Creativity and Mental Health: ‘Art literally saved my life’

Rates of mental illness may be higher in creative types, but are we wrapping a ball and chain around the ankles of mentally ill people, willing them to drown in a vat of oil paints and acrylics, or is there a real link?

It’s no secret that highly creative people, writers, artists and comedians alike, tend to battle with self-destructive qualities – and there’s poetry in that alone.

However, what exactly is the link and can creativity tackle mental illness?

Dr Nancy Andreasen, prominent neuroscientist and psychiatrist with a PhD in English Literature, is one of the world’s leading experts on creativity.

Based at the University of Iwoa, her background in both the arts and the sciences has led to decades of research on the nature of creativity and its links with mental illness: “My work and that of many others has found that highly creative people have an increased rate of mental illness – particularly mood disorders.”

However, revering the symbol of the ‘tortured artist’ may create more depth of illness than it does profound works of art.

Dr Andreasen says that society’s misconception of creativity, that mental illness automatically promotes creativity, is dangerous and factually incorrect: “That implies a directional causative relationship – that mental illness leads to creativity.

“Mental illness affects 30-40% of the population. Less than 1% of the population are highly creative.

“I don’t see them as causing one another. Instead, I think there is a more basic property that is potentially the cause of both.

“It is the ability to see and understand the world in an original way. This makes creatives ‘different.’

“It sometimes predisposes mental illnesses such as depression, but not always.”

In the mid-1970s and 1980s, Dr Nancy Andreasen conducted the first ‘solidly empirical’ study of creativity and mental illness.

A sample group of 30 writers and 30 control subjects were evaluated in structured interviews where clinical diagnoses were made.

Results showed that 80% of the writers compared with 30% of a control group had some type of mood disorder, notably bipolar I and bipolar II.

Dr Andreasen adds, “While many writers suffer from a mood disorder, not all do.

“Some have alcoholism, while a few suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Prescribing creativity for severe mental illness is not the ultimate cure. However, as art is an abstract way of understanding the world, it makes sense that many of those suffering with mental illness – who want nothing more than to understand and to be understood – often need a creative outlet to achieve that level of communication.

For this very reason, treatments such as art therapy, music therapy and writing therapy are of recent interest to clinicians.

As head of British Academy funded project, Creative Writing Interventions for Young People in Recovery from Mental Illness, Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Lecturer of Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, is exploring how creative writing can assist young people recovering from mental illness.

By holding workshops with different mental health initiatives across the UK and conducting pilot studies, Dr Jess-Cooke hopes to better the use of creative writing in mental health therapy.

Already, she has noted some common problems with the clinical use of writing: “It has to be in a controlled environment.

“Getting people to sit down and write directly about something traumatic can be damaging.

“Creative writing is the better angle, rather than engaging in expressive writing and life writing, because it acts as a bit of a barrier.”

Although writers often use fiction to explain reality, they rarely write directly about a painful life experience. Therefore, Dr Jess-Cooke believes that writing is a strategy that should be employed creatively in mental health settings: “Poetry has been spoken of as an act of bearing witness.

“Creative writing can offer an opportunity to reconstruct and reprocess, and consider things from a different angle.

“It can be more empowering because it can have a different outcome. You can fictionalise.

“You can, if you do decide to write from your own past experiences, put it in a Sci-fi setting or have superheroes – you can do whatever you want.

“But there’s an obligation to the truth when you write directly about the past, it can be painful.”

Mental health is a vastly underfunded area of the public health sector, but at least in the public arena the mental health dialogue is experiencing a boom.

Many of today’s ‘tortured artists’ are taking it upon themselves to “do whatever they want” with this changing narrative.

Not only are they using creativity as a tool to tackle mental illness, they are creatively fighting the stigma as well – humanising the script with signature monologues.

“Jury’s out, but I don’t think anorexia is a great way to live,” laughs Dave Chawner, cutting off the sad piano arrangement and placing his sense of humour firmly before any eating disorder in his credentials.

 

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Award-winning comedian, Dave Chawner, feeds the laughter and starves the stigma with jokes about his anorexia for awareness with BEAT UK. Photograph: Dave Chawner

 

The award-winning, London-based comedian is using his anorexia as the punchline with which to beat the stigma until it’s dazed and confused, stupid and giggling all the way home.

Dave Chawner, now 28, began suffering with anorexia at the age of 17.

“Suffering. I really hate that word,” he playfully chimes. “It’s so pathetic. It sounds so weak and needy, and I just think that’s really shit.”

Like creative writing, comedy can also act as a buffer for the harsh realities of life.

“Taking something that you’ve been running from or you’re ashamed of or really upset about and changing it into something funny is a huge catharsis,” he says.

Backed by BEAT UK, Dave Chawner previously toured a comedically-driven eating disorders awareness campaign. ‘Normally Abnormal’ aimed to shed a surreal light on a very real issue by using comedy to both blur and clarify the lines: “Nobody says I don’t like to laugh. Nobody says I don’t like to have fun.

“I looked at that and thought, I could actually use comedy as a way to talk about this stuff, take it off the shelf, break it down, and make it engaging.

“Comedy has a wonderful way of reaching people because people are laughing and to be laughing they have to be listening and if they’re listening they can learn.

“I want to use that to help people that might be struggling, but also to get to a wider audience of people who are lucky enough to have no experience whatsoever.

“And, I personally don’t think that’s mental.”

The comedian cracks up a bit, “But, there are bits where I’m like, ‘Is that funny or is it just f*cking tragic?’”

Not entirely shy of tragedy, Dave wants to focus his next show on the “balls-to-the-walls” details of recovery: “Stories of mental illness finish with people going, ‘then I came out of therapy and it’s amazing’ and that’s not true.

“We pin these piffy narratives onto it.

“To say, I don’t have it all together and I’ve been searching for years for this, I’m hoping is the take home idea.”

It’s a good point. Not only is mental health often sensationalised it can also be detrimentally censored.

Although, 1 in 10 children aged between 5 and 16-years-old has a diagnosable mental illness, we often exclude young people from the mental health discussion – sheltering them from life-saving information.

Re-routing this stunted narrative is Livingston-based author and illustrator, Deborah Malcolm. Deborah, 29, decided four years ago to go against the grain and design a children’s picture book all about depression.

 

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Illustrator, Deborah Malcolm, designed an unlikely children’s book about depression in an attempt to encourage childe mental health and well-being. Photograph: Deborah Malcolm

 

Based on her own 10-year struggle, ‘Meh’ was published in 2015: “It is an unconventional story type and it’s not a popular story, but I felt it was important enough to try and challenge it.”

Mental illness in children is something most people don’t want to think about let alone talk about. ‘Meh’ aims to open such a discussion between child and adult by offering evocative imagery accompanied by reflective questions: “My hope is that the sooner you teach the fundamentals of mindfulness and the little things we use during treatment of mental illness, it will just become the norm and a part of life really.”

After various reiterations, Deborah decided to make the book wordless. She views this as a symbolic articulation of depression that children can uniquely interpret: “It’s so hard to put into words, because it’s just so blugh. That’s why the book’s called ‘Meh.’

“You know, ‘How do you feel?’

“It’s phonic, it’s just a noise, and it’s just ugh.

“I kind of thought, does it need words?”

Often there are no words to describe mental illness, and Dave puts it best when he says, “I think it’s very hard to understand this sort of thing when you’re in the eye of the storm. It’s kind of like standing an inch away from a painting and trying to describe the whole picture, it’s just not going to happen.”

And, painting that picture, inch by inch, using her body as the canvas, is London-based visual artist, Liz Atkin.

 

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Visual artist, Liz Atkin, transforms her compulsive skin-picking disorder into colourful body art, highlighting frequently picked areas and exploring them through a variety of mediums. Photograph: Liz Atkin

 

Liz demonstrates the relationship between artistic expression and mental illness better than anybody else.

She has spent the past 12 years turning her compulsive skin-picking disorder, dermatillomania, into art, and is best-known for her frantic, scribbled, sketches on the scattered newspapers of the London tube, which she distributes to fellow commuters for free.

‘Compulsive charcoal free drawings’ are Liz’s unique way of tackling skin-picking and spreading awareness: “It’s my tool to stop my picking and to keep me calm.

“But it’s also advocacy for mental health and just an act of kindness. It’s a nice thing to be able to lean across a carriage and say would you like this drawing?”

Liz respects her disorder which she’s had since 7-years-old. She’s learnt to use drawing as a natural sedative for the illness: “I feel like they’re both having a conversation.

“I listen for what that feeling in the body is – it’s this kind of itchy, scratchy energy – and, for me, drawing with charcoal is the perfect way to kind get that out.

“Charcoal is scratchy, it’s crumbly, it’s messy, so I can’t pick.”

Liz creates up to 60 drawings a day and over 10,000 in a year, which reflects the repetitive, hyper-focused nature of the disorder.

 

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‘Compulsive charcoal free drawings’ are Liz Atkin’s tool for slowing down her dermatillomania and raising awareness of this uderepresented illness.

 

 

Before discovering drawing, Liz studied a Masters in dance. Her first assignment was to view her body as an observer. This would change the way she looked at her body forever: “I recorded my movement and it was the first time I saw what my body does without me cognitively realising.”

Upon re-watching 3 hours of footage, Liz discovered it was “fractions of a second” before she was picking her skin. Suddenly, she saw her disorder as this autonomous force: “Nobody taught me how to do this, I just developed it.

“A bit like a ballet dancer moves their feet over and over, my fingers have done this thing over and over.”

Liz attributes her visual art to this experience – urged to explore her illness and her body through a variety of mediums.

It appears that until we learn how to channel it, creativity can be destructive before it’s constructive.

Perhaps creativity is a survival mechanism that has evolved to meet the emotional needs of humans.

For, is there much difference between the creativity involved in building a shelter to protect ourselves from external forces, and the creativity involved in painting a picture to protect ourselves from internal forces?

Dave offers a complementary thought: “People talk about the evolution of species, but we also have the evolution of problems.

“It’s not surprising that our coping mechanisms have become more esoteric and less tangible because our society has become less tangible.”

There is obviously a connection between the two, which is difficult to explore without implying that creativity is always accompanied by mental illness.

However, anecdotally, the creative expression of mental illness does appear to help.

Deborah gingerly admits: “I’ve had depression for so long now, I don’t remember not having it.

“When the book was finished and people said they understood it, that was good because – I guess secretly for me – people were telling me they understood how I felt.”

“Art literally saved my life,” Liz chokes.

And Dave soberly reminds us: “You know, everybody has sh*t in life. It could be anything and it can kind of make you feel abnormal, but the fact that everyone feels like that shows that everyone’s got an Achilles heel.

“I do think with a lot of mental illnesses, there are certain things that it gives you as well, and too much of that just comes at a price.

“So, don’t be ashamed of it. Just accept it, acknowledge it, and use it.”

 

Comedian feeds the laughter and starves the stigma with jokes about his anorexia

“Jury’s out, but I don’t think anorexia is a great way to live,” laughs Dave Chawner, placing his sense of humour firmly before any eating disorder in his credentials.

The award-winning, London based comedian is using his anorexia as the punchline with which to beat the stigma until it’s dazed and confused, stupid and giggling all the way home.

Backed by BEAT UK, the UK’s largest eating disorders charity, Dave Chawner previously toured a comedically-driven eating disorders awareness campaign. ‘Normally Abnormal’ aimed to raise awareness by lowering the tone, eloquently.
Dave Chawner, now 28, started suffering with anorexia at around the age of 17.

“Suffering. I really hate that word,” he playfully chimes, “It’s so pathetic. It sounds so weak and needy, and I just think that’s really shit.”

Dave began losing weight for a school play and found that people reacted to his sudden weight loss with compliments. He says his stressors were no different to that of the average teen – exams, coursework, UCAS deadlines – and that his eating disorder, he’s now sure, was really triggered by “an amalgam of things”.

He says, “The anorexia became a subliminal response to my situation.

“It kind of sounds a bit weird, but things started to become absolutely beautiful, and I really started to kind of flourish once I’d began to lose weight.

“It seemed to me subliminally that if I lost more weight things would continue to get better.”

Commonly, eating disorders are said to stem from an unmet need for control. When asked how he feels about this, Dave admits, “If I’m totally honest, people like my mum would say ‘oh it’s just a control thing,’ and so, you box it up and ship it off.

“I absolutely agree it is about control, but I think just a one word answer is a bit too pissy and simple and I think it’s terrible that we live in a society where this is what we want.

“For me, it was more of an addiction – if we’re going to go with one word answers. It was more of an obsession and it was more about focus when everything else felt a little bit out of focus.”

He goes on to strike a particularly grounded comparison between eating disorders and the average human experience: “I think there’s a very good paradigm between booze and food.

“I live in London and, Jesus Christ, my first job I remember one of the teams used to take the ‘newbies’ to the pub and they’d have to knock back either 4 pints or 6 shots.

“It’s just so institutionalised that it’s kind of hard to tell when a social drinker turns into an alcoholic, and I think it’s very hard to determine when somebody has a disordered eating and when that turns into an eating disorder.”

Statistically, around 10% of those receiving inpatient treatment for eating disorders are male, but that’s only a record of those who have been referred to mental health services.

Although, men who suffer from eating disorders often speak out about the poor availability of treatment specific to them, Dave has a different view: “When people are always asking me ‘what’s it like to be a man with an eating disorder?’ I’m always like, well I’ve never been a woman with an eating disorder, so…

“But, personally, I think I was taken a hell of a lot more seriously because I was a man.

“It was almost like a little kind of project. Like, we’ve got a man, they’re very rare, we’ve got to make him well and the service that I’ve had has been awesome, incredible and amazing.”

Dave is quick to add, “I’m just very lucky in the postcode lottery to live in London which has Maudsley, the best eating disorders unit in the world. They took me incredibly seriously.”

He is also well aware that the male experience very much transcends the boundaries of his own, “I’ve spoken to blokes who have had very different experiences. One guy who had incredibly, incredibly low BMI was told by a doctor that he couldn’t be anorexic because men don’t get anorexia, and this guy was minutes away from death.

“It’s not a ‘silly girl’s disease’. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder and as such we need to treat it with the rhetoric and the time it deserves.

“And, there are problems. In the NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) guidelines, one of the key signs of having anorexia is a thing called amenorrhea, which is the lack of periods. You stop menstruating… well, I’ve never had a period in my life, you know, but it’s like ‘Oh my God!’” Dave laughs, sounding surprised by the lack of menstrual blood in his womb, “So, that’s very gendered in the dialogue as well.”

Dave Chawner’s awareness campaign, not only aims to speak openly and honestly about the grim details, but also to shed a surreal light on a very real problem by using comedy to both blur and clarify the lines: “Nobody says I don’t like to laugh. Nobody ever says I don’t like to have some fun and have an amazing time.

“I looked at that and thought, you know what, I could actually use comedy as a way to talk about this stuff, take it off the shelf, break it down, and make it engaging.

“I think that comedy has a wonderful way of reaching people because people are laughing and in order to be laughing they have to be listening and if they’re listening they can learn.

“I want to kind of use that in order to help the people that might be struggling, but also to kind of get to a wider audience of people that are lucky enough to have no experience whatsoever.

“And, I personally don’t think it’s that mental.”

The comedian cracks up a bit, “But, there are bits where I’m like, is that funny or is it just fucking tragic?”

Dave says he began to consider himself unqualified to joke about eating disorders after his first comedy tour because he didn’t experience his anorexia as dramatically as those who began reaching out to him did. The “overwhelming” response quickly caused him to relapse.

“I started to hear all these stories about anorexia and it was incredible, but equally it was a double-edged sword.

“The problem was, the more grim stories I heard, the more I kind of felt like a bit of a fraud because I’d never entered therapy at that point. I’d never gotten down to a tiny BMI. I’d never fainted, and that caused me to relapse quite severely and quite consciously.

“I did it almost to actually prove to myself that I can be the best anorexic ever, and there was a sort of competitive element.

“But what I’ve now realised is that you can just as much drown in a puddle as you can in a lake. It’s not about the severity, it’s about the illness. I think there is this kind of false dialogue that we set up.

“That’s the biggest reason that I find media quite damaging. It is those extreme stories that get the column inches. They’re what are going to draw people in.

“The problem is, for every one extreme story there are hundreds of people who are subclinical that are certainly struggling just as much but don’t get the air time.”

Dave expands on his mixed feeling about the media coverage of eating disorders: “It’s really frustrating, but I don’t believe that the media created eating disorders, so I don’t think they should be blamed for them. That said, I do think they have a huge responsibility to report them sensitively.

“Journalists and journalism, especially in the print media, especially the news media, have such an agenda to get people on that page and shocking images are going to do that and they probably don’t realise that is quite harmful.

“It’s very fashion, it’s very vogue to talk about size 0 and, again, that is an unnecessarily gendered thing.

“I always try and detach the debate about seeing images of slim people from eating disorders because once those two debates get too closely tied, it implies that anorexia is about vanity.

“It implies that it’s about trying to be skinny, about trying to be good looking, and unfortunately it isn’t. If it were that simple that would be amazing, but it’s not.”

How we should approach someone who is struggling with an eating disorder is always something we’re apprehensive about. It’s difficult to know whether your concern might force you to say something unhelpful or damaging.

However, Dave assures that it’s better to say something than nothing at all: “My dad was the first person to turn around to me and say, ‘Look, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t get it. I’ve never had anorexia. I’ve never really met anyone with anorexia. I don’t understand it.’

“And, that was such a huge weight off for me because I don’t get it either, I don’t completely understand it.

“It was a huge catharsis for me. To be able to admit there are certain aspects to this where I know I’m being ridiculous, but I can’t stop.

“It’s okay to not understand. It’s okay to not know and it’s okay to worry about saying the wrong thing.

“As long as that is done in a comforting way, in a proper way, then I think a lot of people would actually respect that and like that a hell of a lot more.”

With regards to saying the wrong thing, Dave reaffirms, “I do realise there are things out there that people say that are not ideal and that can be triggering, but when you start mocking people for ignorance, people aren’t going to want to learn and I think the whole thing at the moment is about learning together.”

When asked if it’s possible there are positive aspects to his anorexia and his 4 years of campaigning, Dave lights up, “Oh shit loads of positives!”

“This is the thing, I try to shy away from being negative about it. I mean there are obviously a lot of negatives. I’m never going say ‘oh it’s great, do it!’” He buckles, “But, I do think with a lot of mental illnesses, there are certain things that it gives you as well, and too much of that just comes at a price.”

He elaborates: “Speaking about my experiences has been amazing in so many ways.

“First, I’ve been given the space and time and the opportunity to actually think about how my mind works and my body works in a way that nobody else would. I think that’s just absolutely beautiful.

“The second is just the encouragement, the things that people have said to me. I’ve never been trolled or anything like that.

“And, that kind of breathes into the third of this idea of it being a community as there really are people out there that do help you, who do lift you up.

“It’s really amazing how when you start being vulnerable with people, they start being vulnerable with you.

“It’s been genuinely beautiful and genuinely so multi-faceted that I don’t ever want to focus on all of the negatives that I think it has.”

With regards to confronting mental illness and pursuing recovery Dave says, “We’re talking in absolute generalisations, but the people I’ve met with restrictive ED specifically, very perfectionist, always want to be the best, so compassionate, so understanding, so caring of other people, and I think those are all amazing aspects, why would you not want that?

“You can channel all of those things into something positive.”

Then Dave adds, “And, I say mental health not mental illness.

“You know, everybody has shit in life. It could be anything and it can kind of make you feel abnormal, but the fact that everyone feels like that shows that everyone’s got an Achilles heel.

“So, don’t be ashamed of it. Just kind of accept it, acknowledge it, and use it.”

And, Dave Chawner leads by example. He’ll be back in Scotland for the Edinburgh fringe from August 3rd, with his brand-new comedy show ‘C’est la Vegan’ where he’ll explore society’s relationship with food and self-identity.

 

Make-Up With Yourself

I have a lot of flaws.

I cover them up; I bleach them; I wax them; I pluck them; I pop them; I curl them; I paint them; I deny them. I do in many ways conform.

I don’t wear a lot of make-up, something in me is probably trying to quietly rebel, but I do still feel naked without it.

I feel very exposed and open to judgement when I don’t cover up those risqué bags under my eyes or those eye-popping spots on my face.

It is a feeling that’s similar the worry that you’re top is too low-cut/ not low-cut enough or your skirt too short/ not short enough. Which is strange given they are coming from opposite ends of the spectrum.

I guess what these feelings have in common is that they are both concerned with perfection. It’s the same embarrassment that comes with not meeting a specific standard.

And, my natural disposition for introversion probably doesn’t help me out here, either.

I don’t know if it’s the amount of time that I spend in my own head, but oftentimes my body just feels like this ill-fitting morph suit. I’m entirely within but not fully with myself, if that makes sense.

It’s like I’m curled up inside, afraid to reach out and push my arms and legs into the sleeves of my own skin. I feel like I’m a waddling, misshapen bean bag, socially awkward, just trying to stand normally, sit normally, smile normally, be normally.

However, I actually credit this discomfort for guiding me as a person.

It’s strange, but from a very young age I’ve always known this to be true: my body and what I do with it, what’s done to it, how it changes and how it will never change can never touch who I am as a person.

I try very hard to stop feelings of physical disappointment from transpiring into true self-loathing. I think that’s when you’re truly lost to the world.

That’s not to say I’ve never failed. I’m obviously human. But, I have risen from the ashes of self-destruction more than once.

A mild example: when I was a little girl, I had a bout of what I now know was trichotillomania.

I was gifted with a highly over-active imagination but, just to keep my ego in-check, I was equally cursed with a lot of irrationally driven anxiety as a child – and, admittedly as an adult. This resulted in me physically pulling my hair out and, in my case, this was from around my eyes and from my eyebrows to the point they were entirely bald.

I remember crying before a party at school because I couldn’t wear mascara like all the other girls were starting to.

I now have very short, very straight and very frail eyelashes which still grow in a bit patchy. It’s really not a huge deal, but I do feel very self-conscious if I haven’t curled them. Less feminine. More childlike.

That was a very exposing experience, particularly as I was so young – I think I was around eight years old.

Something from within me was being impulsively expressed to the world. It was the truest form of self-expression; it was something I couldn’t entirely control nor predict.

However, I’m certain that this strong link between my internal world and the external one helped me better understand what reality is. It’s a construct.

I was creating something physical out of a feeling. But who I was didn’t exist in the many missing eyelashes, I was in every pluck with which the hairs were pulled.

This was a compulsive behaviour, and compulsions are things that have to feel ‘just right’, perfect even, in order for them to cease.

The irony was that I was pulling my eyelashes out with some bizarre, indescribable, need to feel like I was doing it just right. For some reason my brain was finding perfection in self-destruction.

This link somehow taught me how to disconnect the physical realm from the internal one. I figured out that the world is just this web that catches pretty ideas like butterflies and bees, flower petals and grass, rain drops and sunlight, but it also tangles itself in flies, rubbish and dirt.

It’s like a strip of Velcro and we all just stick our thoughts to it, puzzle them together, create opposing pictures and gather in cults of preconceived ideas. Reality and the world we live in comes from within.

I started scavenging for my pieces in the web and brought them back fairly broken and bruised from the net that had ensnared them. It was then I realised that within me exists my very own tiny reality, which I can create away from the mess that lies outside.

That’s not to say I don’t still share my ideas or listen to others, of course, I just do so very selectively now. There are a lot of bad ideas out there, a lot of cruel beliefs, a lot of nasty minds, and I’m not interested in letting any of them into my little universe.

I’m happy that I know of this special patch of soil within the depths of my gooey, mine-field of a brain where I can grow anything without sunlight or water, without physical reality.

I think knowing of that power enlightened me to how we are all far bigger than our humble bodies let on.

The depth of a person means more to me than anything I can physically see. And, I’ve never met a single person who I’d say felt like a puddle.

People can be shallow in the way they look at others and the world, but people themselves, as selfish as they may be, are a bundle of wires, tangled in a unique way, barely keeping all strange systems go.

We can all find someone to look at in envy. We’re all convinced no one has it worse than us. However, when we start talking that’s when we realise that not only are we equally broken, but that we are also built to fix one another.

My dysfunction is your solution; what I’ve learnt from my pain might save you the trouble and vice versa.

However, I do think it’d be wise to drop all these old ideologies and unjustified prejudices.

We’re all held to these strange, uncomfortable standards, which no one has ever actually explained to us. We just go with it, because anything different will always be bashed back into a stereotype, boxed, labelled and shelved, and the adjectives marked on the tag are never as kind as they are to the norm.

I do have to push the female agenda here, because these days not even an inch of the female anatomy is free from scrutiny; the vagina is the holey grail of shame.

No one actually has a justifiable explanation for why women should shave everywhere but their heads, hide their periods and their sanitary products, be sexually available but only to a strict number of partners, and pretend like female masturbation either isn’t a thing at all or only ever exists in porn to please a man’s eyes.

Also, I find the way the appearance of female genitalia is joked about to be incredibly immature. Seriously, you’d think we shit out of our vaginas the way some men (and women) describe a regular, healthy female reproductive organ.

But, in all seriousness, this is a sickness and it’s contagious. Not liking the way we look can lead to not liking the way others look, and such foreshadows becoming cruel and nasty towards others just as we are cruel and nasty towards ourselves.

Bottling up our feelings in bodies that we spend each day actively rejecting creates a horrifying juxtaposition.

We refuse to admit how broken we are, and we’ll just keep cutting and re-stitching our own self-inflicted wounds until they become infected and lethal. The pain from within, just like those thoughts we build the world around, creates its own reality and becomes too physical to bear.

How can you help yourself if you don’t like yourself? Rare is a sympathetic hug from the enemy.

Not only should we be kind enough to offer an ear to those who are suffering, we must also be brave enough to accept one in return. Not only does telling your story out loud help you, it may also save someone else.

And, that’s quite simply why I wrote this post.

Mind, body and soul positivity knows no gender, race, religion, sexuality, label. Let’s allow our tears to water a new world rooted in love and kindness, acceptance and empathy, and maybe a little bit of peace and quiet.

 

 

AURORA Loves Scotland

“I will be back and I will be lonely on your mountains!” said Norwegian singer-songwriter, Aurora, at her first Glasgow gig and trip to Scotland.

Newcomer, Aurora Aksnes, performed at The Art School on the cold night of October 3rd last year, and she said that the gig was, “The first show of many on this UK tour”.

Aurora said: “I’m super happy to be here. I find Glasgow so much more – sorry – interesting than the rest of this island.

“It’s very beautiful here. And, I love the way it feels so much more alive, doesn’t it? Because the roads go up and down and you have mountains – like in Norway!

“I was talking to a photographer here earlier today and he told me that the mountains here, I should try them out because they’re lonelier and you should go there to feel more solitude. In Norway, the mountains are very crowded by trees and bugs.”

She said: “This is the first show in quite a long time, well, first club show in quite a long time.

“And, it’s a very nice place to be in, and with very nice people. It’s so nice to sing for you. It’s nice the way you want to tell me that it’s fine, everything will be fine. And, I’m saying yes!

 “You’re all very good at knowing when to be quiet and when to be ‘loudy’.”

The opening songs included ‘Black Water Lilies’, ‘Winter Bird’, and ‘In Boxes’.

Aurora also performed a collection of songs from her debut album, ‘All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend’, and a few older singles like ‘Under Stars’ and ‘Nature Boy’.

She then revealed a new song from a new album that she’s currently working on.

Aurora said: “This is a song called Animal Soul and it’s not been released … but it will be one day!”

There’s no release date yet for a second album. However, in her facebook-live Q&A the day after the gig, she told fans: “There are 15 new songs … so far.”

Aurora first charted in the UK last year with her cover of Oasis’s ‘Half the World Away’ for the John Lewis Christmas advert.

Since then, she’s had a few American TV performances, most notably ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’. In the UK, she’s performed a cover of The Weeknds’ ‘In the Night’ on BBC Radio 2, and has hosted the ‘Bedtime Mix’ on BBC Radio 1 in a late-night interview with Phil Taggart

TWENTY ONE PILOTS, The MUTEMATH Sessions: Complementary Quirks

Ohio native, Twenty One Pilots, are achieving the impossible: becoming mainstream whilst still drawing inspiration from smaller pools of music.

These genre evasive, musical rugrats who kind of revel in the fact you might not like them are, for some reason, fitting in. But with a sound strange enough to overcome the noise of the general rush, they’ve remained distinctive. For a band who’s fans deem themselves a ‘clique’, it’s somewhat baffling how they’ve managed to climb the charts so fast.

Twenty One Pilots are like this transparent oil flowing effortlessly through the mug of the main channels. They refuse to mix and ignore much of the industry around them, resenting it almost, yet radio stations are still playing their songs. And, it’s purely about the music with them.

To highlight this, the band recently released what they’re calling ‘reimagined’ tracks and they did so for free. This was refreshing and what every Twenty One Pilots fan has been waiting for, I think.

Basically, the duo allowed supporting act MUTEMATH to remix 5 of their most popular songs. This live session, entitled ‘the MUTEMATH sessions’, was filmed and uploaded to the band’s YouTube channel. A session which, like most Twenty One Pilots’ video content – and that’s including most music videos – was directed by long time friend Real Bear Media.

It’s important to note that this is the first time Twenty One Pilots have ever collaborated with another band, aside from a short performance with ASAP Rocky at the VMAs in 2015. Never one for inauthenticity, Twenty One Pilots clearly have a lot of faith in their relationship with MUTEMATH. It takes a lot of trust to willingly hand over a piece of finished work and say, ‘Here, I trust you’ll do whatever you want with this and I’m positive I’ll love it.’

Embracing the concept that art is never truly finished, these reimagined tracks come together to form an album all on their own. And, it’s an orchestration of risks.

Credit goes to entirely to MUTEMATH for the music production and the band’s frontman, Paul Meany, who mixed and mastered everything. Alone, MUTEMATH sound dreamy where Twenty One Pilots prefer dark tones. Together, it’s like listening to two duelling dragons, except the dragons are more fond of one another than they are afraid. The two bands are merely challenging each other and both rise to the occasion with majesty. It’s a nice example of what happens when one quirk complements another, creating something totally unique.

Admittedly, as a long-time fan of the band, I did not like Heathens – or the poorly edited nightmare that was Suicide Squad. However, upon listening to MUTEMATH’s version, I honestly fell in love with the song that originally made me feel a little discouraged. And, I think this is exactly what Twenty One Pilots wanted to happen.

Heathens was clearly created within limits. You can hear the music almost choking on itself as it repeats, and repeats and repeats. It’s also stupidly overplayed at this point. By adding MUTEMATH’s Roy Mitchell-Cardenas on bass at the beginning and pressing and pulling more emotional peaks and troughs out of the backing track, the song fulfils the potential that it’s been dying to.

My personal theory is that, as lead signer Tyler Joseph hates the idea of putting out meaningless content, Heathens is actually about much more than Suicide Squad. I’m almost certain it’s the bands way of voicing their concerns for the current state of the world: the rising rates of terrorism, inequality, sexism, racism and xenophobia. The sadder and more reflective tone at the beginning of this version of Heathens only highlighted such to me.

Twenty One pilots played the Bataclan theatre just one night before the Paris attacks in November, 2015 that left 129 music lovers dead. This led to them cancelling the rest of their European tour, concerned for the safety of their fans, their crew and their families who were on the road with them. The event clearly shook them and when I first heard Heathens I was convinced that this was their response. They’re clever; they knew the song would be heard by millions across the world. I just can’t imagine them not using such an opportunity and the platform it provided their ideas.

But I digress. I felt that MUTEMATH’s remix of Heathens was finally the beautifully lucid version that I’d been listening hard for.

The second track was Heavydirtysoul. This was originally a poem written and performed by Tyler Joseph, which actually marks the conception of ‘Blurryface’.

 

Though MUTEMATH’s version doesn’t veer far from the original, it is a fantastic example of why Twenty One Pilots are a band that you need to see live in order to fully get it. Hearing Tyler Joseph’s vocals is one thing, but seeing him perform is another. Heavydirtysoul really showcases Tyler’s vocal versatility not to mention his poetic flare. From rapping to singing to screaming, the song from beginning to end is a myriad of sounds and emotions.

Ride has been a popular choice for radio stations over the summer due to it’s relevant faux reggae beats. Here however, MUTEMATH introduce newly synthesised tones that I can only describe as ‘bubbly’. The music fluctuates, rises and pops, falling only to inflates again. The song reminds me of gas escaping a cracked coke can and it is a song about release, so in a way that makes sense. This eases listeners into a calming ebb in the overall soundtrack, following the harsher sounds of Heathens and Heavydirtysoul.

The next ‘reimaging’ is quite possibly my favourite. Tear In My Heart activates dancing Tyler – a sight for all eyes. When speaking about the original song, Tyler explained that he had never felt the need to write a love song. He knew that any love song that he wrote before he met his wife would be futile and fleeting and so avoided investing any emotional energy in that area of music. However, upon happily marrying in 2015, he decided it was time to write Tear In My Heart for his wife Jenna Joseph. Lyrically it’s a strange song that depicts love as a double-edged knife, an decisive ambiguity, as well as the only concrete thing in Tyler’s life.

MUTEMATH’s rendition calls forth a trumpet playing Josh Dunn and jazzed up vibe. The dreamy vocal style of MUTEMATH rings like angels throughout the song and works incredibly well to bring a softer element to the original, somewhat aggressive, composition. It’s as if he’s so relieved to be so uncontrollably in love, but at the same time he’s a little bit mad about it because it’s supplied him with something he could never give himself.

As Tyler sings in Lane Boy ‘My creativity’s only free when I’m playing shows’ and I think that perfectly sums up this live session. If you love live music and you’ve never been to a Twenty One Pilots gig before, I highly recommend you do next time their in town. Just watching this recording made me wish I was in that room soaking up all the spontaneity in the air. It’s very evident the passion these two bands have for their art and it’s such an overwhelming experience to be in their presence and feel that intense drive to express and perform. Twenty One Pilots write songs that are meant to be performed; that’s their approach to music.

MUTEMATH are somewhat similar, but I can’t help but feel they got a little more caught up in the unpredictable nature of live music because they were performing songs which are already designed to evolve. I think that’s something Twenty One Pilots are particularly good at capturing in pre-recorded sound – multiple possibilities.

The drum battle between Twenty One pilots’ Josh Dunn and MUTEMATH’s Darren King is phenomenal and sets the pace for the finale where everyone is on an instrument and everything is racing towards an exhilarating climax. It’s amazing! This brings me back to the two duelling dragons analogy, suddenly both bands are embracing each other’s styles and the music is set alight.

When the credits start rolling a haunting piano interpretation of Heathens trickles between the names. Something about it reminds me of a Final Fantasy soundtrack, or at least some song in some otherworldly videogame. This is so beautiful that I wish it was part of this ‘album’, but unfortunately it only appears in the YouTube video.

The fact that this was called ‘the MUTEMATH sessions’ begs the questions, will there be future collaborations between the two bands? I wouldn’t rule it out. Twenty One Pilots are always trying new things with their music and I think the time for collaborations has come for them. Until a new album is finally released, I think this is enough for fans to live off for the next while, however, Twenty One Pilots have mentioned in recent interviews that they have been working on new music whilst on the road, so that’s always promising.

In the meantime, it’s a a good shout to check out MUTEMATH’s music. they’re been around since 2002, so there’s quite a few albums to get through, and I think if you’re a fan of how weird TOP are, you’ll love the psychedelic disposition of MUTHEMATH.

Mhairi McFadyen, THE WORLD RACE: Travelling and Aiding 11 Deprived Countries In 11 Short Months

Ayrshire born, 22-year-old, Mhairi McFadyen, is laying the brickwork that will sustain future generations.

“I’m a Community Builder. It’s so embarrassing because I get all the jokes, like, oh Bob the Builder! I wasn’t brought up in a generation who would be like, ‘right, I’m going to be a part of my community association’, do you know what I mean? It was hard enough to get folk to want to be on the pupil council.”

After walking in the rain to meet me and refusing to let me pay for my coffee, we sit down and Mhairi begins by explaining why she does what she does.

“When I left school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. There was that pressure that’s always there in school. You must make a decision about what you want to do – I guess I never really knew.

“But the church I’d been going to and volunteering at, had the opportunity of taking on apprentices in youth work. I actually never thought you could do that as a job – I just thought it was all volunteering – and I was like that’d be such a fun job!”

Mhairi took on an apprenticeship at the Bridge Church, Kilwinning. Gaining this apprenticeship inspired her to apply to university. She attended the University of Glasgow and recently graduated with a BA in Community Development.

University opened Mhairi’s eyes to bigger world issues: “We learnt a lot about global situations as well as local stuff, and how everything has a knock-on effect.”

Through her apprenticeship, Mhairi heard about an organisation in Swaziland, Africa called the Christian Family Church.

“I knew I enjoyed youth work, but I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. So, before second year at uni I went to Swaziland in Africa. Swaziland – for those who don’t know – is one of the worst affected places in the world for HIV AIDs.”

Before describing her time in Swaziland to me, Mhairi takes a moment to reflect, “It was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.”

In 2014, Mhairi and a friend took a 2-hour flight to Amsterdam, followed by an 11-hour flight to Africa. And, after an airport pick-up mishap, they finally embarked on a 7-hour drive to Swaziland.

“We didn’t even get to sleep or anything. We drove through the night, and it was just like one of those surreal moments … like, we are actually driving through Africa and then the sunset came up like the lion king or something.”

But before long, Mhairi admits: “It totally pushes you out of your comfort zone. Every person you meet is new. They don’t understand your accent and they didn’t get my name whatsoever. We had it really good, though. We were staying in a house, we had water that you could drink, we had food that we could eat – it was really nice.”

She stayed in a sugar cane plantation, which Swaziland is famous for, where the workers work day and night and get very little pay for it: “The amount they all work for is atrocious. I’m pretty sure they only make like $100 a month and they work every single day. When we were there we were seeing things like they were rioting because of the low pay and it gets quite vicious.”

Mhairi describes Swaziland to me as “a lot of little villages” that have “care points, which are like schools and they feed the children, as well.”

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On her first visit to one of these care points, the poverty she’d read about became a reality:

“That day completely changed my life. Like, I’d never witnessed extreme poverty at its worst. Like kids that literally have nothing. What they’re wearing, if they have any clothes, is what they have.

“We were walking through a mud-hut village and everywhere was so dusty. It was warm but it was their winter. We walked into the care-point and these kids just like burst out from the building and ran towards us.

“They ran over and they were hugging you and they were touching your skin and trying to play with your hair – because our hair’s different to theirs. They were grabbing your clothes and all they wanted was this affection because they don’t get that kind of affection at home. You know, they don’t have a home or they don’t have parents.”

Mhairi jokes, “I don’t really like kids,” which is funny. But, she confesses, “You do get quite emotional, as well. I had to put my sunglasses on, but they kept trying to take my sunglasses off.”

When I ask her if the communication was solely a sensory experience, Mhairi tells me, “The young, young kids can’t speak any English. They can copy you, though. I had videos where I’m like ‘hello’ and like waving and they’re all like ‘hello’ waving back. So, they basically just copy everything that you’re saying.

“They react more to a smile, or a wave. We were playing a game – I’ll never forget – and this one wee kid just came up and put his head on my side and it was obviously just his way of, like, comfort.”

Currently, Mhairi works as “a community builder during the day and then a youth worker at night.” She’s a Youth Worker for North Ayrshire council and a Community Builder in Castlepark.

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Mhairi tells me Community Builder’s “use what’s called an asset based approach, which is looking at the positives within communities and what people are capable of doing, not their circumstance.”

She points out: “Over there [Africa], there’s the same problems that we have here. There’s drug addictions, there’s alcohol addictions. We went into a village and they were drinking battery acid, which was like an alcohol. They’d put fruit juice in it and it would send them flying. They were just totally out of it. But it was their way of forgetting what was actually happening and just escaping a reality that they hated and knew would never change.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re born, where you’re brought up. We always face the same kind of issues and sometimes we react the same as someone else. And, it can be the same here, where someone’s reality is drinking constantly or taking drugs.”

Swaziland sparked in Mhairi an urgent need to help people globally.

“Once I left Swaziland I had a greater passion to do something. I think when you see poverty that extreme, you’re like I need to do something, even if it’s something really small.”

And, Mhairi has chosen to do something huge. This coming January, Mhairi will embark on an 11-month mission to 11 different deprived countries around the world to aid their most desperate communities. “This is the more extreme trip.”

She will be visiting Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

It’s important to her that people know that this is a mission’s trip: “It is Christian. We do minister people. We volunteer. We stay within the communities so they set up tents, we sleep in shacks. So, you are there and part of the community.”

After joking about her turning up with a T-shirt printed ‘Community Builder’, a hard hat, and handing out stickers that say ‘you’ve been community built’, Mhairi is serious again:

“I think emotionally it will be tough. Like, I don’t know how you’d actually protect yourself emotionally from all those kind of things. It’s fine to read about a child being forced into prostitution at age 11, but to see a child being forced into that at that age, I think would break any normal person.

“Obviously, different countries have different major issues, so with the African countries it is orphanages, schooling etcetera, and more about building. But, in terms of Cambodia and Thailand, India and Nepal, they are all human trafficking and sex trafficking, forced prostitution and stuff like that. So, I’m hoping to work with people who are forced into all these kind of things and seeing if we can actually help them and support them – to get them out of that.”

Whenever anyone points out how dangerous these countries are, Mhairi replies with, “Although they are dangerous, there are people within there that are lovely people and just need support”

Also, worried that some may misinterpret her intentions, she presses, “I don’t want this just to be seen as, ‘oh Mhairi’s going off and she’s doing 11 months and that’s great … but she’ll only help those people out there.’ I want to help people here and I want all those stories from out there and I want the process of fund raising and having meetings like this and chatting to people, I want it to impact people and have them be inspired to think about things.”

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For Mhairi it’s all about helping people, even in the most unexpected ways, such as inspiring others to dream big: “This is my dream and I want them to start thinking about what do they dream – it can happen. I’m 22. I’ve lived in Irvine my whole life. I’ve been brought up in a council estate and I’ve not come from a lot of money and I’ve had to work since I was 16. But it is possible. That’s something that I think every country and every community suffers from. There’s this lack of having hope. A lack of having a dream and an ambition because we’ve been trained into thinking this is it. You’ll always get the folk that’ll say, you’ll never do that, but they’re just the same. They’ve just been told that their whole life. If you show them that you can do that then that might change them as well. Everything has an impact.”

Mhairi has been fundraising all year for her trip. So far, she’s had a successful World Race launch night, suffered a bath of cold custard, climbed Goatfell, bared the Irvine Sea plunge, enjoyed a Zumba fundraiser and done a presentation to Irvine Rotary and St Mary’s women’s guild. Mhairi’s final fundraisers were in December: a Tesco bag pack and a Christmas Ball.

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Mhairi’s mission will cost a heart-stopping $16,617, but she’s not phased. “Loads of folk will go, ‘how on earth are you meant to reach that?’ But for me it’s like if it’s meant to happen it’ll happen and I’ll get there.”

Given that her job is so demanding, when asked how she unwinds and detaches from it all, she professes, “My mum and dad are always like ‘Mhairi, you always spend time in your room. You never come and sit with us.’ I’m like it’s because I’ve spoken to folk all day, all I want to do is chill out and relax. So, I’m like ‘mum, dad see when I get in the house, all I want is my dinner and my bed and then just lie in a dark room.’”

In terms of her return from the World race: “Everyone keeps asking me ‘so what’s your plans for when you come back?’ And, I’m not the biggest planner. I’m just like that freaks me out.”

Describing Community Development as something she just “fell into”, the plan is simple to Mhairi, “I love my job. I know folk say driving a nice car and having a nice house [are happiness]. I mean, that stuff is good, but I don’t think that brings a happiness. For me, working with communities and being around people and actually doing something worthwhile, actually brings more happiness to me than having all those really material things. I think they can make you comfortable, but whether they make you truly happy…they don’t.”

What Mhairi hopes to achieve from the World Race is pure, “Do you know what, if it impacts one person, then I’m happy.”

Try and top that New Year’s Resolution. All that’s left to say now is, good luck Mhairi and safe travels.

A Student’s Guide To Fighting Those Winter Blues

I’m all too familiar with the stress and anxiety that comes with being a student, particularly at this time of year. Having studied a science degree at a university that strongly advocates January exams, I’m well aware of how disgusting the new year can feel.

Therefore, I wanted to write something useful for the Christmas edition The Clyde Insider – our college newspaper. I decided to compile a guide that would encourage students to look after themselves during these long, dull winter months of studying. I interviewed a few health professionals on the matter and pulled together this short comfort read, if anything, for struggling students.

I’m big on openly discussing mental health, so this is probably just the first in a series of articles that I’ll write on the issue.

Either way, having been on the design team, I still have the pdf of my page. So naturally, I’m being cheeky and linking all my hard work below. Enjoy!

Your Guide To Fighting The Winter Blues

Aurora gig review – The Art School, Glasgow

“I will be back and I will be lonely on your mountains!” promises Norwegian singer-songwriter, Aurora, at her first ever Glasgow gig and trip to Scotland.

I’ve always thought of Aurora as otherworldly or, at least, ‘Half the World Away’. And, following her show at The Art School on Monday night, I’m almost certain that she’s an alien. I approve. Invade.

 

Bathed in purple light, the crowd waits for abduction. Aurora glides on stage in a white, doily inspired dress, doe-eyed and far from this world. Demanding a halo, the glow turns orange, surrounds her and shivers at her touch. Her presence cues a strange, sonic, binaural beat that booms. It shakes the room and renders our brains subconscious. The air oscillates, charged. Breathing feels electric. A rush of snare drums strips the room of atmosphere. The high tides of vibration subside. Suddenly we’re in a vacuum.

Notes of crystal race from her gut, collide with her lips and atomise. Free-floating and twinkling above our heads, the glitter reforms whichever way it wishes. Tones melt and solidify, merge and separate, clink and chime, until full-formed and sparkling in front of our eyes. When the light is right, images of her childhood home in Norway, deeply knotted in the lattice of glass, peer out, wide-eyed and curious.

Her voice tears a hole in the fabric of space-time, loosens the shackles of gravity, and pulls the universe taut – stillness.

I check but it’s gone. My breath is trapped inside a bell-jar, within a tall tower, upon a stormy mountain … or, at least, that’s where I imagine Aurora takes all those breaths away to.

For the most part, the crowd is silent. We sway like blades of grass beneath her feet – just there. Quietly, we watch her perform a collection of songs from her debut album, ‘All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend’, and a few older singles like ‘Under Stars’ and ‘Nature Boy’. We all know that to sing along would be to dilute her spell.

Everything changes when she pauses her set to talk to the crowd, though. Suddenly, everyone is vocal and interactive, laughing with her as her estranged sense of social norms rears its beautiful head. It’s here that Aurora points out, “you’re all very good at knowing when to be quiet and when to be ‘loudy’” … her English not entirely fluent yet.

At one point, she actually pauses the show to tie her shoelaces, undone by too much interpretive dance. This clip captures that moment and is a great example of her delightful nature. Her mispronunciation of lace as ‘lice’ gets everyone laughing, too.

Following this, Aurora gives us a preview of her new song, Animal Soul, which she says will be on her next album. It is beautiful. Just before getting into the song, though, Aurora comically forgets the lyrics but gracefully recovers. To protect her music, the clip ends before she starts singing, but there’s a sneak preview of the melody.

After what I can only describe as a two-hour meditation, and an ethereal encore of ‘Through The Eyes of A Child’, Aurora and her wonderful band leave the stage. Watching her take the time to collect gifts and artwork from fans as she exits, highlights to me just how fresh to the scene and innately humble she is. It’s refreshing.

I leave the venue feeling oddly zen, but incredibly warm. So, my friend and I wait in the cool autumn breeze to catch a quick breath of fresh air before heading hom. That’s when we notice a few fans congregating by a side-door. Listening, it sounds like hopes are high of, at least, catching a glimpse of Aurora. With nowhere else to be, we decide to join the group.

An hour and a half passes and the plummeting temperature is starting to feel a little less comforting. Her roadies have come and gone; her tour bus is packed; her band mates are leaving. Surely she’s still in there. If not, surely someone would kindly tell us to go home for some heat.

Just as our hopes are at their highest, the door that we’re eagerly huddling around slams shut.

Exchanging looks of exhaustion and laughing at our hypothermic situation, my friend and I think of leaving. I’m a little disappointed but in agreement that it’s getting late and we should go. However, we do decide to stay one more minute longer … just in case.

Now, I’m glad we did.

Maybe it’s the lack of zany purple lighting, or the fact she arrives unaccompanied by her orchestra of humming alien space-crafts, but neither of us notice a tiny, bundled-up Aurora Aksnes standing timidly under a lone streetlamp. In fact, someone else from the group of fans has to point her out. I look over my shoulder and, suddenly, there she is, just a few feet away. I can only assume that she came from an unknown side-side door, but most probably she was beamed in.

In disbelief, we walk over to meet her. She notices that I’m shaking with the cold and takes my hands to heat them up. I am so struck by her friendliness. She very carefully scribes her signature on our tickets, poses with us for a few pictures, and then sticks around for a five-minute chat. There is no rush whatsoever.

I always imagined meeting a celebrity would be nerve-wracking, but Aurora makes us feel like we’ve known her all our lives. She’s so down to Earth and happy to talk with us, but I notice there’s a strong preservation of that aura of oddness. She feels present yet distant, untouchable even though she’s holding my hands. I think she’s a little stuck in her own head and, as I can personally relate to that, I assume it’s happily so. I get the feeling she’s secretly very shy and more at peace with being alone, regardless of her fantastic repartee.

In a moment of awkward silence, as this group of strangers tries to think of something to say to this other, more important, stranger, Aurora decides to be frank.

“I have to tell you all something inappropriate. We have to shower in the … eh … the venues because we can’t on our tour bus. So, they were all telling me ‘Aurora, there are people outside waiting for you!’ and was like” – comically flailing her arms about, she actions pulling a jumper over her head and hoisting her skirt up – “and now, my hair is still wet … you know, I didn’t have time, and … I’m not wearing any underwear. I couldn’t find it!”

Her awkwardness and honesty is charming. We all laugh with her, dumbfounded by this incredible mix of innocence and peculiarity. It’s weird being made to feel like we’re her main priority and not the other way around. The fact she rushed out of a shower to meet us is not only a funny anecdote, but it makes us feel valued as fans. And, that’s something I think a lot of other fan-bases don’t have the luxury of.

As time is getting on and our hands are going numb, Aurora goes to take her leave – mostly for our frozen sakes. However, caught up in a conversation with one last eager fan, handing her a gift-bag, I think she might not notice us leaving. So, purely out of politeness, I call back to her my goodbyes.

Much to my surprise, she hears me and makes a point of acknowledging it. Up on her toes, with her arm so far reaching that she could be trying to steal a star for all I know, she calls back to me. Her grin is so huge at the sound of my goodbye that it’s hard not to feel like I’ve just made a friend. There’s this sense that she’s the kind of artist, person even, who hopes to see everyone she meets in life again and for a little bit longer next time.

Utterly awe-inspired, my first reaction is to, of course, social everything. Just to prove this all did actually happen, here’s me and my friend with the lovely, gentle, and a little bit odd Aurora Aksnes.

There’s no definite date in place for her new album release, but she did inform us that it’s in the works. And, in her facebook-live Q&A the next day, she told fans that there are fifteen new songs on the track list, so far. Soon would be fantastic, but if I can wait outside for nearly 2 hours in the blustering cold to meet Aurora, I’m sure I can handle the few months until her next album.

John Mayer: 10 Years On and The Heart of Life is Still Good

My playlists – old, new and newer: CD, MP3, and streamed – are filled copious amounts of John Mayer. Today, as my digital records are shuffled, the Spotify jukebox still occasionally plays a musical hand of his guitar solos. Whenever this happens, I’m quite literally floored. I have to stop what I’m doing and immediately lie down. A big bluesy meditation session ensues.

Quite simply, John Mayer is my happy place.

Released September 12, 2006, John Mayer’s most successful album, Continuum, marks it’s 10 year anniversary today. Feeling a lot older than when I first heard that album, when I first heard John Mayer, I am struck by the amount of time that has passed. More so, I’m touched by the fact that it’s 10 years on and I’m still mellowed by his tunes. Therefore, I feel the need to gush.

I discovered John Mayer at the not-so-tender-age of 14. I say ‘not-so’ as I was a particularly angsty teen: Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, 30 Seconds to Mars were typically my tastes. I mean, you can only imagine my excitement when Mayer featured in FOB’s rendition of ‘Beat It’…but that’s skipping ahead a bit.

Say from the film The Bucket List was my first introduction. It was a new sound to my ears.  His best work lies elsewhere, I now know that, but that song will always hold a special place in my ‘heart wide open’.

Being of the YouTube generation, a compendium of all things John Mayer was easily and freely accessible – the obsession came on fast.

In 2008, Buying CD’s was still a relatively strong token of appreciation and, admittedly, I wasn’t yet iTunes savvy. HMV was bouncing the day that I went with my mum to spend my Christmas money: every John Mayer album in existence. I still had a boombox in my room, no joke. So, when I got home I was free to listen to all of John Mayer’s work back-to-back.

I’m feeling older and older as I write this.

Continuum quickly became my favourite of Mayer’s albums. It contains songs like Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, Stop This Train and Waiting on the World to Change, to name only a few. I found Mayer’s lyrical gift eye-opening. I’ve always been about the lyrics, but there was something new in Mayer’s words for me. I considered his work to have a much more mature nature than that I was used to. His music, itself, is also incredibly technical and tuned to mood and atmosphere, which slowed my mind right down.

I remember being filled with a lot of happiness whilst naively listening to Gravity and I’m Gonna Find Another You. At 14, I didn’t really have any real-life experience for the lyrics to lean on, but it resonated nevertheless. A lot of fiction I wrote at that age was conceived whilst listening to Mayer – I could imagine the heartbreak. In fact, Dreaming with a Broken Heart is a memorable writing song.

As I grew up, John Mayer remained a source of peace for me. Whenever I stick on a song or an album of his, the same naive sense of wonder always washes over me. Scrolling through a Mayer playlist is like petting a puppy; you’re heart-rate and stress-levels immediately decrease.

John Mayer was who I listened to when I got my first iPod. John Mayer was who I listened to when I didn’t do so well in my school exams. John Mayer was who I listened to when I got the train for the first time to uni. John Mayer  was who I listened to coming home from tiring 10pm study sessions. John Mayer was who I listened to when I was heartbroken. John Mayer was who I listened to when I was stressed. John Mayer was who I listened to when I was happy. Recently, I got my first car, funnily enough an 06, and the first CD I recovered and put in the player was John Mayer Where the Light Is.

No other artist has stuck with me so prominently. Although, I still listen to a lot of old favourites, John Mayer, Continuum in particular, always sounds timeless. So, I just wanted to write this post as a brief thank you. I just wanted to acknowledge how much of a consistent influence Mayer’s music has been in my life.

Just the other day, on my first drive up to my new college, on route to begin my journey as a journalist, I was blaring his cover of Free Fallin’. So, basically, John Mayer has played a part in soothing my nerves through every major mile-stone, so far. And, I can’t wait for his new music, which was hinted at today on his snapchat story.

If you’ve never listened to John Mayer, I’ve linked the Continuum playlist below.

I, also, highly recommend his live album Where the Light Is, which is filled with impromtu guitar solos and high notes.

Whether you’re an old fan or a new one, I encourage everyone to spend this evening bathing in the dulcet yet electric tones of John Mayer. Light some candles, crawl into bed and breathe. Chilling is tonight’s only agenda.