Mark: 21st Century Troubadour - Toward Community

Mark: 21st Century Troubadour


What Disney, Vogue and 80s power hair taught me about sustainability

The greatest impressions on me as a child were visual media and holidays.  Naturally I’ve attempted to mimic these phenomena in order to re-live the indescribable freedom that I felt then, with more than a nod to that notorious slippery creature – sustainability.

Films, books, poems, songs and music have always evoked in me a core wonder that is my anchor: magazines, books and songs are no less than visual or musical libraries of attempts at capturing dreams.  This galaxy behind my eyes occupies a greater amount of space than the world in front of my eyes.  It’s my job, my life’s work…my duty, to determine how the space of the 2 worlds can dance playfully, navigated gesture by gesture, choice by choice, then stuck through a sustainable lens.

My parents, conservative working class who aspired for better than they had, introduced me at an early age to the classic fables of Disney.  Simple narrative, sensitively illustrated with gentle or grotesque characters, they capture a grace and charm I longed to see, so absent from the suburbs where I spent my childhood.  Representation of the natural world in Bambi and Pocahontas is a theme that continues to intrigue me.  Visiting Walt Disney World as a child was an enchanting, strange and beautiful dream.  Equally, Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Graham’s Wind In The Willows at an early age left strong impressions that shaped my ideas about nature.

Outside of that quiet private world, as I started university, I studied fashion, then languages and electronic music production.  At the weekends I took retail work and I found a way to be shy and still meet people.  The more people I met, the more friends I made, the more I became increasingly familiar with society’s new Gods: Science and Technology.  Rather than art and philosophy shaping decisions, the way we lived our lives, the way we thought and acted, our conversations, our collective sense of humour, I saw how much more mechanistic things seemed.  The industrial revolution seemed far from over and the world I saw sometimes seemed full of ‘things’ that we believed we could control, tweak or manipulate.  This in turn shaped our thoughts to be reductionist, decisive, binary.   We Googled answers.  We didn’t wonder so much; we didn’t need to.

I needed a more Romantic path.  I first looked for things to do outdoors and so gardening seemed the obvious choice although I knew nothing about it.  I travelled through WWOOF, meeting families, business men, intelligent visionaries and awesome ‘do-ers’.  Somehow I felt that this world still seemed to lurk shamefully, or apologetically or sometimes violently, on the outskirts of society – even being referred to as alternative.  I was confused because I felt both legs were standing in different, opposing worlds, the aesthetic and emotion of which conflicted and competed.  Without realising, I was aiming for a homogenous standpoint: a safety standpoint, as my dream world hung by the skin of its teeth in the background.  Who needed fashion or hiphop when we needed food? I began learning how to cook.

In many ways, my life was very free as I worked part-time and spent all my spare time taking classes – I learnt high diving, ballet, gymnastics, visiting the theatre.  I was very busy and yet something was missing that I couldn’t define, something heart-felt.  Since our environment exerts a profound effect on how we think and act, I decided to change that.  I found an off-grid project in southern Spain, a country where we had also holidayed as children.  I remembered vividly the intoxicating musk air when the aeroplane doors swung open; the unreal blue of the sea where I spent blissful mindless hours.  The colours, the perfume, the romance of this vision inspired me again.

The project attracted more ‘mainstreamers’ – even teenagers who were just curious about the meaning of low-impact and sustainability; no crazy commitments to West coast-inspired diet plans, no self-imbibed apocalyptic horror narratives or eccentric spiritual beliefs – just open-hearted regular people trying a new experience, one of many.  That seemed sensible to me.  I spent almost a year there and now I’m exploring other permaculture and growing projects throughout southern Europe as I keep my hand in with writing, making music, studying and dancing.  On little money, nothing is certain but I’ve learnt that no kind of life offers security – the risks force us to learn, to grow, to accept.  My lack of career ambition is shaping a more practical life.  I am free.

Modifying the very famous line from Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, I believe experience alone constructs our mind and character through a series of surrendering – not cumulative – gestures that attempt, whether successfully or otherwise, to return to the organic patterns around us.  I still look to the natural unrefined world, internal and external, and try to carry the wilderness of my own nature within the confines of a socialised and civilised world.  I’m now more careful to not readily absorb the opinions of others although to listen is valuable.  And I try more to avoid judging others because it is often my own fear flagging up – rarely is something inherently right or wrong, good or bad.  I’m constantly defining the path which gives me strength to hold polarities of action, of thought.  To some conservative onlookers, I could be accused of having a chaotic life, drifting from one bubble to the next with no particular direction.  And they would
be right: just blind idealism that dares to dream.

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Mark Charlton

Mark Charlton is a British Freelance Writer who loves to travel and visit eco-projects, organic growing and sustainable communities to meet like-minded people and continue to steward the planet in a responsible way, while working on his creative productions online. See Mark's Website

3 thoughts on “Mark: 21st Century Troubadour

  • 2nd July 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Such a well constructed article, I don’t know where to start. I especially like that you are being careful not to judge others. This is such an important point for those who would be part of any community. I feel that to truly come together in community means to work through the good and bad with one another – there are a lot of insecurities to deal with. If you’re having a bad day and aren’t able to keep your emotions in check, you’d hope others would be kind and accepting enough to understand. But often we take other people’s negative projection toward us as something to do with us, instead of what is most often the case – to do with them.

    I’d also be interested to know what you’re learned about our collective sense of humour.

  • 5th July 2015 at 11:40 pm

    I agree – well written and very diplomatic. The notion of existing in two worlds also resinated with me (though sometimes it feels like I occupy 3 or 4!) and particularly the description of ‘mainstreamers’ engaging in sustainability projects. When floating amongst said mainstreamers (floating perhaps being the operative word ;)) I’m often accused of being a bit hippyish and eccentric, but then I still tend to find those circles to be excessively ‘out there’ and thus quite closed (intentionally or not). Whilst it’s good to encourage people to embrace some colour and creativity in their lives, I think it’s extremely important that we develop sustainable cultures that are accessable to all, and urge everyone to get stuck in. After all, growing food and building things is a heritage that belongs to all of us – not just the tie dyed!

    • 8th July 2015 at 11:53 am

      Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I’m pleased that it resonates with your experiences. It sounds like you feel as if you’re between worlds, too…maybe a necessary place for us both while we figure out which one fits best. For me, though, a one-size-fits-all culture doesn’t work. While there are shared values beneath a vision of our version of sustainability, I’ve found that encouraging what comes naturally to someone, whether that’s playing videogames, wearing make-up, rollerskating or planting trees, is important so as not to shame or polarize certain interests. The truth is, we don’t or can’t know what is sustainable so why not let the joy of our natural interest guide us? This was the idea behind my article and I write about cartoons and fashion influencing my path to a sustainable life; I experience the opposite to you – the “hippies” thought Disney and Gucci (et al.) were manifestations of some kind of negative viral force. Acceptance and kindness, as clichéd as they are, are the fundamental starting blocks to creating a shared vision of a more sustainable world.


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