Thursday, February 11, 2010

Strengths, disabilities & McQueen

It’s amazing how those who inspire others to great heights, those whose lives cause others to strive and emulate, those who are worshipped or envied from afar can find those very lives a dark burden. They can find craters in those lives so deep they can no longer be negotiated.

I’m not a huge fashion aficionado but, over the years, my work has taken me behind the runways in the local fashion scene and I appreciate the artistry and hard graft that goes into beautiful clothes. So I was saddened to hear of the death of Alexander McQueen, especially as it seems it was at his own hands.

Did you know Alexander McQueen once created hand carved prosthetic legs for a woman called Aimee Mullins who is an athlete, motivational speaker, actress and model? She is also a double amputee. She modelled these beautiful, artful creations on a McQueen runway in 1999. In a truly engaging and meaningful presentation at TED last February, almost a year from Alexander’s death, and this is what she said:

“I did my first runway show for Alexander McQueen on a pair of hand-carved wooden legs made from solid ash. Nobody knew - everyone thought they were wooden boots. Actually, I have them on stage with me: Grapevines, magnolias, truly stunning. Poetry matters. Poetry is what elevates the banal and neglected object to a realm of art. It can transform the thing that might have made people fearful into something that invites them to look, and look a little longer, and maybe even understand.”

Later she observes: “And that's when I knew that the conversation with society has changed profoundly in this last decade. It is no longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency. It's a conversation about augmentation. It's a conversation about potential. A prosthetic limb doesn't represent the need to replace loss anymore. It can stand as a symbol that the wearer has the power to create whatever it is that they want to create in that space ... I think that if we want to discover the full potential in our humanity, we need to celebrate those heartbreaking strengths and those glorious disabilities that we all have.”

Heartbreaking strengths and glorious disabilities, how gorgeous are those two terms? You see these strengths every day and they make me proud (and humbled) to be human, a feeling that waxes and wanes. I felt it when I lunched with a woman this week who’d just lost her husband. The grief glistened, just below the mascara and, yet, I saw her two days later, in full couture, ready to donate her time and mentor some young creative professionals in a role she’d committed to before her loss.

I saw it when I watched The Children’s Ward on TV and saw two little boys who’d been maimed by fucking land mines promise each other they’d never pick anything that looked like a pen again on the road - in Afghanistan one child is killed or injured every day by unexploded munitions.

“I know,” said six-year-old Murtaza, his left arm ending in a stub, his right one sporting one or two blackened fingers and some stumps. “Mummy and Daddy can buy my pens.”

Why did Alexander do it? What was the heartbreak he could not overcome, the disability that was not glorious?

Have a look at the Aimee Mullins video if you’re feeling a bit hard done by today, if some arsehole cut you off in traffic, if you’ve just had the bad test result, the screaming child’s tantrum, the bill that can’t be paid. It won’t change anything in a tangible sense I guess but it will remind us what fine creatures we can be and why it’s worth hanging on just a bit longer to see what fine creatures can do together.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sunday is "trance" day - blame Alexander

I spend too much time comparing myself to others. Ok, I know that. And I spend too much time marvelling about how much other people achieve in my life (perhaps explaining why not enough time then goes into achieving anything in mine) but, really, when an author's Wiki entry begins like this, what's a girl to do?

"Alexander McCall Smith, CBE, FRSE, (born 24 August 1948) is a Zimbabwean-born Scottish writer and Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. In the late 20th century McCall Smith became a respected expert on medical law and bioethics and served on British and international committees concerned with these issues. He has since become internationally known as a writer of fiction. He is most widely known as the creator of the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series."

I heard a tiny snippet of Alexander on Jon Faine's Conversation Hour this morning whilst driving to the office from an interview. I am working on an article for the group called ADVANCE. I'll come back to that another time.

Anyhoo, over the airwaves came the educated Scottish tones of a writer talking about his notorious prolificness. I was driving so can't quote him direct (didn't jot it down) but basically Alexander said he goes into something of a trance and the stories just come. In a wonderful interview with the Times online he said he tries to "fence off January and February" to write but he can write on trains and in airports and so forth and he describes writer's block as "another way of saying you're depressed".

I'm not completely going in circles with this. Yes I will chase one of his Scotland Street novels up and yes I will look at some of Alexander's literary influences, as mentioned in the Times article, and yes I will podcast the Faine interview but ... I am also committed to "fencing off" some time.

I think the festivas that was December and January is finally dying down. I have touched base with walking meditations, returned to yoga with the divine Caroline and I climbed on the wagon for the week. Hell I even went for a walk before going to work this morning. Next Tuesday, fingers crossed, writer's group starts again and, before I know it, it will be March 13th and my first Year of the Novel class will have commenced.

'Til then I commit to giving some time over to trance this Sunday and get something non work related written. I am making a promise to myself here in blogland. Do you want to commit to doing something you keep saying you want to do this week as well? Lay it on me friend. We can hold each other to it.