Having to Believe While Standing in the Quicksand

Quicksand

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The Sinking Sun

How to believe in yourself? How to muster the belief that you even have the right? A very talented friend of mine, NYC songwriter and guitarist Mike Bones, claims that he has given up making music. He claims he has nothing left to say, and from what I could gather, why even bother to create when there are people who say it so, um, so, so… I believe the sentiment is, how is self-belief even possible when there are people who are so much better than you? (Perhaps you might buy his excellent records and help to prove him wrong?) You could retort that how is this even relevant when there are so many people who are so much worse? Alas, it is not my intention here to get into a value-judgement as to whether some human people are better or than worse than each other (though there is no denying that the circumstances of some are infinitely and un-balanced-ly worse, a discrepancy which must be addressed before humanity could be said to be even partially evolved, or indeed, could claim itself to be composed of anything more than barbarians). Because there is part of me that has a strong suspicion that we are all, everything and all, living and non-living, as far as the eyes can see, and oh so much further, made up of the same stuff, and therefore enjoy or suffer from a leveling equality.

Flow, a performance about water at The Print Room, Notting Hill.

Flow, a performance about water at The Print Room, Notting Hill.

Self- belief can stem from confidence in your abilities. This may be brought about by an enhancement of your skills or abilities through an increase of knowledge on the subject, aka ‘an education’. I cannot deny that, having left home and school at the age of 14, led me to wandering the world wondering. Wondering what it was that was going on in that immortal ivory tower, and thinking there was some carefully guarded secret that everyone was in on but me. Having now almost completed the experience, in my early thirties, of going back and studying for an undergraduate degree (if all goes to plan, by May I will have a 2.1 BA Honours Humanities and English Literature from Birkbeck College, University of London), I realise that there is present a sort of secret in this wide-spread esotericism, but indoctrination to the institution would likely (it usually does) take approximately 3 or 4 years. It is unclear whether it is the actual learning or the being-in-the-knowness which actually improves and increases confidence.

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All of that remains to be seen at present. If I can just see it through and make it to the finish line, having come so far on the horse of knowledge. There is always the comforting possibility of self-sabotage as a method for avoiding this increase in self-belief. What I mean by this is if I/you can procrastinate to the point of no return, then the lack of time can always be blamed, whether than fess up to the defeat that we were never good enough in the first place. Or the even more terrifying possibility that we could end up believing in ourselves, realise our potential, maybe one day join the ranks of the good and the great. But, oh, change is so itchy and uncomfortable. Like a new pair of shoes that have not been worn in yet, the temptation is great to slip on those old faithfuls, until the holes in your soles are bigger than your feet. Either way, I have been busy making big plans. Working on my dissertation (topic sneak peek here), applying for jobs (yes, really), writing submissions for master’s programmes everywhere I would like to go and live for a year or two (Norwich, Oxford, Cambridge, York, Liverpool and Edinburgh), and plotting my retreat from London towards a quieter writer’s life in more fecund and verdant pastures.

And what of love? Surely being loved could help you to believe in yourself (or help me believe in myself)? I’m not sure I believe that it is possible to be loved into believing in yourself, not by the time you have the full-blown symptoms of onset adulthood. No, I’m not going to quote that old cliche about no one being able to love you until you truly love yourself like I did last Valentine’s Day (click to read that post, Ha! Hold My Brain; Be Still My Beating Heart), but to offer an alternative. In much of my experience of romantic love, people tend to want the unobtainable love, that which they cannot have. I think this may be the result of thinking that someone who does not love you back is somehow better than you. If you do not already love yourself, yet someone finds it in their heart to love you, it can be the ickiest feeling. Surely, there must be something wrong with someone who truly loves you. I mean, only you yourself know just how horrible and disgusting you can really be. Filthy creatures, humans, truly repugnant. This is why I believe that it is important to truly love yourself before you are capable of loving another: sheerly because if you don’t love yourself but someone else does you will think there is something is fishy about them. But how to love and believe in yourself once you have taken the time and effort to get to know yourself?

Pussy Lovers. Photo by Jesse Sargeant.

Pussy Lovers. Photo by Jesse Sargeant.

Not to say that there have not been many life and love self-affirming experiences so far in my life. While I wouldn’t say I have been the consort of kings or world leaders (yawn), I have been loved by some brilliant and great men: writers and poets, starving artists, musicians and rockstars, wealthy entrepreneurs, civil servants and lords, scientists, biologists and mathematicians. I have earned a living based variously on the way that I look, but more importantly, on my own self-cultivated talents, initiative and entrepreneurial approach to life.

Photo of AGJ on our land in Costa Rica by Jesse Sargeant.

Photo of AGJ on our land in Costa Rica by Jesse Sargeant.

I have been photographed by some of the world’s most illustrious photographers: Paulo Sutch, Patrick Demarchelier, John Akehurst, Rankin, Jeurgen Teller,

AGJ by Ellen Von Unworth for Italian Vogue

AGJ by Ellen Von Unworth for Italian Vogue

Ellen Von Unworth,

AGJ by Pamela Hansen for Agent Provocateur

AGJ by Pamela Hansen for Agent Provocateur

Pamela Hansen,

AGJ by Terry Richardson

AGJ by Terry Richardson

Terry Richardson,

AGJ by Mick Rock for Agent Provocateur

AGJ by Mick Rock for Agent Provocateur

Mick Rock…

and my very favourite, long-time friend and collaborator,

Jesse and me, collaborating at J Sheekey

Jesse and me, collaborating at J Sheekey

Jesse Sargeant nee MacDonald.

Photo of AGJ by Jesse Sargeant.

Photo of AGJ by Jesse Sargeant.

I have appeared in countless TV ads and films with Mike Figgis and was rescued from the killer by Robert Downey Jr and Jude’s Law’s Sherlock and Watson in the opening of Sherlock Holmes. I have written dozens of songs, had four bands and recorded six albums (plus a best of AGJ, listen here), all without the backing of a record company.

AGJ aka The Miggs. Photo by Laura Lauberte

AGJ aka The Miggs. Photo by Laura Lauberte

I have been fortunate enough to have traveled the world and to have lived in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Milan, Los Angeles and London.

Bali on a bike with a bandaged foot on my birthday.

Bali on a bike with a bandaged foot on my birthday.

I have flown a plane, a helicopter, and have sat in the jump-seat in the cockpit of a Virgin Atlantic 747 as a flight from Tokyo was landed in London at 3pm in the afternoon. And many other adventures.

AGJ at The Sanctuary on Had Tien, Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand. Photo by Giada Tu Thanh

AGJ at The Sanctuary (highly recommended!) on Had Tien, Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand. Photo by Giada Tu Thanh

I have (with a little help from my friends and family) almost finished putting myself through university at the age of 30. I have been named Godmother to two(!) gorgeous and amazing little girls. And if that is not the ultimate in belief, I don’t know what is.

Lana Rose

Goddaughter number two, Lana Rose. Photo by Jesse Sargeant.

My fairy-goddaughter Pearl Grace

My first fairy-goddaughter Pearl Grace

I have an incredible family who I love and who loves me dearly: father, mother, sister, brother, nephews, niece, aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins (welcome new baby Indio Edison), great-uncles and aunties, grandparents, etcetera.

Doy and Joy's baby boy

Doy and Joy’s baby boy

This blog that you read now, two years down the line, receives 1000 hits a day on its best days; it is so pleasing that you are reading!!! I have also had the ego-gratifying experience both of hooking up (kissing and cuddling) with the guy from last-year’s tragi-comic V-day blog, AND a few times with an ex who had unceremoniously rejected me years back (his issues, not mine). Better even yet, after a couple of months of not contacting me, when he recently booty called me late at night (are the kids still calling it that?), I got the chance to exert my newly blooming self-esteem and not respond, even when he apologised the next day. (If you are reading this, hope you know this was not done to be horrible, it just felt like the right way to leave it. I do wish you well.)

My name, ‘Amanda’, is from the Latin for ‘having to be loved’ or ‘she who must be loved’.

Swan-in-waiting

Swan-in-waiting

Yet still, in spite of the rich and varied generosity and wealth of experience that life has so far granted, somewhere deep inside, I am still that same little small-town girl that I was all those years ago, the swan-in-waiting and all I was hoping to become. Struggling to love myself, to realise my potential, to stay alive, to experience true-love, to make something great, to be someone worthwhile… Standing in the shifting sands; always struggling to believe.

Photo by Jesse Sargeant.

Could it be that the restraint that complicates a complete absolute belief in the self is the same impulsion that holds back from relying on religion as anything but ritual process? Could it at least be a similar impulse that prevents me believing in what Nick Cave called into question by name ‘an interventionist God’ on the song ‘Into My Arms‘, from the luscious record No More Shall We Part? I do believe I find the concept of art and creativity as religion easier to swallow. Admittedly, I do get something out of some religious ritual process, the act of chanting daimoku brings me into a relaxed state of well being. Read: I do find satisfaction in the process of prayer, even if I don’t know who I am praying to, or even believe I am praying to anyone. This may not really be at odds with Buddhism but certainly was with the Protestant church I left behind long ago. Always present is that question of belief… I prefer to believe in the act of creation, to plant seeds, manifest magic, exert intention and to make art. But perhaps the belief is a fundamental part of the equation. Could it be that this is where I am going wrong, in all aspects of my life? Daisaku Ikeda, in his daily inspiration ‘Wisdom for Modern Life’ says the following

When we plant the seeds of self-doubt, only noxious weeds sprout. When we limit ourselves with low expectations, the growth of the tree of happiness immediately ceases. The power of growth, of improvement, the power to overcome all stagnation and break through every obstacle and transform a barren wasteland into a verdant field — that unstoppable power of hope resides right there in your own heart. It will well up from the rich earth of your innermost being when you face the future without doubt or fear: “I can do more. I can grow. I can become a bigger and better human being” — life and faith are a never-ending struggle to grow.

Praying Mantis with his heart on his sleeve. Photo by Jesse Sargeant.

Praying Mantis with his heart on his sleeve. Photo by Jesse Sargeant.

In David Bowie’s ‘Quicksand‘, he sings the line ‘Don’t believe in yourself, don’t proceed with belief, knowledge comes with death’s release. Oh oh oh ooooooohhhhhhh.’ Now, I may be twisting these lyrics to my own purpose (but I don’t believe so), but these lyrics could be saying that there is no point in being so sure of anything as there is no chance of reaching understanding in our lifetime, that we are really not as important as we would like to think; we are just a grain of sand. In the world according to Bowie, it may not really matter what you believe in, least of all yourself. This may sound like giving up but perhaps taking this stance can relieve some of the pressure on the modern individual.

Surely, an overabundance of confidence can lead you to starting your own culty religion in East Texas or becoming a reality TV star. Or to be that annoying guy in the center of the room whose mother obviously told him he was special one too many times. More to the point, rather than worthlessness in the piece-of-shit sort of way, are we not just insignificant insofar as it is a proven fact that we are just a speck in an endless and ever expanding and unknowable succession of galaxies? (See film adaptation of Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, which I have written about before here.) Publisher Timo Hannay, in The 150 Things the World’s Smartest People Are Afraid Of when asked exactly what we should all currently fear most, was quoted to have said the following:

It is possible that we are rare, fleeting specks of awareness in an unfeeling cosmic desert, the only witness to its wonder. It is also possible that we are living in a universal sea of sentience, surrounded by ecstasy and strife that is open to our influence. Sensible beings that we are, both possibilities should worry us.

While having a smoke outside in the cold December night after our gig at Feast (info here for the next Feast in March), I made a admission to my sometime songwriting cohort Dave Noble (listen or even download some of our songs on The Silver Jay Bandcamp page). I confided that my artistic progress was continuously hampered by the shifting sands of a fluctuating and sometimes crippling lack of belief in myself and my own abilities. Dave assured that trying to believe in yourself would always come up short. Rather than believing in yourself, relinquish your illusion of control, and put your belief in the creative process. Wise words from a wise man. I wholeheartedly do believe in the power of the process.

Me and Dave, post-gig apocalypse.

Me and Dave, post-gig apocalypse.

Putting to the side the well-documented fact that they would have been, both of them, off their heads at the time, I leave you with the following sentiment. David Bowie, under the influence of William Burroughs, would famously cut up pages of words or sentences, arrange them on the floor and assemble them at random. (Aw, you guys are a couple of regular cut-ups.) If that is not the ultimate in relinquishing your own ego to the work and believing in ‘the process’, then I am not sure I know what is what, or what to believe. !?!?

All my love, as always, AGJ! XOXO

AGJ by John Akehurst for Frank and Gucci

AGJ by John Akehurst for Frank and Gucci. A naked lesson in ‘fake it till you make it’.

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About Gracie Johnson

wordsmith, songstress
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2 Responses to Having to Believe While Standing in the Quicksand

  1. jOY gRanT says:

    Loved this bloggy woggy! So hopeful and reminiscent. Thx for including Indio. He’s famous already ;). Love you Amanda and I believe in you always and still. You’ve accomplished so much and lived more truly and earnestly than most people will in a lifetime. I see you standing there on the precipice…

    JOY

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