Elegant, flowing, beautiful hands. Chatting with Jonathan Meth, I was struck by how eloquent his hands were.
Social decorum crimped me and I felt I couldn’t interject to say - wow your hands wonderfully mesmerize me. Social media strips decorum, so I can say that now.
My writing threads go back to when Jonathan ran writernet which harks back almost 20 years ago now. Now, I’m stepping back into a writing practice or perhaps a playwright as a multi-disciplinary arts-investing person, a some time mingler - which I’m told is a form of covening. It’s amazing to re-connect and hear how artists’ work have developed.
Jonathan has kept an international network of artists through Fence, which seems to me an evolution from the dramaturgical work of writernet (I will split the post and write about Fence in another section). He has also developed a practice in disability arts - and our shared interest in autism crosses over here. There’s a lot to Jonathan’s practice.
Across time and space, we end up on a warm New York autumn evening drinking a bar tender’s choice of drink, 10 over years since we last met.
The disability practice is described in this 2015 Guardian article and on his own site here. What I took away is that there is a strong disability arts practice in various countries, often forging on with limited support, but creating a long history or astonishing art. Three of them are partnered in Crossing the Line (not to be confused with the project that Gideon Lester and others are involved with): Crossing The Line (EU) is a project of the co-operative partnership of 3 European theatre companies: all leaders in the field of working with learning disabled artists. The partners are Moomsteatern in Malmo, Sweden; Compagnie de L’Oiseau Mouche in Roubaix, France and Mind The Gap in Bradford, UK. Jonathan is project dramaturg, and is hoping to expand the partnership to many more countries.
We also intersect on Ambitious about Autism. This is an ABA led group in the UK on ASD special education needs; but Ambitious acknowledges that the tent is larger than ABA and so pushes forward across a range of ASD advocacy; as child-centric and child-led practise informs much of good SEN (and typical) practice today, whatever techniques you find that work (and research is still relatively poor).
Drawing this part together, it was apparent to me that Jonathan speaks many languages. The language of art in its many dialects, the language of SEN, the language of policy makers and funders.
It dawned on me, I speak several of these languages too, and that we need more of us in today’s word. More than ever.
Jonathan spoke of Isaiah Berlin’s Fox (after Greek poet Archilochus) who ‘know many little things’. As Jonathan writes: “They react to challenge by drawing on a pattern of general, pragmatic understanding, often making mistakes but seldom committing themselves to a potentially catastrophic grand strategy.” As opposed to the hedgehog, which knows one big thing. It reminded me of this Nassim Taleb conversation with philosopher Constantine Sandis - Taleb argues a cousin piece of thinking:
“I do not consider myself a hedgehog, but a fox: I warn against focusing (‘anchoring’) on a single possible rare event. Rather, be prepared for the fact that the next large surprise, technological or historical, will not resemble what you have in mind (big surprises are what some people call ‘unknown unknowns’). In other words, learn to be abstract, and think in second order effects rather than being anecdotal – which I show to be against human nature. And crucially, rare events in Extremistan are more consequential by their very nature: the once-every-hundred-year flood is more damaging than the 10 year one, and less frequent.”
Being open minded, being open to possibilities when they happen, intertwining chance - taking those chances - those challenges are absorbing them to make you stronger (anti-fragile, even more than resilient)
Looping back to Spike, that chimes with some of what I hope for him, that we can expose him to enough small and varied challenges and opportunities that he find enough to think, and be, and to find purpose. It’s hard for Spike to do that within an institution. We will find a way.
This last few days in New York has felt a little like that - throwing out the the threads - listening - thinking - being - meeting: from the chance meetings (triggered by the Empty Space), the semi-chance meetings like Jonathan; the near misses (Gideon, I’m still hoping); the re-connections;
Mixed in with the latest in pharmaceutical, medical technology and consumer genetic thinking.
And, I am thankful for that. Part two of conversation here.