We All Shine On – Helena Hann-Basquiat
Sometimes people write so vividly their character detaches itself from the page and begins to live in your mind, giving you clues to the writer’s spirit. Even when the writer is a self-confessedly covert operator, such as our guest today, it can be possible to build a genuine relationship with the person at the other end of the screen. This submission comes from the incredibly elegant, ineffably chic and indubitably compassionate mind of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante (and, if you’re fortunate, damn good friend).
Some time ago, I stumbled across some poetry, and the poems were accompanied by some really stunning visuals – nothing fancy, just simple Photoshopped pictures using stark colours, often incorporating the poet’s face in the images. I thought they were fantastic – they had a very poster-like quality, and the Warhol freak in me did a very minimalist dance of joy. (Probably something slow and lingering — you can’t really get your freaky boogie on to something like Venus in Furs.)
I left a couple of comments in response to the poems, expressing my appreciation, and encouraging her to explore the idea of turning some of the art into posters or prints or T-shirts.
I think my enthusiasm was at once both appreciated and unexpected – that it overwhelmed this person, who has a very difficult time accepting praise.
That was my first encounter with Hasty, and I don’t even know if she remembers that.
Since then, we’ve written to each other via email, we’ve read each others’ stuff, gotten to know a little about each other, and as much as I believe people can become friends over the Internet, I think we’ve become friends. We’ve talked about our good sides and shown each other a bit of our ugly sides, and there’s a mutual acceptance there.
I’ve come to realize, as she’s very open about it, that she has real issues with her appearance. The other day, she wrote about being able to find evidence for whatever you believe you want to find. She was talking about being critical of our appearances, rather than looking for the good things.
As someone who suffers from depression, I know full well the cycle of shame and loathing and embarrassment. Hasty posted that, and received all kinds of really well-meaning support. Yet she still felt guilty for complaining about herself, because that’s what depression does – it’s a spiral that you can’t escape from – you feel guilty pretty much all the time.
A lot of people told her how beautiful she was, etc.. etc… and I’m sure they all meant well. But it really isn’t about whether Hasty is beautiful or not, and telling her that she’s beautiful invalidates the way she’s feeling. If someone says they feel ugly, the solution is not to tell them that they’re not ugly. That’s like telling a depressed person to cheer up, or to not be depressed, because life’s wonderful. Because that’s not their perception. That’s not how they’re feeling. I say this not to berate anyone who tried or tries to encourage someone who reaches out and tells you they’re depressed, or that they feel ugly, or that they hate themselves. It’s a hard thing to deal with, or to know how to respond to, and I’m just trying to shed some light on that. When someone says they hate themselves in some way, they’re not looking for you to contradict them, and they’re certainly not looking for flattery — they’re looking for some understanding.
Hasty and I got talking and she mentioned how she had been called narcissistic because she frequently posts pictures of herself. People questioned the seeming contradiction of someone saying that they don’t like the way they look and yet posting pictures of themselves all the time.
And yet, what I notice is that all those pictures have been run through filters and painted on, and tweaked – and not in a fashion-magazine airbrushed to remove all pores and blemishes way. In a bold, dynamic, colourful way.
It got me thinking about John Lennon. (That’s how my mind works, darlings, I can’t help it.)
I read an interview, or an article or something once that said that John Lennon hated his voice. He was also terribly sensitive about his weight, after some asshat journalist referred to him as “The Chubby Beatle” but that’s another matter. He hated his voice, and often insisted that it be masked, filtered, layered in reverb. This is especially apparent in his solo years, once he had more control over his sound.
Filters, layers, masks…
He hated the sound of his voice, but that didn’t stop him from singing. So, there must have been something there that he found worthwhile – he just needed dress it up a bit in order to be happy with it.
If someone like Hasty looks at her face and wants to photograph it, and then filter it, layer it, and mask it, and turn it into something she can look on with pride and declare beautiful, why, that’s not narcissism; it’s art.
If it was good enough for John Lennon, it’s good enough for Hasty. After all, John Lennon was a genius.
What is your insecurity? What can’t you stand about yourself? And I’m not just talking physical attributes. How could you filter, layer, and mask that thing to make it something you could be proud of, or at least tolerate? I’m not talking about hiding it; I’m talking about making it shine.
The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.
She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.
She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them.
Some people attribute her with inventing the Ampersand, but she has never made that claim herself.
Earlier this year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and has finished Volume Two and is in the editing process.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat