Work in Progress

I remember the twisting landscape on the way to the jetty. Leaving Ullapool, overshooting the destination only to loop back on ourselves via the loosely drawn roads. The land ahead was flat, behind was hill littered, and you could see the tarmac snaking through like an S. The coast line still obscured but pulling us closer and closer to the shore.

This was a land of snaking s’s, shores and sand and scenery and the Summer Isles… scaling feelings and mountains came together for me, then. I was scrambling my way out of an eating disorder, a mix of some progress and some back sliding. Following an inner S road, twisting and turning, destination life, or death. Starvation or survival.

On the island, I was sharing a home with strangers who asked their questions – would you like some toast? Some cereal? Something? And noted when something was nothing. Strangers who walked, by torch light, home with me for that week. Toads calling, stars glimmering, paths slippery. And wished me a good night. One like I was his daughter, unaware he was seeing me as a toddler in those fleeting exchanges, but I held that sentiment close. The other, like I was her teenage daughter, concern spilling over. That week, they spoke with such care and concern for me.

That week with strangers was a salve. 

***

On my way up to Scotland, on my way up to the Summer Isles, the train journey wound from York to Northallerton to Darlington, Durham to Newcastle.  Then picked up the fracturous outline of the north east coast. At Edinburgh I switched trains, not too much lingering then a list of train stations to wrap your tongue around;

  • Haymarket
  • Inverkeithing
  • Kirkcaldy
  • Markinch
  • And Ladybank

Heading further north, the autumn haze glossed over the land, golden fields and the sun highlighting the dust that hung around the purple heather. The vast tall sky, stretched up reaching for the heavens, but it’s aspirations were squashed by heavy grey clouds. The dark air that pressed down on the land had been pressing down on me for so long. Oppressing my lungs, making living, breathing, an effort. My blood was treacle and my heart hurt with the effort of pumping it. I had been living with anorexia and depression for so long that I couldn’t remember another way of existing.

At Perth, another change. So many changes on the journey north. So many changes needed to find my true north. Suspended raindrops blurred the land with sky. Wispy clouds clung to highland rocks as we wove our way through the Cairngorms to Inverness. Purple and gold hillscapes flickered past the train windows. White houses. Green forests. Grey rivers. A landscape of texture – soft ferns, prickling pines, hills undulating, rocks protruding. Ruins pull you into memories, yours and the memories of the ghosts who haunt the land.

A ruined stone building, grass and fern in front and heather in the background

Inverness brought with it a bookshop trip. A treasure trove of second hand books, my safe place. If nothing else, I always know I can enter a bookshop and buy myself a brief moment of groundedness. The certainty that knowledge brings. The feeling of being surrounded by information, research and other people’s stories would help me feel a small glimmer of hope that my story, my book, would have it’s own ending. Unclear whether the ending would be happy or not didn’t matter, just that this drowning would end. Sadly my bag was full so I left with a couple of postcards instead.

The bus from Inverness dropped me at Strathpeffer, where I sat, hoping that I’d planned the journey right and the next bus would turn up as the timetable suggested. My mind already planning what to do if not. Anxiety running riot. But it did, no emergency plans were required. Finally I arrived in Ullapool. A long day of travel had taken me 420 miles from home, and ended with another bookshop. I would be staying opposite this particular bookshop on the overnight pause in travel.

World Enough and Time

image

““The human mind is fed and nourished by every sight and smell and sound that we encounter, from the movement of the clouds to the shrill of the birds outside our morning window.” To enjoy that nourishment, we need to “refuse and choose,” resisting the siren call of technology whenever possible and allowing ourselves time to slow down and pay attention.”

Christian McEwan

World Enough and Time by Christian McEwan is book I have been reading, appropriately slowly, for the last couple of years.  In 2013 I went on a fantastic week long adventure to a little island off Scotland where Christian and Jan helped us to slow down, guided us to write and supported the creation of art.

“A 2008 survey in the Journal of Socio-Economics claimed that the psychologogical benefits of a friendship were equivalent to a pay-rise of eighty-five thousand pounds”

Christian McEwan, World Enough and Time

The book ‘examines the spiritual and literary underpinnings of slowness and offers inspiration, encouragement, and practical advice for anyone wishing to create time and space for the imagination to flourish’.  Full of beautiful writing and inspiring suggestions, I’ve really enjoyed taking my time reading it (yes, pain means I have to read books v v slow but I think this one in particular has benefited from that).

The book looks at ‘Hurry Sickness’, the healing power of real conversation, the value of walking, looking, learning to pause and storytelling etc.  I don’t really do book reviews so this isn’t really going to be that, more some musings inspired by the book.

image

I’ve touched on slowing down before on this blog and over on unlockingimages and whilst much of my slowing down has been forced on me by my health, there is still a lot of value in it.  I remember a sunny day, pottering around with my lovely friend who also has EDS.  We were talking about how we have to walk more slowly than we used to (I was a fast walker back in the day!) but how it means she notices flowers and sees things she’d miss otherwise.  It’s a moment that I come back to again and again.  How much more wonderful life would be if we literally stopped to smell the roses instead of rushing and pushing and stressing from place to place in an unnecessary hurry.

We live in a society which doesn’t place much value on doing things for the sake of them, rather we are all supposed to be being productive, all of the time.  Again, pain has meant this isn’t possible and has meant I can step back and question that approach.  Finding joy in little things and beauty in small moments makes for a happier life.  We can’t all have the latest <insert gadget> but we can almost all look out a window and see plants, birds, insects, stars, clouds etc (NB if you’re bed bound and can’t look out a window, could you move your bed?).

“In ancient China, when someone studied calligraphy, he did not simply copy the original.  Instead, he spread out the scroll against the wall, and stared at it for a long time.  Only when he had, as it were, incorporated it completely, did he finally pick up his brush and begin to work”

Christian McEwan, World Enough and Time

How many people reading that, are thinking what a waste of time, just get the job done?  But the beauty in the approach and the deeper connection to the work, makes it much more meaningful.  And I feel that it would teach the student so much more.

Pay attention, look closely and even the most mundane seeming thing will be transformed.  And that is your power, to take the ordinary and see it as extraordinary.  That is what artists and writers and musicians do.  And it’s something that is completely accessible to you, whatever your circumstances.  You can start now and develop a deeper awareness of your surroundings and in doing so, you can find poetry all around you.

And even better, this time you spend mulling and dreaming and pondering, is time that your mind will use to ruminate over problems and build insights and connections that are completely unrelated.  And all of it is free!

image

The book is full of wonderful insights and magical quotes and I hope I have been able to do justice with my own ponderings.  Christian herself is a very thoughful, inspiring woman and it was an honor to have her guidance for a week.


By the way, if you’re interested in spending a week slowing down on Tanera Mor with Jan and another artist, you can book onto the wonderful sounding See Sound, See Shore.  If health allowed, I’d be booking on!

World Enough and Time Part 2

In my last post, I included poems which took me from York to Ullapool.  Because of tide times and such things I stayed in Ullapool in The Ceilidh Place (part bookshop, part cafe, part hotel, part hostel) for a night.  This also turned out to be a great place to sit and read and avoid the rain.

By the way, if you’re travelling round Scotland on public transport I highly recommend Traveline Scotland (also available in app form).

Ullapool

The 3am wind

Clatters the rain beaten glass

Here in ullapool

 

In The Ceilidh Place

Sodden shoes squeak loudly over

Gaelic music and hushed voices

Strangers share stories with acquaintances

As if the best of friends

In this passing place

 

On the boat to Tanera Mor

Isabella leaves

A trail of white foam as she

Heads for tidemarked land

 

Fatherly

A stranger wishes

Me goodnight in the same way

He would his children

World Enough and Time Part 1

I’ve just come back from an amazing adventure to a tiny island off the North West of Scotland.  My purpose in this rather long journey on our public transport system was to attend ‘A week of art-making, writing, poetry and reflection on Tanera Mor‘.

It was a really enjoyable week, I cobbled together some words, made some books (this is currently my favourite thing ever – it’s a lot of fun) and got myself covered in paint.

In case you’ve never thought about it, it’s a long way from York to Ullapool (where I was staying before I got my lift to the pier).  The first train was York to Edinburgh then a train to Perth followed by a train through the Cairngorms to Inverness.  Here I stopped to visit Leakey’s (a great treasure trove of second hand books) before getting a bus to Strathpeffer and then finally getting a bus to Ullapool.

York to Edinburgh

Nostalgic autumn haze

Hangs over golden fields

 

The sun punctuates

Revealing dusty purple heather

 

The vast tall sky

Is squashed by heavy grey clouds

 

Edinburgh to Perth

A flask full of coffee – still warm

And a list of train stations

To wrap your tongue around;

Haymarket

Inverkeithing

Kirkcaldy

Markinch

And

Ladybank

 

Perth to Inverness

Suspended raindrops

Blur land and sky. Wispy clouds

Cling to highland rocks

 

Scottish Highlands

Purple and gold hills

White houses, green forest

Grey rivers cut through

A texture infused landscape;

Soft ferns, prickling pines

Hills dipping, overlapping

Rocks protrude and ruins

Pull you into memories