I remember when Sarah Pickthall and I set up Sync, a leadership development programme for disabled people in the cultural sector, one of the first things we asked people to do was to map their energy – when did people feel most able to deliver work, when were they exhausted; what fed them and charged them up and equally what drained them, made them less able to function fully.
Sarah had developed this energy mapping process as part of her own coaching practice, and to map her own energy, which works in a different way to my own.
I was reminded of it this week, I have a simple cold this week which has led to conversations with others about ‘energy-envy’ – who do you know that seems to just keep going, keep going, keep going, never seeming to rest up for a moment. I know for some people, I fit that bill and I acknowledge it can be incredibly frustrating.
But people are different, energy levels are different. Sue Austin articulated the upsides of limiting energy brilliantly for Sync once:
having limited mental and physical energy to act in the world needn’t exclude one from meaningful leadership roles; and that, in fact, the experience gained through ‘difference’ can be a very positive asset.
She wrote about being a fire-starter – the match that can spark an idea that sets light to others to see it flame into action.
There is a current art piece I am following with interest that has some of this at its core – but it’s expanded it into so much more – a brilliant, complex, juxtaposition of ideas, politics and art.
Its called Bedding In Bedding Out and is by artist-activist Liz Crow. In her words:
I wear a public self that is energetic, dynamic and happening. I am also ill and spend much of life in bed. The private self is neither beautiful nor grownup, it does not win friends or accolades, and I conceal it carefully. But for me, along with thousands more, the new system of benefits demands a reversal: my public self implies I don’t need support and must be denied, whilst my private self must be paraded as justification for the state’s support.
Bedding In Bedding Out is a durational performance for gallery settings where Liz makes visible her other side, where she exposes the vulnerability of her work-life balance, where she makes visible her ‘bed-life’.
I want to make a twilight existence visible. But more, I want to show that what many people see as contradiction, what they call fraud, is only the complexity of real life. This is not a work of tragedy, but of in/visibility and complication; a chance to perform my self without façade.
Its next at Salisbury Arts Centre and there are frequent bedtime conversations through the piece exploring the politics and the practicalities of the real hidden lives of many disabled people.
Energy isn’t simple. The different ways we all are in the word are not simple. Surely that complexity adds to what we have? The fact that people function differently, need different things to be at the best, has to be a good thing not a bad thing? Yet part of me wonders why we insist on building things – buildings, systems, structures, processes that only seem to work for those of us with the very highest energy levels of all. Time to make a change?
Image by Sarah Pickthall for Sync, and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.