Thursday, 28 July 2016

Keeping the stone...

In the good old days deciding if you were mad or not was easy. Firstly you might have hairs on the palms of your hands and if you didn’t then looking for them was clearly a sign. Foaming at the mouth was also a pretty reliable indicator that you had lost the plot. Too much self-pleasuring could also do the trick with the added bonus of making you blind to boot.

Apart from wearing a chicken on your head, bearing your bottom in a public house, and acting a little simple, walking around naked in public was another sure fire affirmation that you were bonkers. Of course seeing visions, hearing voices, shouting out profanities, refusal to swear allegiance to the monarch, even getting pregnant out of wedlock could, and often did, get you either locked up in an asylum or sainted. 

Well I have done all of the things above except the pregnancy one. So I’m pleased that times have changed from the days when thinking and acting differently to the norm clearly labelled you a madman or woman.

Madness isn’t the simple thing it used to be. Back then if you were mad you were mad. It was a blanket term to explain any form of strange behaviour, an umbrella to catch all sorts of ‘not right’ thinking and actions. Today thankfully we have a better understanding of the mind and what was once simple madness - by yesterday's definition - is a now a host of things from anorexia and autism to psychosis and schizophrenia.

It still carries a stigma though if you are bonkers. He's as mad as a hatter, a nutter, one sandwich short of a picnic, not the full shilling, out of his mind, a loony, crazy, ga-ga, a basket case. But who really has the right to decide who is mad and who is not? I think we all experience altered states of minds at various times that cause us to behave differently to the ‘normal’ us. I know somebody who bursts into tears and screams and rages at the thought of a spider being in the same room as her, another very calm chap who when he gets behind the wheel of a car goes from being a polite young man to turning into an absolute sweary bloody bastard, yet another who likes to wear make-up and women’s clothes.

They are all mad by the definitions of even a hundred years ago when all those cowardly madmen soldiers came back from the trenches with shell shock.

It’s society who decide what is sanity and what isn’t and each society sees things differently. What would happen if somebody turned up today claiming to be the son of God, an ex-footballer for instance? How would the genius who was Van Gogh be treated today? How would Grayson Perry have been dealt with in Van Gogh’s time? I doubt that Van Gough would be locked away these days and I’m pretty sure that Mr Perry would have been incarcerated back then. What about Einstein at the time of the Inquisition? Dali, Gauguin, Beethoven, Bosch, Agatha Christie, Tesla, Schubert?

We all have a little madness in us. It used to be seen as a stone in the brain and surgeons would try to cut it out. But when that stone is used for good and with creativity it is a wonderful freedom and it's only where it is used to do harm and cause destruction that it becomes a debilitating prison for each of us - and I've known both. Talking for myself I'd prefer to have it. I think a person needs a little madness. How else would we ever dare cut the rope and be free of a stunting and numbing convention?

Madness can be a kind of freedom and as Mr Humphries used to say with such gleeful aplomb - ‘I’m free’.

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