Show Us Your Machines

Almost a decade ago I had a conversation that changed my life – I was sitting in Leftwing Idiot’s kitchen talking about my intensifying tics and he described my Tourettes as a “language-generating machine” and told me that not doing something creative with my tics would be wasteful. I often describe this moment as the start of Touretteshero, as it was these few words that got into my head and helped me feel more positively about my brain, body and experiences.

Over the last ten years I’ve reflected on this moment a lot: why did those words have such a transformative effect? I think it’s because it offered me a new way of thinking about language and my relationship with it.

I also think it’s because as a kid I was a big fan of the TV show Bertha. They only made thirteen episodes of this show which was about a machine that could produce anything. When Leftwing Idiot talked about a ‘language-generating machine’ I imagined Bertha clunking and flashing in my head.

A green and pink animated machine with big eyes. This is Bertha the main character of a TV series from the 1980's.

The Touretteshero team are just starting work on a new, Unlimited-funded, creative project about words and it takes the idea of a language-generating machine as a starting point. We don’t know quite what it’ll end up being but I hope that it’ll explore how words can bring us together, and also push us apart. I’m particularly keen to involve others with interesting perspectives on words, language and communication. We want to make something that works for both children and adults and that helps start conversations and connections.

A few nights ago I was thinking about what my personal language-generating machine might look like and I did a quick drawing.

My machine has everything going in at the top: sights, smells, feelings, experiences – everything goes in. Then there’s a big red ‘creativity bucket’ where stuff gets sorted. There’s a regular tic area filled with biscuits, a space for song explosions, and a colliding room where ideas get smooshed together. There’s a bit for body tics and a doing-the-worst-thing room (with a big red “do not press button” to press). On one side of this room is the ‘ugly’ words department and on the other is where secrets are kept (badly), full of stuff like pregnancies and presents. There’s even a pipe just for b-list celebrities that twirls around the involuntary celebrity death announcement area.

My machine has everything going in at the top: sights, smells, feelings, experiences – everything goes in. Then there’s a big red ‘creativity bucket’ where stuff gets sorted. There’s a regular tic area filled with biscuits, a space for song explosions, and a colliding room where ideas get smooshed together. There’s a bit for body tics and a doing-the-worst-thing room (with a big red “do not press button” to press). On one side of this room is the ‘ugly’ words department and on the other is where secrets are kept (badly), full of stuff like pregnancies and presents. There’s even a pipe just for b-list celebrities that twirls around the involuntary celebrity death announcement area.

This is definitely my machine – it’s very personal to me but also hints at some much bigger issues – silliness, delight, swearing, sounds, hate and humour. I did this drawing quickly and I really enjoyed imagining what a visual representation of my brain might look like.

I’d really love to see other people’s machines – this blog post is a call for more machines. Whatever your age and whether you have Tourettes, another condition, or none, I’d love to know what your language-generating machine might be like.

Here are some of the questions I was thinking about when I drew my machine:

What areas are there?
What do they do?
What sits next to what?
How does it make me feel?
How would I describe it to someone I’ve not met before?
How can I map it?

If you’d like to share your machine with us – that would be amazing and could help us as we start work on this new project (although we don’t know quite how yet).

Your machine could be in any format: writing, sound or a drawing. Please don’t worry if you’re not a confident drawer – any contributions would be brilliant and help get us thinking. Get in touch by emailing Jen who’s coordinating this project at: events@touretteshero.com.

The Language-Generating Machine is at a very early stage but I’ll keep you posted on our progress and tell you about any other opportunities for getting involved, testing stuff out or seeing what we’ve made.

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