Threads of Belonging (II)

2nd download May 27th, 2014 002

I live in a small wooden cottage perched on the side of a hill overlooking an undulating valley of farmlands. Every second tap doesn’t work, the light switches are back to front, there are no gas mains and the only heating for the long cold winters is a wood fire. I moved here from the city five years ago and in the beginning it felt very primitive and rustic. I recall looking at photos of this house on the internet and thinking it was laughably inadequate.

My partner (at that time) and myself came for a viewing anyway. The living space was so small I commented to him “we’ve lived in bigger flats”. I looked around the property and noted the waft from the ancient concrete septic tank, unused rundown sheds, the open laundry underneath the house and an abandoned chook house; not to mention a garden overrun with every noxious weed known to the area. At the time I could feel the undertow of the relationship dragging us towards its inevitable end; and buying a house was one of my last efforts towards gluing us back together. We went back for another inspection and decided the best thing it had going for it was the view out of the kitchen window; and dreamt up grand plans to extend the back of the house with floor to ceiling windows along the length of the building.

So in the end the little house that seemed least likely became ours. For the first couple of years we repaired and renovated; knocked down the old sheds to put in a new larger studio and made it homely and welcoming. One day I was standing in the backyard looking up at the house; contemplating all we had achieved and I knew in my heart of hearts that it was over. The only thing left to do was let go of the dream we had shared. We decided it was best for him to move back in with his parents (as they live nearby); and I was stay in the house with our daughter.

I had always known my mother had grown up in this area but never really knew exactly where. It was partly the reason that drew me here to raise our daughter in a semi-rural setting. When my sister traced our family tree she told me our mother’s childhood home had been in the next town. Last year however I was in contact with our aunt who I haven’t spoken to in many years. I was telling her where I lived in the valley and she remarked that the street I live on, the old highway, was the same road where they had lived as children. I asked her what the street number was and she replied there weren’t any back in those days; the postman just knew where everybody lived. She described the bend in the road where the house was, but this steep road is made only of bends and nothing else. This piece of information has intrigued me ever since hearing it. There are a lot of old houses on this street. When I go for a walk I look closely at them all and wonder, was that it? Was that where she lived? I am not even sure if the house would still be standing or has been demolished at some point to make way for a newer home.

This year I turned forty-two and I have spent a lot of time contemplating my mother’s life as she died at the same age I am now. One of the most significant losses I felt when she died was the thread of family story and identity. All the stories of her family and childhood that no one else would be able to talk to me about in the way she did. I was seventeen when she died, going through a rebellious phase and decidedly not speaking to her about anything at all. I had already left home a year before and hadn’t spoken to her in all that time. Not only have I lost the stories of her childhood; but I have lost the stories of my own childhood as well because no one recalls like a child’s mother. I really only knew a few different things about her life and over time these memories have dimmed also. I often wonder now at the threads of belonging weaving their way through my decision to buy this house, because in the end I was the convincer that this was the place for us. I didn’t really like the house, but at the same time I knew deep in my bones that home was here.

I attend a local women’s Red Tent circle in the valley and one the things we speak of is ‘healing the red thread’. Which simply means healing the matrilineal line down through generations of women in families. This house was built in the nineteen sixties which is when my mother would have lived on this road. I often wonder: did she walk past this house? Did she play on the street outside my house? Maybe she had a friend or even knew the family that lived here and had perhaps been inside this house that I now inhabit? It’s a curious thing to ponder – what if a mother more than twenty years dead has ever been inside the house in which I now live? Was it tender threads of mother love that drew me to this particular place? Is this me now, healing my red thread by connecting to my mother by way of place? Did she walk to the top of the rise to watch the sunset across the landscape like I do? As I document the beauty of each changing season; I wonder what my mother would think of the photos I take of this area?

My father has long since passed also so I can’t ask him either about my mother’s childhood home. Even though she came from a large family my mother was not particularly close to her siblings due to long held misunderstandings and resentments. I know however I must gently bridge that ancient wound and speak to my aunt. To invite her to my home and perhaps find a few more pieces to the puzzle. My mother; gone from my life for so long now and as her memory fades I can scarcely remember the tones of her voice. I know however that it is this mother hunger, this ache for belonging and place and identity; that brought me to this very special part of the world.


I Am Here

12th May 2014 iPhone 160

In a place deep inside myself I feel as though now, only just now; in these last few months, do I feel like an artist. I have been creating in many different mediums my whole life; but something recently has shifted on a very deep level. I find myself more and more increasingly in a state of flow, grace and creativity; guided by intuition and dreams. I am less attached to my own judgement of my work nor do I fear how it is received. The inner critic is no longer so harsh that I am paralysed and defeated before I have even begun. Another indicator for me that this shift has occurred is that I am now capable of creating amongst domestic chaos; and without all the different tools and materials I think I ‘need’ to create something worthwhile. I lived for a long time with a successful artist that worked in a studio I couldn’t walk through; his coffee cup perched on top of leaning towers of objects, while he puffed on a contemplative hand rolled cigarette. The only time I saw him clean it up was when he was in between big ideas.

Now I find myself operating from the same space. Piles of assorted domestic detritus are scattered throughout the house, all needing to be sorted, cleaned, mended or put away. The chaos doesn’t bother me as I am propelled by the momentum of my own creative journey. I am too absorbed thinking about a sublime confluence of words that will elicit exactly the nuanced shade of feeling I seek to express. I’m thinking about how to capture the most seductive and evocative images to accompany my words. When I feel in the flow I am filled with purpose, determination and confidence. Everyday concerns don’t exist as I delicately weave the threads of my whispered half-thoughts together. My mind lingers in the spaces between the thoughts, until the words reveal themselves of their own making. I’m not the author; I’m the observer recording whatever seeks to unveil itself. Dinner’s always running late because I’m always trying to capture the essence of feeling and if I think too much about the demands of the material world, it slips away as quickly as it came. I must let the ideas dance lightly in my mind.

When I was younger I couldn’t create without having cleaned the entire house and studio, locating just the perfect Artline felt tip pen, with just the right weight of rich creamy paper. I still have stashes of tentatively used art materials; their contents shrivelled and unusable because I doubted myself so much I didn’t really complete anything, and if I ever did I gave the piece away. Sometimes I find the sad dried out tins, yellowing paper and moth eaten fabrics alongside a rusting miniature printing press. Half finished ideas that couldn’t blossom under the weight of my own fears and insecurities. I have reams of journals with hundreds of creative ideas in a myriad of mediums; most never tackled. It all serves to remind me of how I used to be in the world; and how that particular way of being brought me into this way of being. Later I came to realize that life is mercilessly short, nothing is certain or guaranteed, perfect is a construct that exists only in the mind. Now I prefer to create while I still can because I’ll be a long time dead.

In one of my first writing journals from my early twenties I wrote Helen Keller’s words as reminder on the first page:

You’ll never have all the pieces
You’ll never have all the parts
Don’t wait to be perfect
Before you start

Then I wrote in brackets underneath (But of course I have been searching endlessly for the ‘perfect’ diary!). I never really wrote any of my own words in that journal, just copied out quotes that resonated with me in my best handwriting. I didn’t have the words for my own story then, so I viewed my life through the expressions of others. Everything I attempted was agonized and sweated over. I laboured away under a persistent feeling that I never really got anything quite right.

Later on the words of Theodore Roosevelt impacted on me in a way that still echoes now:

Do what you can
With what you have
Where you are

So simple and a creative mantra I still work with today. I no longer scour art supplies stores and the internet looking for the perfect materials. I don’t wait for the domestic conditions to be somehow just right, and I especially don’t wait until I have the ‘time.’ I have ceased saving precious things up thinking they are ‘too good’ for this or that project. I just use whatever I have at hand, tending to the unfurling idea with love and care; knowing that something treasured and heartfelt will emerge eventually.

Over time my eye and my mind has become trained towards the expression of beauty and love, the only two ongoing tenets of my creative world. Somehow, somewhere along the line I have calmed the inner critical judgement, the feelings of ‘not good enough’ and worrying about how the work will be received. Now I am much more concerned about getting it done and out there rather than getting it perfectly right. I don’t believe in perfect any more. I’ve broken up with my own impossibly high standards. This gradual process of letting go has allowed me to uncover an embryo of something, my own voice, my own authentic expression. My own unfiltered words bringing me to the raw centre of myself. At this point in time, I create from a place of giving myself permission to be all that I am as woman, mother, lover and privileged inhabitant of this fragile planet. My writing exposes me to myself; and in doing so I unravel my own medicine while creating my own path forward. I Am Here. The answer always lies within.

How to Write a Poem

  1. Lay on the bed/couch/floor/earth.
  2. Stare out the window.
  3. Look at the sky.
  4. If you can see trees out of the window, stare at the trees.
  5. If there is any wind or breeze, watch the wind moving through the trees.
  6. If there are any clouds in the sky, watch the clouds moving across the sky.
  7. Clear the mind and concentrate on the scene outside the window.
  8. Quieten the mind.  Particularly let go of worries, judgement of self and others, thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future.
  9. Let step 8 take as long as it needs.
  10. If you are tired and feel yourself falling asleep, that’s ok.  Let yourself fall asleep.
  11. If you don’t fall asleep, connect with the scene outside the window.  Watch the clouds move across the sky and become the clouds, become the sky.  Watch the wind move through the trees and become the trees, become the wind.
  12. Feel the outside moving through your inside.
  13. Ride whatever comes with the feelings that emerge without trying to suppress anything.  If you feel sad like you are going to cry; let yourself cry.  Cry for as long as you need.  Quiet crying or loud crying doesn’t matter.  Don’t judge the crying because then the tears will stop.  No need to stop them.
  14. If you feel anxious or restless, take as long you need to settle with some gentle deep breathing.
  15. If you feel overwhelmed by the feelings that surface; remind yourself that it’s ok.  Ride the overwhelm and move to inhabit the emotions, observing the feelings without judgement.  Let the feelings move through your body until they dissipate and lessen in intensity.  Give yourself as long as you need.
  16. You don’t need all the answers to everything right now.  Make peace with uncertainty and not knowing, for this is creativity’s greatest ally.
  17. Take some more slow deep breaths to centre and calm yourself.
  18. Listen to that small inner urging.  The small voice that speaks to us all the time.
  19. What is it saying?  What voice does it use?  What words are coming through?
  20. Be gentle with yourself and what bubbles up from within.
  21. Listen, and keep listening.  Sometimes the words arrive in disconnected fragments; like wisps on the wind that you can’t quite hear.  Hold these fragments lightly in your mind without trying to understand what they mean right now.
  22. Gently weave the threads of your half-thoughts together as you begin the tentative journey towards sensing the shape of your own longing.
  23. Now: write a poem.
  24. Have a cup of tea.  You deserve it.