I think that what I should write about this week is ‘vulnerabilities’.
Vulnerabilities are a little like ‘disabilities’ but take other forms, and perhaps pervade us as individuals and as a society in different ways too.
This week, among other things, I saw a show about the history and future of writing, held at The British Library. I spent a day in a recording studio, starting work on a new album of popular music. I attended a staff meeting and discussed the future of art education with my colleagues at work. I went swimming. I attended an evening of drinks and conversation between artists and art critics, discussing shows we had recently seen in London. And I attended a day-long symposium on ‘Vulnerability’.
I’m not feeling my best. Stress and demands get at you in various ways. When you are immensely busy, working in a highly structured environment, where each day of your diary, and each hour, even every minute of your working day is accounted for, you are constantly stressed, but you can ‘surf’ your responsibilities, and even take satisfaction from effectively multi-tasking, ‘doing the impossible’ etc.
As the academic year comes to a close however, this structure breaks up, and breaks down, and then you encounter yourself, still full of adrenaline, but without that structured timetable. And this can be uncomfortable, disorienting, even panic-inducing.
The recent passing of someone, a young person, that I love, made me newly aware of our true vulnerability, something which we largely live in denial-of. The symposium I attended this week featured many speakers who bravely spoke-out about their various – often extreme- vulnerabilities. This left me with the thought – a political one perhaps – about how ‘resilience’ and ‘robustness’ are so championed and foregrounded in our society while vulnerability is hidden and denied.
Recently we might have witnessed right-wing governments whose policies have had disproportionately negative effects on the poorest in our society, as well as the disabled. The same governments also seem to foster a society in which fitness, body-building and a certain kind of body-image narcissism all appear to grow.
The effect is that the healthy, strong and beautiful body is paraded, as a norm, as central, as a priority, while an unhealthy, weak, and ‘different’ body is regarded as marginal. But in fact ALL of us are vulnerable, and not least vulnerable to illness, disease and accidents. This tendency is at least as universal, and probably more so, than any ‘normal’ or perfect body.
Thus our society seems inside-out and upside-down in its priorities here. Clearly our main economic focus should be on caring, first and foremost, for the most frail, vulnerable, sick, poor, least educated, most fatigued, homeless, hungry, scared etc. and then let this reinforced strata’s new strength ‘trickle-up’, thereby ensuring our society has the strongest possible foundations.
What right wing governments do however is cut benefits, education and healthcare for the poorest (so that here in the UK we now have starving children in our schools) and cut taxes for the richest, supposedly in the belief that excess wealth will ‘trickle down’. We know full well it does not, it is simply ‘hedged’, hoarded, and/or spent on useless selfish excesses and gaudy decorations for already replete lives.
Anyway, I don’t want my Blog to become too political or polemical. nor do I want my posts to become long. There is soo much more we could write here about ‘vulnerability’ but I’ll just finish by noting that, as artists (many of whom spoke at the symposium) whether we are fit and well in mind and body or are not, vulnerability is often also a site of progress, innovation and thus also a kind of ‘resistance’.
So, when I was recording my song in the studio this week, as the beginnings of a new artwork (an album of pop songs, connected to some recent writings on popular music in my books), anything that I played and sang there came, I knew, from ‘vulnerabilities’, e.g. from going through momentary thresholds -to do with shame and embarrassment- and finding there on the other side, some new music, a new lyric, a new note or sound in my voice.
That music (like any artwork) also came from the ‘vulnerability’ of a tiny ‘inkling’ of an idea, that, when it first appeared was so vulnerable it might have just been overlooked and forgotten, but was something that I recognised, rescued from oblivion, nurtured, strengthened and grew into an entire song.
That song then, one day, even became recorded and produced, so that it now might sound strong and confident, well-formed enough at least to be able to broadcast and share its origins as a small manifestation of my own vulnerabilities.
How can I illustrate this week’s post?
Perhaps just by adding a link to one of my old pop songs: