In late 2021 I received an Arts Council England DYCP grant to give me time to write, explore ideas and receive some mentoring from established writer, performer and multi-media artist Nick Field. Through this fund and mentoring I decided to ditch the original idea I’d intended to explore when making the application, and, having already created two personal autobiographical collections, DULL and Notes on Becoming a Ghost, I decided to create a collection of actual memories going back to my childhood.
I imagined that this would somehow offer up a way I and others could understand me more. In part I hoped that this would become an exorcism of some of the memories that have dogged me for many years, as well as a celebration, or reminder, of some of the more pleasant memories. The memories that have stuck may not seem very serious to the reader but they have stayed with me and have informed my thinking and emotional state and there are a few stories in the collection that still make me physically cringe when I recall them.
I also wanted to challenge myself to see how much I could or should reveal. How honest could I be? Why was I afraid or embarrassed to share some of these memories? Is the route to understanding and acceptance through openness and vulnerability? I saw this as a challenge. What could I write about that made me feel uneasy? What risks could I take? How much should I share?
During the writing process I found myself reliving and being more effected by, in the main, the negative and painful memories, which seem more present and powerful than the lighter memories.
The collection’s first working title was ‘6 wanks’. The first pieces I wrote were memories of masturbations that have stuck in my mind – possibly they could be called my core masturbation memories. As I continued to write, I added examples of when anger got the better of me, or when I caused or encountered anger in others. I needed to admit to losing it and owning that anger. Then there were times I wept – loss, frustration, shame. This all seemed to be getting a bit dark and negative, so I added balance by writing about joyous times – times I laughed uncontrollably – times I danced or wanted to dance. The second working title of the collection became ‘6 dances’ as, by now, I was mentioning the growing collection to others and ‘6 wanks’ became awkward to say and, I thought, gave the wrong impression of my intent. I then wrote about tenderness, adding examples of kisses. Finally, I had to admit that there is magic in the world, found in unexpected places, so I added some peculiar and unexplained experiences – coincidences and phenomena that I have experienced that I am happy not to have explained to me – these are the moments in life that, no matter how small, I find most fascinating; they excite my wonder at existence and bring colour to an explainable world.
During this period of forced recalling, I discovered that not all presumed pleasant memories feel good and not all presumed unpleasant memories feel bad. Recall and emotion have a complicated relationship.
The original concept was to present this collection in the form of a deck of cards that could be shuffled so that the memories were read in random order. This deck would be similar to a deck of Tarot cards, a sort of divination for memories. However, after one draft trial pack, when the texts were still half-written, although I liked the physical form of the memories as a pack of cards, I struck on the idea of presenting the collection in the form of the Voight-Kampff Test featured in the Philip K Dick science-fiction novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ (adapted as the film Blade Runner). This test was used by Blade Runners (specialist detectives paid to hunt and kill replicants) to assist in determining whether or not an individual was a replicant (a synthetic human). The test measured the replicants response to emotionally provocative statements. Replicants had false memories implanted so that they believed they had lives before they were constructed and so were not aware that they were not human.
Presenting the collection this way would facilitate the confessional element of the collection whilst enforcing the central question ‘Is this normal?/Am I normal?’. As the memories were to be presented to readers as a test, the initial idea was that the statements were to be scored by the reader on a scale of empathy (Does this make sense? / Is this understandable?), with the reader being invited to associate each memory with one of a set of given criteria relating to the seven memory categories. This would give a score total that, when cross referenced against the base score of the author, would reveal whether the author was ‘normal’ or not, compared to the average of several reader’s scores. Answering the central question ‘Am I normal?’.
I then recorded the script running the animated pieces and edited each piece until I had a full set of identically formatted videos ready for inclusion in the website.
In all I created 5 versions of the website, struggling with the look of the site and how to incorporate the videos and dynamic elements into each design until, eventually, I found that my coding knowledge was not deep or extensive enough to create what I had envisioned when I set out . So, rather than have an image of an interactive Voight-Kampff machine that played videos within the computer screen, I decided to do away with the complicated design elements, the scoring elements and the videos altogether and simply present the memories as animated texts coded within the web pages themselves. This simplified the site dramatically and that is the final form that the collection has taken.
The reader is now free to draw their own conclusions.
One of the tools I employed when creating the previous two collections in this series was the element of chance. To me this is an important part of presenting the work, and offers the reader an opportunity to interpret the work through their own prism of experience. Random chance can throw up random associations and juxtapositions that can tap into the reader’s subconscious, this is creative alchemy. Chance elements also reduce the opportunities for the author to ‘lead’ the reader in certain directions or towards set conclusions.