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‘A visceral experience of psychosis’: why one artist spent three years painting bipolar disorder | Books

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Up a steep road to the top of a ridge, all the mundane falls away.

From here, between the surrounding hills of the Northern Rivers region of NSW, the great heft of Wollumbin Mt Warning is revealed – its forested flanks a blue haze, its rock face summit glistening in the sun. Wedge-tailed eagles ride the thermals above, and rainforest redolent with wildlife runs in every direction.

It is to this place, Uki in the Tweed shire, that Matt Ottley retreated more than 10 years ago. The musician, artist and children’s book author lives surrounded by a raucous avian chorus. In this house – his refuge – he has found peace from the pain of his past.

Ottley has always had a heightened sensitivity to the hurt and beauty of the world. It’s something he shares with the young protagonist in his latest release, The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness. It’s a monumental project comprising not just the book but an accompanying symphonic score on CD, which was performed by a Czech orchestra, and a 50-minute animation created from the book’s 74 paintings and illustrations which is screening in small theatres around the country.

Illustration of a baby and two people holding it from Matt Ottley’s book
‘The tree came out of one of my own psychotic experiences where I thought I had something growing inside me.’ Illustration: Matt Ottley

The story follows a boy who, like Ottley, sees things differently. “His gift showed him things so beautiful they made him cry. But it also tormented him with the pain of others that made him feel numb,” it reads. The narrative unfolds around the metaphor of a tree growing inside him: its flower is ecstasy, its fruit is sadness. It was inspired by Ottley’s bipolar disorder, which he was diagnosed with in his 40s.

“The tree really came out of one of my own psychotic experiences where I thought I had something growing inside me,” he says. “It was a plant that was sort of floral in nature. That’s what I wanted to express.”

In the book, the tree morphs into a flying cow, a reptile, then a blue bird, which flies across mountains and oceans into a world of “beauty and wonder”. All of the stages of the journey represent the stages of psychosis – such as in an ancient city, when it encounters an egocentric sovereign with the huge bulbous body of an insect.

A painting from Matt Ottley’s 2022 book the Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness, the illustration is of elephants walking up a rainforest-lined river
A painting from Ottley’s 2022 book the Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness.

“She is the sort of infantile self at the heart of psychosis,” Ottley says. “When you are in that state the other doesn’t exist. The world has become so warped and you’re trying to navigate your way in it.”

Flying over valleys and hills, the boy travels through the stages of fragility and revelation into darkness and tempest – until he comes back into the world and himself with “quietude” and hope.

As we sit on his terrace overlooking the natural vista, freshly baked muffins are placed on the table by Ottley’s partner, Tina Wilson. Ottley is a gentle man, delicate and kind of beatific with long white hair. One of the country’s most popular author-illustrators, he has worked on more than 40 titles – among them last year’s prime minister’s literary award-winning kids book How To Make A Bird, written by Meg McKinlay.

Matt Ottley painting in his studio in Uki, New South Wales
Ottley in his studio in Uki, New South Wales.

But he says the scope of his creativity has come at a terrible price. It wasn’t until his mid-40s that Ottley was properly diagnosed and treated for type 1 bipolar disorder. By then, he had suffered countless frightening periods of mania and depression, psychotic episodes that would end in psyche wards, and two suicide attempts.

“I have had some very high level creative abilities that are a result of being bipolar – but it is a huge price to pay for that,” Ottley said. “If you could have access to a magic button that would turn this illness off, most people would say no because of the creativity. But I would says yes.

“If I could relive my life without any of the creativity, if I could turn this illness off and live a quiet life, with a quiet mind, I would.”

He used to hide his illness, living a life of secrecy and shame. As a teenager he “would just go to ground or go to my room and ride it out. Until I was in my 40s, I just felt so alone with it.”

Ottley spent the first 11 years of his life in Papua New Guinea at a time when the country was becoming increasingly dangerous for Australians. When he was nine he was sexually assaulted by a man, a trauma he believes may have triggered a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder.

“The way it’s explained to me is that you basically inherit a number of genes that – when they are switched on – you start to experience the illness. It can be trauma that switches those genes on.”

In the following decades, whatever he tried, his illness would be waiting to grab him and drag him down. He would become unwell, crash and burn and run. He failed school – “I just couldn’t do it” – and followed his father and brother into the bush to work as a stockman, but says he “was not good at that sort of work”. He studied at Julian Ashton art school, became unwell, went bush again. Returning to the bush became “a pattern”. He studied music at Wollongong University, but couldn’t complete that either. “I actually don’t have any educational qualifications,” he says.

Image from the Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness by Matt Ottley, 2022
‘If I could relive my life without any of the creativity, if I could turn this illness off and live a quiet life, with a quiet mind, I would.’

Ottley also has synaesthesia, a neurological condition. “Sound starts to become very colourful and I see lots of shapes, and start becoming hypersensitive to sound and light.” In a rehearsal with musicians he can tell if someone is a bit off-key, “because it is the wrong colour”.

The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness had its genesis in two periods of illness. During a severe episode in 2010, Ottley lost the ability to understand speech. But music was “crystal clear,” he says, “so I started writing music”.

“The sound I was hearing was 97 instruments. I wanted a string family of 50 players, a bass clarinet, a bassoon.” This would become the overture to the symphonic soundtrack to the book, with tumultuous crescendos falling to wailing laments; recorded by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra and the 40-voice Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, it is the sound of psychosis.

An illustration of a tree and flowers against a black background from Matt Ottley’s book The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness
Ottley, who has synaesthesia, says music makes him ‘see lots of shapes’.

“If you start creating an orchestral sound in your head and you’re becoming unwell and you tip into psychosis, you can actually hear it like it’s out there. It’s a 68-part fugue that is meant to represent the clamour of noise in a person’s head, whether it is multiple voices or any other kind of auditory hallucination that is happening, and just becomes unbearable and you just want it to stop.”

A couple of years later, keeping a recovery journal after another serious episode, he wrote the poem which would become the text of The Tree of Ecstasy. “It just sort of dropped out of the universe.”

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The music took two years to compose, and the 74 artworks took three years to paint. Together it is a towering work for adults and children; a luminous, intense and ultimately beautiful journey through the stages of psychosis, and out the other side. “I wanted to create a metaphorical experience that goes straight to the emotional centres, to give people a visceral experience of what it feels like,” Ottley says.

“I think the arts are a direct conduit to our deeper emotional thinking that bypasses logical, superficial thinking, and can get right at the heart of what we feel about something.”

Ottley’s aim is to destigmatise mental illness, to illuminate the experience of those who don’t live with bipolar disorder and advocate for those who do. “Probably the message is that it cannot be about judgment,” he says. “I think all things can be achieved through empathy. I encourage people not to feel humiliated about those aspects of their life, or the thoughts they have around self-harm or harming others. To be really, really open from a very early stage about these things. Because of the deep shame that surrounds these things people just remain closed until it is too late.

Illustration of a boy sitting at the edge of vast waterfall from the Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness by Matt Ottley
‘I wanted to create a metaphorical experience that goes straight to the emotional centres, to give people a visceral experience.’

“You can get a diagnosis, you can get treatment. Go out into the world and find the people you need to talk to, and ask for their forgiveness for your behaviours, and forgive yourself as well. The condition doesn’t go away, but life goes on and you can find peace.”

Creativity has always been Ottley’s salvation – “I could always turn to that” – but it is the love of his partner and friends that has brought him to relative tranquility.

Likewise, his book ends with his protagonist hearing the distant voices of those who loved him calling him back.

“I am here” he called. And so he came back into the world. And still the Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness was within him. And still it grew flowers. And still it bore fruit.

  • The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness it out now through Dirt Lane Press. The animation will be screened on 23 June at the University of Sydney, on 18 and 21 August at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, and on 21 and 22 September at the State Library in Perth

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More than 10K Airbnb listings in NYC likely to disappear in 2023 due to new rules

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More than 10,000 Airbnb listings for short-term rentals in New York City are likely to disappear when tight new housing rules take effect next year, says the Adams administration official tasked with enforcing the forthcoming regulations.

The rules, set to be implemented Jan. 9, will require all Airbnb hosts in the city to register their units with Mayor Adams’ Office of Special Enforcement.

In addition, Airbnb will be barred from processing payments for any hosts who fail to register — and the office’s executive director, Christian Klossner, said those requirements will root out thousands of illegal listings across the five boroughs that are currently advertised on the platform.

“Approximately 10,000 active listings offering illegal occupancy will either be shut down or come into compliance,” Klossner said in an interview Friday.

As of this week, there are nearly 40,000 Airbnb listings in the city, according to data from Inside Airbnb, an independent watchdog group.

Klossner spoke with the Daily News ahead of a key public comment hearing scheduled for Monday, which will be the final chance for supporters and opponents to offer opinions before the rules are finalized.

Christian Klossner is seen in Manhattan on Thursday, October 29 2015.

Airbnb has sharply opposed the rules. In a statement, the company said they will result in a “draconian and unworkable registration system that will prevent lawful and responsible hosts from listing their homes.”

On a public comment website maintained by the Mayor’s Office of Operations, more than 150 people have over the past month submitted testimony. Many of the testimonials are from New Yorkers who fear the new rules will make it harder for them to rent out their homes via Airbnb.

“It’s the kind of despicable, bureaucratic act that makes me want to move out of this once great city,” commented Aron Watman, who identified himself as an Airbnb host in Brooklyn.

Supporters of Airbnb hold a rally outside City Hall in 2015.

Under existing law, it’s only legal for New Yorkers to rent out a section of their homes for short-term use — not the entire dwelling.

Hosts must also under existing law reside in their apartments while renting parts of them out on a short-term basis, which is defined as less than 30 days, meaning it is illegal for someone to temporarily sublet their home while away on vacation.

However, Klossner said thousands of Airbnb hosts are currently able to skirt those restrictions because of a lack of oversight.

“It’s unfortunately very easy right now to break the law,” Klossner said.

He said that will change with the new registration requirements.

Under the proposed new rules, short-term rental hosts must furnish Klossner’s office with the full legal names of all residents of a given dwelling, as well as proof of the unit’s permanent status, such as a lease.

Under the proposed new rules, short-term rental hosts must furnish Klossner’s office with the full legal names of all residents of a given dwelling, as well as proof of the unit’s permanent status, such as a lease. Hosts must also certify that their rentals abide by local building codes, zoning requirements and safety regulations.

If hosts do not produce the required information to Klossner’s office, they will not receive registration credentials — and Airbnb will be prohibited by law from processing payments to them.

If it processes payments for unregistered hosts, Airbnb could face fines of $1,500 per violation, the new rules state. Hosts who rent out unregistered units could be fined $5,000.

“The registration system will have a very significant effect,” Klossner said. “It will allow hosts to know for sure what is and isn’t legal, and bring the scale of enforcement down to a level where the focus can be on those remaining individuals determined to try to find a way around the law.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams

Monday’s final public comment hearing comes as the city remains in a housing crisis, driven by a steep drop in production and preservation of affordable apartment units over the past year.

In July, while announcing a lawsuit against an alleged short-term rental slumlord, Mayor Adams said the housing crisis has been exacerbated by apartments being used as illegal Airbnb operations instead of permanent homes.

“Our administration is determined to preserve affordable housing and cracking down on illegal short term renters are one way we are going to accomplish that aspect,” he said.

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Who are the female union leaders overseeing UK strike action? | Trade unions

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Christina McAnea is the general secretary of Unison, the UK’s biggest union. Brought up on Glasgow’s Drumchapel estate, McAnea left school at 16 to join the civil service, before going to university at the age of 22 and earning a degree in English and history.

A longtime union official, the no-nonsense McAnea has couched Unison’s demands for better pay and conditions for NHS workers, who include paramedics and ambulance staff, as a battle for the future of the health service.

The result of a ballot of its 300,000-plus NHS members was disappointing, however, with the tough 50% minimum threshold for strike action reached at just eight employers – though these include most of the ambulance services across England.

Sharon Graham of Unite
Sharon Graham of Unite has focused on industrial battles instead of Westminster politics. Photograph: Sharon Graham Campaign/PA

Sharon Graham runs Unite, which was heavily involved in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party under her predecessor, Len McCluskey.

Graham, who left school at 16 and led her first strike a year later, has taken a very different approach, focusing on industrial battles instead of Westminster politics. She hopes to increase the union’s leverage by taking on multiple employers across a single sector at the same time.

Unite has claimed several recent victories, including an end to the long-running Liverpool dockers’ dispute, which the union said resulted in pay increases of 14-18% for its members.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, says the government has refused to negotiate. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Pat Cullen is the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, whose members are due to take part in two historic strike days, on 15 and 20 December.

One of six children – four of whom were sisters, who also became nurses – Cullen grew up in Northern Ireland, where she worked in mental health nursing before holding a string of senior leadership posts.

She has been forthright in laying the blame for the forthcoming stoppages at the government’s door, saying earlier this week: “They refuse to negotiate with us and consequently have chosen strike over negotiation.”

Jo Grady (centre) on the picket line at the University of Manchester University last month
Jo Grady (centre) on the picket line at the University of Manchester University last month. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents higher education staff such as librarians and lab technicians, as well as lecturers, is the figurehead of the strike action across universities.

UCU members are protesting about their pension rights, as well as low pay and the increasing casualisation and precariousness of their roles.

A lecturer in employment relations before she was elected to the five-year post, Grady is just 38 and widely seen in the labour movement as one of a new generation of forthright and media-savvy trade unionists.

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¿Por qué el gol de Japón ante España fue válido? – New York Daily News

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DOHA — Japón anotó el gol más polémico hasta ahora en la actual Copa del Mundo, eliminando de paso a Alemania.

Los japoneses remontaron para vencer el jueves 2-1 a España y avanzar a los octavos de final del Mundial con un gol que para muchos no debió ser válido al considerar que el balón había abandonado la cancha antes del remate con que terminó entre las redes. La victoria eliminó al tetracampeón Alemania, que jugaba al mismo tiempo ante Costa Rica.

La FIFA confirmó el viernes que una cámara superior colocada a lo largo de la línea de gol verificó que el balón no salió por completo de la cancha.

¿QUÉ SUCEDIÓ?

Luego que Japón se fue al medio tiempo perdiendo 1-0, el suplente japonés Ritsu Doan anotó a los 48 minutos. Sin embargo, un empate no era suficiente para un Japón que necesitaba otro gol para obtener su pase a los octavos.

Tres minutos más tarde, Japón volvía a penetrar la portería española. Dos jugadores japoneses se barrieron en un intento por evitar que el balón saliera por la línea de meta y Kaoru Mitoma lo logró.

Mitoma mandó pase cruzado a Ao Tanaka, que definió de rodilla derecha.

¿QUÉ ESTABLECE EL REGLAMENTO?

Con relación a ese tipo de jugadas, el reglamento de la International Football Association Board (IFAB) establece en la “Regla 9. Balón en juego” que “el balón no estará en juego cuando haya atravesado completamente la línea de meta o de banda, ya sea por el suelo o por el aire”.

La totalidad del ancho, o circunferencia, del balón tiene que cruzar la línea para ser considerado fuera de juego. No debe estar tocando la línea blanca.

Un ángulo de cámara a nivel de cancha el jueves mostró un espacio verde entre la línea y el balón, lo que hacía que pareciera que estaba fuera de juego.

“De no haber sido validado el gol, no me habría decepcionado”, señaló Tanaka.

REVISIÓN DE VIDEO

Los árbitros en esta la Copa del Mundo se apoyan en 42 cámaras de transmisión para revisar todas las jugadas durante los 64 partidos en Qatar, “ocho de las cuales son cámaras súperlentas y cuatro en cámara ultralenta”, detalló la FIFA.

La tecnología VAR se ha utilizado desde la Copa del Mundo de Rusia 2018.

El equipo del VAR incluye cuatro árbitros que revisan todas las jugadas frente a una gran cantidad de pantallas. Alertan al árbitro central sobre “errores claros y obvios” e incidentes que pasan desapercibidos en jugadas que “modifican un partido”.

Mitoma mandó pase cruzado a Ao Tanaka, que definió de rodilla derecha.

¿QUÉ ESTABLECE EL REGLAMENTO?

Con relación a ese tipo de jugadas, el reglamento de la International Football Association Board (IFAB) establece en la “Regla 9. Balón en juego” que “el balón no estará en juego cuando haya atravesado completamente la línea de meta o de banda, ya sea por el suelo o por el aire”.

La totalidad del ancho, o circunferencia, del balón tiene que cruzar la línea para ser considerado fuera de juego. No debe estar tocando la línea blanca.

Un ángulo de cámara a nivel de cancha el jueves mostró un espacio verde entre la línea y el balón, lo que hacía que pareciera que estaba fuera de juego.

“De no haber sido validado el gol, no me habría decepcionado”, señaló Tanaka.

REVISIÓN DE VIDEO

Los árbitros en esta la Copa del Mundo se apoyan en 42 cámaras de transmisión para revisar todas las jugadas durante los 64 partidos en Qatar, “ocho de las cuales son cámaras súperlentas y cuatro en cámara ultralenta”, detalló la FIFA.

La tecnología VAR se ha utilizado desde la Copa del Mundo de Rusia 2018.

El equipo del VAR incluye cuatro árbitros que revisan todas las jugadas frente a una gran cantidad de pantallas. Alertan al árbitro central sobre “errores claros y obvios” e incidentes que pasan desapercibidos en jugadas que “modifican un partido”.

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