If someone was to clear away your stuff what genius would they find?

Wonderment only comes when we realise by chance what we were missing

Gordie Jackson
6 min readDec 30, 2017
Looking into the darkness of the morning / gjphoto291217

No matter how similar the routines of our days no day is the same. I awoke this morning first at 6 then at 7. At the point at which I was to rise, I heard the voice, “You only need to be in this moment and in this moment you will get up” and I did.

Inside my head was a tree house and the voice had now a face. It was green, elfin in appearance. I haven’t a name yet though I sense this dude is going to be around. He reminded me of the Jiminy Cricket character who accompanied Pinocchio.

Once up I peered through the window into the darkness of the morning, photo above. My mood was lighter than yesterday morning though maybe because it is Friday I felt I had got to the end of the week and the weekend would begin later in the day.

I watched part of a documentary the other evening of the actor Judi Dench. I was reminded that separate to the performer is the human. She as Judi is just one of us but as a performer, she excels. Somehow watching it gave me a glimpse into my own performance. For a moment I could see myself as an actor as I performed a role. Usually performed to an audience of one I was pretty well convinced as I looked on. Funny how we are the last to see what we do as a performance.

I have become distracted in my reading. I listened to a few episodes of

I have no idea whether other countries have a national radio network paid by the state such as we in the form of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). We have at least 6 BBC radio stations. BBC Radio 4 I thought was going to be the most popular but a quick google reveals it is the second most popular with 11.2 million listeners each week according to media.info.

You see how easy I distract myself! Now I am talking about radio. Anyway, my point is the nations radio stations look after us and each weekday evening Radio 4 has a book at bedtime. It broadcasts at 22 45 hours for 15 minutes and of course by 23 00 hours the British nation is fast asleep until it wakes at 05 20 when the Shipping Forecast followed by a news briefing at 05 30 ready for Prayer for the day at 05 43 ( If you an atheist you can mute the volume.)

Anyway back to Elisabeth Oliphant, she is a woman of routines and according to a reviewer ‘Every office has one’. If I go then back to Lonely in the City, the source of these distractions, I have fallen into the book with the story of Henry Darger. In her interview with The Guardian, Laing gives her take on Darger.

If anyone can be said to have worked from this place, it’s the outsider artist and hospital janitor Henry Darger, who was born in Chicago in 1892. Darger’s life illuminates the social forces that produce isolation — and the way the imagination can work to resist it.

For decades Darger lived alone in a boarding house room crammed with hoarded rubbish. In 1972 he became ill and was moved unwillingly to a Catholic mission. When his room was cleared, it was discovered to contain hundreds of paintings, of almost supernatural radiance.

These baffling, beautiful collages were populated by soldiers and naked little girls with penises. Some had charming, fairytale elements: clouds with faces and winged creatures sporting in the sky. Others showed exquisitely staged and coloured scenes of mass torture, complete with delicately painted pools of scarlet blood. Together, they described a coherent otherworld: the Realms of the Unreal, site of a devastating civil war between forces of good and evil.

Since his death, theories about Darger have proliferated, put forward by an impassioned chorus of art historians, academics and psychologists. These voices are by no means convergent, but speaking they have established Darger as an outsider artist nonpareil: untutored, compulsive and almost certainly mentally ill. Over the years, he’s been posthumously diagnosed with autism and schizophrenia and declared a paedophile or serial killer, an accusation that has proved enduring despite an absolute lack of evidence.

It seemed to me that this second act of Darger’s life compounded the isolation of the first. The things he made have served as lightning rods for other people’s fears and fantasies about isolation. But what this pathologising elides is the damage wreaked on individuals like Darger by society: the role that structures such as families, schools and jobs play in any person’s experience of isolation.

Like many lonely people, Darger’s childhood was full of shattered attachments and broken ties. His mother died when he was four. His father was too ill to care for him, and so he was sent to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, where extreme violence was common. After escaping, he worked in the city’s hospitals, where he spent nearly six decades rolling bandages and sweeping floors. Intelligent and talented, he was deprived of both love and an education, and in his entire life had only one friend.

He built the world of the Realms out of almost nothing, against extraordinary odds. I realised this most forcibly when I visited the recreation of his room in a Chicago museum. It was packed with art materials: pencil stubs made usable by being jammed into syringes; piles of children’s paints and crayons; broken elastic bands mended with tape. In all his life, Darger’s income never exceeded $3,000 a year, and yet he had accumulated these resources, painstakingly gathered from among the discards, the leavings of the city.

Why did he spend his life creating a universe of such violence and beauty? There is a theory that loneliness stems from a profound sense of disintegration, caused by just the kind of broken childhood Darger suffered. It’s a longing not just for love, but for integration, for wholeness. Now look again at Darger’s pictures: the unleashed forces of good and evil brought painstakingly together, into a single field, a single frame. Insane? I don’t think so. It’s the work of someone absolutely alone, struggling with all their might to make sense of suffering and disorder.

What draws me to Darger’s story is that I have never heard of him. This man was born in 1892 ran away from an institution for children and found a job as a hospital janitor remaining there for 60 years. It wasn’t until near his death 80 years later that his painting and writings were found as a neighbour cleared the rooms he rented for years. Henry spent the best part of his life healing the wounds of his deprivation by creating another world to inhabit in his paintings and his writing. It is believed he wrote the longest novel ever running to over 15,000 words. Henry created this as healing never publicises himself and only being discovered near to death.

How many of us out there are living lives that the rest of us should be sharing if that were possible. Perhaps only the wonderment comes when we realise quite by chance what we were missing.




Gordie Jackson

Speaks with a Northern Irish accent, lives in Hertfordshire, England.