Monday, 25 December 2017

To blog on christmas day morning is a little sad, it declares my solitude, it shouts out "unloved". Who is alone on christmas morning, who is not embraced in tender arms; the arms of children, the house full of sound and sweetness, laughter, chatter, squeaks of delight, paper being torn, chocolate-y smells and excitement about the day ahead, thrill and happiness on a comfortable bed of love pushed beyond exhaustion but ready to pull out a little bit more to make the day still better, more wonderful, or wrapped in the arms of a lover, face to face, eyes meeting, a kiss, a smile, a gentle "happy christmas love", maybe christmas loving, maybe a spliff, maybe a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of champagne, soft socks and nice clothes, pretty new underwear, a relaxed meal-making, a walk together, and warm snuggles on the sofa in front of the tv, and so on and so on, we know the ideals and sometimes we have those christmas days, and sometimes we don't.
Obviously this year is a bit of a funny one. I've had rough christmases before. There was the year the builders left me without a kitchen, the whole back end of my house a destroyed mess, oh yes that was one of the years Jon had dumped me for a while too. It was the last year of my degree with a dissertation hand in hanging over me. My ex-husband rescued me and took me to his to celebrate with him and my youngest son. God bless Archie, he is a christmas king. Last year my mother and I were barely speaking, that was horrible, I didn't know what to do,she was sending me aggressive letters asking if I'd cancelled christmas and calling me bad. I remember Jon was sweet and sympathetic from a distance. And once again Archie rescued me.  And then there was the first christmas after I'd broken up with my older two children's dad, aged 23, broken, lonely, no money, Jessamy said she wanted pizza and McCain alphabites for christmas dinner, and we went to the local playground - alone, christmas was over by about 2 in the afternoon. My poor little girl, I'm so sorry. The following few were not much better. They started to improve around about 1995. 
Enough gloom. 
But, see, christmas is a funny time of year. It amplifies whatever is going on, if it's good, yippee, it's not so good, woah, it's not so good and then some. .And there is a lot invested in it "what are you doing for christmas ?" your christmas represents the who you are in the world, are you loved ? are you a giver ? a taker ? a nobody ? it's really unconscious, but having had some real loser christmases I feel able to say that christmas is a place where your status becomes glaringly obvious.  
And then all of the memories flood back; that song playing in the supermarket - Fairy Tale of New York, or whatever your song is, and that film - The Muppet Christmas Carol, that detail, the same old christmas decorations - tinsel getting more shabby every year but kind of lovelier for it's shabbiness, it holds the spirit of christmases past, the Carols at Kings (in Cambridge) which takes me back to my childhood and my mum tuning into a scratchy old wireless, and my grandaddy, and Jon, sitting in my living room watching it on tv, and him being so fragile and vulnerable, talking about his boarding school and childhood, and loving him so much. 
This year, it might seem like I'm lonely, waking and blogging, heavens sakes, but actually i'm fine and anticipating a sweet, soul-nourishing day with my sons and ex-husband. They will, i am pretty sure, get fairly drunk and be funny and loud. And Rich has been away, across the other side of the world, for two years so this is  a much longed for re-gathering. And the celebrations are set to continue throughout the week, Boxing day with all the people I love the most overlapping if not for all day, at least for a while, in my home. And meet-ups with my mum, and then my dad and stepmother, and a theatre trip. If all goes close to plan this year may be very lovely. 
So what is my point, I have no point, my blog is my journal, it's the place I make notes, mark out my journey. If I had a house teaming with children, and the responsibility of a massive dinner to cook i'd not be blogging, if I'd woken beside Jon, i'd not be blogging, but as it goes I have only a small warm cat for company this morning and not so very much to do until Richard and Archie and Amis turn up so i do have the time to blog. And if blogging on Christmas Day marks me as out of the loop, which it kind of does, so be it, that's my life. It's not obviously glistening. 
But .. in a bit I will put out food for the birds and I have a feeling that the robin that owns my garden will sing in thanks. And I'll begin to prep the vegetables for later. And switch on all the lights. And put on the radio. Light the fire. I guess shine is a state of mind as well as body. 
And to finish this blog, I am going to share something that came up on facebook a day or so back on the John O'Donahue page. It was an image of a doorway, and the two or three paragraphs came from his unpublished writings. The gist of the words as I understood them was that christmas is an opening, a timeless space, where all the christmases meet. So this morning is this morning but it is also all the christmas mornings, all my christmas mornings, all the worlds christmas mornings, a shared space that tracks back through to time before before christmas was christmas and maybe forward too. At a time when I have to be straight and admit to feeling sad about Jon I find that thought comforting and kind. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hmm, I am back to "if" well maybe I never strayed that far from "if" .. tho' my "if" is changed now, in that Jon's death has stolen a line of if's away, and presented me with ones that face backwards, and act only as life lessons: what if, if only, if I, if he, if we, if they, if this, if that .. the same words connect, but their meaning is changed, and the thought process has no concrete worth, nothing can be changed now and life goes on. 
Life goes on. For sure I am sadder now than I was before, aged a little, his death has cast a long shadow and darkness resides in my heart and I cannot yet see through it. I guess I'm still winded. I am back in the living world, but my living world is missing the companionship of one I loved, and that changes the way I live. Physically, perhaps not so much, but my emotional landscape is not the same. 
I look back at the time I spent with Jon, and on one hand I feel blessed and thankful for the magical days we spent together, glad to have known the sweetness of him, to have shared so many happy days and nights, and on the other I feel damned and bitter that it was so short a time, that because of who we were we failed to make good.
And if, if, if, which was running through my head as a constant refrain in the week or so before he died, not knowing what was coming, has come back buzzing like a summer fly. If is such an open word, so promising. If ... like the parcels under a christmas tree, like new year's eve, like the handle on a door not opened before, what if, what's next, what now. 
The death of another, an other that was held close, erases imagined future, obliterates hope, the space left is interesting. When Jon died I felt like I'd been transported to the middle of a vast desert (I may have said this in a previous blog) at first I felt as if I was caught in a sandstorm but as it subsided and I began to look for bearings whichever way I turned I could not really see a horizon because the land blurred into the sky, meeting as a line of burning light. And there were/are no landmarks to view to suggest a way forward, just miles of blank sand or dust. 
Slowly I have begun to add scrubby low growing plants here and there, and desert mice and snakes and scarab beetles, images my head has gleaned from watching David Attenborough and reading St Exupery I think. But essentially the landscape is still pretty bare. 
I've been trying to put this purgatorial landscape onto paper, I cannot claim success on this front, but I think the trying has value. I know that one thing leads to another, that ugly/bad work can lead to work I am more content with and willing to share with other people. It is, if nothing else, a way to blood-let, to move my grief, to map or chart my grief.
But "if" .. where is this word leading me ? It is as if I am on the cusp of something new but the pathway hasn't revealed itself yet. I seem to be holding out for something, but I'm not sure what. Is my hesitancy right or wrong ? Is it inertia or cowardice that is holding me back ? Or is my caution wise, allowing me sensible pause ? It is un-nerving. Action is positive and draws commendation. Inaction conjures up my "inner critic", my judge, my whip .. "you are lazy, useless, wasting time, you are lame, making a fuss ... move on" .. the child in me says "wait" so waiting is what I am doing, but I hope my nerves hold while I'm waiting and that I can use my waiting time usefully.  

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Grief. Grief is a cruel place. There is no hiding. There is nowhere to hide. I have no skin. I cannot face out the world. I can only be me, raw in pain. I am "sans vetements" - excuse me, I don't speak french and I don't know how to put the hat on the e but those words are the ones that came to me.  My being, my belonging is gone. 
How do I reach out from this awful space. It is so huge. So unlike anything I have ever known before. I am alone here. I am alone and I don't know how to move on. I don't know how to move, period. I am fixed in this terrible solitude. I have reached into my solitude before, solitude can be ok, can be a sanctuary, but now it is deep loneliness. Deep knowing that here in life there is no-one who will understand the world as I do. 
Maybe we all carry this grief in us. Maybe it sits in us waiting. Waiting to meet us. Waiting it's moment. It lurks in the shadows. And we look away. Refuse to acknowledge it's existence. Paint over, wall up, shut down in order to protect ourselves. 
What do I do now ? What do I do now that it exists within my body, something I cannot deny, something I can neither repress or express. I am locked into stand-still. And yet the world moves on. And asks that I move on too. 
I am letting deadlines pass, this, that and the other, submitting a proposal for an exhibition doesn't guarantee you a place in that exhibition, but not submitting guarantees that you will not be in it. I know that what I have to do now is draw in to my studio practice, make the work I need to make without care for how it is received by audience or witness. It is a test of my resolve because it is easier to give the world what the world seems to want to see. Clap-clap, well done, oh yes, this is pretty, this is good, this is accomplished, mathematically sensible, technically excellent, creates order, or shocks only in ways that we understand and accept shock. 
I can't fall back into technical brilliance, I'm not technically brilliant, if I could, life might be simpler. My primary medium is thought and feelings, from those base points I attempt to make work that makes visible that which I'm thinking and feeling in order to offer a window into my being. At the moment my mind and heart are blown away and my thoughts and  feelings far out and beyond. I can't draw them to order they will do what they will, go where they will, be what they are. 
Slowly I am reconnecting with my workspace, it is, I know, where I will make sense of where I am, but I am bringing in to that space something bigger than me and it's daunting. I will be fighting my demons I'm sure and that's scary but what else can I do, where else can I turn, this is my battle to stay good for my family and there is no one but me that can fight that battle. Death is stood at my back at the moment and I'm having to force my face to look at those I love here, to let myself plant hope in my future, and joy. I think I'm not unusual in living this space. I think it is probably common to anyone who has loved and lost to death. But, it sure as hell is not comfortable or cosy.  

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Today I am wrestling with a deep sense of futility, I don't know what the point is, I don't understand why people are mean, I'm worn out with the mean-ness, not just other people's mean-ness my own too. Mean-ness is a poison, a virus, mean-ness gets passed along, one to another, until it's source becomes unclear, and it intermingles with mean-ness from other sources and becomes even more deadly. It is ugly and unkind, it is bad laws, bad teachers, bad parents, bad families, bad friends, bad government, bad being. It is maddening. How do you transform the anger, regret, frustration and sadness that mean-ness creates into something that hurts less ?  
I think about Jon, I think about the good things, and then I think about Jon, and I think about the bad things. And I think what am I supposed to learn from this ? what am I supposed to make out of the past ten years in which he played such an important part ? 
I don't really know what to do. I seem to have drawn to a halt. To be fair I was in pause before I found out he was dead. But now I'm in arrest. And then my mind kicks in and says "come on, get on with it, life goes on, better get a move on, no time to waste" .. but my heart says "woah, slow down, let things be, this is big, you need to give yourself time, be patient, be still, it will all be ok" .. I know which voice calls to me but the other one is commanding and hard to ignore. 
It's a trust matter. Do I trust life enough not to push, not to pull, to just be ? Do I trust life to carry my matter to where it needs to be ? Am I strong enough, malleable enough, to let my intuition guide me ?  Whew.
Death is a break. A break in the line. Where once there was possibility now there is not. Grief is not a chosen course. I had no idea that my response to Jon dying would be so profound. We hadn't seen each other in years, sure I harboured hopes, but the reality was our paths had diverged and were unlikely to cross unless by design. I was sure if we met our friendship would come through, my love for him was more than the love of lover and more than the love of a friend, he was my kin.
I have had no control over my feelings these past few weeks. I really have felt more crazed than I ever have before and it's pretty scary. There is definitely a before and after. I look back at myself coming home from Dublin, innocent and unprepared, happy and full of myself and my where i was going and what I was doing. And now I am in changed space, it's unfamiliar and I'm acclimatising to this new world where one of the people I turn to to talk about this that and the other is gone. If I read a book I can't tell him, if I see a lovely thing, I can't tell him, whether we would ever have watched another sunrise or sunset together is debatable, but the chance of that happening is nil now, I will not be able to make him laugh or smile again, I will not see his eyes light up with joy. I don't really know what to say about that except that it sucks and it's made me more aware than before of valuing and loving the people I value and love because people die and when they are gone you can't say "i love you" to their faces ever again. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

I made two pieces of work (White Work 2015) a couple of years ago about my time with Jon. They are double sided .. in the light of his death, and the way that I'm feeling just now, it feels right to give them documented form. They are small and made of scrap and memories. I understand these things are of no consequence to anyone but me now. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Days pass and I am still feeling very odd but maybe not so mad as a couple of weeks ago. The initial shock of Jon's death is subsiding and I'm beginning to reconnect with my body. 
This is a complicated grief. Jon was my ex. Our relationship was not all sunshine and sparkles, his shit did not/does not smell of roses, my shit did not/does not smell of roses, and there was shit in the mix that was not ours and that didn't and doesn't smell of roses either. So with beautiful memories come also difficult ones.
The conflicting images I have of Jon make steady a hard place to find. I remember the tenderness between us, it felt like a miracle at the time and I feel blessed to have known such happiness, to have loved and been loved so well, but then the bits that hurt flash back and I feel angry and sad and frustrated.
People are generally a blend of good and bad. Loving someone means you put up with more of a person's bad side than you would if you didn't care. Love tips the balance so that it favours the loved, gives a little more to the quarter. Ideally this cuts both ways and that way balance is held.
My daughter lost a much loved ex about a year and a half ago and she said this time is a time of bargaining. It's the time where you find a way of living with losing irrevocably someone you love. 
Physically now that I'm coming back into my body I ache and I'm exhausted. My sleep is erratic, mostly I wake at 1 or midnight after crashing out too early in the evening. And food is still a bit of an issue, I am forcing myself to eat but my portions are child size and I am not. Smoking has been a useful crutch. And yoga a lifeline. I can't read more than a few connected lines. Poetry is most helpful, novels, even fairy stories, will have to wait. My heating is cranked up, I figure cold and grief don't go well together. 
That line makes me think of Jon. He talked to me when we were together about his childhood, school, young adulthood, marriage and family. Life had broken both of us, we'd met hardship and struggled and fucked up, but for a little while we found softness and light in each other. Jon's death feels like such a waste. I know it might seem like he was a jerk-off womanising drunk, he was that, but he was also someone sweet and beautiful, someone gentle, someone kind, someone extraordinary. 
Grief seems to manifest differently in each of us, my grief for Jon is like a desert, as far as I can see, in every direction I look, there is no horizon just a blanket of sand and light. 
And so days pass. I'm blogging as a way to make notes. I won't post this to facebook as a wide-open status. I don't mind if it's read, but I don't need it to be seen. Day's pass. Time passes. Love always.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Blogging today because I feel so empty, so voided. All summer I've been blathering on about identity. Blah, blah, blah .. my thoughts, my words, spattered out on a page as if they are important, as if anything I think or say is worth the time and space I give it let alone anyone else. 
Yesterday afternoon I fell asleep for a little while and woke from a dream in which Jon was still someone alive, someone still here, material, someone with whom I could still hold a conversation and get responses that came from outside of me. Waking, I had to recall that he's not here, not someone I can bounce ideas off, banter or flirt with, share moments of wonder that light up my heart in the hope that they'll light up his too. He's a ghost. Supposedly he is in me but fucking hell it's not the same.
Fuck seems to be a bit a word. Fuck, bastard ... the list goes on, sometimes swearing fits. One of the things that I've become aware of is how far in everyday life as I follow societal norms I stray from my heart-mind, how much I depend on the brag and bravado, the big-face voice that the mind in my head throws up. Putting an a thick skin to protect myself, my ego, so that the world knows how fine I am, in mind or in body, or occasionally both .. "I'm diddly-dandy"  "haha what a joke" "look at me and my greatness." 
But what does any of that matter when we are dead. I thought the other day about the impression we make on the world while we are alive. Over the past couple of decades the proud planet-lover will surely have calculated their carbon footprint, once, twice many times. Will likely have done very little about it too. But what about this ? What about the psychic impression we make. Our energetic footprint not in material but etheric terms. In death that footprint is how we are remembered, what we gave, what we took, who we were to those that our lives touched. 
Here, now, I have no new memories to make with Jon. What I have of Jon is what I can recall. I was shocked tho' maybe not surprised by his death, but also shocked at how deeply I feel it. This I think is what I'm trying to say. On a day to day level, we are charged to conform with an intellectual understanding of the world. Too often that intellectual understanding is an act of betrayal to the heart. Too often the outspoken beast - the brain - over-rides the intuition that our hearts offer us as another way. Too often the beast as guide gets it wrong I think. 
I know I'm talking out loud to myself on this blog and that is a sign of madness. I could write it in a notebook, and some that is very messed up I do. But it helps to be witnessed and it helps when people hold out a hand and say "I hear you, I see you, I am here." I think that maybe when I am less insane what I'm writing now may help me later, god willing.  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Turning to my blog as a kind of journal so I have markers as I find my way though this bit of life that feels so sad and lonely and disorientating. Last night I dug out a book Jon gave me which I felt sure would help me to find myself in this new place I have arrived in. The book, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, kept calling to me. And yesterday morning I pulled it from the bookshelf to read in the evening. 
I'd had a rough night, waking too early, the small hours are grim, the dark confines, and grief often hits me like a wall. Maybe it's also because Jon and I often used to chat by email in the hours before dawn, sharing our insomnia, I'd send him a picture or a song or some-such because I was thinking about him and he'd come back with  "you're awake early" and we'd pass words for a while. 
I was out yesterday, my friend Sally took me to Strumpshaw Fen. Jon had worked there as a resident volunteer for six months and had loved it and made friends who I felt might want to know that he is a bit harder to reach now. Strumpshaw was beautiful in the rain. The river was up to the top of it's banks and a light lingering mist made soft the edges of the landscape, the reed-beds and fields and the trees in the distance.  Pheasants criss-crossed our path, Gelder-Rose berries bright red and shiny hung beautiful and under the apple trees were masses of sweet-smelling windfalls of various sizes and colours. 
I was worried coming home that I'd done the right thing, would Jon want his friends to know he'd died ? Was I making too much of a thing ? Would he prefer to slip away quietly nobody knowing ? Would he prefer that I stopped telling the world I loved him ? Had I wronged him ? Was I making a fuss ? And kicking myself for all the times I got things wrong, the times when we were together when I fucked up, didn't cope, when I could have done better, when if I'd turned a different way or been other than how I was maybe it would have gone differently. I don't really know what to do with those thoughts, they exist, putting them down here in my blog gets them out of me. Allows me to admit my failure and doubt.
Sometimes in the past two weeks strange things have happened. On the thursday after I heard of Jon's death, my boots appeared on the bench in my garden when I went out into the garden to smoke, I must have put them out there myself but I couldn't remember doing so, and it felt like Jon was close-close by and the same day a flock of tits came to my birdbath and hung about the rowan tree, a mixed flock, long-tailed tits and blue tits and great tits, and one brave blue tit perched on the threshold* of my back door and looked in just for a moment. And I found by chance the guide to the gardens at Trebah which we visited in Cornwall and inside was a photo of Jon looking into the distance. Last night I opened the aforementioned book he gave me and found a note tucked into cover, it said "you can hear their dreams I love you Jx" and I felt him all about me. I know I'll never touch his body again or be able to look into his eyes, I am confused and surely a bit mental at the moment. But the moments when he feels near are so precious I want to jot them down here in case I forget. 

* originally posted lintel but I had a feeling it was the wrong word .. one brave blue tit perched on the threshold .. it even looked me in the eye .. grief is very very painful  

Sunday, 29 October 2017

I don't know if blogging helps but it's still night and I'm awake and I don't know how to fill the hours till dawn. I am still reeling, still everyday in tears, still not decided if I want to live still. Maybe that seems melodramatic, overblown, crazy, but there's a significant part of me that just wants to die too. It's not a suicidal feeling, I've been there, just a not wanting to live. I have to keep pointing my face towards my children and my grandchildren to remind myself why I am here and that I have people here to whom my heart belongs. But Jon has taken a significant part with him into the land of the dead. 
You might ask why I loved Jon so much, why when he was surely and often emotionally abusive. There is a reason. There is a reason why. When I was 18 I was seriously sexually violated by my then-boyfriend, the act left me damaged both physically and emotionally. Jon was the only man, the only person, to ever respond, without a pause, with kindness and care when I told him very early in our knowing each other, just weeks in. It was at that point that I gave him my heart. Always when he did me wrong I would remember that he was that action. He lit a candle in a darkness that had kept me trapped for over twenty years. 
Jon and I held each other from 2007-2013. We broke up in 2012, but continued to see each other and sleep with each other until the summer of 2013 just after I graduated. When he first spoke to me of moving to Gozo he said it would be a new start for us but it wasn't to be. Whether he meant it when he said it or if it was a lie to soften the blow that he was leaving me I'll never know. He left. I was devastated and poured myself into making a go of being a working artist (what does that mean). I do not know if I have done that. I love what I do but his absence made, and makes, everything a little less, makes all my wins feel empty.
When he left we mailed a bit, me more than him, he was gone. I gather he was happy at first but started to drink again during the time we lost touch. He talked a bit about his drinking when we were together. Drinkers drink.  
In 2015 we got back in touch. I was working on the piece Bigod's Way 2 which was a celebration of our early days, our two year honeymoon period. And simultaneously I was acting as a volunteer arts facilitator with a  recovery group in Thetford. One day while I was in Thetford I was broken into and burgled. Oddly he was one of the first people I texted, and then later emailed. I didn't expect a response. But he got back to me with the words "I care, I read your email and I care" .. to understand the meaning of those words you need to understand that Jon was not an effusive man, he was not prone to showing his feelings, so a declaration of care was pretty momentous. 
From there we began a two year email correspondence. We'd chit chat and pass songs and quotes and news-stories to each other, and books and birds and beaches, pretty much every day. Sometimes we would have a spat and lay off for a week or so but always we'd come back, growling, but later declaring our affection. I was pretty sure that people would think I shouldn't be emailing but I followed my heart and I'm glad I did. Those two years are some balm to the pain I am feeling now. 
But what now. He is buried already. Nearly two weeks dead* and I am one week on from being told of his death. 
I am alone with my memories. I did not know his family and our relationship was essentially him and I so I've no-one to say "do you remember?" to verify our communion, or to celebrate his life with. Maybe that is how it is. That deep and heavy, dark and painful loneliness that is the counterbalance to all the joy that life brings. No one understands any one else, people make an attempt to a greater or lesser extent but in the end we are not that other and can not know that other. Stripped to the bone now as I am by Jon's death. I am more aware than ever of my flawed being, my unimportance and irrelevance and the unimportance and irrelevance of all our lives in the grand scheme of things. 
Apologies for speaking to my page. I long for witness in my sadness as the witness to my once-upon-a-time joy is dead.

Correction *nearly 3 weeks dead

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

So. Jon. Am I allowed to grieve a man who left me ? Am I allowed to feel as wretched as I do ? What is allowance ? Jon was that one love in my life, I have loved before but what we had was extraordinary to me. I'd not known love like that before. I wouldn't be who I am today if I had not met him, had not stayed when the going got tough, I couldn't leave him when things got bad I loved him too much. Loving him didn't mean I didn't get angry with him. Didn't try to fight back when he was unkind. It didn't mean that I was a saint. He got things wrong and I got things wrong. 
His death has made me realise what a waste of time all that anger was, both his and mine, how anger becomes a defence mechanism, how anger protects the heart but also walls it in. I loved him so much. That love is flooding back to me now. I'm remembering the way we played. How we made love, I'm not just talking sex, I'm talking about all the everyday things couples do together, the way you learn to read people that you want to be close to so that very tiny gestures become expressions of love. 
I only found out yesterday evening when he died and how. Those concrete facts help in a way. The solidity of information is ballast when I am feeling far away, out of body, and not really sure what who where I am. He died on October 10th* and was found two days later I do not know who by. I dreamed of him on the morning of the 11th, woke at 3ish from a dream about him. We were in his kitchen in his home in Bungay, a home that is mapped out in my heart, a home I thought of as home too although it was not mine to call home. We were baking a cake together. He loved cake. And laughing and flirting. And the room was filled with golden light. It feels good that we were together, albeit only in a dream, that last night. 
I'm blogging because I need to note down all the feelings I am going through. I am messy. Everyday is filled with tears. Sometimes my legs buckle and I have to stand still and let myself cry until the moment passes. Sometimes I want to curl into a ball. I want to hold him and tell him I love him. 
Today I have been in my garden. We shared each others gardens. My garden was bigger than his, more untidy and he'd do manly jobs that I didn't have the strength or stamina to begin let alone finish. He cut a fine figure in the garden, handsome and rugged. He glowed. And my garden for a little while took on a semblance of order which is long gone now though he created a bone structure, built beds and my beloved compost heaps, laid out the gravelled courtyard space by my back door, and dug holes for ponds. It feels like a lifetime ago now. It is a lifetime ago now. 
His garden was pretty in a different way. When I met him he had just moved in. We watched the tadpoles in his pond turn into tiny frogs, the solitary bees nest in the bee house. And the flowers he grew were amazing. Sunflowers and white cosmos and fennel. And all sorts of hardy perennials I'd never seen or heard of before.
We shared plants. He took forget-me-nots and jasmine from mine and gave me crocosmia and a purple plant that I had to ask him the name of every year and now I will just have to call "Jon's bee plant". These are some of my precious memories. Some of the light that is filling me, compensating for the dreadful darkness that is knowing he never will show up at my door and put his arms around me. That we will never go for another walk. I will never hold his hand. Or snuggle up on the sofa to watch his beloved rugby with him.
When we used to go walking we'd play going on a bear hunt .. say "we're going on a bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one, we're not scared, uh oh grass/mud/some-other-natural-obstacle" it goes on to "we can't go over it, we can't go under it, we've got to go through it" .. so it feels now, this awful grief, one day at a time, or more like moment by moment. I am in strange country now and  I feel lost .. like I am floating .. I'm not sure what is real any more .. I know I am alive but I do not really feel alive. Is that normal ? I have never had grief like this before. Please if you read this blog feel free to comment if you have more experience with death than me. 

*postscript Jan 20th 2018 .. just before christmas 2017, about two months after being told of Jon's death, his family finally gave me the address of the cemetery in which he is buried with a picture of his tombstone .. marked Jonathan Michael Tyndale Hardy (his married name) .. the tombstone gave his day of death as the 11th October 2017 .. i feel it's important to add this postscript so that factual references, days, dates etc are as accurate as i have been told or know. It means that when i had the above mentioned dream he was still alive as i was dreaming.  

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

This post is dedicated to Jon .. who died some time a week or so back .. I arrived home from Dublin on Sunday evening to an email informing me of his death. He wasn't perfect, in fact he could be a bastard, but I loved him and I love him still. 

RIP Jonny my love .. thank you for all that you taught me .. thank you for being the you that you were, the you that pushed me up against my edges and forced me to meet the parts of me that were sleeping or disabled, the you that made me feel like I was worthy of love .. love always darling .. fly happy 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Ok, I'm going to have another crack at identity. I am still in whirl of thoughts, i feel like I'm caught in a spin of wind and leaves but here goes because sometimes putting words to page helps me to make sense of the clatter and rattle, the whisper and whirl. 
Identity has been a summer long point of contemplative focus and one of the things I've been thinking about is identity and social media and the internet. The internet is a bizarre phenomenon, being half way through a century my history spans back to a time when it was unimagined in everyday minds. My children and more so my grandchildren surely could not conceive of a life without it. 
And what has the internet become ? It arrived as a blank space in my life about fifteen/twenty years ago. And probably common to many middle-aged users I have left a heavy trail over those years. I didn't know when I chose my email address that I'd still be using it twenty years on, or any of the user names I have on various social media platforms. Now when I'm asked for my email address i apologise because it feels pretentious and silly but it's the name I gave myself then and I don't care enough to change it. 
Way back before facebook became a thing people used friends re-united and my space to link to their yesterdays and to display themselves to a fairly exclusive world. I don't even know if those two platforms/ethereal places exist anymore, I imagine my space might be quite interesting for fans of retro and vintage. I never used either, in fact I scorned them, like round robin emails they turned me off. Odd really because facebook is a bit like all those things rolled into one, perhaps that's the secret of it's success. 
Because facebook, beast that it is, is huge. Being half a hundred or perhaps too dreamy I can't keep pace with the whole thing. I think I got lost at drop-box and haven't found my way to Instagram, linked-in is awful and Tumblr conjures up images that maybe I don't want to see, Pinterest too but Pinterest is very browsable. I am active on facebook, am a bit hooked on facebook if I'm honest, which means that intermittentantly I have to withdraw just to come back to my self. Here is where I connect to identity and some of the thinking I've been doing of late, and over the years. 
I think I have touched on how our identities are often given to us by others from pre-birth onwards - lord, who knows, maybe it goes back even further, I may pick that up later - and is perpetuated by those who surround us and later who we surround ourselves by. 
But this brand new blank space that opened up way back at the end of the last century, offered each one of us a chance to recreate our being and our sense of self. I know, for me, writing my blog has given me a voice, has allowed me to expose elements of myself that in conversation might easily create a very uneasy atmosphere, conflict, disapproval, disavowel. But in a blog, which is my notebook, my journal, to hell with it, lets lay social niceties to one side be as open and bare as possible, lets lay by the fear of being socially ostracised and say this, this is me, this is my story, my story, refute it if you will, but I claim this as my country, my land. 
Is identity a country ? Is that where nationalism stems from ? When I speak of country I speak of country as spiritual matter more than physical terrain but maybe those states of being are one thing that each of us relates to according to our temperament. 
How does that connect to identity ? Hmm. 
On facebook my identity shifts, I am friends with some 300 people in theory, and whilst not denigrating any of those people or friendships the reality is that most of those people I don't know or barely know, or knew years ago. Facebook is a very, very peculiar place. It's a superstore, a Walmart, fluorescent lighting and musak, it has everything and nothing. I use it to scrapbook, often posting just to myself so it acts like a catalogue of ideas. But my face to the outside varies and has changed over time. Sometimes I am shout-y, fed up with politics, begging, or berating, the world to engage, please engage, use less plastic, vote Labour, sign this. Sometimes I post personal stuff, family pictures, or photos of places I've been to, or I might make public some of the things that have come to me from the internet, music, images, articles, and often I'll share my blogs to my page so that friends or those interested will know I've been scribbling or posted a picture of something. All those aspects of me are me and yet something about my facebook identity feels unwholesome. The unwhole-iness is perhaps the centre of the conundrum. How can I be whole in that sphere which is so very unphysical and in many ways unyielding and enclosed ? The air on facebook is often stale, breathed and filtered and breathed again and again and again.   
I think I mention this because it's hard to pick up nuance and intention on facebook, it's designed for pedestrian encounters, the surface self, when it goes deeper darker aspects of our selves can emerge unchallenged by the restraints of face to face, or day to day, contact. If I know you as a person rather than a string of mostly quite carefully edited images and ideas I will know you differently to if I spend time with you, drink tea, eat cake, hoot with laughter, maybe dance, maybe cry, walk, talk, practice yoga ...  Of my three hundred and whatever friends, some I know from other times and I love to see pictures of them happy and smiling, sharing the delights of their lives and I am sad when they post their sorrows, but lots I have never met, I have linked to them through a mutual interests, art or words or maybe politics, we share a world but our concrete realities are separate. But then there are my specials (I'm guessing we all have those) the people we really cherish, our best-best friends, our families, our comforters. 
Oh what does that have to do with identity ? Recently I went to a short workshop with Hayley Matthews who is currently working on a dance piece called Home-Solo to be performed at the end of November This is a point within a work in progress that she began four years ago. I have watching with interest the evolution of her ideas and was really happy to be able to learn more through participating in this workshop which took the form of a guided conversation, physical and spoken. Sharing ideas about home in a sensitive held environment with thoughtful, interesting and interested others was a real gift. I mention this workshop because, amongst other things thought, it got me thinking about how much identity is wrapped up in the place we call home. The discussion that happened in the workshop was open ended, there was no right thought or wrong thought, no definite because in each of us, perhaps, resides our home and that which makes us feel at home, and no other can really prescribe that home to another, it is a belonging that belongs to the belonger. 
Oh, belonging, that is whole new blog so I will rest here with that. But surely belonging is wrapped up in identity and comfort and integrity within one's being or identity. 
I have diverged in this blog from my initial intent it is often and commonly the way but maybe I will find my way back to an intersecting pathway and be able pick up threads I have put down but still care about as I continue my journey. My search is still active.  

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Some string made from the silk threads from corn on the cob. Very light and quite stretchy. It casts a pretty shadow and smells sweet, like sweetcorn, surprise surprise. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

It's Autumn. It's still warm and the sun still shines tho' night begins to close in earlier each day today it's 6.45, not dark but darkening, and in the morning there is damp in the air and at about 6.45 it is also half light. I know this because I've just re-started the morning yoga class that I love to go to and I leave my house at 6.20ish and it wasn't quite day when the class began at 6.45 this week. 
I feel like I am assimilating the summer and even the stuff that went on before summer tho' that feels like a long time ago. It's been busy and challenging, in good ways mainly. Lots of walking, lots of weather, and lots of thinking. 
I am still thinking about identity which I blogged about a month or so back, but the question that keeps popping into my mind at the moment is "if" .. is that a question ? Not really, but it comes to me like a question and I think it is suggesting new directions in my life. Possibilities.  But the nature of those possibilities is unclear there is only "if", it goes no further. 
Maybe this is a good thing. I am tired after the summer. I'm aware that I seem to have much lower stamina than most of my friends and family, I am quickly exhausted and have to pace myself. I burn out quickly. I wish I was stronger but I'm not so I have to go with what I've got. So although I was hoping to teach a few workshops over September, October, November, the reality is that whilst I have begun drawing them up I am nowhere close to being prepared and my home needs a little tic before I feel comfortable inviting strangers into it as a place to learn. 
My garden is a crazy mess too so I have begun the roughly bi-annual turn of my compost heaps which is a homely, grounding thing to do, a nice way to settle in to the end of the year. I have three bins, the green bin, the halfway bin, and the scrumptious last bin. The end product compost is sweet smelling and, after sifting, soft and crumbly. This is going on the beds in my front garden at the moment. Then there is the clinker, small bits of half-rotted wood mostly, this is going around the base of a small yew tree, and some ferns and hydrangeas. And lastly there are twigs that are still hard and unbreakable these I will use for kindling when they are dry. 
This sifting and sorting game connects me to the earth and the season is earth-y too, fruit is now ripe or over-ripe and mushrooms are popping up everywhere so the air smells of juice and fungus. I think letting myself pause and drop down, mentally, physically and emotionally may be just what I need to do before choosing an if, a way, to go with. 
My if definitely feels like a crossroads. I've come a long way from my past, have built up a length of past that supersedes that which went before and it is unclear to me which way I want to go. So pausing and holding still may be my best option at the moment. Mostly I tend to have too many ideas bouncing around, I do now, but I have a deep longing for rest and play at the moment. Or maybe what I mean is that my focus is rest, and that my hope is that in resting I will re-find my play, re-find my capacity to yield, to soften, to release, to allow, to trust. And that as I do that my choice of path will become clearer or else I will have built up enough strength physically, mentally, emotionally, to make a decision and choose one way and see what comes of making that choice. 
It is possible to double back on a wrong decision but the reality is that often one is so far down the road that it isn't worth doubling back and one way just leads to another and another, and even if you found your way back to the starting point you'd be a changed person anyway. And the starting point too might have shifted. 
So damn me I may have just written another blog about nothing much. Reader if you have come across me by accident or do not love or care for me, please excuse me.    

Thursday, 21 September 2017

And breathe. I did my final sit as a sculpture last friday. I totalled ten days in the end. Ten seems to be my accidental lucky number this year. 
Being a sculpture was truly eye-opening. I gather that I received some votes in public vote for their favourite piece in the exhibition which feels like acceptance and validation. That feels good. I had gone into the sculpture trail imagining I would be a vague presence, a solitary stitcher, an unseen being. But the situation became something else and it quickly became apparent that i needed to give the ride head, and that my task was to hold on to the reins and hope i didn't fall. 
I was one in over forty sculptures, or points of focus. There was a fantastic range of work, the trail was a treat, there was something for everyone. I guess in art terms what I was doing could be called a performance piece, a visitor and fellow artist described it as dialogical art, a term I'd not heard but which seemed to fit because from the first day it was clear to me that what was interesting about what I was doing was not me but who and how I was being seen, the conversations held and the passing of thoughts from one to another. 
Normally I will erect a piece of work and then leave it to be, to stand for itself, putting a piece of work up is a bit like sending a child to university, it's a survive or don't situation, and as an anxious parent I am with that child but not with them, attending, but not attending, because life goes on, the child will hopefully grow and succeed becoming independent as it does so, and the piece of work similarly must fend for itself, accept the onslaught of the elements, criticism and judgement of others.
What was amazing about putting myself into the position of person as sculpture, as object, was that I was privy to the audience response. It felt in many ways like being a mirror. In essence each person who saw me or spoke to me would have seen and spoken to the same person. But there were changing parts. My external presence was fairly constant but with each interchange I took on the gaze of the viewer whether we spoke or didn't. And their gaze interpreted what they saw and gave rise to their response.
Obviously the viewers who made the deepest impression on me were those who spoke to me directly; the ones who took the idea of what I was doing and ran with it, offered their view to me, gave their vision to me, of those who spoke only a very-very few were rude or unpleasant, rudeness is always shocking but it was well balanced with positive feedback and was interesting because as an object my worth as a person was detached from my worth as a sculpture. One woman repeatedly told me that what I was doing was a "cop-out" which felt odd and was hard feedback to receive. It was strange to be so surely dismissed but her viewpoint was viewpoint, and the situation gave license to her to voice her judgement. By contrast the man she was with spoke in softer tones and was one of two people who suggested that what I was doing was brave (not in the sense of climbing mountains brave but, as I understood, raising questions brave which was what I had hoped for).  
What I feel I learned through  the course of the ten days was that how people see may connect but belongs essentially to them, is their sight, their belonging, that we bear witness through our own eyes and bodies, are open or closed, accepting, acquiescent or rejecting, resistant according to our selves, that mostly we project onto any thing our sense of the world, I guess this is why babies and small children are such delightful company their sense of the world is generally clearer, more transparent, more honest, by the time we reach adulthood we are likely to have acquired a semi-fixed sentience born out of our childhoods and those and that which we came into contact with during that time.
I was very lucky to have been supported in this experience by the curator of the trail and the trail was a sheltered space for me to lay myself bare, to offer myself as an object in the hope that in that offering I would give something to those who chose to look. 
There were times, over the course of the ten days, when I experienced serious doubt, and continuing forced me to draw will from my reserves to keep going tho'. I was aware that what I was doing might draw scorn, that my medium being thought might be too ethereal to be called sculpture. I was aware of needing to hold quite a solid entity for the duration in order to ground the experience. I was fearful of being seen as vain or pompous or self-absorbed or full of bullshit. I hope I didn't. In the end I could only be me and I hope that I am not those things. 
It might seem like a very little thing, more natural performers would perhaps make less of it than me, but this month of "being" felt extraordinary, a gift, but also a monstrous challenge. I went in blind, thinking about prayer, and presence and intention. I have come out with my eyes and heart  more open, with new understanding, and a jungle of ideas to explore. 
Would I do this again ? It was amazing but it was also peculiar and exhausting. Would I do this again ?  I learned so much and I know that I am prone to follow my learning. Would I do this again ? I  would. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

And then a little light relief. A Little Bo Peep made out of recycled packaging, made to amuse my daughter and grandchildren who were coming to play later in the day. 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

It seems like the right moment to blog what I am up to at the moment. It fits with the previous posts about clothes, identity and performance, and stories, and being. Being. What is being ? I am at present "being a sculpture" "being a living installation" as my friend David described what I am as number 41 on the Waveney Sculpture Trail map this year. 
Having spent the first part of the summer protesting that I am not performer how do I square that with what I have chosen, what I chose to do way back in Spring when I committed to being a living body at work on site. I had not at that point done anything remotely like what I am doing now but the call to do it was strong and when I mooted the idea with Sarah Cannell, the curator of this years trail, and she came back with a yes it felt like a chance that could not be missed. 
And it is proving to be an extraordinary experience, a fascinating and challenging journey. A weird and wonderful, disturbing but beautiful trip. A peculiar kind of learning that I had not even half guessed at. 
To say I am a sculpture perhaps conjures up an image, suggests that I am holding a pose, painted to look like bronze or stone. I do not think I would be strong enough to do that. What I am is "a being" and in that being I am whatever the viewer sees in me. And as a being I offer myself up as an object. 
But the situation creates uncertainty. Is a person, a living thing, a sculpture ? What nonsense is this ? On the first day I had nothing to mark me as an exhibit tho' the invigilators gave me a sign on the entrance desk saying "Rebecca Clifford is working on site today". Now I have a post with my name and number which lessens the ambiguity and makes things easier in some ways and harder in others. Being defined changes the situation for both myself and the visitor but that in turn creates new quandaries. 
What am I working at ? It is a work day. But it looks like play. It begins when I turn the key in the lock of my front door and set out to get to Raveningham. My journey to site takes the best part of 2 hours and includes about an hours walk to and from my bus stops. And I am never quite sure how I am going to get home tho' through that I have met with unexpected kindness. The walking is important because it allows me to feel the area, I will surely be returning to explore the thereabouts after the trail is done when my feet are free to wander where they will. But at this moment I am coming to know the paths I must take - my commute - what grows where, the  buildings, the animals, the trees, the sounds, the light. This knowledge chimes with the work I made for this exhibition when it was on the old site at Earsham, formerly The Waveney Study Centre, and  before that The Otter Trust, and now Earsham Wetlands Centre. Walking allows me to connect with place, with time, with wonder. The information I gather informs the work I make about a site if I am making something site specific or else the walking helps me to transform my thoughts into something different, by preference lighter and clearer tho' this not always the case.
But as a sculpture I am just me. I am dressed "just so" in a hat, sitting on a white and blue blanket, sewing. I would say that as a sculptural form I only have a small niche market, but as an idea, an odd thought, my being, my posing as a sculpture has sparked some really interesting conversations. Well interesting to me, and hopefully interesting to the visitors with whom I have spoken.
One of the fantastic surprises I have had is that what I am doing seems to create space for people to tell me their stories, not deep confidences but things about themselves that have come up from the situation they find themselves in as we talk, about how we see art, what we see in art, about spirituality, and sewing, and families, and threads, and prayer, and god or no-god, and narrative, and looking, and art again and what is art, and being, and presence, and absence, and more and more and more. 
Over my mother's old kitchen table tablecloth, which I am mending and prettifying after it has sat two generations of children down to tea and has got stained and worn, conversation seems to flow as it would over a meal table. Talk is sparked by my children's and grandchildren's handprints and the fact that the tablecloth has already been witness to my family story. But what is so perfect, so gorgeous, is that each person brings their  own perspective, their being, to the situation. The situation, of a sculpture not being a sculpture, not fitting the accepted terms of reference, sculpture is a fixed entity, sculpture may or may not look like a thing, but sculpture is definitely not living, it may move but it cannot be a human, not a human nobody, allows extraordinary things to be said because the situation is not normal.
Now not everybody wants to look at a human being. I do not know how I would feel about a human exhibit if I went to a sculpture trail. Some keep their distance and look past, one or two have shown obvious contempt but that is the viewer's prerogative, if I was not alive I would not see their response I am challenging the order of things, albeit quietly, and so must accept that my challenge will not necessarily be met with approval. 
It is an odd position to have put myself in. makes me think about zoo animals, and how I see people who stand out in the street, often the people who stand out are society's misfits, the drunks, the addicts, the homeless, the beggars, and the weird, very occasionally the beautiful. It's a strange place to have put myself in, a situation that takes away any semblance of sensible, suburban, safe-thinking, no comfortably sane person would put themselves up as an exhibit, it's a fool's task. 
I will save thinking too much more about the fool for now but there is a part of me that wonders if perhaps that is the space from which I am coming from. The fool as the innocent, as the trusting child. Most of us outgrow this part of ourselves, we have to outgrow this part, or else we cannot thrive, we meet obstacles and as we overcome these obstacles our naivety is somewhat lost. But deep inside of us this elemental character still resides, the need to wonder, to feel delight, to be unwise, to trust is as key to life as more obviously adult facets of our being that help us to navigate our way in the world.
I am back to being. Being is in essence what I am calling visitors who are prepared to see me to consider, my being, their being, our being, the being of this, that and the other, living or unliving. When we talk, if we talk, after a while we seem to meet at a place where we are kind. One visitor said "if only we were all kind then the world would be a better place". 
So what does any of that have to do with identity and clothes, as I am sure I promised I would write about, well it doesn't really so I am sorry for that. The clothes are a thing, because clothes have come up in conversation with one of the other exhibiting artists who wears quite a wild outfit to make his performance art, and I have as result of doing this thought about costumes in film and theatre and so on. My dress for the trail is actually super ordinary in order to be visually unchallenging, I wear a battered hat (this is my concession to costume I think) and jeans and a top that makes no great statement, the picture I want to present is "woman sewing in pastoral setting" a scene that is common and as ageless as a vase of flowers or a child with a ball or a fruit tree or a herd of cows. 
Why have I chosen this as my skin for the exhibition duration ? It's because it's a very real part of who I am. I sew. And sewing is unthreatening. 
My original proposal was to stitch prayers, prayers being of no religious denomination, but more simply the place from which prayer emanates which seems to be common ground. Prayer in this sense is also a deep stream in me and combining stitch with prayer has been part of my creative and personal practice for the past four years and so drawing attention to these elements of my being by being a sculpture feels quite natural and honest and unperformance-y. Which I think is at the crux of finding one's true identity, the man/woman behind the mask, behind the layers that have accrued over years to protect or seduce (more of that at a later date as I feel I am drifting into the comedia dell'arte with all this talk of mask). Earlier I referred to a visitor wishing for kindness to be more prevalent, the word kind stems from old english gecynde meaning natural or native, at other times when prayer is spoken of we all refer to place inside of us which seems to be a manifestation of this natural or native aspect of our being, simple, generous, unblemished and peaceful and unifying. I will follow up on this blog as I hope at least five more days where I will be "working on site" and if the first six days are anything to go by I am in for a lot more thought provoking interaction before those days are up. And maybe that is just how life is, it keeps moving, we can't hold it still, even a seemingly still or fixed thing may find itself covered by that which moves faster and so it's stillness or fixedness cannot resist inevitable change. So Hum. And so hum. Maybe that is why the activities that draw us into our interior selves are so important. Therein we find our eternally newborn selves, our naked selves, free of judgement and censorship, in our vulnerability there we meet, maybe just for a moment, the spirit of prayer, the softness of trust, trust that all shall be well and all shall be well and all shall be well.  


Monday, 21 August 2017

Before I go any further with my meandering conversation with myself about identity I want to write up a little bit about the boots and also the Walk a Mile project. 
Quite a while back at the beginning of the summer my facebook-feed threw up a flyer for Zannie Fraser's intergenerational Walk a Mile project, a series of ten free workshops leading up to and culminating in a performance session. Now I don't really see myself as a performer (more about this later) but the project looked really exciting. Zannie is a professional puppeteer working all over Britain using shadow puppets and the project was based around the clothes we wear and the stories that are linked to them. I love clothes, stories, puppets and shadows. And I had crossed paths with Zannie a few years previously when she was researching a work based on Rumplestiltskin so I knew she would be interesting to work with. 
The brief for the first session was to bring an item of clothing with a story. I took my boots, boots that had seen me through the past ten years, four just about identical pairs. Why buy four pairs of the same boot, oh because they fitted like a dream and I don't love shopping but I do love walking. 
The story of these boots really goes back to before I had them. Way back when my children were small and I really was struggling to keep my head above water, I used to read books about the Holocaust. Grim reading you might think, a bit dramatic, maybe. But in bed hungry and cold and feeling wretched and alone they somehow gave me the strength to keep going. I used to think that if people could survive that then i could surely get through what I was going through which was nothing in comparison. 
As a result of reading around this period of history I came across Primo Levi and various books by him including 'If this is Man' and 'The Truce'. One of the things that hit home was how footwear made the difference between survival and demise in the lager at Auschwitz and later on the journey back to Germany. I think good boots may also have came up in 'All Quiet on the Western Front' by Erich Von Remarque which I also read at this time. Anyway the message hit home, especially as I had just spent a winter walking around in boots with holes in the soles because I couldn't afford new ones, that keeping my feet well shod would likely make a difference to my life and ever since then I have had at least one good pair of walking boots. 
The boots that relate to the workshop had only been around for ten years but all of them were/are reaching the end of their days. One pair is no longer useable even in the garden and only two pairs are good for walking, and even they couldn't do the long walks they did back in the day. 
Oh boots. They are only boots, but they are marvellous boots. Boots that hold the memories of that decade. 
One of the things that was very exciting about the workshops was that it was mixed age groups, this is uncommon. The mixing of teenagers with pensioners and myself and Zannie and a couple of assistants in between made for a challenging but very inspiring atmosphere. Sometimes it felt quite chaotic but somehow Zannie would pull us all together and I would always leave with my head full of thoughts brought on by the sessions. Now a month on there are still things that spring back to mind that I'd like to follow through.
But, there was a pitfall, I had seen that the workshops led up to a performance on the flyer, but for a good six or seven weeks I was in denial, I think I was hoping that everyone else would be desperate to be centre stage and that I could hang back in the wings pouring squash or sweeping up or something else kind of menial. However as the performance date drew closer it became clear this was not an option. And I felt unprepared which as someone nervy and unused to performance made the whole shenanigans a tad too much. I bottled it. Or really nearly bottled it.  
But Zannie and her partner Bob came to the rescue, gave up a couple of hours on a sunday mid morning to lunchtime, by the end of which there was something showable. And hats off and gratitude to them for doing that because, as they said at the time, if I'd bottled it I would have been disappointed. 
The night came and each participant and/or piece of clothing got given a moment in the spotlight. And Zannie and Bob showed us the multiple pieces they had been working on which was fascinating and worth the gulping down of stage fright just to see. How they pulled off the show they did in ten weeks is beyond me, I am always astounded at other people's capability and cleverness. Huge hand clap for all the work they put in. 
And oh boots, what a wonderful hero's send off. Those boots have been a part of me and my life. They have been to Cornwall, Devon, Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, the Lake District, the Dordogne, Italy, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, and all over Norfolk and Suffolk and even a little bit of Kent and London. They have seen me through university, various jobs, rapturous love and desperate deadbeat love and heartbreak and coming back to myself after heartbreak, and illness, and from full-on mothering to my children leaving home and on to becoming granny. Those boots represent a seminal chapter in my life, a period in my history when the changes came so fast they were falling over each other, an exhilarating, exhausting and enormous period of time in my life. And so it seems a bit appropriate that I should have had to face up to one more fear to celebrate their being before they take their final bow. 
Thank you Zannie. 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

But actually, just because this is part of why I wanted to think about clothes I will post these pictures of the boots that have been my companions over the past ten years and took me walking and most recently were the subject of a short performance piece that Zannie Fraser managed to wring out of me over the course of her intergenerational  project - Walk a Mile - that she was working on this summer in which I was a participant. I will write more about this in another blog post because it was a deep learning experience and I want to make notes about it before it fades into yesterday. But for now ... the boots 

Continuing to think about identity. Here's the big question .. who are you ? as the caterpillar said to Alice. Who are you ? Who am I ? 
Stripped back, no family, no friends, no home, no job, who would you be then ? Are you comfortable with that person ? Most of us attach our identity to things outside of ourselves in order to establish our identity. Maybe that is what is so terrifying about Alzheimers and dementia. Perhaps, not just for the sufferer but also those who care. 
Oh woah, that is not where I had planned to go. I had figured to coast around talking about identity being how we dress, who we hang out, yes families but families as a good thing or at least families as a constant. 
But, here is the rub, families are not constant, they shift and change, in the natural order of things children grow up and make lives that do not depend on their parents, parents grow old and die (my parents are both still here, the way we relate may not be perfect but it is still ongoing), siblings part ways and so on. 
Families come in myriad shapes and forms, what suits one may not suit another, the manners of each family vary, some families yield to accommodate newcomers, others not so much. Some newcomers are unbearable, others a welcome addition. 
As a single parent I had to quickly get used to my older two children's father introducing new mothers into the space. Thankfully only two, and both women who my children have benefitted from knowing. I'll admit it hurt, and that there were times i was jealous, struggling on my own it was hard to see him happy. I know that's wrong. But while digging through my catalogue of ugly feelings I may as well get that one out. 
But lets pull back to a more general notion of family. Our first identity is very much visited upon us by the family we are born into, we are good, we are bad, grizzly, easy, pretty, ugly, large, small. It's a natural response to categorise but what if we tie down a person too tightly, squeeze them in to a box that is all wrong, force them to wear a skin that doesn't suit them. 
Adolescence is the first real opportunity children get to take off that skin and try out others. Their friends become their family as they out grow their family of origin. It figures that if your family of origin was a comfortable fit that later when you are gone away you will return but having left it is never quite the same for you cannot return to the innocence of before. 
Lets say that in our quest for identity, we have grown up and left home, and made a family of our own. A self picked family made up of people you really like. They say that we take on the characters of the five people we spend most time with. For many that will be their partner and a mix of workmates and friends. Five is a handful, talk to almost anyone and they will say that they have, at most, a handful of good friends, really good friends, who know them well. So it figures they'd be the ones you keep company with but it's not always the way. 
So looking at identity, we have blood family, the family behind us and sometimes a family in front of us and to the side, and friends and acquaintances who make up our new chosen family. And chances are we may be a slightly, or very, different person according to who we are with. 
I'm going to reference my friend Sally now, who in conversation some weeks back said it's not so much about the other person being right or wrong but do you like who you are when you are with them, are you who you want to be when you are with them. That feels like an interesting spin. 
Am I blithering on ? Yes. How does this connect to identity ? I guess, as I'm really just thinking on to the "page" I'm thinking that this notion of skin, the skin our companions give us when we are with them as part of a collective is all part of the "who am I" conundrum. Those who we find ourselves close to lend their being to our being and borrow, take or steal, a little of ours in exchange. So what you value becomes obvious through the company you keep.  
Where am I going with this ? I'm being long winded and not really getting anywhere maybe. this is not the blog I'd meant to write about how the clothes we wear represent a facet of our identity and so on, but they do. The clothes we wear, the places we go to, the people we hang out with, the things we do, the way we speak, the language we use, our voices. And, well now, maybe that is a path to follow. Who are you when you are stripped back to just a voice ? I'll leave that one hanging and come back to it tomorrow. 

Saturday, 19 August 2017

What is a blog for ? It's hard to judge how much personal life it is appropriate to show in a space where anyone, should they so wish, can see it. And very, very few people are so socially isolated that their lives do not affect others. 
Fore-warned this may be a long ramble, I am thinking about identity. Show me the artist that doesn't come to this at some point in their career. So I'm thinking about how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves. And the space, if there is one, between those two points of perception. And how difficult it is to control the way we are perceived by others. And how we are shaped as children, and from there through out life by our experiences.
A lot of my work stems from feeling. I think it was Maya Angelou who said something along the lines of you never forget how somebody made you feel, you might forget the words and deeds, but not the feeling. I'm inclined to agree. And here-in maybe lies the essence of a being. 
I'm going to skip about here because that's the way my mind works. Those who are not in touch with their feelings or who would rather be unfeeling in order to block out unpleasant feelings are given to suppressing feeling in others. They are quite often people who will talk in a derogatory way about those they deem over-sensitive. But then those who are very sensitive can be so sensitive that their call for sensitivity also suppresses feeling in others. 
It's a fine line and there is a balance that needs to be struck, but that balance is not a command and control balance, that kind of stability is about domination rather than dialogue, the balance is when both parties are able to meet as equals, when no one voice, no one's needs over-rides another's. But how do we measure, how do we gauge, equity.
One of the ways that we find a small space balance in our everyday lives is to mix with people who are of similar mind, body, being, to us. They mirror, and present no deep challenge. It's about finding birds whose feathers and calls are like enough to your own that they feel like kin. 
Ideally you'll grow up in a family that feels like kin. Ideally that family will develop your sense of self worth so that you have no need to belittle either yourself or others. I don't know how common that is. I grew up in a family where I felt like a misfit, it was hard to get things right and is likely the root cause of my self-doubt and misfit complex. I'll get back to that as doubt and that feeling of not fitting is one facet of my identity.  In times gone by it was very uncomfortable, now it is less so, in some ways mis-fitting now is a license not to conform. I am more likely to say "f*** it, they hate me anyway, what does it matter" whereas previously I might have been cowed or my fights would flare, but then die back, weakened by a desperation to be liked and anxiety and fear of abandonment.
But to get back to feelings. I'm currently working on a body of pieces that is drawn from the sludge. The piece titled "Shirley Boyle" in a previous blog was the first to be born from this mire. It's not pretty feelings I'm dealing with. It's, as I say, the sludge, the dark matter; envy, vengeance, jealousy, social isolation, grudge, shame, cowardice, pride the list goes on and probably the prettiest emotions in there are sadness and anger so it's not comfortable space to be occupying. 
But these horrible feelings are shadows that lurk in all of us to a greater or lesser extent, in different measures. There are some sunny personalities who may be less subject to nastiness but those sunshine souls are not common. Oddly when  that which is nasty is  not acknowledged it gains more hold, more leverage, becomes more obvious and requires more effort to cover. And in covering we reduce our ability to experience the counter side, that which is light and free, and also our ability to break away from our demons. It may be possible to maintain superficial appearances but the need to stay superficial becomes a demon itself for it binds us to shallow gratification and a rotten-ness of soul becomes normal, an acceptance of imbalance that is selfishly shifted towards ourselves.
And I think it's easy to find oneself either in a soup of complacent self satisfaction (see David Cameron) or trapped in loveless relationships that only function on a superficial level.
Actually those shallow relationships have a place in all our lives, the capacity to get on relies on us accepting each other on a superficial level, being genuinely decent and polite. But it doesn't seem like quite enough to sustain a marriage for instance, the need to maintain an appearance of shine at the expense of the inner light drives me crazy, makes me feel like a caged thing. That's another part of my identity perhaps, a need not to be confined. 
So I don't fit and I hate cages. And yet, on lots of levels, I do play the game. Because there are people I deeply care for, and for whom I will subjugate my needs because their needs over-ride my needs. Now the trick with this is to make sure that fair play is being done. It cannot be right for only one party to be doing the giving. And whilst this can be seen close to in relationships, it is also the case that some nations, or groups within nations are taking, or giving, too much 
This giving and taking balance and the need for honesty and integrity beg us to ask am I really getting this right ? Am I really getting this right ? I ask that twice because it's easy to say yes when asked only once, easy to push away doubt, or easy-ish to push away doubt Am I really getting this right ?
This is, in a way, where that which challenges us is often a great opportunity. That which, and those who. Those who challenge us, who are not our flock, whatever our comfort zone is, offer us opportunity to witness another way of life. You can travel a long way to do this, I haven't, but maybe I'd like to some time. Or you can do it with those close by. It could be in-laws, ex's, ex's ex's, workmates, bosses, neighbours, someone who rubs you up a little wrong, or someone who rubs you up a lot wrong. 
Generally the challenge stems from a mis-meeting of manners, mannerisms, and communication style, the superficialities, the delicate structures we have built around ourselves that help us to feel strong and stable. It is politics whether it's negotiating between children, adults, communities or nations, and the ability to recognise another's right to be, to exist, is the starting point. Weirdly that right is often overlooked and so the seed of goodwill is disregarded before negotiations begin.  
I think I may have slipped into brain waffle now, and that which challenges us and how we meet those challenges is a story with a different set of keys to identity so I'll save that for another day. Also this blog has stretched out much longer than I anticipated so I'll close for now and continue further down the line when my thoughts are more clear.

Mmm, post script - as regards how much feeling I put into my blog, how much of my personal life I expose, I think I came to the conclusion a few years ago that as much of my work stems from feeling, or feelings, if I am explaining the thought behind what I am doing I am pretty much bound to lay bare those feelings. Those for whom it is too much I assume will look away. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

And here is a picture of the beautiful Ella who I met along with Andy when I made Bigod's Way 2