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

And in detail ..

I thought maybe it would be interesting to see the Jon Triptych together .. 

Today has been the final day of the Cley 17 exhibition. My line of sticks drawing out the path I  was forced to take after the man I loved left me for warmer lands and new loves will be up until tomorrow, tonight is it's last sunset and moonrise.  
I do not dare to hope that any viewer, even my close friends, would see or feel what I see and feel in the work, why would they, but for me it has been perhaps the most painful of the three parts of the triptych which I can only call "Jon". 
It describes for me all the time we spent together, good and bad, and all the time after, it is every memory, every interaction, every person, place, happening, it is those known and not known. It is the people we were with before. Those people who brought us to the point where we met. And it is the people we have spent time with since. Tomorrow I will be taking it down. And I will admit that this last week has been a bit of a tearful one because it is an end and it still hurts that I was not enough. But I have to accept that. 
The right to choose how, where and with whom we spend our life is an animal prerogative, I myself am not very well domesticated and Jon was the first man I ever gave my destiny to. But he wanted to be somewhere else, with someone else, someone other than me. That's life. You only get to choose your own path. That choice might bend towards another but still it is your choice to bend or not. 
No body is tied to another beyond pregnancy. After pregnancy I think most parents try to be in their offspring's life and to hold a course that allows them to grow into themselves and reach out into the world as joyfully as possible. 
I'm thinking about this parenting thing as my daughter is currently trekking across Europe with her two little ones, my grandchildren, Luca and Elidi. I'm a bit off social media, feeling unsociable and burned out, but still checking in with the photos she is posting of their journeying. All my children are grown and fledged now, watching them fly is wonderful. I wish that I was as brave and unbound as they are, I am glad that they are braver and better able than me to reach out for what they need to be happy. 
So I guess this is a closing "Love is a Long Road" blog. Love is a long road. It is a pick yourself up and dust yourself down when you stumble road. It is a whoop-whoop, happy-happy, things are going great road. It is a trudging through mud and mire for miles and miles with the sky dark and wet, and every cell in your body is begging for warmth and light, road. It is a sunshine and grasslands, meadows and butterflies, skylarks and gentle breezes road. It is a stop a while and tend the garden, make tea, make love road. It is really the way you choose to live your life. The who's, the how's, the where's, the dot-dot-dots, the compromises you make or don't make. After tomorrow sometime I will post photos of the sticks as they have weathered, assuming they are still there, just to document. Tomorrow, they too will be in my past, the mileage I racked up yesterday. And I will pass on to the next chapter, the next verse, or maybe on to a patch of oblivion, of not minding, not caring, just being, not trying.