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That man again..

It is Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth.  Yesterday I heard a lark sing.  The daffodils here are almost done.  Tulips come. There are buds on all the trees…and blossom on the plum.

Six months of chemotherapy ended at the beginning of March.  A long winter after the dark autumn of illness.  I am feeling better. Tired but better.

And I have been busy.  Busy launching my debut collection – Fallen Stock. Busy reading and meeting friends.  Busy getting ready to flow. Again. So thank you – to everyone who has helped me on this journey out of winter – to my family and my friends, my fellow artists & collaborators (also friends) , those who have come to readings and generously bought the book, those who have viewed my paintings.  Thank you to all the nurses, doctors, helpers and volunteers at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary & Doctor Grays and Huntly.

Now for the good bad news…I’m back.

Let it flow. Let it flow. Let it flow.

On a personal note.

2018 was an interesting year here in the long grass.

In the course of those 12 months I…

  • Moved out of our marital and family home of over 20 years
  • Finally found a place of my own in a place of my choosing
  • Built myself a working studio – almost single-handedly (though my sons had to rescue me now and then!)
  • Allowed myself to be diagnosed with small-cell lymphocytic lymphoma
  • Attended the wedding of one of my sons and his amazing partner.
  • Exhibited my paintings & prints both in my own studio (NEOS19) and in other venues (WorM, Moray Arts Centre)
  • Had some poems published and agreed a publication date for my collection – Fallen Stock
  • Embarked on 6 cycles of chemotherapy.

So…much is changed.  I could reflect on what I didn’t do – or maunder on about the works in progress (there are several) – but those seem important milestones for me.  As you can imagine, it was a year of slow ascents and sudden falls.

I had known about the ‘lump’ in my neck before all of this.  It was sitting there – swelling – but I was busy and besides, stuck as I have been for so many years, the burgeoning lump seemed like a bit of a get out clause.  Maybe it would all end and I’d be free?

But I was also sleeping 15 hours a day and the night-sweats were getting tedious.  I decided these symptoms were probably related to my mental health or my on-going struggle to control addiction.

Eventually, however, professional advice (a very astute dentist) prodded me to see a doctor.  The doctor assured me I did NOT have Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma but referred me to the hospital anyway.  The maxillo-facial consultants at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary very quickly assured me I DID have Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma – an indolent form known as Small-Cell Lymphocytic Lymphoma (SLL) or Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (the terms are interchangeable).

For a while I thought I was going to die.

I was a bit miffed that my cancer was indolent – I hated the idea that anything to do with me could be seen as indolent!  It is currently incurable.  It’s a slow burn thing that will weaken me over years and then, like any ailing creature, something else will kill me.  But, for now at least, it is not painful or disfiguring.  And I realised, as I began to navigate through waiting rooms and day-units, that that was a blessing compared to many others.

I am not going to die – for a while.

Thanks to modern medical technology and the excellent health-care at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr. Grays Hospital in Elgin – both NHS and free at the point of delivery – I will, they assure me, get better for a while. Be better.

After five cycles of Fludarabine-Cyclophosphamide-Rituximab chemotherapy, my many ‘lumps’ have shrunk and two weeks out of four I feel quite well.  My hair has NOT fallen out and I haven’t caught any secondary infections.  The anti-emetics I have been prescribed seem to manage the nausea of the first week of each cycle.  Again, I have had a fairly easy time compared to many others I now meet on a monthly basis.

That camaraderie – which is not much more than a nod, a smile and, often, a ‘Good luck!’- is important.  Just as with addiction recovery groups, I think it’s important to be there – to acknowledge to yourself and others, “I am one of us.  I am like you.  I am mortal.  I am suffering.  We persevere.”

How we laughed when hospital radio played Don’t Fear the Reaper last month!

So where is this moment of disclosure going – this brief glimpse of me as I cross the path between two thickets? 

This Spring I will be reborn and there will be things to do – things of my choosing, in this place of my choosing.

“I am one of us.  I am like you.  I am mortal.  I am suffering.  We persevere.”

John Bolland – First Solo Art Exhibition

Painting & prints hung and labelled. Studio clean and (fairly) tidy. Signage out. What have we missed? First-timer at North East Open Studios #NEOS but looking forward to my first #OpenStudio.

Thanks to all the NEOS team & members for their excellent organisation and constant encouragement and to those who’ve helped in the set-up and preparation for the event. . A variety of landscape, still life and abstract paintings and prints in a variety of media – my best work over the last 2 years.. But it only works if you come…

Open from Saturday at 12. Venue #29 – North East Open Studios. Most of the art on show can be previewed on the Visual Arts page for this site.

New Realism and the Anthropocene

I have become increasingly aware of the use of the term, Anthropocene in debate around human impacts of the Earth’s systems and processes whilst recent developments in philosophy speak of a New Realism, opposing itself to Post-Modernism. It is a problem, after all, what comes after Modernism (for we are all Modern) and then what comes after Post-Modernism? But a characteristic of New Realism, as articulated by thinkers such as Mauricio Ferraris, is a recovery of experience and stuff – facts if you will – from the web of interpretation and deconstruction associated with Post-Modernism and Constructivism. Stuff exists. Experience occurs, independent of the science or ideology by which we categorise and describe it. Ontology is distinct from Epistemology.

We can’t be post-fact because the facts just won’t go away.

is less ice. The world is warmer. The storms grow more frequent and more intense. This is experienced.

In a 2015 paper in Nature, Lewis and Maslin wrestle with the scientific challenge of assigning a start date to the Anthropocene. A point in time when humans definitely began to make a mark of Earth’s biological and geological systems. Their method is to seek a geological global signature, a record in the ‘rock’ which can be unequivocally connected to human history and practices – gases trapped in ice-cores, lake bed sediments, a fossil record.

They dismiss the point of coflexion in global methane levels at the beginning of the Neolithic (8000 BPE) as too vague, favouring instead the minimum CO2 levels around 1610 associated with the Colombian Exchange, the death through contagion of 55 million native Americans (90% of the pre-1492 population) and the consequent rewilding of the Americas. It satisfies the criteria, providing an unequivocal signature associated with a clear biophysical event – the arrival in the Americas of migrants from Europe and, subsequently, Asia and Africa.

Other signature points follow – the great acceleration in CO2 levels associated with the industrial burning of fossil fuels, the nuclear fallout from weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s – but 1610 is the first unequivocal blip that ‘fits the science’.

And here we enter the entanglement of interpretation. The numbers who died in the Americas at that time are informed inferences, the processes of rewilding of previously cultivated land and the associated take up of CO2 in forests is an interpretation of known patterns and processes. Those who deny the significance of human agency challenge the interpretation – deny the experience – but CO2 did dip (look at the ice cores) – millions died – look at the Aztec codexes. The social interpretation of these experiences – as a tragic accident or God’s will or a civilising mission or a vile act of plunder and destruction are texts, stories, social constructs – but death by small pox or exhaustion or gunshot wound are experiential facts and those individual experiences accumulated – like the germination and burgeoning of trees – engender shifts in reality – shifts in what is real.

Of course, human agency has been impactive from the beginning.

Humans burn forests. It’s the thing we do that no other species does – we burn things.

Humans selectively breed other species to meet their needs, rebalance numbers, exterminate competitors.

Our regional and local impacts can be traced to the Neolithic and before. Debate around whether the Anthropocene begins in 1610 or 8000BPE or 150,000 BPE are matters of cultural fine tuning set against the qualitative fact that humans are a major – and the only sentient – drivers of biophysical change on the planet.

It is believed that the Earth’s potential for life – net primary productivity – remains relatively constant over time. Stuff grows – be it cycads, conifers, jellyfish or salmon, humans or cockroaches. This resides in the balance and circulation of energy and nutrients within the biophysical system. At the moment it is estimated humans have appropriated between 25% and 38% of all primary productivity for our own use. We are – or control for our own purposes – one third of the biosphere. How can we not impact the unfolding of biophysical processes? How can we deny the reality of the Anthropocene?

Science – yes, modern science – has sharpened our interpretative awareness of experience in deep time. We experience the moment and have means of imagining experience and processes over the longue duree. And of imagining the future too. Understanding that the path of evolution, the events and instances, may be unpredictable, with unexpected tipping points and feedbacks, still we can imagine the direction of travel and the lack of resilience of our current social practices.

So this is where we get to the ART bit. The need for new stories. Realistic stories. Factual stories. Stories which acknowledge that the earth is currently in an epoch which we can think of as The Anthropocene and that that epoch will not end suddenly. That we must find a way to continue to live in and through the Anthropocene if we are all to live at all. And that, as the primary sentient change agent in the biophysical system, it is incumbent on us to have a good story, a narrative, a plan which recognises the experiential fact of our impulse to persist, sustain, procreate, survive.

To be continued in Imagining the Late Anthropocene
Imagining the Late Anthropocene