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A blog about creativity, culture and why it matters...


The Month in Mood Board - mothers, self-imposed limitations & Psycho

Helen Davis

Mothers loomed large this March. From Mothering Sunday to the many multitasking mamas at International Women’s Day and Essex Book Festival events, to Psycho's macabre "Mother!".  

While I worried that not being a mother meant I had a surfeit of creative juice, the juice I do have was put to use at a couple of micro writing retreats at Metal Southend’s Pop-Up Writers House.

I wandered into those misty places where art and life merge. And, rediscovered the joys and pains of Arrested Development...

Why don’t you cover a big cork bulletin board in bright pink felt, banded with bamboo, and pin with coloured thumb-tacks all your various enthusiasms as your life varies from week to week?
— Diana Vreeland
Blog pin board March 1.jpg

On Daring to Enter the Pop-Up Writers House...

When I was a kid I used to go to Chalkwell Park and circumnavigate the seemingly empty Hall in search of the mini zoo, while speculating who would live in a house like this.

Now the zoo is pretty much a peacock. And the house? Well that’s expanded and rebranded itself as Metal Southend - an artistic hub. And, this March writers were invited in.

However I hesitate to call myself a ‘writer’. Copywriter, yes. Sometime blogger, ok. But writer? Who me? It took some real loin girding and teeth gritting, but I decided 42 was about old enough to start to take yourself a bit more seriously (or maybe less so).

And, that’s how I got to be in the Hall’s luminous attic space, sitting at a desk overlooking the everchanging estuary, reading my stream of consciousness NaNoWriMo scribblings on how my grandmother loved Boris Karloff.

Oh, to be grown up...

Blogtacular - an online home?

The key to a successful brand? Being yourself some say.

But finding that sweet spot where relatability meets relevance without being overly revealing is tough, right? And, the thought of unintentionally igniting a Twitter spat or gaining a troll, or a gaggle even, fills me with dread.

And, when I tentatively dipped a toe into bloggers Meetups I found them largely full of guys who spoke tech jargon which my brain simply did not compute.

Since then I’ve been drowning in “how to” overload. Meaning I’ve done little more than play at setting up and making my blogs look nice. The all important marketing and search engine optimising? Cue: tumbleweed.

Then, I discovered Kat Molesworth and her Blogtacular podcast.

And, guess what? Kat talks in plain English (I know!) to a variety of women (mostly), who are successful bloggers and social media influencers, yes, but also down to earth and honest.

Some don’t “do” Facebook (isn’t that sacrilege?!). Others are even older than forty-something me. While others, still, have escaped the rat race and embraced “slow” living.  

I feel I could have found an online home, of sorts, where people speak my language.

Psycho - the shower scene + its leading ladies

78/52, the title of this Hitchcock doc, is about as anal as it gets, referencing the 78 camera setups and 52 cuts which went into the iconic Psycho shower scene.

I’d already read Janet Leigh’s book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller, but this doc went a little deeper, probing not just Hitch’s psyche, but also that of early 60s society at large, putting:

...Psycho at the very tipping point of US history, a spasm of fear after the certainties and complacencies of the 1950s and postwar prosperity – but before the Kennedy assassination, civil rights and Vietnam...

As one Independent piece says.

From turning '50s notions of “mother” as the epicentre of the American-Dream-come-true-home on its head to dethroning the pre-War movie queen - by killing off his leading lady a third of the way through - in hindsight Psycho seems to have a lot to say about a lot of things, but notably women.

As a Slant magazine reviewer writes:

[T]he complex nature of Hitchcock’s art ... is exploitive and resentful of women yet empathetic with them, capturing their pain and imprisonment in modern society …

Juliet Binoche Faces the Maloja Snake

Leading ladies are still suffering for their art and in their lives in The Clouds of Sils Maria.

Apparently writer / director Olivier Assayas is concerned with how “... art and reality intertwine and feed off of each other.”

Thus, one of the clouds of the title, the Maloja Snake, is both a poetic name for a real cloud phenomenon and the name of a fictitious - yet iconic - play. A play which made a young star of Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche).

Only, back then she played Sigrid, a destructive seductress. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and the middle-aged (yet luminous) Binoche is asked to step into the older, more embittered, victim role.

Where did the time go? There you were getting all established and then that now-grown-up-kid from Kick Ass - Chloë Grace Moretz - is stealing your thunder.  While off stage the ever sullen Kristen Stewart is PA Val who also runs lines with Binoche - blurring that all important line between life and art once more.

This is not an All About Eve. It’s an all about change. The kind of amorphous, almost imperceptible cloud-like transition of time snaking its way through the valley of life. I think...

Creative Boundaries or a case of Arrested Development?

I have a vague memory of watching an episode or two of Arrested Development years back, but never getting round to watching it fully. Thank you charity shop. Cos, it’s great!

But as one Telegraph piece noted Emmy Award-winning does not a success make:

The show was never really popular – too abstract for mainstream audiences, perhaps – but … critics positively fell over themselves to praise its Simpsons-like reinvention of the sitcom.

Introduced every episode as:

[The] story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together...

AD was also something of a reinvention for leading man Jason Bateman. A former child star - remember Little House on the Prairie? - and taking inspiration from Brit comedians, like John Cleese and Ricky Gervais, Bateman has re-made a name for himself as something of a straight man.

I try to perform my characters inside my skill set … Which means I try to keep them close to me. [Michael Bluth] is very much an exaggerated version of one of my sides. It’s very easy for me to be him. I know my abilities; I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s able to fully morph into different people.

Self deprecating or self aware? I guess, like the Clouds of Sils Maria, it’s an amorphous snaky line....

Kathe Burkhart - me, myself & Elizabeth Taylor 

It all started back in the ‘80s with an ad. And, for artist Kathe Burkhart the rest is history. She’s been painting with Elizabeth Taylor ever since.

When one interviewer asked:

So what is it about Liz Taylor that merits such extensive exploration?

Burkhart replied:

Well, it’s a way to talk about myself without being really solipsistic, and to talk about the woman artist. She really represents a woman artist who continually played herself, so it’s completely performative, and, that’s what I pretty much do as an artist, is kind of unpack my own life through the work, but also to talk about the limited range of roles and representations of women.

As a Forbes piece says:

[Burkhart’s] Liz has morphed from innocent to victim, from dominatrix to AIDS activist, playing out self-chosen identities and commercial stereotypes.

Inspired by popular culture the aim, Burkhart says, is to:  

Suck you in with beauty, and knock you out with the truth.

And, all that from an ad, eh? Inspiration truly is everywhere.

How One Woman Came to Put a Seagull on a Man’s Head

Of course, one of Elizabeth Taylor’s many roles was that of mother. And, mums just seem to get stuff done, don’t they?

I tend to feel bad (albeit admiring) when I see just how much women with kids accomplish. Take my mum’s tales of exactly what a woman can do in six minutes (washing, breakfast, packed lunch, just for starters). Or the now legendary tale of JK Rowling writing in a cafe with a baby at her feet.

But Harriet Paige is one mum who admits that having three kids has not improved her creative output - phew. It had taken her the best part of ten years to write Man With a Seagull On His Head she told the Forum audience this March.

What’s more Man With a Seagull came after a first, unpublished novel - all agent, no publisher. Plus, the story had rolled about in her mind and evolved over those years.

A real-life published book, it seems, is a miracle of sorts...