So far much of what I’ve written this year has been pretty serious stuff, mostly about the sudden dystonia that developed in my hands on Boxing Day. The last few weeks have been difficult, painful and sad.
Today, by contrast, was full of creativity, joy and laughter. I’ve had some thoughtful, thrilling, silly and extraordinary conversations with three beings I’ve wanted to speak to for a long time. To describe the meeting of minds and mouths that took place this morning and just how exciting it was, I’ll start at the beginning.
About two years ago I saw a film made by Nina Conti called ‘Her Master’s Voice.’ It’s a beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking documentary about Nina (and her Monkey), and it had a big impact on me. I’m not in the habit of watching stuff more than once, but I’ve watched this film countless times and introduced many people to it.
Nina’s a ventriloquist and in the film she explores ventriloquism as an art form, and her relationship with Ken Campbell, the man who introduced her to it. Ken died in 2008 and left Nina all his ventriloquist dolls. The film follows Nina as she goes on a pilgrimage to Vent Haven, a museum for bereaved dolls.
This was ventriloquism performed and described in a way I’d never heard before. I was blown away and I tweeted Nina to let her know.
There was one concept that particularly resonated with me, as someone with Tourettes. It came up in a recording of a conversation between Monkey and Ken.
Ken said to Monkey: “Here’s what Schiller said, ‘There is a watcher at the gate of the mind and it’s the watcher that stops you being creative because creation and insanity are almost the same thing.’ Monkey it’s your job. She can’t do it. But you, you can kill off the watcher at the gate of the mind so that we go raw and into spontaneous imagination and creation.”
This idea grabbed me and instantly made sense. Monkey kills off Nina’s gatekeeper and Tourettes kills off mine (or at least makes him incredibly lazy).
I spent years trying to ignore and hide my tics, fearful of seeming insane. I was blind to their creativity, humour or value – I could see them only as a problem and resolutely ignored their potential. But through thoughtful conversations, shared laughter, and friendship I began to see things differently and recognised that they were my power rather than my problem.
Despite the challenges Tourettes brings, my life is enriched in many ways by the inventive interruptions of my vocal tics. They’re not thoughts, nor are they nonsense. I don’t choose what I say, but my personality is reflected in what comes out.
My unusual neurology means spontaneity, impulsiveness and improvisation are part of my every waking moment and I’m naturally drawn to people who’ve worked to make these qualities part of their lives too.
This is why I’ve been so keen to talk to Nina since I first saw Her Master’s Voice. I knew Monkey would send my tics bonkers, and I had a strong suspicion Nina would be the woman to help me with my secret wish – to hear Leftwing Idiot’s geranium talk.
So this morning Nina, Monkey and I met, and I introduced them both to the geranium.
Out of necessity, in most conversations my conscious voice takes the lead and communicates my chosen ideas, thoughts or instructions (albeit with added biscuits and hedgehogs), and by and large I take no notice of my tics. But every so often I enjoy a different type of conversation, one in which I allow my tics to take the lead – and some very strange stories unfold as a result. You can listen to some examples here and here or you can watch this animation, this video, or enjoy this collaborative song.
In previous experiments my tics have usually taken the lead, but this morning, when they met Monkey, the conversation felt much more balanced – two untamed minds meeting and talking about donkey sex, toasters, Muppets, the aeronautical ability of penguins and lots more besides.
Monkey and my tics conversed with enthusiasm and without interruption for over an hour. Afterwards Nina said there were a couple of times where she’d deliberately tried to put words into Monkey’s mouth but ended up feeling like a ‘party pooper’. Similarly, when I tried to steer the conversation in more serious directions my tics soon got back in charge.
It was one of the most liberating and enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had and I’m very grateful to Nina and Monkey for being up for the experiment. I was touched to see Monkey’s lovely tweet about our meeting.
I’m also pleased to report that the geranium doesn’t hold a grudge for the years of abuse from me, that she’s a girl, that every time I’ve sworn at her she’s sworn back, and that she’s seen Poppy naked, twice! I also have her blessing to go on swearing at her if I want to.
A mind with a working gatekeeper can be very useful (particularly at airports and cash machines). But I feel incredibly lucky to have an inner-creativity that leaks out in a way that’s visible, playful and impossible to ignore.
If your gatekeeper’s more vigilant, try and encourage him to go off duty once in a while.