn’t seen him in a good while, that was enough to make me cry. The feeling of pure love and feeling needed and relied on.

 

Dogs are pretty amazing, aren’t they? Fourteen years have passed and still these memories are so vivid to me, some of the happiest memories I have. And all because of a dog and his loyalty and love for me. I have a lot of fantastic, supportive friends in my life, don’t get me wrong… but he was one of the best, most reliable friends I had.

 

These past few weeks have felt somewhat… empty? Like, there is a massive void. A grey area. I keep going to whistle for him and then I remember that he’s actually not here. He doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all very, very strange.

 

Grief, to me, is one of the most alien experiences a person can go through. I lost two grandparents when I was much younger, whom I loved dearly and still think of fondly, yet I think I was too young to understand and feel the true pang of grief. Losing Reb has kind of been my first, properly-felt encounter with the beast that is Grief. Grief has had me crying at the sight of a slice of toast, because that’s what me and my mate shared every so often. In fact, it’s had me spontaneously crying A LOT. Grief has blocked my motivation to create (the little shit). Grief has made me feel riddled with guilt, numerous times. Grief has made me feel like I’m anywhere but on planet Earth. Grief has actually made my heart feel like it is physically breaking in my chest. Grief has made me feel like I’m now part of an elite crew (‘I know how you’re feeling, I can relate…’).

 

But, being the person that I am: constantly wanting to learn about absolutely anything and everything if it means I can get ahead, ‘Grief’ has taught me a lot in these few weeks. I feel like I’ve learnt more about being human in these past few weeks than I have in a lifetime. That may be a bold statement but for now, it is seeing me through so I’m going with it. Everybody deals with this Grief beast in different ways. There is no written manual in existence that can, step by step, cure it completely. In fact, I don’t think there can be a definition of it, as everyone experiences it in different ways. Unfortunately, it is a part of this crazy thing we call life. Personally, the thought of losing Rebel has not ‘got easier’ to deal with. I’ll actually think twice about saying ‘it gets easier’ to anybody in the future because I think that’s total BS. Losing somebody will NEVER get easier to deal with. I’m just now thinking, on a personal level (as I say, EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT), I can practise getting better at dealing with it. We learn from experience, after all. This experience has taught me that, as humans, we have so much love to give. The massive love for my dog will now go into loving the memory of my dog, but I still I have so much love to give. I just think that’s incredible.

Time helps too. I’m not sure how, I’m not a trained psychologist. But time has actually helped a lot.

As I say, I can’t really preach. I’m kind of getting on with things and I have no idea how or what is exactly helping me.

 

Finally being able to try and write anything close to this has helped too. The thought of writing this two weeks ago was buried under masses of grey clouds in my brain. I knew I needed to do something of the sort as the next step to embracing this new stage, but when? was the burning question.

 

My intention today was not actually to inspire or to preach or to whatever. It was maybe to selfishly indulge in writing anything that sprung to mind as part of my grieving process, to help me move forward, to progress and look to the future.

 

But it was mainly to honour my wonderful, handsome, intelligent border collie best friend. I’d do anything to have him back (I could think of a few people in this world that I’d happily trade in) but I am so happy and privileged to have been able to have this little critter in my life at all.

 

Oh he was just a dog… but he was mine.

Love you Reb, thank you for being the best.

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The World Loves Pigeon-holes and I Don’t Know Why: I understand this title is weird.

This is the first post that I’m about to ‘free write’, so far in my new blogging expedition. From this point onward, I have no agenda. I have no planned analogy to share, or story to tell about a lesson I have recently learnt. I’m taking a leaf from my own ‘pro-creativity’ book. I’m taking a curious step out of my comfort zone and I’m just going to willingly write and share what comes out, right now, in this moment.

Today, we lost an icon. David Bowie.

icon
ˈʌɪkɒn,-k(ə)n/
a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration
David Bowie was an icon. He was a singer. He was a songwriter. He was a musician. He was a record producer. He was a painter. He was an actor. He was, in the words of British Vogue, ‘unarguably fashion’s king of self-invention’. He was, creatively, pretty much everything. He broke down walls. He took the things that made him stand out for being ‘different’ and, instead of disguising them to fit in with the times, he made them more obvious. He embraced them, he highlighted them and he exaggerated them.
Now I won’t babble on about the legend that is Bowie much longer, but he is a damn fine example of how greatness can be achieved creatively. What does it take to be like that, to be like Bowie? Do many of us have incredible ideas buried deep inside our brains that we personally think are completely stupid, but could actually turn out to be a stroke of genius? How will we ever know if we don’t test the water? Is the key to creative success a combination of an initial idea and… plain old bravery?
On a personal level, I don’t think my ideas are good enough. I compare my ideas to those of others far too often. I am my own worst critic. Majority of the time though, I am my ONLY critic. My opinion is one single opinion. There are many times that I have disagreed and debated over various films, pieces of theatre and books with my peers. So who am I to say that my own idea is bullshit, when somebody else out there could think ‘Now, hang on. I think we’ve got something here’? Somebody else could have a different opinion to my own. Is that so daunting? If so, then why is it so daunting? Creative ideas are only developed and constructed further when they are opened out to a wider audience, when they are put up on their feet, when fresh eyes are unleashed upon them. Why wouldn’t we want to develop our ideas?
I’m currently burying my head in various books, one being Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. A stand out quote, so far:
“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
What I take from this is that I need to man the F up, take that idea that I think people will think is stupid and put it out there. Invest my time into it, inject some love into it and feed it. Give it a life outside of my own head.
Another thing. What I feel David Bowie did, over the course of his life, was to not give people an easy job when it came to defining him creatively. One minute he was trying to make it as a popstar, the next he was inventing the incomparable alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and after that, he was busy carving himself a successful film career… just a couple of MANY creative routes he decided to go down. People were all ‘oh David Bowie, he’s a singer. Oh shit, no he’s an actor. Oh shit, no… he’s… what is he?’.
He just existed. He existed and he produced truly original works of art. He, himself, was a work of art. One of a kind.
Today, we are living in a world that likes to label and pigeon hole people. Stereotypes are rife. They are absolutely EVERYWHERE. In the media, in the industries we work in, in the towns we live in.
Creative pigeon-holing is all round, to put it politely… a bit poo. Creative people are usually free spirited, always jumping at opportunities to try absolutely EVERYTHING. So any form of restriction is frustrating, being labelled for being a particular kind of anything can be a tiny annoyance in what is an all-round, fantastic life we may be leading. It may not be even that we want to go down that ‘different from the norm’ route, right here and right now, THIS INSTANT… but it would be just nice to know that the option IS there to have the opportunity to try something new, when we do fancy it.
The truth is… sitting around being bitter and complaining about it will not solve anything. You can post all of the Facebook statuses/tweets in the world about how frustrating it is to be stuck in a pigeon-hole… but that’s not actually making a smart move towards identifying how to, perhaps, solve the problem. So, how do we get around this pigeon-hole bad boy?
We have to get off our asses and create some shit for ourselves.
The one thing people can’t restrict you from doing is creating in your own time. Let’s face it, if you want something badly, you will, more times than enough, do anything to get it.
e.g. I will save up a month’s wages for those Kurt Geiger thigh high boots and I will be living off beans on toast for the foreseeable, as a result.
Beans on toast.
Why should our creative lives be any different? (This is the part where you ignore the beans on toast bit and pretend you never ever read it. ‘Twas only added for dramatic effect. They do look good though.)
Speaking from the area of my chosen career path:
You want to be in a straight play and can’t get seen? Write your own. Or investigate new writers who need people to read through bits and bobs. Experience is everything, if anything!
You want to play a villain when you haven’t a bad bone in your body? Watch all of the Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Tarentino you need. Read all of the books. Learn those evil monologues.
Can’t find the particular colour scarf you want? Learn how to knit and knit one yourself.
You want to be in a rock band but you sing like Julie Andrews? Broaden your musical vocabulary. Sing Paramore in the shower. Blast Royal Blood in the car. Listen to the greats, starting with David Bowie.
Be Bowie in a world full of contoured faces and man buns and all that in-season rubbish.
Be one step ahead of the game. Be a creative mastermind and play people at their own game.
Earn the right to be looked at in different light, prove your worth. The key to success is hard work and determination, and all that bollocks.
EDUCATE YOURSELF. PREPARE YOURSELF. SURPRISE YOURSELF. SHOW YOURSELF OFF.
Lord above, I’ve surprised myself. I didn’t know I’d end up here at the end of a free-write…

Avenues: A New Analogy

I have a new analogy.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now, even going so far as to discuss it with a few friends (I’m finding it a lot easier nowadays to openly discuss thoughts and ideas with people I trust, which hopefully means that my confidence in my creative ability is growing – mini pat on the back, I’m my own worst critic).

Last year, I toured the UK with ‘The Sound of Music’. From January to September 2015 I lived out of my Ford Fiesta, visited multiple cities, clocked up around 6,000 miles, 3 speeding tickets (no excuses but when long distance journeys become a vital part of your life, for a long period of time, they start to get tedious and lead to distraction. I guess that counts as an excuse… guilty), lived away from a stable base for 9 months and as a result, somehow along the way, I actually grew up a little bit. I started to see multiple things with a new perspective.

Now, over the course of the tour, I found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands. I often wished that I had a crazy hobby or the motivation to read To Kill A Mockingbird (I will get through it one day). Along with the excessive spare time I seemed to have, there were the present stresses of ‘What will be my next job?’, ‘When will my next job come along?’ and of course, the most haunting question of them all, ‘Will I even work again? EVER?’. Oh, us actors do worry. Worry and fear, if not ALL of the time then at the very least SOME of the time, latch on to our souls. But that’s a whole other subject, so we’ll leave that until another time…

So. Spare time, twiddling thumbs PLUS no motivation to do anything remotely productive PLUS stressing about my future in my life’s vocation/my main money earner/my one true love of life. Although I LOVED my job, more than anything – I never thought I’d ever come anywhere close to being in The Sound of Music in my lifetime, I felt completely stuck. And if I’m truly honest, it made me a little bit miserable and left me feeling a bit guilty. I beat myself up for acting ungrateful, to no-one else but myself, even though I was really grateful for the opportunities I’d been given. It was like one big internal boxing match, fighting 50 rounds in my head. But, before long, I had a cracking amount of Maria shows under my belt, I ticked one huge box off my ‘bucket list’ and the tour came to a close. Funemployment (it won’t be long before that word makes it’s way into the Oxford dictionary, mark my words) approached once more and I had nothing but afternoons on the sofa with the Friends box-set planned. Or so I thought.

Because that’s when my new analogy popped into my messy, boxing match of a brain.

I did a degree in Musical Theatre. Musical Theatre has been my life for as long as I can remember. I bloody adore Musical Theatre. For all of those reasons, Musical Theatre is what I chose to do professionally, to earn a living. However, Musical Theatre is also extremely competitive. It brings a lot of incredible highs AND some awful, heartbreaking lows – dealing with rejection is a massive part of the job, more to come on that one at a later date!

Nevertheless, Musical Theatre is my… HIGH STREET.
(For the American folk out there, I think it’s what would be called the Main Street? Sorry if I’m being completely ignorant, don’t hate me. I will learn.)
My lovely HIGH STREET. I’m going to say it has a pretty decent Tesco Express, probably a pharmacy, a post office, a local bakery and, for now, a tea/coffee shop. I’m going to say that the pizza takeaway shop recently closed down in a bid to promote a healthier lifestyle. I hope I haven’t lost you yet, I’m getting to the point… I promise.

This HIGH STREET is the centre of my town, town being metaphorical for my life. It brings home the literal bacon (lord, I love bacon), Doctor Theatre works there (he’s pretty great), it connects me with a lot of my favourite people, it brings home the dough ££ and it gives me ENERGY, LIFE, VITALITY etc etc…

Here comes the fun part. We’ve established that MT is a pretty prominent part of my life. But what happens when Funemployment pays a visit and MT is suddenly put ‘on hold’? That’s where my AVENUES come in to play…

A town cannot be a town with only a High Street to it’s name, surely. I decided sitting on my ass watching Friends was simply not an option anymore, and I started to explore the possibility of actually using my free time productively. FINALLY. It occurred to me that, although it is my one true passion and my professional occupation, Musical Theatre didn’t have to be the ‘be all end all’ of my life. Giving everything a go and training to be as diverse and versatile as possible had both been two of my favourite personality traits growing up… I thought it was about time they made a powerful re-entrance into my life.

To sum things up quickly, I revived the following non-Musical Theatre AVENUES:

AVENUE 1: Songwriting. My love for music has always been a huge part of my life and I had written songs in previous years. Within the first few weeks of re-earthing this avenue, I had 5 new songs nailed. WINNER.

AVENUE 2: My friends. Now, friendship is a never-ending blessing but 9 months on the road meant that I’d not been able to catch friends in shows, I missed going out for tea and I simply had not set eyes on some friends, face to face, since before I left London with my life packed into a car. Since giving myself a kick up the arse, I’ve had meals out galore, watched amazing friends being incredible onstage (ok, maybe that one’s a bit stagey) and I’ve squeezed the majority of them regularly in person. Not being hangry and plagued with FOMO (the fear of missing out – FYI), the feeling of pride and free hugs – all excellent scenarios to be in, I think you’ll agree.

AVENUE 3: My family. I’ve actually had the time to sit on my sofa, cuddle my dog and create mess in my home, resulting in my mam and I arguing because we literally are THE SAME PERSON (we love an argument, we do). It’s the little things, ey?

AVENUE 4: Learning the guitar. Growing up, I attempted to learn the guitar, the alto saxophone and the piano. I failed to stick to every single one of them, something I really do regret. I can play piano well enough to write chords for my songs, I can bash out ‘Sir Duke’ on the sax if I’m asked to (please don’t ask me to), but guitar is always something that’s frightened me. Up until now. I bought a new guitar for my birthday and I’LL BE DAMNED if I don’t learn to play it this year. The Beatles – Blackbird: I’M COMING FOR YOU.

Those are just a few examples. I don’t want to bore you with many more but I’m also getting back into reading, I’m working on an idea for a theatrical piece and I’ve created a blog (that I hope you’re all still going to read after this crazy b*tch post).

These avenues link to my High Street, to create the wonderful town that is MY LIFE.

What I’m trying to get at is that I am a creative person and sometimes we need more than one thing to help us feel fulfilled. Broadening our horizons and venturing out of our comfort zones can create opportunities that we never thought were even possible, let alone that we felt we deserved.

Even in Musical Theatre, to this day, I am still learning. I am hungry to learn more, anything that can help me to improve on my craft. That is my area of expertise, and still I am not satisfied. I must keep learning, I NEED to keep learning. The moment I feel I have stopped learning will be the moment I quit. Which will probably be never.

I don’t profess to be an expert in any of my other avenues. As a matter of fact, I feel I am merely peasant level at the creative ones. So I am now jumping at the chance to start from the bottom. I have a chance to learn how to become respectable at something relatively new to me, that is not my area of expertise… and I absolutely deserve it. I have the chance to give each avenue a freaking STREET PARTY, with bunting, the lot. I have a chance to grow my town. I’m going to continue to lay new roads, build new houses, maybe even a hotel…

Stop referencing Monopoly now, Jess.

 

In short, my new analogy:

Your life is your town, your professional career is your High Street and your Avenues are everything that surrounds it. The avenues are the life and soul… YOU. Build a town, make a football team and I’ll create a friendly league… it’d be mint to have you.

 

Possibly took that last sentence that step too far. Classic Jess.

 

 

Art. Is. Important.

I believe that I am truly a happy person.

But, I know that when I do feel unsure, a bit blue, anxious, irritated, frustrated or confused with how to deal with a tough situation that I’ve been unfortunate to encounter, I turn my focus to the medium of art.

I turn my focus to music, to writing, to watching films, to reading books or to just simply looking at photographs.

I turn to art.

Art is my answer, my remedy, my painkiller… my emotional anti-inflammatory, if you like. Taking in art, or expressing myself artistically, numbs the panic and helps me to gradually come up with a way to decipher the problem. It helps my brain to diffuse heightened emotion. It helps me to weigh up the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. It helps me to figure out the next step. It helps me to create a resolution.

Depending on the severity of a situation, sometimes my brain doesn’t allow me to start this process right away, so I feel like I have to endure raw emotion at it’s most concentrated. Sometimes art can’t just step in and take the bull by the horns.

But at other times, it does. And that is what’s important. If it works 1/7 times, that’s 1/7 times more than none at all.

As children, we constantly had the opportunity to create: colouring-in books, doodle bears, etch a sketch, putting on home concerts for the family, dressing up etc etc. As adults, maybe due to careers, social commitments or all round more responsibility (to name a few), sometimes we don’t think we have as much time to create. Oh, how deluded we can be.

Because, in the process of art being something to lean on or something to look to, we can, and often will, create.

We create things. Things that, quite frankly, may be completely useless. But still, our brains have been given the luxurious chance to create and, majority of the time, we can’t help ourselves.

e.g. I got dumped, a good few years ago now, and I wrote a song about said dumpee. I posted it on MySpace in the heat of the moment and it made me feel better, even if only for a day. Said song is now firmly buried as it was not my finest lyrically and, nowadays, the mere thought of it makes me want to die of embarrassment. It helped at the time though, which is the main thing.

In a world full of being stuck to our iPhones, constantly refreshing facebook timelines and posting the same old selfie once every few days, our beautifully, intricately put together, ingenious and intelligent brains are given the golden ticket to creativity. Now personally, and I don’t know about you, this creativity is like coming up for fresh air when you’ve been swimming under water for too long. You have the opportunity to pour a whole lot of glorious YOU, and YOU alone, into something. Something that shows, YOU of all people, a particular battle, big or small – both equally as important, that you have fought and overcome. Something that shows how brave you are in a world that constantly fights to make you feel that you’re simply not good enough, not fit enough, lean enough, talented enough or beautiful enough (the list is endless).

If you take that extra step and choose to share your art with the world, your art could be just the thing that gives another struggling human a helping hand through a battle of their own. How wonderful is that? You can single-handedly give someone the boost they need to a. identify their issue, b. resolve their issue, c. realise they are absolutely enough and d. create their own art that represents their own personal battle that they have fought and overcome.

This is why we need art. Art is hope. Art is an expression of the soul. Art is who we are, deep down. Art is a reflection of life.

We must open our hearts (and schedules!!) to creating some more. Allow ourselves a small time frame of artistic indulgence, whether it be playing a favourite record, taking photographs or simply doodling on a post-it. We must make time. We must keep creating.

Art. Is. Important.

2016

Giant's Causeway

giant’s causeway

New Year: New Me. This phrase must be one of the most overused phrases at this time of year. It’s a shame that I’m about to be completely unoriginal and use it then, isn’t it?

A very different, unusual year stands before me this year, and I feel that, like everybody in the first week of January, I would like to approach it with a new attitude, a new mentality.

This did cross my mind at the same point last year, I won’t lie. I was full of ‘I WILL GET FIT’ ya de ya de yaaaa…..

But this year I am choosing to concentrate on the things that make me a happier, more approachable, more creative and mindful human being.

New Year: New MEntality.

I am choosing my love for discovering things, my love for adventure and my love for creating. I am choosing my talented friends and my wonderful family. I am choosing to be proactive, to not rely on Facebook to remember birthdays and contacting people the good old-fashioned way, by good old-fashioned letters and postcards. I no longer want to be a slave to technology, I need technology to be my bitch instead. I am choosing to take opportunity, to be direct, to embrace change and to welcome it.

If I’ve learnt anything over the past year, it’s that the past cannot be altered and the future cannot be predicted.

So I am choosing to live in this moment, right now, and to drink in what it has to offer… Hopefully, a good cuppa. There’s a big, fat, beautiful world out there, people… and you only get one opportunity to enjoy it.

 

HNY – love & peace & yorkshire tea. x