Monday, 7 September 2009

Tori Amos, Manchester and growing old

One of the most wonderful things about Manchester is that it is a major venue for all the big names in music. Aside from producing lots of the greats who return regularly, it attracts most artists on a worldwide tour. In recent years I have seen more bands and artists than I can remember, most notably Neil Young in 2008.

Last night I went to see Tori Amos at the Apollo. A long time fan of Tori, I had been to all her concerts in Manchester and each time there had been a different theme. Sometimes she has a full band with her, sometimes it's just her and a piano. Last night she excelled. Her creativity just shines out of her in what some would describe as quirkiness. I recognise it as that awkward expression of the animated nature of giving something unique to the world, a merging of your inner thoughts with a wider audience, that Tori Amos makes look so painless. The highlight of my evening was Northern Lad, a song of great significance to me and a few tears were spilled.

However, when Tori came on stage, something was wrong and there were audible gasps from the audience. Formerly a supporter of more curvy women, she appeared to have lost a lot of weight and toned up. She was a shadow of her former self. More obviously, her face had changed so much that she hardly resembled the former Tori. Whispers of 'having work done' Mexican waved through the audience momentarily taking the attention from the music.

I doubt that Tori Amos really cares what anyone thinks and that she has her own reasons for having work done, if indeed she has, but it brought up an interesting discussion about authenticity after the show. I was discussing it with a friend later and she asked me if, now I am 'older', I would consider having work done. I told her I wouldn't, mainly because I am scared of the pain, and she confided that she had breast implants five years ago. Another friend regularly has botox injections and another has had vaginal reconstructive surgery.

Personally, I don't see age as pathological. But, as with everything that is relational, it doesn't matter what I think. 'I' am what is private to me, my inner thoughts. It's the 'me' that I show to the world that is aesthetically relational; in this case it's what other's think that cause a mirror for consideration. As ageing is something that we cannot really escape, no matter how much 'work' we have done, and is common to all of us, it's surprising that so many people are grasping at immortality.

Again, it comes down to egocentric thinking. We all want to look and feel good, preferably in as short a time as possible, and with a little effort. The way that the (Western) world is organised is around youth being valuable, an asset that deteriorates with time over a set of superficial milestones that we, amazingly, set for ourselves!

We actually start 'ageing' around twenty-five when cells begin to decline faster. And there is nothing we can ever do to get younger on a molecular level. This concept is inherently linked with our obsessive measurement of 'time' which gives us a rough baseline for how long it will be before we die. The tightening of skin and adding of bits can do nothing to the holistic, symbiotic, ageing being 'I' am, except provide a more aesthetically acceptable model of the 'me' measured against the value of youth.

For Tori, who spends much of her time being photographed and performing, aesthetics are part of the day job. But for a woman who wrote this song with such an amount of awareness, it begs the question of why she feels her relationship with the world needs redefining to such a major extent?

For the rest of us, who perform only in our day to day lives, plastic surgery is no less a quick fix than taking tranquilisers to cure anxiety or drinking to block out the world; at the end of each day we all become a little older. Getting to the root of the problem and going the long haul to reframe that into something acceptable for us is, perhaps, more rewarding for the soul. Plus, surrounding oneself with people who are gentle, uncritical and understand that youth is merely an unattainable psuedo-prize that is held up by consumer-driven market forces and at odds with living. No one can fix the eternal dread of our daily march towards death, but wouldn't enjoying each minute instead of counting time in pathological years of ageing stretch the time we do have left and be more productive?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

I'd like to thank.......

In the wake of my news about my identity book (which hasn't really sunk in yet!)(and did I mention it will be published worldwide?) I had a review of who made it possible.

This week sees the five year anniversary of my meeting my partner. About three or four months previous to meeting him I had considered giving up my study of identity due to a serious bout of 'life'. When I did meet him he restored my faith in human nature and gave me the inspiration to carry on. We've worked as a team since then and he's always believed in me, like I believe in him. I still pinch myself every day when I wake up to make sure he's real! So it's thanks to him. I know you read my blog sometimes, so thanks :-)

Another person who inspired me was my former boss, Bruce Guy. He was the first person I had met close up and saw on a regular basis who had achieved something I and was willing to give me advice on how to do it. A lot of it involved abandoning the drama that was wrapped around my life and focusing on what was important. It took me a long time to do that but Bruce always believed I could do it. Certain people have empowered my life with belief including, Mr Welsh, my former English teacher, Peter Banister, my social psychology OU tutor, and Bill Schofield, my grandfather. This goes to show that in this world of patriarchal oppression there is still a dialectic that recognises initiative and tenacity outside the limits of gender.

Then there are all the people at Manchester Metropolitan University who mentored me. They helped me to see that knowledge is there for the taking, it isn't some rare commodity, you just have to be open to it. I heard somewhere that it's how you relate to the subject that counts, and MMU helped me to see that my path was psychology and philosophy but not in university lecturing.

Of course, I must thank my children, a constant source of wonder and inspiration. When I began my job at SaRS I kept a picture of them on my desk to remind my why I had to work so hard. When I was doing presentations at university I always kept a picture of them on my folder to make my continue when I froze with fear. Now I don't see them so often, particularly Anthony, but all of them are equally constantly in my heart, along with my grandchildren, reminding me of my purpose in the world.

Finally I would like to acknowledge everyone who tried to oppress me, to keep me down and who were mean to me: it just made me stronger in the long run. In the dark days before I began my new life I used to wonder why I had to endure what I did. Now I know - it's so I could see the difference and help change it for other people.

Like Alanis says, 'You scan the credits for your name and wonder why it's not there.'

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Identity, Women and Health: a new perspective to be published

I received an email yesterday telling me that my book will be published. It was a defining moment in my life, for deeper reasons that the buzz of 'being published'.

About twelve years ago I wrote a book about the experiences of women who had endured domestic violence. I prepared a proposal and three chapters and sent it off to a publisher. About a week later, I naively rung them to ask if they had a chance to review it. The woman at the end of the phone told me that it would never be published because I didn't have 'a profile'. She explained that I would need to produce an academically referenced text and prove my knowledge on the field before any of my writing would be considered. She wasn't rude or condescending, just matter of fact. It was as if a microscope has been applied to the dysfunctional nature of my life to date, something that I had never taken full responsibility for, and all the gaps highlighted in neon yellow.

I was angry at first, but eventually embarked on a twelve year, sometimes turbulent but often affectionate, relationship with knowledge which reached its pinnacle yesterday. It was such an emotional moment for me, the girl who was told by her parents and teachers at the age of sixteen that she would 'never amount to anything', that I burst into tears. It's been hard work and in the process I have become a different person, now I am on the brink of publishing a major theory in identity construction, I realise the journey adage 'it's not where you get to, it's where you came from' applies to me and my work. The two most important words I have learned during that time are: social construction.

The book is mostly written and is due for delivery to the publisher next year. In the meantime, I will adapt it and hone it and dedicate the work to every person everywhere who has been held down by assumptions about class, gender, sex and social status, and particularly women who suffer the medicalisation of natural transitions in women's health.

I'm so grateful for the chance to do this, and for patience I learned along the way that has helped me to understand just that little more about life and truth.