Monday 27 April 2020

The Corona Fairy. Just born this way.

The original inspiration for Disney's Tinkabell
When I was a little girl, I believed - I knew - I was a fairy.  I thought it was obvious, and that everyone else knew and agreed.  I reacted with a passion to colours and patterns, I could see things in the light and all I wanted to do was live under flowers and fly with wings that sparkled.  Fairies wore light gossamer dresses, and were beautiful.  Being a very human child, I was solid, roughly square in shape, with straight white blonde hair that stuck out in all directions and was gathered into a ribbon on top of my head.  At one point, I found some old net curtains in my mother's sewing box, and wore them.  My mother was truly beautiful in real life, and had high standards; she and her sisters made me wonderful pretty dresses that had puffed sleeves, little flowers sewn into the fabric, and white lace and ribbons.  I was dressed so very beautifully and yet, I had a mind that did not touch my mother's world.  The net curtains were what I wanted, and so, I wore them over my pretty dresses and thought I was the most beautiful fairy in the world.
Many knees on each leg

It is worth mentioning that I was not thin, nor light, nor fey.  I was fat, loved food and pretty things in a very solid, uncomplicated and hefty way.  I was one hell of a fairy.

I drew all the time.  I made things, I painted things and lived in a wonderful magical world.  And though life got in the way many times as I grew up, I found great solace in accessing this fairy place where I could express myself and surround myself with colour and beauty.   Even in the times as a young mother when life was very hard and I was lost to myself, I painted pictures in my kitchen and kept little corners of my life for art.  As with all these things, there were times when I could not create, when left with small children after a divorce, and they were the hardest times of all.  It is when we lose something so fundamental to who we are, that we learn its value.

However, we all know that I came through those times.  What always helped when life was not easy was this creative place which thrived on beauty, magic, colour, shape, stories, patterns and my own inner world.  It is as if I have one foot in the real world, and the other in a world of my own making.  Much of my life has been learning how to honour both worlds, and to bring them harmoniously together so that I can live in both, access both, and use both to be the best that I can.  The hardest for me was to find my way in the real world.  It was too easy to escape to the other, but life has shown me that in order to be or do anything, I have to be here on this earth, and love it.  Not always easy, or successful, but so valuable when it works. 

Here we are then, in a lock down in a global pandemic, all of us, living a new version of our lives in our homes.  Some of us have more time than ever, some do not.  Each of us has to find resources from deep inside to find our ways through these days.  I do not know how you are managing, I hope you are finding ways to cope.  I have good days and bad days here, and find that it is my mind that creates how time feels.  It has taken a while for me to accept that my days are mostly restricted to whatever I decide to do in them.  It really is up to me.  The house and garden do not change and time is neutral. There are days I want to escape, there are days I feel ready to achieve great things and there are days when I feel I might as well put one foot in front of the other so to speak, and see where the days lead.  All of these days are valuable, all of them make a bigger picture, and all of them give me insights into where my mind is on that particular day.

I knew at the beginning of this time of isolation, that I could indulge in play.  But it is hard to play when one has been so worthy and all one does is so very deep and meaningful.  What a thing to realise.  All that I do is fine, it is what I do, but the notion that play would be indulgent and that I ought to be able to do it now that I have some time, is a little telling. It is a mindset that say, Play!  Now!  You have time and you must honour it!  Be creative and spontaneous!

Painted plant pots
Whatever hard things this social isolation and distancing has brought for us all, whatever losses we have to bear, for me at least, there is this place I was born with that I can go to, which is creativity.  The place that responds to colour and shape, that sees things in the light, that escapes into the stars and plays with the fairies. The place that made me wear net curtains over my chocolate stained pretty dresses with puff sleeves and frills, the place that made the hard times more bearable, the place that in the years when it was gone, left such a bleak space in my life.  It is time to notice it again, and let it out, so that I can play.

I watch my grandchildren play.  They are totally in the moment and they have no self doubt.  They have something to do, and they do it.  There is no judgement in their play, and when they are playing, which they do all day long, they simply give it all their attention and focus.  This is play.  For me to decide to play, I have to put down my Shoulds and Oughts, I have to make a pact with myself, that the world will not end if I do not do this worthy thing here, or if I do not read up on that worthy self improving thing there.  I have to change my mind and say, it does not matter about these other things!  It does not matter if what you do when playing is any good, or finished, or even recognisable, it simply matters that you go into your creative space, have a look around, and play.

My new friends, the plants and flowers.
My creative play started with the garden.  I planted new flowers and then began to notice what was already there.  Every day, I looked at the plants until I felt I knew them. Nothing happened, nothing was created, but there was joy in observing.  There was a pride in the growing,
changing and moving on of these plants. I became friends with my garden, I felt part of the growing.  There are many flowers and plants in my garden.  It is a free for all with what is in there, and hollyhocks have self seeded everywhere.   And fox gloves, and honesty, and even wisteria.  I have honeysuckle, peonies, roses, fuchsia and ferns.  I have daisies and dandelions, and sweet peas.  And now, thanks to friends at Arun Exact, I have beetroot, cauliflower, sprouts, herbs, tomatoes and
beans.  My lodgers Mark and Kate have made a kitchen garden with them, and we are all as proud as new parents with our teeny sprouting vegetables.  Arun Exact is a peer led relapse prevention service, working with clients in huge greenhouses learning how to grow food and make things from it.  They are doing good work, and are to be admired and supported in every way.  I am joining them as an artist when the world lets us out again.

My studio, everything from

a paper guillotine to pink 
feathers and glitter
Inside my studio in the garden, I have paints, varnishes, wood, canvas, glitter, feathers, materials, papers, paints, pens, books and a million other things.  Including a little heated gun that picks up treated little glass bling stones and glues them direct onto surfaces.  Oh and I have a wood saw, a guillotine to cut paper and a sander.  It is an Aladdin's cave.  But what I am doing in there is working hard on my worthy and wonderful exhibition on Addiction.  I have not glued a rhinestone onto anything for ages.  I have not written in ink on the walls, nor painted furniture for the sake of it for such a long time.  I have not had time.  In fact, it was never time, it was that I did not want to go into the creative garden, in case I never came out.  And there was the dreadful suspicion that I had forgotten how to play.

During this lock down I can and do work on the exhibition, from time to time.  But there is no deadline for it any more, and there is space for other things.

I began by painting my bedside cabinets blue.  That was fun, just blue, no decorations.  The blue is perfect, and I painted them in the sunshine in the garden and when they were varnished and complete, I put them into my bedroom where every time to go in, I admire them.  Then the beads on green flip flops given to me by my dear friend Bette, had all come off.  I had them by the door for a year thinking that one day I will do something about them.  Last week, I did.  I sat in my studio, removed the old beads and glued more sequins and stones from my hoard onto the flip flops and now, they are mended.  Fab.  They catch the sunlight when I wear them, they are the real thing.  I had forgotten the feeling that today, now, later, I can paint a flower pot.  Or sand another table and decorate it.  Or draw, write and post some stories to the grandbabies George aged four and Arthur aged two, all of which I have now done.
A green bee and ladybird table

Disney's Tinkerbell, the fairy in the film Peter Pan, scatters fairy dust when she moves.  This is how I feel when I am happy in my world.  I am not always happy in my world, and I am not tiny, yellow and able to fly.  But the freedom to simply live in the moment with paints, colours, ideas and
motivation to see where it all goes and what happens, that is the fairy dust.  That is where Tinkerbell and I are alike.  When I am not happy in my world, which, being a human like the rest of us, is often, the fairy dust is still there, I just cannot see it.

Detail of the table now in my bathroom
 The creative play, the fairy dust, covers all manner of things.  I have ordered cheap cotton skirts in brilliant colours so that I can wear them all alone in my house.  I have made each room here lovely so that I can sit and experience it.  I have the time after all, and, time is neutral.  It is we who give it meaning. I am learning to let go and give myself permission to experience pleasure and joy, and I am noticing colour, shape, magic and light.  I can sit in the garden and watch everything growing and just doing its thing.  I can sit and read, I can day dream.  And nothing happens, no one minds, and the world does not notice.  For the moment, I can do this, I am feeling peace and healing.  There is plenty out there that will demand my attention and focus when all this is over and we are back in our public world again.

But the gift of this time, for me, in amongst all the hard things of life, is the reminder that my creative world, my fairy dust other world that is so fundamental to anything I decide to do, does not go away and in all the madness of the lives we all live, is only a sprinkle of fairy dust away.

Which is the real Tinkerbell?  I know I can't always tell.  

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Monday 13 April 2020

Birds yelling in my garden, and books on Listening and Sex

Actual birds from my garden in Bognor

I had no idea that birds were so loud.  I can hear them now that the traffic and aeroplanes have stopped and my busy schedule, from before the lock down, has released its hold on me.   I sat in my garden yesterday for some quiet time, and became aware that the birds were not just singing, they were yelling, from tree to tree, roof top to roof top and having a rare old time.  It was a lovely sound, I simply had not been aware of it before.  It was not the quiet time that I had expected, but it was very lovely and so instead of having a ponder, I listened to the birds instead.  Hard not to.  They were like the young people we hear about that gather around an off licence and have loud banter and set off fire works.

I have woken up about an hour before dawn too, to hear a bird clearing it's throat to give a little tweet into the darkness as a kind of warning shot across the bow.  I've been ready for ages, it says.  Just saying.

A few minutes ago I went into the garden to eat eggs on toast.  Another thing that I have noticed is that food tastes much better when there is so little else to do.  The house is clean, the garden is clean, I have changed all the beds and there's nothing I want to explore on YouTube.  I even had my allocated walk early this morning and as there is nowhere else we can go right now, my mind turns to meals.  Food.  What to have next.  Food has become a dear friend to me in these days of social distancing and isolation, in a way that it was not before.  It used to be like an annoying family member that I loved and couldn't do without but wished would go and bother someone else.  Now, when I have had to narrow my focus and enjoy what is in the house with me, food and I have become close.  I am planning what to eat, cooking it, and enjoying it.  Then it leaves me alone.  That is so much better than when it was like the annoying family member and kept pestering me to notice it and play. I would then snack, and graze, and eat and not give it much attention mainly because I was so busy with the outside world, and doing my thing.  I mean, a month or so ago, I had an exhibition to create and an opening night in May.  I had the Dead Good Day festival to do, and a jolly old twenty six mile hike to do for Macmillan.  With food trying to take over all of my attention then, eating could become fraught.  It was a bit of a battle.

So in the garden just now, sitting and loving my fried eggs on toast, I noticed the birds having a lull.  How amazing, I thought, perhaps they have run out of things to say to each other.  Perhaps they are all having a bit of a rest before shouting about who they are and where they live and what is for their dinner, later this afternoon.  Life, in this lock down, is amazing.  There is so much to notice, and so much to enjoy.  I can almost hear the plants growing and the ferns unfurling.  I can see how fast the foxgloves and the honesty is growing and within no time at all, the flower beds are chucking up the greenery, the new bulbs, the new flowers and buds as if they are fed up with them in the earth, and need to get them out.  And of course we have had sunshine.  So I have felt, with the world outside locked up and put away, that from time to time, it's not so bad at home after all.

I have been reading.  Yes.  BC (Before Covid) I was too busy to read.  I know.   I would spend ages watching FBI Files on the laptop, but was too busy to read.  The challenge of sitting and engaging in a book was too much.  I think perhaps I was anaesthetising myself, but that is a habit that is hard to break, and though a bit of numbing can be a very good thing, it has to be watched as it can take over.

I am not finding a need for numbing at the moment.  The world has taken the metaphorical phone off the hook, and all of us are on hold.  Most of us have had to relinquish overnight every plan or idea we had for anything outside our homes until further notice, we have had to let go of all the people who are not in our homes with us when the lock down order came, and we have had to accept a new reality that feels cartoon like in its absurdity.  What do you mean I can't go to work?  How come I can't see my father?  The whole concert is cancelled?  I can't even go outside or stand next to anyone?  What? And yet here we are.  Doing just that, and more.

After a few weeks of this isolation, I am feeling something close to relief.  Perhaps I was too frazzled before with so many things to do, so many directions to go in.  I thought I was doing fine, but I am astonished at the way I am now giving myself permission to do the things I had banished to the corners of my mind because I was so busy.  Things like sewing nice buttons on my jumper.  Planting in the garden.  Painting some furniture blue.  Making stories and drawings for the grandchildren and posting them. Talking online to my brothers. Painting my garden furniture and the garden fence blue.  (Job lot of blue paint.)

And of course reading. 

This leads me on to two wonderful books, both written by dear friends and both polar opposites to each other and their subject matter.  The first book is about listening, and the second is about sex.

Being Rock by Mandy Preece.
A guide to being there for yourself and others; redefining listening so we all feel heard. 

"I could laugh, cry, speak, or be silent and still he listened."

What is it like to really feel heard?  To know that someone is listening to you, allowing you to say all that you have to say in whatever way you need?  What is it like to know that someone will hold the space for you when the world my be crashing around you, or if you are facing the fearful unknown, or you are so angry that you don't know where to begin?

Mandy has spent years on an inpatient ward at her local Macmillan unit, listening to and being with people facing the end of their lives.  She has learned, through so much trial and error, how to not only listen to people, but to hear what they are both saying and not saying.  Her determination to offer the best of herself to honour the last times of those she listened to over the last ten years has resulted in this book of true wisdom, insight and techniques that we can all use to be with those that need someone to be there for them, to be a Rock for them.  And not just to end of life patients, but to each other, family members especially children and teenagers, friends, colleagues and strangers that may chose us to talk to.

Being someone's rock means standing firm, and silent, and still and strong for them while they speak.  We have all experienced someone throwing a statement at you, says Mandy, such as "I slept with my mate's wife." "I think I'm gay". "I'm an alcoholic". "My mum's dying" and we have no idea what to say.  This is what Mandy's book is about.  She says there is a way for us to respond, to simply be there for someone not in an insincere, sentimental or soppy way, but the real thing: being present, being alongside, so that someone feels heard.  It is and it isn't simple, she says. It took practice for her to discover her "beingness" so that she could be truly present for the people she was rocking.

I have known Mandy for years.  I have witnessed her struggle in the days when she knew she had a calling, a gift to offer, and yet it all felt so much like hard work.  When she started this work, Mandy read up about how to be a good listener, how to sit properly, and how to have the right facial expressions. She could not understand why it did not work and no one engaged with her.  Finally, she realised that she was trying too hard and that all that was needed, really, was to be herself and to make herself totally present for those she was with.  It worked.  And now, she has developed her willingness to be truly present as a listener into what she calls Being Rock, and into this beautiful book where we can all discover how to rock each other.

The contents of the book cover

  • Part 1 - rocking others.  In this section, we learn about presence, observing, reflecting, empathy, gremlins (that get in the way of our listening), inhibitors.  
  • In Part 2 - rocking ourselves, we learn about hearing ourselves, self-care and being heard.                     
It is truly the most down to earth, inspiring, exciting and enabling book about listening, hearing, being heard and being held that I have ever read.  I am so proud of Mandy.  Apart from being a rock herself, she absolutely rocks.  Here is a story Mandy shares in the book

Mandy Preece

"I was chatting to a terminally ill patient.  Every so often he 
would drop into the conversation that he realised he would soon 
be meeting his "Maker". On the third occasion, I reflected the 
word "Maker" back.  He didn't acknowledge what I'd said 
but carried on chatting.  When his family arrived, I got up to 
leave, he took my hand and said, "Can you come back 
tomorrow when my family aren't here?  I'd like to talk 
to you about that Maker thing"".

Mandy has received the Princess Royal Training Award for her communications training, and last year she was quite and utterly rightly awarded the NHS Unsung Volunteer of the Year.   I thoroughly recommend that you read this book.  You will be wiser for it.

Why Sex Doesn't Matter by Olivia Fane
Is Sex Natural?  Is Sex Dirty?  Is Sex Loving? Is Sex about Beauty?  Is Sex Political? 
Mench Publishing

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this funny, furious, well researched, personal and highly thoughtful book by another dear friend, Olivia.  It is controversial.  No doubt about that, and it will infuriate many, but it will hugely chime with others.  Olivia believes sex is highly overrated.  She thinks it is great fun, and very pleasurable, but that it has nothing to do with love.  Love, says Olivia, is entirely something else, and sex is biological.  It is, she says, a rather selfish act in that the doing of it, we think entirely of ourselves.  She has no problem with it being selfish, I think she means that it is not actually, in the nitty gritty of it, about the other person.

In the book, Olivia explores sex being all of the above - natural, dirty, loving, about beauty, political, and adds two more chapters, on whether sex is pleasurable, or profound.  I will quote a small bit here for you - get ready -

Olivia Fane
Those who revere sex might talk of a raw honesty between
the lovers, yet it's hard to think of a more dishonest activity.
To begin with, there's the adoption of a 'sexual persona' ...

... Equally, you have to pretend you have no inner life at all.  
No, you do not tell your potential lover about the death 
of a parent, or your anxieties about your daughter who is 
refusing to go to school.  You pretend that qua woman and 
qua man you are perfect and uncomplicated, and a pleasant 
relief from the previous partners, who were getting rather
suspiciously like real people and had to be ditched 
because the sex was losing its power.

No doubt about it, Olivia is debunking myths.  She is described as throwing a rational and unafraid light on the sexual act, and of never shying away from controversial truths and speaking her mind.  Yes.  That is totally Olivia and totally this book.  I was quite shocked at what my dear friend knows about sex now, from her research for this book.  And amused, because I can just see her taking her research very seriously and shocking a lot of people.   She has read and researched extensively, watched porn and talked to strangers, friends, family and those agreeing to be researched.  She has asked me too about what I think, and I know how insightful and searching are her questions. I have seen with others quite how unshockable she is, gaining huge respect and friendship from those who have been on the receiving end of her deep and witty investigations.

Olivia is a wonder.  Read the book.  She is very controversial and at the same time, deeply loving, loyal, generous of spirit and very, very clever.  She may annoy the pants off you, but you will not be bored for a minute and you may well agree with her.

This is Olivia's sixth book.  She and Mandy can both be found on Amazon and Olivia's book is in all larger bookstores, not that that means anything right now, because no one can go there.  Try Amazon.

Mandy is here -

Olivia is here -

And now, the day is closing.  The birds are getting a bit tired, and some of them need an early night so that they can tweet before dawn and get in first before the others wake up.  I have read both books and since I am once more a reader of actual books, I must find another to while away my hours here.  That, and planning my breakfast.

Practising a bit of Acapella for tomorrow morning