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).
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.
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?
ef56%7 sthis is nmuerg
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.
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.
The kids look down at their iPads. The loose style of this painting only emerges as I created it.
A painting of my children from a impromptu photo taken by my wife. I particularly enjoyed doing the turquoise reflection on the skin of Joseph’s jaw.
I’ve always felt compelled to create things. The idea of creating and presenting a thing, physical or virtual, always felt like some sort of magic – the evocation of something from nothing, the act of transmogrifying and combining one or more things to instantiate something else. I’ve never been particularly picky about my materials, or the mode of delivery. For me, the creation of computer code, utilitarian as it may seem, is every bit an act of creation as conjuring a figure from a block of stone. Code can be elegant, beautiful, surprising, refined, chaotic, expressive, some would even say sensual – all the things that art can (and probably should to varying degrees) be. It is an act of creation and expression, and one person’s code has an individual style and signature as distinct and diverse as Van Gogh and Claude Lorraine. I don’t want to wax lyrical about writing code though. As someone who uses programming as a way to achieve goals – to solve problems, reduce labour, create insight – I sometimes take pride in the character and delivery of my Pythonic creations, but it is the end, not the means that define my work. As an analyst, the end product is something distinct and remote from the the lines of characters that represent the instructions to the computer that created it. The art is in the deft application of technique and conjuring of value (by way of insight, or maybe automation) that the entire process embodies. This is (somewhat) distinct from, say, someone who produces computer games or applications, where the delivery mechanism is much more intrinsically interwoven within embodiment of the final creation. Good code leads directly to good, and continued, experience. A well crafted game is a conversation between the developer and its customers and often embodies an intimate relationship. Like a painting, the art comes from the shared experience, the invisible (and sometimes very visible) link between producer and consumer. But more so, the act of analysis is more akin to that of archeology than the act of creation. The uncovering of form and meaning in the rubble, soil and silt of data. It is about finding something that is there, so that it may be inspected and appraised. In that sense, it does not in itself fulfill my desire to create, even if I do frequently find it very satisfying and rewarding and requiring of my creativity. For this reason, I have various other creative outlets. Writing is one of them. Another is making pictures. I want to talk about this for a bit.
Coming from a largely non-artistic family, art presented itself to me, rather than being something that I actively pursued. Once I discovered the possibility of using marks and media to make real the bingo tumbler of wacky and unsolicited ideas in my head, the balls just kept pinging out onto paper and later canvas and pretty much any other surface that made itself available to me (a large mural of Judge Dredd adorned my childhood bedroom door). The urge to create was less an ambition of expression, than the crude vomit of a confused and chaotic soul. My early influences spoke largely to my adolescent urges and fantastical daydreams and such the athletic, nearly-nude femmes which tangled with mythical beasts hungrily consumed from voluminous outputs of Boris Vallejo and his contemporaries smeared their salacious and heroic mark on my earlier works. The desire to make pictures of things that looked real was manifest. My desire was not to create high art, but make fantasy real. The contextual backdrop that would later be encroached upon by Mondrian or Picasso or the Tate Modern simply did not exist in my stylistic or visual lexicon. I was aware of them, much as dog lovers are aware of cats, but they held little or no contextual, cultural or emotional meaning to me. The Guernica may as well be a teapot in my kitchen (I don’t drink tea) for all the impact it had on me. Perhaps you’re expecting me to comment on how, once exposed to these deified works of artistic wonderment, I learned understand and appreciate their meaning, their beauty, their inherent glory, their genius. This, however, would be an affectation. Picasso does nothing for me. Or almost nothing. Mostly his works make me feel a little irritable, and occasionally I think they are funny. Picasso started out producing works in the more traditional sense, concerning themselves with realism and topography. There is a clear progression to abstraction through his lifetime. He deserves his standing as a pioneer and an innovator. I have no desire proclaim otherwise and little theoretical, professional or academical grounding to facilitate this. His work simply has nothing to do with me, or at least only in a remote, diluted sense. His influence (and that of countless other artist throughout the ages) is, mostly, and at best, tertiary. Their innovations said little to me emotionally or intellectually, but they did open up my consciousness to a world of possibilities outside of the confines of zombies, space ships and scantily clad maidens.
You see, art isn’t created and isn’t presented in a vacuum. More importantly, it isn’t consumed in a vacuum. Another form of high art that usually leaves me cold is classic music (jazz too). I can as a musician (I’m a mediocre guitarist) appreciate some of the the mastery. Having read something of the theory and technique of J.S Bach’s canons and symphonies and fugues, I can comprehend the intellectual and creative wizardry involved. I have even taken time to appreciate some of the more effusive biographical moments some the the historical backdrop – this context, I am lead to believe, will lead me to a greater appreciation of the beauty and magnificence of his work. It’s all totally amazing. What a proper dude the guy was! It is all ejaculatarily cool. What do I hear now, when I listen to Bach’s The Musical Offering, you know, the one with the brain-bending six-voice fugue (it is pretty impressive), the one that is reputedly “the most significant piano composition in history”, the one that he wrote for an actual king and total groupie (Frederick THE GREAT) which he left bits out as riddles so Freddy could fill them in a bit like the Sunday Times cryptic cross word, the one invoked by quasi-loony Douglas Hofstadter as one of the center pieces of his seminal treatise on ARTIFICAL BLOODY INTELLIGENCE, “Godel, Escher, Bach”, you know, that one? What do I feel? Bored. I get much more out of the knowledge I have about the remarkable piece than I do actually listening to it. I feel no shame in this matter. It is just a fact. Really, much like country and western music, Bach’s voluminous output all sounds the same to me. Not that I believe it to be so, but apparently lacking the emotional machinery to comprehend all of that complexity, it just comes out as the audible equivalent of the brown murk you get when you mix too many colours of paint together. So who is it that does like this stuff? Well, Bach may be musically omnipotent, but his most widely recognised works merely provide a backdrop for other stuff to most people (Air on a G String was used to sell consumer quality cigars back when it was still ok to advertise lung poison) and he’s hardly bothering Little Mix at the top of the Spotify rankings. No, most people, just like me, don’t appreciate Bach and Charles Mingus and Garth Brooks, they merely passively consume them when forced to do so. Why is this? Because they lack cultural and contextual backdrop to make this a likely reality. Art, of whatever form, is consumed not in exclusion, but in the midst of, and almost always because of the contextual, emotional, cultural and societal backdrop in which it is consumed. You simply cannot appreciate what it was like to hear The Goldberg Variations when they were first presented to world in 1741 (in fact given that, from a purely probabilistic point of view, you would not likely have been born of the aristocracy you would have lacked the means and opportunity to experience it). You also (presumably) cannot know what is is like to experience these same musical utterances as the daughter of a socially mobile Asian classically trained pianist who desires for his most cherished to not only appreciate their majesty, but also to be able to play these to perfection before your 18th birthday. You can, however, remember hearing the “duh duh duh duh” bit of Beethoven’s 5th for the first time on some shit ITV sketch show in the 80’s accompanied by the smell of your dad’s farts and the subsequent loss of TV signal when your cat knocked the arial from its perch. However, earlier that very same day you and your mates (well, me and my mates) were huddled round a well worn copy of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave operatically hollering the 3rd chorus of Aces High into the unfeeling ether. That was my social context. It’s one that a Bach enthusiast would find every bit as incomprehensible as I their beloved harpsichord noodling. There is no comprehensible framework for comparative value judgment that I have ever encountered – such a thing is but the bastion of science fiction. Yet my passion for Maiden’s 80’s output will certainly rival that of any classical beard stroker. Back to the decorators of canvas? Picasso can basically sod off. Mondrian? Pictorial equivalent of elevator music (I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Bach played in elevators too). I have the intellectual capacity to understand why I am supposed to value these works so highly, I just lack the emotional framework. Movie posters from the 1950’s and 60’s fill me with joy. The original poster for Forbidden Planet may be in my top 5 pictures of any sort, of all time. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud can sometimes elicit a positive response, but I can get lost in Derek Rigg’s illustration on the (front and back) cover of Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time and Ed Repka’s tasteless and unsubtle works from 90’s death metal sleeves are a kind of magic to me, to this day. Can these joyous works be considered art? And regardless of this, do I want to produce items like these? The answer to these questions are very simple: you’d have to ask the creators and no.
Repetition is the death of art. This is the relief to my core philosophy of art and what it is and for. Art, for me at least, is the evocation of something new, from pre-existing states of affairs, which are presented for consumption and appraisal as ends in their own right. A teacup, no matter how beautiful a design, is not art. It is a nice object. A crude kind of art can be created by presenting that teacup, unchanged, as art. Art is an act of selection and contextualisation. In that sense, the single biggest defining attribute of the concept of ‘art’ is mediation. A painting is just an object until presented for appraisal. A painting can be presented as an object, and not be considered art. The whole Magritte “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is a dry comment on this very fact. No doubt someone has presented a beuatifal painting to the world with a placard saying “this is not art” (I really can’t be bothered to find out). In such a scenario, it’s reasonable to say that the item itself in NOT ART, but the act is. Just like taking a photo. Anti-art is art, just go ask Marcelle Duchamp, but it is art that is utterly dependant on it’s cultural and physical environment. A disused urinal in a disused lot is not art. However, EVERYTHING presented as art is art – and everything presented as art must be considered within a subjective framework and classified as good or bad, worthy or unworthy. Upon which criteria its quality and worthiness are based is up to the consumer, and is frequently heavily influenced by their social and cultural context and that of their background and that of all their peers and contemporaries. The identity, biography, repute and ability of the creator and his/her subjects are window-dressing to the main act of cultural context. Art is a qualitative invocation of the cultural contexts from which it is brought forth. It is a nodule or blemish on the ever growing and changing skin of cultural history. Art is evanescent, capricious, condescending and crapulent. It is also psychic sugar, the phantasmagoria of the collective conscious and unconscious made visible through the utterances of deranged mediums known as artists. The dominance of context upon the very being of art means that it cannot stand still, since the march of societal and cultural progress, in whatever direction, means that standing still is the same as moving backwards. Continually banging out the same old shit, will go down well with a hard core of devotees (AC/DC made a very long career from doing this) but will age poorly in capricious, meandering reality. The cutting edge of contemporary art (by which I mean, cutting edge at the point of its creation) is so shocking precisely because its creator has brought forth something so new that it is in fact totally alien within the the current social context (cue Arthur C. Clarke quote). Every subsequent homage or blatant rip-off hastens the original towards mundanity and it’s creator towards banality. Thus the creator must muster the superhuman power to further push boundaries (and thus render his previous successes puerile and/or irrelevant) or languish in increasing a kind of static creative senility. Thus there must be restless movement at the vanguard of the arts. To fail to do so would colour all art an incipient, temporal beige, like Polaroid pictures that survived from the 70’s. So I repeat myself: Repetition is the death of art.
This brings me back to me, as it always does and should. I have recently rekindled my love for making pictures of stuff, after a break of over a decade. Why I did this you’ll have to ask my ADHD brain. The point is, since I have a desire to make pictures of stuff, I must choose what I want to make pictures of, and to do that, I must have some sense of why I’m doing it. If my intention is to make ‘art’ I must be cognizant of my social context and settle myself that it’s unlikely that I’ll incarnating colour-swatches-at-scale Rothko-style. But still I look to the wider art and illustration community for answers to the what and why questions. But actual the inverse is the case. You see, the core anxiety I have about making pictures is the infinite number of possibilities available for what to represent, how to represent it, what materials to use, the dimensions and other particulars, how and when to present it and to whom, and any number of other considerations which require attention as part of the act of creation. Whatever it has, it has to be new and other new, destinct things must follow, or else violate the whole ‘death of art’ mandate. If an artist only painted a single picture, reproduced from the same photographic image, his entire career, hundreds of times, the combinations and permutations still inherent in this sequence of acts – subtle differences caused by the environment, the effect of the passage of time and rolling window of context, the effects of age on the artist – are mind boggling in their interbreeding promiscuity. The very concept of attempting to bring something new into the world, however unoriginal or repetitive, given all the possibilities is daunting to the point where I am often completely frozen. There is also the question of a creation’s ‘artistic’ merits with regards to the aforementioned considerations, a thorny and contentious and ultimately confusing subject which only the thinnest of surface sheen I’ve managed to allude to. It’s a brain-mangler when I think about it, which suggests I shouldn’t.
The simple answer is to not create at all, an option that doesn’t feel very real to me for reasons that are probably too voluminous and diffuse to tackle at this point. We’re leave that for another rainy Tuesday. Another option is to, as suggested above, do the same thing, or very similar thing over and over. This act in itself is an artistic statement of sorts in itself, at least if presented as such, and one whose meaning and significance would change over time and whose lasting appeal (if any) would be deeply indebted to the that of the artist. What’s interesting about this point of view, is that it, in some senses, is exactly what typifies accepted and celebrated art. Any producer of art (be it writing novels, taking photos, sculpting, creating wonderful food) has to manifest a profound level of consistency to be taken seriously at all. Any artist whose output from one work to the next bore zero commonality with any previous works of the same artist could barely be comprehended by even the most patient of appraisers. Indeed, quite a degree of consistency, some would argue much too high a degree, is required to garner any attention at all, let alone be taken seriously. As someone with an ADHD brain, this very idea, a reality in all meaningful senses, is an infuriating straight jacket of the spirit and soul. The expectation appears to be that once I have overcome the Herculean act of choosing a subject, form and means for my expression, I pretty much have to stick to that framework, or subtle variations and adjacent progressions for ever. OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but major creative U-Turns are usually reserved for the more established progenitors in any artistic genre, and even then are often seen as folly or ‘sell out’. That is an odd kind of hell. It also runs contrary to my own interpretation of the act of artistic as detailed above. To a pathological degree, I derive little value from repeated experiences, and in many cases unavoidable or imposed repetition is psychologically painful and can lead to acute and extreme degradation of my mental and physical health. This is not a metaphor, this is my reality. It is not an affectation, it is, at its most serrated edge, a profound and chronic sickness. It is also an incredible gift, since it allows, or rather facilitates the broad range of my knowledge and experiences and my ability to ramblingly muse thusly. It’s a bit of a gourdian knot (or some such metaphor). The act of creating pictures of things is joyful and theraputic to me. One of the few truly mindful activities I partake in. But realm of the artistic consumer and, worse, the artistic appraiser, and even worse, the artistic community as a whole, terrifies me. When I make things, I’d like them to be seen so that transcend objecthood into some sort of art, however, the idea of actually doing this is daunting. The whole thing is big and confusing and frustrating. Yet still I make things. I’m going to post some here. I’m not sure that that context says about my works. I’m not clear on the what the context of this blog says about, in terms of how (if) people find it and what they think of me as a result. In that sense it’s a piece of interagive art in itself. Let’s make that official shall we?
The blog is art. It’s also an oak tree. And the image tattooed on the inside of your eyelids. Reading this final sentence will propel you into dimensional vortex where only penguins inhabit. Wish you were here?
There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin
And I’m sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin
Where I End and You Begin – Radiohead
The ADHD brain goes where it pleases. I have very little control of the meanderings of my stable-state brain and as a result my actions can sometimes surprise even me. I always assumed that this was just ‘me’, after all what are we other than how we behave? Then I was diagnosed with ADHD and all that got called into question. When you get diagnosed with something like ADHD a tonne of questions come flooding in like ants into a picnic basket and crawl around the crevices of your consciousness demanding to be swatted lest they eat the ham sandwich of your inner-self. If ADHD suppresses my impulse control, what does that say about my free will? What the hell even is free will (I may tackle this at another point)? Which of my personality attributes are ‘me’ and which are symptoms of my chronic neurological disorder? What does ‘me’ even mean (another one for the backburner)? Do I get to feel less shame about stupid stuff that I’ve done? Can I still take credit for the awesome stuff that I’ve done when some of them were obviously the result of ADHD? What the hell is going on?!
There are some weighty questions there, and ones that concern every human being (if only notionally for many people) and one presumes other sentient beings. These Questions are too weighty to cover in anything less than a car weighted treatise, so I’ll try and tackle a slightly leaner question – where do I end and consequently where does ADHD begin?
The thing is, ADHD affords me a few superpowers – a very broad knowledge base created by my ever wondering attention, the ability to make obscure connections, outspokenness (even when not necessarily welcome), a rabid, insatiable appetite to learn, boundless energy, and many others. There are, of course, flipsides to all these which are far from ‘super’ and various other residual difficulties that I won’t burden you with – I could take either case to make my point, but let’s stay positive eh? My superpowers have lead me to do lots of interesting and wonderful things, but some of these are clearly a direct result of classic ADHD behaviours. So if you discount all of that what is left that I can feel proud of? What exactly is left of me? If you could treat all the ADHD away what would I be left with?
It’s a theme I’ve tackled alone, and with others, on many occasions since I had my diagnosis. It’s not often that you get told that the features by which many that know me (including myself), those that friends and family would most strongly associate with Alex-ness, are symptoms of a neurological misconfiguration. It’s also an (unfounded) worry when you first start to take medication – will I suddenly stop being me and metamorphose into some dull automaton? I don’t think I’ve quite got to the bottom of it, indeed I don’t think you can without tackling the “what is ‘me’?” question, but I think I’m in a reasonably sure state of mind on it. It goes a little something like this.
There are all kinds of brains, and every degree of paisley patterned, technicoloured gradiation between them, but various notable edge cases emerge within the spectrum of broadly normal brain (by which I mean excluding brain damage and profound brain disability etc.). Some of these are ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia and Bi-polar to name a few. Broadly speaking, people with these conditions (at least, the lucky ones that aren’t at the extreme edges) can cope reasonably well in society and rarely get singled out as in any way different. You could describe the difference between the ADHD/Neurotypical/ASD/Dyslexic brain as like the differences between computer operating systems like Windows vs Mac vs Linux – they all do roughly the same thing but have different strengths e.g. Windows is better for productivity, Mac is creative and Linux is for going deep. All the similarities are there though – windowed applications, mouse/trackpad control, random rebooting and missing files – but experiencing one tells you only a certain amount about experiencing any of the others. If you’ve only every used Windows, jumping on to a Mac will feel reasonably familiar for about 10 seconds, until the moment you try and do anything meaningful, at which point you will feel very much like you are losing your mind. The situation is worse with brains since you can only ever get to try out your own, or some version of it (you might try to hack the ‘OS’ with some drugs, or do an upgrade via a midlife crisis). From an objective perspective ADHD can only ever be observed and never experienced. The neurotypical brain is just as big an experiential enigma to me as my brain is to a neurotypical person, as is an autistic or dyslexic or colour blind brain to me and Madame Nuerotypical. Yet we find ourselves, as humans, philosophising and pontificating about the bat brain and what it must be like to ‘see’ in sound as if we’ve uncovered something profound. The experiential disparities between two identical twins must seem pretty profound if you’re one of those twins.
Then there’s the question of how I got this way in the first place. There is strong evidence that ADHD is hereditary (anyone who knew my dad could attest to this), but like all hereditary attributes, there is likely an environmental factor. So perhaps something happened to me at the age of 6 or 7 that took what was thus far destined to be normal brain and made it get all mixed-up. It’s plausible and there’s some evidence to back it up. But the possibility that my brain was normal at 6 and then went through some change, from a subjective viewpoint, is neither here nor there. The meds may stabilise my moment to moment experience, but my brain is still structured how it is, they’re not turning back the clock, just adjusting the time a little. No amount of drugs and conditioning and browbeating and guilt and shame is going to change that. If I did manage to change my brain (for better or worse) it is my current baseline that I start from, not that 6 year old brain. The person I could have become, if ADHD were purely environmental, never existed and never can exist. So why concern myself with him?
It’s further arguable that I didn’t get to any state. It’s unlikely that neolithic man had a specific label for people like me. In fact, this is a 20th century disorder and some would argue is only as widespread as it is, from a diagnostic perspective, because the hyper-connected, always-on 21st century world draws it out and exacerbates it. People with my wiring probably had a great time of it roaming the plains as part of a hunting party, only to be stifled by the advent of agricultural society with its relentless monotony and structure. That my brain struggles with the constant noise-dressed-up-as-signal that permeates every corner and crevice of contemporary existence says more about the external world which I inhabit, than my internal state and any perceived problem with it. But even before we all got plugged into the matrix, society was torturing the ADHD brain. Schools are a classic example of this. ADHD people thrive on participatory, practical, visual and direct methods of teaching. “Over there, that’s a gazelle, here’s a spear and a knife, watch this and follow!” The ideological obsession with teaching via structure, theory and rote learning is not particularly great for kids with normal wiring, but it is a special form of torture for the ADHD personality. These kids are climbing the walls because society base-lined on a teaching paradigm that is the antithesis of what ADHD kids need. To add insult to injury, lack of conformity, outspokenness, high levels of energy, and impulsiveness, all very ADHD behaviours, amount to nothing less than aberrant misbehaviour and are punished with an iron fist and worse, exclusion (let me give you a clue here, ADHD kids thrive on human interaction, so what exactly are you trying to achieve?). These behaviours are the bedrock of creativity and invention, and ADHD kids are frequently the provide the energy that is the antidote to the grey, monotonous reality of the modern classroom environment. These behaviours are actively (if often unknowingly) suppressed in the modern educational system. The system is stacked against people like me. I failed GCSE English twice. I would produce intricate works of creativity and maturity, and be cut down because of poor grammar, handwriting and spelling, things that are classic tripping-up points for ADHD kids (and which I still struggle with). Do I write like someone who is poor with the English language? (yes, there are probably typos and errors in this very piece, it comes with the territory, I assume that you can find it in your heart to forgive me?) For years I assumed I just couldn’t do ‘writing’. It took me years longer to realise the inverse was true. In that sense, it is not me but the system that has the problem.
And this is where things bottom out. I am not ADHD, in the same sense ADHD is not me. I do not define this condition and it does not define me. It is just a collection of attributes that a section of the population share to a highly consistent degree. These attributes can be highly beneficial in some situations, and profoundly detrimental in others. Unfortunately the situations in which it is detrimental are extremely common in the modern world. Behaviours attributable to ADHD can’t be compared to a bad mood as the result of a hangover. This disorder, for better or for worse, pervades every part of my internal and external persona. There is no “it and me”, there is just me. I have achieved the things that I have both despite, and because of my allegedly faulty wiring. Put another way, despite modern society’s tendency the frustrate and impede me, I still stand tall. I still manage. I still succeed. Despite the fact that for me it takes harder work and greater levels perseverance, and emotional energy than it does for most people. That I can be proud of. I have a superpower that most people don’t, it’s just hard to use sometimes. However, I am one of the lucky ones, most people with ADHD are considerably less fortunate.
Since I always assumed, in good faith, that I took various actions because I meant to, and still maintain the self-delusion of free-will, all the ADHD diagnosis does is give me is a framework for explanation – many behaviours that seemed out of the ordinary now make more sense. It wasn’t that I just wasn’t trying hard enough to fit in, or to succeed, or to pay attention or to follow through, but rather I am wired differently from most other people. This is me, all of it, for all the good, bad and bat-shit crazy.
So where do I and end and where does ADHD begin? The ADHD starts where I start and ends where I end. ADHD is dead, long live ADHD.