BIRD.org.uk: Helping young people shine their brilliance and grow their resilience.

 

chrome ball sculpture covered in yarn bombed flowers and nets.

Yarn-bombed sculpture at Newcastle, County Down. Photo my own.

Creative Mental Health

As you all know I am passionate about the power of creativity, especially music, to boost mental health and grow self esteem. So I’m doubly delighted today because, via Twitter, BIRD has appeared on my horizon.

The organisation BIRD is the brainchild of Founding Director Neil Phillimore who has brought together a unique group of creative activists who nurture young people struggling with various life issues and stresses. BIRD’s mentors take them through a process of self expression using various media, especially music, song, drama and creative writing.

The power of arts and social support for mental health is well documented, as I have found in my own research and gleaned from many others’ studies. BIRD’s work is active proof that boosts what seems to me to be an emerging sense of self-affirmation, recovery and growth for otherwise vulnerable and at risk youth. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is empowerment though I feel there’s a lot more to it- as they say so much better themselves with their name BIRD, Brilliance, Integrity, Relationship and Delight.

With schools forced to cut arts budgets and society offering little in the way of free community provision for young people to find support and encouragement, this fantastic project deserves recognition for their service to the 16-25 age group, so many of whom are overwhelmed and underserved.

A Beacon of Inspiration

I believe also that BIRD is a beacon of light in terms of what can be done in creative mental health support. They need support for their current crowdfunding appeal so they can upgrade their resources and continue their work. This project could also be a workable model for further and more widespread initiatives and is certainly one I am keeping my eye on for future inspiration.

Good luck to all you folks at BIRD and keep up the great work 🙂

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Re-discovering Philip Larkin through word, image and jazz.

the poet Philip Larkin holds a drink and smiles.

A rare smiling image of English poet Philip Larkin.

My old copy of The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin, hidden on the bookshelf for years, was pulled out for a nostalgic read the other day after an intriguing documentary about the poet on BBC4 earlier this week. In the Whitsun Weddings collection, in the poem For Sidney Bechet, the poet describes (earlier era) jazz music as falling upon him,

‘Like an enormous yes’ and refers to it as

‘the natural noise of good, / Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.’

While commonly known for a somewhat melancholic approach to life, this does not sound like a person who has no time for passion. It was news to me too that alongside his poetry, Larkin had also made significant literary and journalistic contributions to critiquing Jazz music such as the perhaps controversial (maybe just honest) All What Jazz.

The television documentary revealed even more interesting aspects of Larkin’s artistic dimensions, that included skill with a camera as well as with the poetic word. Some of his images are black and white with a haunting or melancholy quality, reflected in his poetry too, such as Home is so Sad.

Yet much of Larkin’s photographic work is also personal and full of emotion like the multiple shots of intimate friends, male and female, with whom he shared his life, albeit within certain strong constraints and clear boundaries, evident in the ending of Talking in Bed,

‘Nothing shows why / At this unique distance from isolation / It becomes still more difficult to find / Words at once true and kind, / Or not untrue and not unkind.

More surprisingly, a significant number of the photographic portraits are of himself, taken with the delayed shutter function of his high-tech Rollieflex camera. The original ‘King of the Selfie’, Philip Larkin was a complex, intense human being whose work continues to intrigue, inspire and invite debate. Some of his photos have been published in The Importance of Elsewhere 2015.

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/norfolkodyssey/1426630717

 

 

Music and Song: the magical de-stressors.

 

Music and singing have always been my go-to anti-stress therapy. From an early age I was afraid of the dark and of being alone in my bedroom. So I used to sing myself to sleep every night. My repertoire consisted of songs I learned at school, at Sunday School and from the radio. The Seekers were major stars in my world and A World of Our Own was a frequent choice. The Beatles too, especially She Loves You Yea, Yea, Yea. Honestly, music and singing have never failed to comfort and lift me through many years of both a happy and a challenging life.

It was, then, no surprise to discover the power of music in helping patients feel better in all of the mental health contexts where I have trained, worked and researched. My first placement as a student nurse was in a care of the elderly ward in Purdysburn Hospital, Belfast and a well-known local performer arrived once a week to play the piano and sing. It was joyful to help those old ladies gather around the day room and to hear them sing along to old favourites from their era. Often they would continue singing for the rest of the evening, even after the entertainer had taken her leave.

Scholarly reports also attest to the power of music for mental health, especially in a community setting and a selection of their papers and findings can be discovered in a chapter of my book on Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health: Service Users’ Perspectives [Palgrave 2014]. 

For now, here’s another favourite from the one and only Abba. Thank You for the Music 🙂 

 

Another Maestro Passes, Songs Never Die.

Encountering Suzanne

One day a few decades ago while living photo of Leonard Cohen on album cover in the staff residence of Purdysburn Hospital where I trained, a guitar-backed voice drifted along the corridor and filled the atmosphere of my little box room with such a haunting power that I literally stood still to listen. It was my first encounter with Leonard Cohen singing Suzanne.

My friend Edyth had just bought an LP of this master of lyrics and beautiful melancholic melody and once my obligatory cassette tape copy was manufactured, Leonard Cohen became my ‘go to’ artist for many years to come.

To date there is much commentary around Cohen’s prophetic words and their poignancy for the conditions of contemporary humanity but my purpose here is to pay tribute to an artist who enriched my life and helped strengthen my spirit, and to declare both sadness that his life has ended as well as joy that his songs will live forever. Like David Bowie, another Maestro lost this year, his work is woven into my Self in a multitude of ways. Yet professing this devotion often brought forth responses that were characteristically stereotyped comments along the lines of darkness, gloom, foreboding and nihilism. Not for me, though. I have always found Leonard Cohen’s songs enchanting and uplifting. They always bring me joy.

Warm Words

Laura Barton’s obituary for Cohen on The Guardian’s music blog takes the same view. To describe him as a ‘miserabilist’ is ‘to miss entirely the warmth of his words’, which, she elaborates, ‘run at the same temperature as blood.’ What animates Leonard Cohen’s offering is the joy beyond pain, the lesson in the challenge, the solution within the problem, the beauty within the chaos. As Barton reminds us, he echoes the wisdom of Rumi in his song Anthem 

 ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.

So to the songs that stick with me most:

  • The Partisan
  • Famous Blue Raincoat
  • Suzanne
  • Hallelujah
  • So Long Marianne
  • The Sisters of Mercy
  • Lady Midnight
  • Who By Fire
  • Dance Me to the End of Love
  • Hey, that’s no way to say Goodbye

Tibetan Book of the Dead Narration

Some time ago I found a documentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead perfectly enriched by Leonard Cohen’s voice as the narrator, so this is what I’m watching now as  my memorial to another Maestro gone from the world. Check it out, it’s a profound exploration of life meaning and enrichment of the human spirit through meditative practice and Buddhist teachings. There is an empathy and wisdom in Cohen’s voice that makes this film a celebration of life in the midst of physical death. I wish him well on his journey and thank him for the songs.

 

Songs Never Die

 

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