Category: Arts


A couple of years ago, as I started to emerge from one of the darkest periods of depression of my life, I was using the affirmation “Taking back my life”, because that is exactly how I felt. Depression is often compared to a ‘black dog’. Personally I don’t find that a good analogy – I have had two black dogs in my life, and both were good for my well-being. I can not associate them with depression. To me it is more like a muddied, boggy pool which we are submerged under. We see dim shapes and shadows of reality, but they are seen through dark muddy water. Emerging from my depression at the time was like ‘surfacing’ – making my way to clearer waters – to a clearer reality.

As usual it has been a long time since I updated here. I have had some family illness issues, which have made it difficult not to slip back into that mire. On a more positive note, I have been busy with various projects. I have done courses in blog set-up, community journalism and blog management, which have culminated in me being part of a great team, running a new blog:

Well Pool (Promoting Positive Health & Well-Being)

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It’s been a fascinating project and it is interactive in that if you have things to share on the vast subject of well-being, we are always keen to publish them.

Additionally, I have set up a photography page – at the moment, just on Facebook, but I am still on a learning curve with my Nikon! The page is:

Marc Fraser Photography

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I also did a relevant post on photography and well-being on the WellPool blog called

‘Photography – My Well-Being Salvation’

But by far the biggest element in my life has been working towards an installation for World Mental Health Day, which was on 10 October 2015.

I ended up shelving the original idea for a completely new slideshow because of the aforementioned family health issues; instead I added sound to the slideshow that ran at the ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’ event in February. On an emotional and creative rollercoaster, I added a ‘mix’ of some music I made a few years back in algorithmic music software – generated semi-randomly – as well as snippets from discussions on self-image and how it suffers under fluctuating mental health. There were also a few snippets of speech synthesis. The end result was this:

‘A Trick of the Eye – A Trick of the Mind: WMHD version’

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The day was amazing. The staff at the Playhouse Theatre, where this and some really excellent drama, dance and workshop performances were going on for most of the day, were so hospitable. It goes without saying that their work was brilliant – like a well-oiled machine.

So that leads me back to the title of this post. Two years ago, I was taking back my life. Now I feel that Saturday has started me on the road to taking back my identity.

Before I fell into that muddy pool, the things that kept me out of the mire were artistic work as a composer working with fringe theatre, dance, performance art, etc. After the event on Saturday, I feel like I am that person again.

I am already putting ideas together for the installation that I shelved.

There has been a lot more going on with me this year – mostly positive (in the end). I have done my debut (and probably swan-song) in stand-up comedy via the Comedy Trust’s ‘Feeling Funny’ project, done more training in Peer Support, and more. Ever onwards, ever upwards.

Me at Comedy Night at The Brink

The second day of the excursion to DC was taken up with a look at the Jefferson Memorial and a moving visit to Arlington Cemetery. On this day – 28th April, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was on a state visit to the US. Security was high, of course.

After checking out of the hotel, and arranging to store the luggage and the car for a couple of hours while we did some further sightseeing, we went and had a closer look around the Jefferson Memorial. It was even better on the inside, in my opinion, than the external view promised. Here are some of the photos from there.

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I couldn’t resist a shot over the water of the Martin Luther King memorial – different again in daylight

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We also took a stop off at Union Station as I wanted to get these pictures of the statue of Columbus and the bell:

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After going back to the hotel and having lunch there, we picked up the luggage and the car and started out to see Arlington Cemetery. Such amazing grounds where war heroes famous and not so famous are buried with honour. The highlights for me, though, had to be John F Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the laying of the wreath.

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We drove around doing a bit more sight seeing before heading back to Philadelphia. Sights included the First and Second World War memorials, the White House, the Kennedy Center and the infamous ‘Watergate’ Hotel.

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So, with a little sadness, we made our way back to Frankie’s home in Philadelphia. This was my last weekend in the States and the last trip away from Philly.

It had been a fantastic trip and I think it strengthened me for what would be happening when I arrived home. Of course, I owe so many thanks to the lady who I visited as my girlfriend, and left as my faincée, Frankie.

I have been home for more than 2 months now, so this update is long overdue. The reason for the delay is that I came home to minor disaster, which had me feeling for a few weeks as if the whole trip had been no more than a vivid dream. Thankfully, I have photos and my engagement ring to remind me of the reality of those better times. I won’t dwell on the minor disaster here, rather share the photos and some of the awesome experience of the last weekend excursion – the one to Washington DC.

For our last weekend together for this trip, we had to decide between a return visit to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, or a visit to Washington DC. It was a tough call, but as I didn’t get to see DC last time, we decided on that. In spite of the huge and obvious difference between the two places, I am glad we made this decision.

We were there for one night and left quite late on the second evening, giving us more or less a day and a half to see the sights.

After checking in to the hotel and experiencing a pretty amazing brunch buffet, complete with Bloody Marys and Mimosas (or Buck’s Fizz – Champagne and Orange Juice), we headed out to do one of the trolley tours.

For me, the highlight of this part of the visit was the Washington National Cathedral. It was with a little sadness that we didn’t have time to either get off the bus and look around there and then, or to return there the following day.

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When we’d done this one, we got off and had a snack and a drink at the Hard Rock Café, before getting on to another trolley for the ‘Monuments by Moonlight’ tour. We were so lucky with the weather for this. If we had opted to do it the following night, it would have been overcast and rainy. As it was, it was a lovely, balmy, clear evening and it made the tour rather magical.

The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument are somewhat ‘iconic’ for me, but discovering the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Memorials was an amazing experience too. We decided that we would have to visit the Jefferson the following day in daylight.

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The final stop on that tour was the Iwo Jima Memorial – very fascinating and moving:

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After that we were all ‘toured out’ for the day and went back to the hotel.

Next up was Day 2. As I said, we went to look at the Jefferson Memorial. We also went to Arlington Cemetery and got a glimpse of the White House. Photos to follow in the next post.

Craft and Vintage Fair

Another fab event coming up in Liverpool on Saturday, 21 February 2015.

Tinderbox Fairs are putting on this ‘Craft and Vintage Fair’ at Nook & Cranny, Bold Street, Liverpool. Take a look on the Facebook page to check out some of the things that will be showcased.

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There are also two spots available at the fair for vintage traders.

If you are a vintage trader, and are available and interested, please email Jenny McCarthy at:

tinderboxuk@gmail.com.

“Illusions Parade”

This is just a quick post to mention an upcoming event, which a friend drew my attention to. The event itself is in August, but in case any people reading this (or any of their friends, colleagues, etc.) want to submit some work, it is worth mentioning, as the final date for submission is 1st April 2015.

“Illusions Parade”

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The web page is pretty self-explanatory and worth a look for anyone interested in visual and or experimental arts.

There was a fantastic turn-out at PSS’s “Sticks ‘n’ Stones” show at Siren Liverpool on Thursday evening. As promised, there was a nice selection of drama, poetry and music, as well as opportunities to engage in conversation about mental health.

Yesterday – Friday – I felt a great feeling of anti-climax, which brought back memories of a past that barely feels like my own. I remember working for shows – whether they were plays, dance, installations or concerts. The show takes over your life from the moment of conception to the end of the final rehearsal; then it is shared – and then it is done. I am pretty sure that I am not the only person involved in the PSS evening that felt the same anti-climax the day after. All I can say is “Well done to all of you! You did good!”

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My prepared part for the show is now available and public on YouTube under: PSS Sticks and Stones: A Trick of the Eye – A Trick of the Mind. There is also a small selection of photos on my ‘Beyond the lens’ page at Tumblr. There is a bigger selection of photos from the evening in a (public) Facebook Photo Album under ‘PSS – ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’. (Most of my photo albums are publicly accessible if you would like to browse further).

During the course of the evening, during which various ‘games’ and ‘teasers’ were given out, I was given a card that read ‘Have you ever laughed or joked about a mental illness’. The other people at the table I was sitting at seemed somewhat shocked when I said “Yes I have – my own!”

I have never lost my sense of humour during the years of struggle. Sure, it changed – it became rather more cynical and biting when I was at my worst, although my sense of humour has always been somewhat dry and cynical, I think. The ability to find something to laugh at even in my most dismal times has carried me through. I realize of course that not everyone has the same strategies, but to me laughter – and the digs at myself, as well as the distortion of my photos during the darkest times have been therapeutic. And without them I would have probably been self-destructive in a much more literal way.

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So what’s next?

I am at early stage discussions about a couple more project ideas that may hopefully come to fruition within the next few months. Nothing is fixed yet, so I don’t want to tempt fate by talking too much about them, but hopefully I will have something to report very soon.

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We have come a long way in reducing the stigma attached to mental illness, but as yet it is still just a reduction – not a removal.

Tomorrow, ‘Time to Talk Day’, is all about working to further reduce that stigma and the discrimination that goes with it. Don’t be surprised if someone comes up to you tomorrow and asks your consent to take your photo and for you to make a comment about your feelings about mental health issues. The statistics about mental illness speak volumes. According to those statistics, one in four people will experience some mental health issue in their life – it is slightly higher in Liverpool. Yet the statistics don’t take into account the number of people that are in denial.

Many people say “I’ve never had, nor will I ever have, a mental health issue.” Yet if you were to go through life without ever being stressed because of bereavement, divorce, job loss, threat of job loss, abuse (mental or physical), you would either be very blessed, or – more likely – so emotionally repressed that you could expect at some time to suffer a breakdown of some kind.

From personal experience I can say that there is a great deal of relief in not only admitting and facing up to the fact that you have a mental health issue, but in being among people who do the same. Having a condition like depression or anxiety is isolating enough to start with. When someone is denying that they have that condition, it becomes even more isolating. Being with people who can say “Well actually, you’re not alone in this – I have had the same issue.” is one of the greatest steps towards re-balancing that I took in my battle with depression.

Denial and the need to talk is a key factor in the performance organized by PSS at the Siren Café in St Jame’s Street, Liverpool tomorrow. 

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My part in the event is a slideshow representing how our self-image can be distorted by mental illness:

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Lost and Found

Yesterday I took part in the ‘Upbeat 2’ event organized by the Richmond Fellowship, Liverpool and Imagine and held at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool. I found it very beneficial in a lot more ways than I expected.

I bumped into a couple of people I had known when I first came to Liverpool back in 2000, I also met friends of friends, and made a couple of new ones. It was another opportunity to force myself out of the house too: it is so easy to fall into the mire of reclusiveness in the Winter months with residual depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). To get there and take part was, in itself, quite an achievement for me.

Then there was the playing in front of people. I haven’t played the keyboard in front of anyone since the early 90s. More recently, I have ‘lapsed’ away from keyboard practice for about a year now. So to have the confidence to actually play, knowing that my performance would be far less than I could be capable of was another big achievement. I even borrowed a violin for a few seconds and scratched out an Irish Jig – I haven’t touched a violin for over 10 years.

Oh, my performance on both instruments was far from great. I know how much better I’ve been on them, but it didn’t matter as much as having the bottle to ‘have a go’.

I met a very nice lady called Jen McCarthy, who had written some lyrics and had a rough idea for a song from them. I bumped into Alex – a guitarist I knew when I first moved to Liverpool: he played lead in the band that Chris, my late partner Helen’s son was drummer in. Then a fantastic and experienced guitarist called Simon joined us and we put the song together. It was great fun, and I think we came up with a song that did justice to Jen’s lyrics.

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On stage

Finally, at the end of the evening I volunteered to play ‘live’ and in one ‘part’ an instrumental that I’d recorded on a multi-track recorder  over 20 years ago (probably the last time I seriously played the keyboards until I got my current instrument in 2013). The recorded track had drum machines, sequencing and overlayed ‘orchestrations’. Yet here I was attempting it with no sequencing or programming whatsoever. I was either very brave or very foolish.

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And it is this that provided the most illuminating aspect of the day. It gave me time to ponder the effects of years of depression on my confidence, or maybe it’s a chicken and egg thing, and the gradual erosion of confidence contributed to the depression? who knows… I was also able to observe progress made in its slow and partial return.

The fact is that I had not been a confident performer since I went to college (ironically). I had four years of prominent members of staff saying that when I was playing in an orchestra or as a soloist, I stuck out like a sore thumb because I looked like I wasn’t enjoying it, like I didn’t want to be there. As much as I tried to ignore it and ride above it, it eroded away at confidence until I ended up a jibbering, shaking wreck whenever I was on stage. It was extremely frustrating and annoying: even now, after years out of violin performance, after years of not playing the violin, I still listen to orchestral music, and if I’ve played it I relive it. If I haven’t played it, I think myself into the orchestra – I listen as someone thinking about how it would feel to be taking part in the performance.

I found confidence as a carer when my wife became very ill, but when she died, that confidence was eroded by self-blame and self-doubt. Then I started to find confidence as a person in a loving relationship with Helen – in spite of the relationship being fraught with difficulties related to first my mental health and then her cancer. Losing her also knocked my confidence. Even now, the residue of that knock is that I still have a slight feeling that I am like ‘the kiss of death’ and that getting close to others is harmful to them. I know – it doesn’t make any sense. The logical part of my brain tells me I’m being stupid thinking like that, and maybe crediting myself with way too much self-importance. Yet the emotional, sentimental – and depressable – part of my heart still harbours those feelings.

So the return of confidence has been so gradual I have barely noticed – as gradual as its initial onset. I am thankful to my friends and my new girlfriend – even though ours is currently a long-distance relationship (she lives in Philadelphia, PA) for helping me to find it again. What has taken me completely by surprise is the outlet for it – a return to creative projects: music and photography/photo-art. Last night was a milestone in taking back my life and regaining some of that confidence.

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All in all, the day was a great way for people who have been touched by mental health issues to get together, work to get creative together and raise our feelings of wellbeing through creativity. I’m looking forward with hope for another similar event next year.

Just a quick mention of an upcoming event on January 26. As the poster says, the workshop is for Imagine and Richmond Fellowship members, but the evening gig is open to all and with free admission. I’m hoping to take part.

UpBeat 2 poster

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One of the most amazing pieces of artwork I’ve seen recently is a statue sculpted by Andy Edwards commemorating the Christmas Truce in 1914.

If you don’t know the story, it was the first Christmas of the First World War, and British and German soldiers came out of the trenches into ‘No Man’s Land’ under a ceasefire. They swapped food and cigarettes, and then played a game of football before returning to the trenches to continue hostilities.

It is probably one of the most moving events of the war, and to see the statue too is an incredibly emotive experience. It has been moving around a bit. It started at St Luke’s – The Bombed Out Church, Liverpool, before going for a couple of days to the Anglican Cathedral (also in Liverpool). Then it was in Belgium, on the actual site of the original Christmas Truce, over the Christmas period. It is now back at the Anglican Cathedral until 5 February 2015. There are plans to hopefully get three bronze copies – one to remain in Liverpool at St Luke’s, one to stay at the Belgian site, and the third to go to Germany.

I started a photo blog called ‘Beyond the Lens’ on Tumblr in November last year. Although it is still fairly sparsely populated, I have posted some pictures of this marvellous statue on there. Check it out  to see these photos and more (click on ‘Beyond the Lens’ above).

If you are in the area before 5th February, I can strongly recommend a visit to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral too. The statue is amazing, and is an amazing building.