Friday 27 July 2012

Let's Do This In Chapters

This is a very good idea, to do Chapters.  They will be snappy, informative and admirable.  That is how I think I want to be, snappy, informative and admirable so let me see what I can do.

Chapter One.  Inside The Home.

I cleaned it last week, and washed the floors.  After that, I thought I was Superwoman.  I have discovered the pleasure of watching a bit of telly too, and have managed to put down my paint brushes at the end of the day and trip lightly across the garden to the telly room and see what is on.  What, said Oldest Son with a dreadful expression, are you doing here?  Watching telly, I say, will you join me?  You never do that, he said, his eyes narrowing, What is wrong with you?  It cannot be helped, I said, I am middle aged.

Chapter Two.  Outside the Home.

Youngest Son is on school holidays.  He is 6'4" and only fifteen.  He needs to be exercised like a large hound, and fed quite a lot.  So we agreed that we would do a big bike ride very early in the morning every second morning, and reap the benefits during the day.  He, by sleeping and playing computer games, me, by having a glow of achievement before even 9am.  So on Monday, by 6.50am, I awoke to the smell of Youngest Son making pancakes in the kitchen below my bedroom and thought - Lord, this is serious.  This is going to hurt.  He means business.  Morning!  he cried as I came into the kitchen, serious business this cycling.  Been studying it in science at school and I have prepared pancakes, nutella, bananas and squash for breakfast.  I could only watch him with admiration and surprise.  This child, this giraffe-boy, has spent his whole school year asleep and late for everything, he has risen during weekends at 2pm and lain in a stupor in his pyjamas till bedtime when he has gone back to sleep again.  When, I asked him, did he learn to make pancakes?  Why, I asked him, is he being a bit more normal? 

We left for our bike ride just before 7.30am.  Thirteen miles and an hour and a half later, he returned.  Thirteen miles and two hours later, I returned.  Hurrah!  He cried, this is the life! What took you so long, there is a gym near here I want to join and I think I know where I can get cage fighting lessons!  Hurrah!  And he started to prepare his second breakfast.  Hobbits have it right, he said merrily, first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, supper, dinner.  My Son, I say, you may take the Hobbit Philosophy of Food but you are no Hobbit, you are a Mountain Troll.

All this week we have been cycling in the early morning together and even though I know that it is as early as possible so that anyone he knows has no chance of seeing him out cycling with his fat old mum, the benefits are already evident.  We sleep better.  We feel better.  We are more jolly.  We eat, strangely enough, less.  My mind is clearer and I am so proud of myself.  Youngest Son is also proud of himself, so much so that he is trying for a six-pack in the local gym and had his first session yesterday.  He walked around yesterday without his shirt on so that I could not miss the formation of muscles as they materialised before my eyes.  Son, I said, it will take time.  But my aren't you strong?  Hench, Mum, he said.  the word is Hench.

Chapter Three.  In The Studio

Ah!  The windows are thrown open, the light streams in, and I have been a-painting.  Outside, the Cosmic Gardener has made the garden a little tidy, a little wild, and very lovely.  I never find beginning anything easy, I worry that I cannot do it after all and that I am afraid.  This week I have been very involved in the portrait of a lovely young man, the son of my friend Sam of Soul Carers (  He will be finished this weekend, and I have painted him playing his guitar, with a halo around his head.  The background is bright sunny yellow, which I am surprised with, but it works.  When Sam agrees, when it is properly finished, I will post a picture of it 

On the first day of painting the face and making it into a proper portrait, I simply did not want to do it.  It felt too hard, I was very afraid.  But then I thought, if I say this prayer that I found in a book somewhere, and say it quietly so that no one hears me and laughs at me, perhaps that will help.  The prayer is addressed to God and you say, I will do the quantity, you do the quality.

I stuck at it and by the end of that particularly difficult day, the face and head were fine.  I know I can do it, I thought afterwards, why do I allow myself to struggle so?  That little prayer always works, it is grounding and helpful, and it got me through.  It is simple and kind.  Try it yourself, and see.

I have two approaches to a) painting and b) writing.
  • Painting - I let go of my thoughts and I go somewhere where I don't need words.  It is a place outside myself and it is important that I go out there to it.  This place, though I go out towards it, is of me so to speak.  Not a place belonging to someone else, though I leave myself to go out to it.  
  • Writing - I go inside my mind and settle down to engage with myself.  I like my mind, it is good company for me, and writing means I go in there, right inside, and settle myself down to see what I have in the cupboards and rooms around me.  I meet all sorts of characters in there, all sorts of situations, there is never a dull moment.
Other paintings I started this week are of Winnie, for AGD and asked for by Sam of Soul Carers.  Winnie, dying, is a tiny face surrounded by wispy white hair in a big bed with two Care Home Staff trained by Sam as Soul Midwives, holding her hand and doing what Soul Midwives and many of us sitting with the dying do, holding a Vigil. Keeping the silence, keeping the space, staying with Winnie, letting it happen.  As I started painting this, I used large brush strokes and for a very brief moment, turned it into a pseudo Degas.  Fab, I thought, and turned it back into an Antonia Rolls.  And finally, I am doing my lovely friend Caroline Soar.  I need Stevie Wonder's Songs from the Key of Life to do that, which is all fun and fine.  I will post photos when they are done.

Chapter Four.  Future Stuff

Future Stuff!  Love it.  More cycling, Eileen Rafferty photographer extraordinaire comes to stay this weekend, and Caroline's beloved partner Bette is coming to dinner.  Tonight's dinner will involve cream.  Enough said.  Bring it on.

The new all singing all dancing website being designed for me by Neill Blume will be up and running on 10 August.  Can't wait.  It should be all that I do in one place, which will thrill you all and that is how it should be. 

I had a startling thought last night, and am wondering what it takes to become an artist in residence at an undertakers.  Fortunately, I have a friend who is an undertaker (as one does), who is open to the idea, and we will speak this week about some thoughts on the subject.  This friend runs the Elizabeth Way Funeral Services, and is a very well loved, well known lady. 

I am taking part in the Kicking the Bucket event in Oxford for the month of October, though I will only be there on the 27th.  I am on a panel watching the new Nell Dunne play read through and answering questions afterwards on death and dying and spirituality.

October 30 to November 2nd 2012 I will be at the Spirit of Caring - Spirituality and Well-being in End of Life Care for LOROS Hospice Care.  The event will be in Northampton.  I will be hosting the AGD exhibition there and giving a presentation on Spirituality and End of Life Care.

There is a chance I will take AGD to Edinburgh for the Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief Annual Event in November.  I hope I can, it would be lovely to meet them.

And finally, I am going to Dorset next week with Youngest Son, Niece, and Mr Bedford, my esteemed other half.  There will be no cycling, no painting, no writing.  There will be only eating left, and I will do that with aplomb.

Friday 20 July 2012

Life Boards Sessions, Kit and Caroline. And Mum.

Today, I am hosting a Life Board session in my dining room.  I think this is a very good thing, and will help within A Graceful Death, and will help without A Graceful Death.  Life Boards help you to express what is inside you at this moment.  They are therapeutic, yes, and they are fun and totally absorbing.  This is what happens. I fill my table with wonderful things, feathers, sticky jewels, paints, poetry, paper, glue, scissors, butterfly shapes, images, textured paper, net, fabric and so on.  We cut, stick, arrange, create, make whatever feels right, onto a board.  When the session is over, it is wonderful to see quite how lovely the item we have created is.  It has to feel right all the time while you are making it, otherwise it won't work.  We chop and change, try a bit of fabric here, make some words there, layer images and think about colours and when you finish it, you have to say There. That's how I feel.  That's who I am.  When you look at it, you recognise it but you don't always know how you got there.

Eileen and Bette doing Life Boards in the sitting room.  The blue bum is incidental.  Bette is wearing a bit of pink netting, she is getting right down in there.
 Today's ladies are going to give me feedback, and after this session I will know how best to do Life Boards at the AGD (A Graceful Death) exhibitions.  I will also offer it generally as something that is very illuminating to those who do it, and to those who are bereaved and in despair, it can be very reassuring.  Gosh, they have said at the end of a session, did I do this?  I am not bad, not bad at all, if that is what I came up with.  It is lovely.  
Bette's Life Board.  Butterflies are Bette's thing at the moment.
Amanda's Life Board.  This is full of twinkles and layered textured paper  

another Life Board
Life Board sessions will be up and running soon for all of you.  They are excellent for anyone who wants to express something but doesn't know how.  They have been extremely good for grief and bereavement work. 

What is happening here in Bognor?  Indeed, what is happening here in Bognor.

A Graceful Death is at a new stage. I am expanding it to include workshops and talks from personally selected professionals, working with the dying.  These include the already very popular Poetry Workshops with Penny Hewlett, plus workshops and presentations on end of life Health Care, Therapies, Spiritual Care, Funerals, Music and I hope, Dance.

I am painting two new paintings too. One is of my dear friend Caroline and one is of a lady called Winnie, who has been joined to AGD by a very loving and experienced Soul Midwife and Care Home Manager, called Sam Reynolds.  Winnie was one of Sam's ladies and since Sam has trained all her staff as Soul Midwives for Care Homes, a lovely moment was captured of Winnie being gently accompanied by two care home staff as she died.  I never met Winnnie but I know and have seen the work that Sam does, and I am delighted to have Winnie with us.  Here is a website for Sam, she runs Soul Carers, training for Care Home Staff and anyone who cares full stop, actually.

Caroline, ah Caroline.  Caroline Soar was, is, a wonderful lady who touched so many people by her work and her presence.  Caroline was trained in all sorts of areas within nursing, ethics, the law, and spirituality and she lectured, gave talks and workshops, and was an inspiration.  She was personally engaged with all who needed her, and there were plenty of us.  She was loving, ridiculously lovely, funny and wise.  Caroline helped me with planning and organising AGD, such a good person to have on board.  Then the day I came back from my Soul Midwife training with Felicity Warner in Dorset (Felicity - another extremely good egg -, I had a message from Caroline saying that she didn't know how to tell me this, but she had cancer and it didn't look good.

Over the next few months, I changed from being an adoring fan to a loving friend and saw that apart from being a wise, strong and deeply popular lady, Caroline was terrified, facing death, and desperate not to leave her beloved partner Bette.  Caroline allowed me to see what it was like to be dying while in the prime of life.  Caroline, wonderful Caroline, wanted to be in AGD and gave me something of her soul for the exhibition.  And then, early one morning, when no one was expecting it and no one was looking, long before we expected it, she died.  She just died.  So now, with the help and participation from Caroline's partner Bette, I am painting a huge portrait of Caroline, days before she just ran out of this life full tilt, and I miss her.

If I miss Caroline, then Bette, Caroline's partner, misses her like the sun has stopped shining in the sky and time has stopped still.  My friendship and respect for Bette has grown;  Bette has done two Life Board sessions and has given me not only her time, but feedback and help.  We are thinking that when the painting of Caroline is done, Bette will write in her hand, Caroline's last text messages to her, of love and thanks, just before she died in the hospice.

A few days ago I had lunch in Dorset with Felicity Warner.  Let's just say that four and a half hours was not enough.  Did we talk?  Is the Pope a Catholic?  We talked, laughed, ate, and tried to fit into a teeny bit of earth time, enough to fill a galaxy of catching up and discoveries.  Felicity is the founder of the Soul Midwife movement, and is writing her new book on everything to do with Soul Midwifery for all to have and do.  ( A Soul Midwife is a spiritual and emotional companion for the dying.)  When I arrived at Felicity's course in Dorset last November 2011, my aunt Kit had just died (as I got into the car to leave Bognor, I heard of her death).  Aunty Kit was immortal in our, her nephew's and niece's, minds. It was not possible for Kit to be anything but alive.  Kit was exquisitely pretty, teeny, funny, naughty and clever and for ages I wished she was my mum instead of my real mum because she had different coloured wigs, false nails and false eyelashes.  And she let me wear them all.  And, Kit's feet were tiny so when I was about 8 or 9, I could wear her high heeled shoes and wigs, false eyelashes and false nails.  And Kit painted murals on her walls, and had a catapult to aim from the sixteenth floor of her Birmingham flat, at a dog that never stopped barking somewhere below. What the hell.  Obviously my mother didn't have these things (she had me and my three brothers, all four of us born within 5 years, she didn't get round to wigs and high heels) and Kit was meant to be my mum. Thing is, all her four hundred million nieces and nephews thought the same thing. So I arrived at Felicity's with the death of Kit in my heart. The day I arrived back from the course, I received Caroline's news of her cancer and the shortness of her life left.  However, teaching us to accompany the dying with love and compassion is Felicity's mission.  I just seemed to have been mystically accompanied from day one, at the beginning of my journey as a Soul Midwife, by people I would much rather have discussed it with only, than have to have to deal with their deaths in a practical hands on Soul Midwife way.  Back to my lunch with Felicity this week, it was inspirational, funny, revealing and great fun. Felicity will be giving a Soul Midwife workshop in St James's Piccadilly on December 13 from 2-5pm, and I will be helping.  Much like Anthea to Bruce Forsyth, I hope.  (AGD was exhibited over Easter 2011 at St James's Piccadilly.  Good memories.)

My mother has just called.  Is the blog about me?  she asked.  Am I in it?  No I said, it is about me.  Actually, she is in it and I feel a bit bad that she isn't taking a more starring role.  So I am going to put her in, linking it brilliantly to what I have been writing about.

My mother, with Kit's rock under which are buried Kit's ashes, in the corner of Duncton graveyard.  This is a secret location and only mother knows which rock to talk to.  Shine on, Mother. 

Thursday 12 July 2012

How To Be Meaningful

Quite.  How is one meaningful?  Today, I awoke from an uneasy sleep where I dreamt I had grown a moustache, and felt anxious about the day ahead.  Spending the day in bed was, to my early morning mind, a lovely idea.  But 7.30 arrived and I knew that if I didn't get up, then 15 Year Old Boy wouldn't get up either and I would get the blame.  (You, the school would say on the phone, are to blame!  What is the meaning of this?  Ooooh, I would say in reply, that is the whole point!  I don't know!  Ask me later!).  Once up, once standing upright, things are always a little better and so, making myself do this, stand upright, the day begins.

I know that I get anxious on waking when the day has no particular order to it and I have a great deal to do. Most of it is for some date in the future, but with much complicated (to me) preparation involved, all of which I have to do.  There is no timetable except that which I put in place.  I could spend the day in bed.  Or I could leap to attention at half past seven because I had made a plan the day before but, not having done that, and not giving in to the day in bed, I take the middle path and start the day anxious, but upright.

Meaning, you cry.  What about meaning?  In order to make any progress today, I have to create meaning.  I have to say to myself, Create meaning!  That is the way forward.  What is the purpose of today?  When you have found that out, write it down in your diary, and all will be well.  And so, with a quick glance in the mirror to check that the moustache thing was only a dream, I write down

Meaning of Today is ...

and I don't know what to write.  What is the meaning of today?  I'm blowed if I know.  What, then, I ask myself, do I have to do?  Maybe that will help. Oh a million different and very important things, says my mind, and all at once, now, if you please, and I think, no, that's no good at all. Scrap that. I put on the kettle for my morning pot of tea, and look once more at the diary with Meaning of Today is.... and I think, the meaning of today is irrelevant!  You are barking up the wrong tree, my girl, and this will get you nowhere.  Today having meaning is neither here nor there.  You will philosophise yourself into a coma.  Once in a philosophical coma, I am told, it is notoriously difficult to come back out again.  This is a narrow escape.  By trying to discover what the meaning of your day is before you have even had it, and while you have much to do and many paintings to paint, you are falling for a sneaky ploy by your subconscious to stop you from doing anything at all.  It is, I said to myself, not on. Stamp on it right now.  Subconsciouses are notorious for sneaky ploys and you have to show them who is boss.

So with purpose and vigour, I make my pot of tea, and select the mug I most want to drink from today from the rows of multi-coloured mugs hanging from hooks in the kitchen to enhance the tea drinking experience.  I select the most appropriate tea cosy from the basket of tea cosies that have the same function as the rows of mugs, and take a tray of tea over the garden into the studio. That, I say to myself, is meaningful.  Making the tea like that is meaningful.  Knocking the philosophising delaying tactics on the head was meaningful.  You, old thing, were ever so slightly meaningful there, and didn't even know.  Goodness, I say, I like this.  I can do this.

It seems then, that it is not the day that needs to have meaning, it is me.  I like this too, and I give myself a pat on the back.  Clever you, I say to myself.  And now we come to the question at the beginning of the blog, of how to be meaningful? Well, here's a thought:  the task you are doing may have meaning, and that is good.  Unless though it has meaning for you, then only the task has meaning and you don't. 

 How to be meaningful?  Find meaning in what you are doing. 

Good lord.  The woman's a genius.