What is it like?

I’ve heard the question posed from time to time “what does it feel like to have ADHD?”. No one has ever, to my memory, asserted this enquiry in my direction, but to be fair, anyone vaguely acquainted with me would know that asking that sort of question would result in too many minutes of their life spent being monologued at. It’s a question that intrigues me, since I have no idea what it feels like to have ADHD. I may as well ask you what it feels like to be neurotypical. Like you, I have no baseline for comparison – I have only ever been this way, so how would I know what it’s like to be any other way. Since my ‘condition’ is down to genetics and wiring, rather than affectation and learned behaviour, I can’t simply try being neurotypical out for size, in the same way as a neurotypical person forgetting their keys is not the same as momentarily being ADHD. And here’s the reason the why the question fascinates me. What you’re really asking is what it’s like to have a different type of brain (ADHD, ASD, colour blindness, dyslexia, left handedness). And I’m particularly fascinated by one type of brain – the neurotypical brain. Neurotypical people are a wondrous enigma with their weird ways. Here’s some:

Queuing: Imagine being able to just stand in a queue and wait for something. IMAGINE! I have been known, when presented with a queue of people waiting to get something that I REALLY want, even if it looks only to be a shortish wait, to either give up completely on having that thing or, should it be available elsewhere, to trek for miles to get it there instead. Neurotypical people – how do you queue? How do you deal with the crushing pain of surging impatience? The anxiety that the person one person ahead of you will have something REALLY LONG AND IMPORTANT to say to the person at the counter? Do you think about other things than the mental torment and endless frustration of being stuck, powerless, humiliated and tormented? How?

Hobbies: I think that one is only supposed to have one or two hobbies, or even none! How is this done? How do you sustain interest in a single subject for any period without getting distracted by 20 others? Is there a knack to passively enjoying a pastime over and over, getting the same level of delight out of it every time? How do you choose the SINGLE BLOODY THING THAT YOU’LL DO OVER AND OVER UNTIL SUCH TIME THAT YOU HAVE NOT ENERGY LEFT TO DO IT?

Boring stuff: the physical pain that is caused by doing dull, repetitive tasks – is it just a dull ache for you, rather than the stabbing, electrified sensory assault that is normal? Do you subdue your fear of doing finances, or workplace bureaucracy with medication like me? Or do you have some other method of quelling the anguish, stress and physical discomfort?

Listening: When you are “listening” to someone, what do you actually think about to stop yourself from talking over them with whatever is on your mind? On the occasion where you do start talking, how do you just say a few appropriate words rather than just rabbiting on about some vaguely related bollocks? How do you “listen” and focus on what is being said without your brain darting around a hundred different things, most not related to the matter in hand? Is there some special technique for that?

Thinking: What does it feel like to just have one thought at a time? How do you decide on that thought, and then sustain it for a period of time? How do you have thoughts about stuff that it’s important to have thoughts about, even when it’s not something you really want to think about? When you sit there an think, do your bowels loosen as your excitement and stress level rocket at whatever it is in your head at that moment?

Concentration: so I get that neurotypical people can concentrate. We have something in common, I can concentrate too! So here’s my question: how do you stop concentrating on something? I’ve seen you people break away concentration when it’s appropriate to do so, and it seems so easy! Then you just go back to what you were doing, so cool! I’m in awe, seriously. Also, how do you concentrate on the thing that you’re supposed to be concentrating on? And when you’ve been hyper-focused for days on one thing that you weren’t supposed to be doing, and no one can get through to you even when addressing you directly, and you’re exhausted and disappointed with yourself for having wasted so much time on doing something when other people would rather you were doing something else, how do you make everything OK? How do you make sure you don’t get fired, or dumped or whatever? Is there a special method for this? And when someone makes you concentrate on something that you’re not really interested in (even though you may have been obsessed and passionate about it days before) for long periods of time, how do you deal with that crushing depression, rabid anxiety, creeping paranoia, self-loathing and incipient inadequacy at not being able to do something so simple and common place? Thoughts please!

I’m genuinely curious. I often surreptitiously observe neurotypical people in wonder, trying to figure out what’s going on in their heads? Someone should do a study or something…

Lower Your Fidelity

A recent musical binge on Car Seat Headrest has lead me to revisit the various lo-fi bands and albums I love from the 90’s. Both Will Toledo’s style and approach owe a lot to that movement, not least to Guided By Voices, but also Pavement, Sebadoh, Sonic Youth and various others to varying degree. Despite forays into more contemporary (if the current brand of revisionism can be called that) styles, and the odd nod to the music of his current home town, Seattle, his music belongs to the late 80’s and early 90’s. the whole lo-fi movement was really an extension of punk and hardcore as it mutated via bands like Husker Du and Sonic Youth into alt and indie. As such the DIY ethic and lack of any meaningful adherence to musical traditions and protocols percolated through and manifested in a mix of sweet, Beach Boys-esque melodies intermingled with chaotic noise, hissing feedback, frenetic string pummelling and frequent bum notes (deliberate or otherwise). By the time this manifested as a scene the belligerent lo-fi aesthetic had styled itself as a higher art form which concerned itself little (at least in the early days) with the commercial  arena with which they later flirted.  While song structures were frequently traditional, the composition and presentation was not. Guided by Voices and Sebadoh in particular concerned themselves with folk and rock, while grinding off the polish, atrophying, making them grubby yet spontaneous, very new, but somehow so old, like a bunch of forgotten photos from school days discovered in the attic.
The lo-fi aesthetic was an conscious inversion on the incumbent emphasis on polished production, staid song composition, production line pop and rock that had even started infecting punk. The reference to this as an aesthetic is not mere observation. Whereas punk’s lo-fi sheen, while worn as a badge of honour, came from lack of resources and ability, these future indie icons used minimal production values as an intrinsic part of their art. Song and presentation were one. Just like hearing Yes’s Close to the Edge via a Dictaphone would destroy the well honed presentation, thus GBV’s Echos Myron beefed up through a 48 track with some Pro-Tools action would sound ludicrous. Likewise, the spontaneity and throwaway nature of the recordings was a deliberate counterpoint to the prevailing obsession with perfection and homogeneity. Not only were songs presented as if recorded on said Dictaphone (I think in many cases they actually were) but little attention was paid to song selection or consistency. It would be reasonable to say that, in the early days at least, Robert Pollard recorded and released every vaguely musical idea that came into his head. Everything is filler, nothing is filler. No hits, no bullshit, just art and attitude. Pollard bragged about “sucking” as a band – from such a brilliant songwriter and able musician this is not self-deprecation, but a celebration and a victorious gangshout. Anyone who thinks that Stephen Malkmus can’t sing fundamentally misunderstood Pavement’s music.
Most musical genres experience their lo-fi epochs. Notable is the aggressive lo-fi ethic that casts its bleak pall over post-Darkthrone/Mayhem Black metal trve kvlt adherents. Find a dank cave, wait for the most gloomy, sleet-prone day, take your ancient Tascam 4-track, some fucked amps, some biscuit, adorn your nails and smear on some corpse paint, biscuit tins instead of drums, a couple of incantations  and a lot noise and screeching later, voila, Satan’s music. The sound of hell frozen over. Darkthrone and their progeny were hunting a sound that best describes the bleak perma-winter forests of the north. Sound and image alike aspired to the primal, elemental, frostbitten, misanthropic and hopeless – high technology have to part to play here, the sound of the forest could only be represented as physically imprinted on magnetic tape and etched into vinyl. Like the indie art brigade, music and presentation were one and the same, and as such Darkthrone never played live, in fitting with this approach.
Both camps were not eschewing technology, they were just railing against the way it was, and is wielded. But whereas an arch, knowing  and bone dry humour permeates GBV and Pavement’s music, Black Metal, in almost all its forms, is deadly serious, and utterly un-self-aware. Whereas Sebadoh and GBV can (usually) be played on an acoustics guitar, not one bit of A Blaze in the Northern Sky could be taken out of context – the thing as you hear it on tape or record is its entirety. Taylor Swift’s 12 month arena tour, public dramas, and fashion statements are every bit as part of the artistic package as each album track, which is wholly antithetical to both mentioned lo-fi movements.
I gravitate towards music and other types of art with this sort of approach (Peter Jackson’s early film making also springs to mind). Even though it often doesn’t move me emotionally, I feel heartened by the off-kilter stance and systematic belligerence. Polished and perfect is not something I’m really capable of, but still I spent many years striving for it, and berating myself for rarely achieving it. These days I welcome the dirt and pollution provided by a chaotic mind and environment, and beautiful entropy that springs only from poor mastery of my tools, pathological disorganisation, low impulse control and lack of ability to follow through. This bleeds through in every endevour I partake in, and now I’ve learned to appreciate this, I think it gives me a creative edge that other are incapable of, or are too fearful to try.
Most of the 90’s US alt mob found their way into professional recording studios eventually, somewhat negating their previous efforts. We can forgive them, since otherwise many talented musicians and songwriters would have been denied the limelight they deserved, and many listeners ignorant to the wonder of their music. Making something polished is also good if you find doing so essential, but don’t deny yourself the indulgence of spewing forth something unfinished, grubby and half-baked from time to time, or even all the time.

Pay to Win

I find myself increasingly concerned for the plight of the younger generations. The older generations, who supposedly should be benefactors, mentors, and protectors of their kids’ and grandkids’ futures are repeatedly selling out their futures in favour of short term self interest, base prejudice and ego. While they frown on the kids as video games supposedly rot their brains, those same kids rebuild the foundations of the future underneath the old guard, to the extent that (as Zuckerberg’s recent appearance in front of congress, and the world, demonstrates) they cannot, even vaguely, comprehend what is happening, so their natural instinct is to brutalise, obstruct, litigate, smear and propaganda-ise it out of existence. Recent history has shown that this will not work yet, in the meantime, the younger generations bear the financial and social brunt of their elder’s continued, and increasingly feverish and seedy hubris and ignorance.

Pay to Win by Alex Loveless - Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas 50cm x 50cm.

Pay to Win by Alex Loveless – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas 50cm x 50cm.

Samphire

This is what I saw sitting at the dining table in a holiday cottage in Devon on a recent trip. It suggests that I can see through walls, which I cannot, but my human brain is clever enough to infer what might be there.

Samphire by Alex Loveless (2018) - acrylic on A3 watercolour paper

Samphire by Alex Loveless (2018) – acrylic on A3 watercolour paper

I do not like this

Here’s a painting I made that I do not like. It is, of course, of me, but I only ever meant to use myself as a model. I tried to make it not look like me, but I failed repeatedly and gave up. Perhaps there’s something to be read into that. Pretty much as soon as the figure took shape on the canvas I realised I hated it. I soldiered on with anyway, in the hopes that I could coerce something more interesting, which has worked in the past, but ultimately failed at that too. In the end, I had some paint to use up which I just started chucking on in an attempt to debase the painting, a bit like Johnny Greenwood di with the crunchy guitar bits at the beginning of the chorus of Radiohead’s Creep. They hate that song and similarly I hate this picture. The difference is, this picture is unlikely to make me rich, or result in it’s name being screamed repeatedly from amongst festival crowds. I place it here in the spirit of not trying too hard to make sure everything is perfect and also in the spirit of celebrating failure. I didn’t even bother to take a decent photo of it. I am already my own worst critic, but feel free also to join be in berating this awful painting (presented as an object, not a work of art).

I Do Not Like This by Alex Loveless (2018) - Acrylic on canvas - 18" x 24"

I Do Not Like This by Alex Loveless (2018) – Acrylic on canvas – 18″ x 24″

David

This one kinda hacked and cajoled itself out of my brain. The collage base took by far the longest time. It is, without doubt, the most personal piece I have ever produced. Cathartic and therapeutic. It’s highly textured and features a variety of mediums, including Tetley tea! The colours mostly come courtesy of the fluorescent acrylics in Sennelier’s Abstract range. It does, of course, depict Karloff’s iconic Frankenstein’s creation, an analogy I sometimes gravitate to when in reflective mood.

David by Alex Loveless - Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas - 60cm x 90cm

David by Alex Loveless – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – 60cm x 90cm

I don’t write good?

I don’t. To do so would require the summation of a degree of attention to detail and figurative sense that I lack. I’m as bad at grammar as I am at subtle, emotive symbolism. I’m not saying i don’t recognise the existence of these things, and attempt to diligently apply them, I just lack the neurological structure to do this well and consistently. This fact used to irk me. I always saw it as weakness, or perhaps the result of incipient laziness. The result of this is that I write less than I could/should like to. Actually, I write more than ever sees the light of day, because I lack the willpower to overcome my neurological shortcomings to actually finish most of what I write and polish it to the level that I perceive as appropriate. This is a terrible shame. Whatever or not that things that I write are interesting, useful or entertaining to anyone is not really the point. Writing and sharing is a valuable way for me to manage my condition and I should not eschew any therapeutic outlet. Since the 1-standard-deviation-from-the-mean British education system squashed any likelihood that I would consider myself a decent writer since I messed up punctuation and grammar a lot (since I was more interested in writing interesting stuff that making sure I capitalised in the right place), for a large part of my life I did not consider that I could write at all. I turned to making pictures and writing code instead. Via my children, I can see that the education system hasn’t much changed. Luckily I can coach my kids to help them navigate the regression to mediocrity attitudes of the system. Essentially “play their game to the extent to which you are able, and don’t let them get you down, for the future offers a multitude of opportunities to prove them wrong”. It’s like learning to drive, you don’t really start doing it until they stop trying to teach you.

Anyway, my point is, I’ve decided to stop caring so much about getting stuff right in favour of getting stuff out there.  I think this is an important therapeutic step for me and one that has been a long time coming. It should help unshackle me a little to grow and evolve in both the creative and stylistic sense. As such, from here on, I will do only the amount of copy editing that I can muster the energy and time for at any point in time, then publish and be damned. This will lead to errors and ugliness, but also the beauty that blooms through chaos, failures, random mutations, etc. – the very process that fuels both creation and creativity.

The fact that I also lumped in something regarding figurative sense at the beginning of this then largely forgot about it has not gone unnoticed. I’m not going to fix that. I’d rather write this line, something new, than do that. Does that make you uncomfortable?

Aardvark.

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Self Portrait – Light and Dark

This self portrait was submitted to and rejected by Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. I’m sort of glad it didn’t make the cut, as being subjected to an intense four hours of painting surrounded by onlookers and TV cameras would, I think, be a little much for my already hyperactive brain. I accompanied the image with a short (and not very erudite) commentary which I’ve included below.

Self Portrait – Light and Dark by Alex Loveless (2018)
Acrylic on Canvas

I’d recently got back into making pictures on the advice from my therapist as a great way to help keep my hectic, wondering ADHD brain in check. The 2017 season is the first Portrait Artist of the Year I’ve watched, and forced my family to watch, and my wife ‘dared’ me to make a submission. Since my last self-portrait was painted 20 years ago I had to create one especially. I actually painted two, of which this I felt was the better and the most illustrative of my style and of me as a person. Anyone who knows me knows I come in two flavours 1) dark, brooding, moody, with a love of the macabre, angry music, and all things dark and sinister and 2) passionate, enthusiastic, animated, gregarious, outgoing and optimistic. Some times you get one or the other, some times you get both at once, which is a little scary. With this portrait, which is referenced from a selfie taken on my phone, I wanted to illustrate the dark and the light that characterises me. In addition to this I love painting contract in light and colour and I really enjoyed making this.