Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Inside Out

How people work has been a subject of fascination for me for decades.  I've been thinking recently  about the inner world of the person and how this relates to what can be seen on the outside.  How difficulties can arise in relationships because what one person thought they said was different from what another person thought they heard.  How assumptions can be made based on what is shown outside rather than knowledge of the rest of what's inside. 

I've written here before about the importance to me of people getting me right and why that might be.  It influences my writing because I'm intent on what I say being completely clear.   Over the last few weeks I've been thinking that my lack of writing might be equally instrumental in what people are thinking about me.

When you arrive at my blog the first thing you see is the last thing I wrote, and its date.  You might think that the mood of that piece, or what occupied me when I wrote it is what's still going on.  It almost certainly isn't, especially if I haven't posted for more than a week or so.

I've been increasingly aware of this over recent weeks, noticing that the previous post to this, the one people have been seeing on arrival at my blog for quite a while, has been about bereavement and the feelings I put into a poem about it, but conscious that this has not been what I've mostly been concerned with since then.

And yet ...  I didn't write anything else.

I usually write only when I've got something I particularly want to say.  Whenever I thought, "I must write a blog post so people don't think I'm still pre-occupied with the bereavement thing," I found I either didn't have time or, mostly, didn't have anything I particularly wanted to write about.

I seem to write posts in batches, so expect to be writing soon with updates to the garden project and updates about my work, as well as other odds and sods.

And I'll be trying to convey my inside - out there!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Writing poetry ... or not.

For me, poems just happen or they don't.  I'd like to write more of them but can never write to order.  It seems that for me there needs to be an intensity of having something to say which requires a poem and then I can write one.  I think I can write well when I have something really important to say, and sometimes that might be in prose, but if what I want to write about is worthwhile but not really important (or even if it isn't particularly worthwhile but is required) I can write well, but don't always do so (and I apologise for the posts I write here which may be more sloppily put together). 

This poem arrived about a week ago. 


For the record

twenty-five years
since my soulmate died
I note the occasion
with good memories
and interest

looking back
a quarter of a century
friends new and old
the real me
emerging then established

I post on social media
to make sure his memory
is honoured
then start to miss
not him, but you

love for a soulmate
is obvious, almost
unnecessary to mention
but you who were not my soulmate
were more loved

were more in a story
we unfolded together
our love and life
a more real thing
that might not have been but was

a marriage of imperfections
worked with and valued
and family
embraced and embracing

he had the easy life
universally liked
while you struggled
to fit in
except in my heart

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A different place

Painting the modern garden was one of those 'live screenings' of an exhibition, which was also so much more.  As well as glorious impressionist paintings of swathes of garden colours, we saw film and photographs of gardens of the time and now, all accompanied by a commentary which included letters and other writings by the artists.  About to embark on my big garden project, I felt enveloped in essence of garden.  I didn't want a plan and didn't get one.  Instead, the images and ideas gave words to the feelings I had about my own garden and what I wanted from it.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that whereas French garden designers might have gone for a more natural look, concentrating on colour schemes and sweeping vistas, German designers often considered areas of a garden almost as different 'rooms';  I realised that recently I had begun to see my own garden, in particular the patio, that way.  

At one end I have the seat and 'coffee table' I've written about here before.  It's great for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea.  I moved the old battered seat out of the way but found last summer that I really enjoyed its being nestled under the escallonia, suggesting a little shaded seating area.  The problem was that the old battered seat was no longer safe to sit on.  I've looked for a new seat but nothing appealed as much as the old one, so I've now had it repaired and it's nestling beautifully.

The other end of the patio can accommodate a dining table and chairs, or perhaps in the future a hot tub.  It also has the water feature and on warm evenings last year I enjoyed sitting there on the rocker with a book and a G & T.

Then there's the vegetable garden.  Just before the landscapers started work on the front garden I finally got round to having a fence built along the top of the platform and the edge of the vegetable plot.  It was the final stage of getting the yard levelled and surfaced a few years ago that we'd left because it wasn't an essential part of the work.  I always wanted a fence there, though, having removed the big gates and some of the wall which divided the property off.  I like a boundary.  

What I hadn't anticipated was that the vegetable garden now has a very different feel to it - another contained space, which it had never felt before.  And the platform that runs in front of the pottery and the greenhouse is now a safe-feeling area where plants might be hardened off, pots can be dried and generally one can feel one is 'in' the back garden rather than just slightly removed from the road.

All of which brings me back to my title.  My garden, my plot, is now transformed into a different place.  It's once more a place I want to be in as often as I can (weather permitting) and I'm really excited about how it might develop from here. 

And so, of course, I am myself in a different place too. Planted, rooted and growing here and looking forward almost most of all to inviting other people in to share.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The stress of finding calm

Yesterday I had one of those rare experiences of feeling something long-forgotten but familiar as a part of who I am.  The sort of feeling you get in dreams when you recognise something which then disappears and in dreams is often not a real thing.  Intangible.  Almost (though hopefully not entirely, or what would be the point of starting this blog post) beyond words.  And in this case not a dream and therefore, I think, real.

I was gardening.  Well, yes, I've always gardened.  Since I've been working the long hours and long weeks of a full-time artist, though, the front garden has been more or less abandoned (see previous post) and it has just been my vegetable plot that I've kept going. 

So what was different?  I was suddenly aware not just of feeling happy to be gardening (which I have often felt) but also connected, to the plot, the plants, the processes and most of all to a part of myself which has been missing for some years.

I'd decided to spend the week catching up with non-work things.  This is a short week for me, coming as it does between two weekends away with travelling on Monday and Friday.  What I was doing in the garden, therefore, was exactly what I was meant to be doing.  I just worked at a pace suitable for my back, taking breaks and changes of occupation at sensible intervals and doing things that needed to be done without worrying about getting them all done in any particular time frame.  This is different because, although gardening was my only leisure activity for many years (before I began to pick up with reading again), at some unconscious level it mostly didn't feel like what I was meant be doing because there was an idea that work was what I should be doing all the time. 

I knew and felt that it was essential to my mental well-being to be in touch with the soil and the plants and set aside time for that whenever I could. But that time was necessarily limited, and therefore had a constant stress built in to it - to make the most of it, to use it well, to achieve as much as I could in it and ...  well, you see how it goes.  On an admittedly very small scale, there was a stress in finding calm.

I think this paradox is probably present in many of our lives. We learn we should "set aside time" for leisure, for family, for friends and for ourselves and sometimes we are successful in that.  But if what we are making time for is something to de-stress us?  It's like lying awake at night, worrying that you're short of sleep and will find the next day a struggle if you don't go back to sleep right now - guaranteed to have the opposite effect.

So how have I regained this bit of my old self that is calm, and connected to the earth and myself?  I think it's because I have managed, most of the time, to put aside the knowledge that I am still a couple of months off being able to produce much-needed pottery stock.  I get on with my work as and when and sometimes notice how much I've done, with pleasure, but this year I've avoided thinking too much about the things I haven't done. 

What I've learned is that calm results from changing your life to make time and space not from setting aside a calm time.  It might have to be drastic.  Deciding I'm now working part-time did and sometimes still does feel a fairly drastic step.  But it's worth it.  The feeling hasn't gone away.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Big Garden Project 2016

Once I had a lovely garden.  Here it is in 2000, the only time I seem to have photographed it.

It wasn't weed free, as you can see, and the lawn wasn't perfect, but the flowerbeds were full of colour and the lawn was flat and green and much the same height as the flowerbeds. 

Gradually the balance of my work became less and less teaching and more and more artwork.  Artwork isn't paid nearly as well as teaching and by the time I stopped teaching altogether, about 6 or 7 years ago, I no longer had time for the front garden at all because I needed to work very long hours to make enough income.  (I have always managed to keep up with the vegetable garden at the back of the house.)  Mike used to mow the lawn and for a couple of years we did give it some attention, but it was a losing battle and the quality has deteriorated, while the level has risen above that of the flowerbeds.  I'm told this is because of lack of traffic on the lawn coupled with busy worms. I've had a friend do a little weeding some years, but not enough to keep on top of things.  Gradually the beds have become infested with grass. 

Now at last I am working part time and always planned that when this day came I would return to tending my front garden.  Too late!  It's actually now beyond me and my back.  I fall into the flowerbeds from the raised lawn and because I still have some plants I like, it's almost impossible to remove the grass from around them.  Mike was also in charge of tree pruning but that too had got beyond me as I'm not able to lop through branches as thick as the ones he tackled and the small trees had become bigger and straggly and past what I could deal with.  I'm almost ashamed to post photos of what it all looks like now.

And as for the quality of the lawn ...

So 2016 is the year of the Big Garden Project.  In May a landscaping outfit are coming to rescue the front garden and after that I'll be able to work on it myself.  

Today I feel the project has actually begun.  An ex-tree surgeon friend spent a couple of hours removing dead branches and giving a long-overdue cut back to the tamarisk and the smoke bush, so here is the first 'after' photograph of the Big Garden Project 2016.  


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Photo a day challenge

There are various of these challenges around, apparently, but the one I fell across and joined is run on a Facebook group.  Daily 'prompts' for the topic of your photographs are posted in the group, one month at a time.  The idea then is that everyone posts their photos to the group where others can comment, or just 'like' them, and a small selection are chosen each day as the pick of the bunch.  I do post occasionally to the group but mostly I post in my own Facebook Photo a Day album.  Recently a friend asked if I had learned anything and that prompted me to write about why I decided to do the challenge. I sort of knew already, but I found it interesting to put into words that other people could understand.

I took on the challenge as an artist's discipline. For me it's about many things 
- stretching my brain to find a subject to fit into the brief when I find it uninspiring
- continuing the process of documenting my life which I do already
- stretching myself as a photographer when I've got time to experiment with different settings on my camera
- sometimes aiming and occasionally succeeding in creating an attractive image that I can use one way or another in my artwork.

Like sketching, taking photographs doesn't always lead to anything much at the time but provides a resource to be drawn on when needed. I'm no good at sketching.

On 4th January I came down with flu and did nothing much of anything for a few weeks, including taking photographs, but since resuming on 24th January, I've managed to post something every day.

I am certainly learning - about myself, my cameras and about what other people like in a photograph.  I've also learned that a flatlay is when you lay the subject(s) of your photograph out on a flat surface and photograph from above.  This one, 'Fish pie', from January, was my first ever flatlay.  I'm quite pleased with it. 

Sometimes the prompts would be easy enough for anyone with any other people to hand to pose for them and others require animals so lacking both I resort to archive photos on those occasions.  It's often an opportunity to share some of my favourite photos, such as 'This is funny', from March.

Sometimes I go out with my camera looking for something that fits the prompt ('Path')

and sometimes I'll put together a still life of some sort, such as 'Toy'.  I'm particularly fond of this one.

And finally, occasionally I use Photoshop to create an image from one or more of the photographs I've taken.  'Abstract' is my favourite of these.

I am learning to look around more, take a little time out of what I'm doing in order to capture a photograph with a little care and planning, and at the same time to be spontaneous in my photography.

Watch this space.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

New poem

Here's a new poem I think I'm pleased with.  It can be very difficult writing about something intangible but I think I've got somewhere with this.
If you've experienced it yourself you may understand it better - such is the nature of it.

Coming out the other side

I notice
I feel different
and at first can’t say how

then I realise
the place I’ve been
sometimes indefinable
sometimes indistinguishable
from the outside world
yet when you’re in it
so clearly existing
behind a force field
through which you cannot break

not where I am

no anniversary
or event
no clue
nothing sudden

each of us makes our own journey
through where it is
not the past but not the future
accused once
(behind my back) of
doing it unnaturally fast
yet here I am again
a relatively short time on
coming out the other side
and knowing

this is right.