Windy May Walk

Wind roars, grasping. Moans
ripping green silk, torn beech
trees shudder, resist.

Blown about. It is weeks
since I walked here. The way
green where once was grey.

Unexpectedly
oystercatchers call loudly
landing on a roof.

Black and white delight.
Shrill out of place miracles
of joyful welcome.

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Sunday walk

Swan high in blue sky,
Red kite harried by two crows,
Skein of geese fly by.

Velvet grey fungi
Nestled on emerald moss,
Leaves under my feet.

Cold wind yet warm sun.
New paths explored then
Return home – happy.

The view from the conservatory

This morning, fresh from a long night’s sleep after I returned from the EuroSTAR conference, I sat in the conservatory and watched the sky – a skein of autumn geese flew high, by v-skewed across the pale autumn sky. A murmuration of starlings. The parliament of rooks that sweep across the garden. I refilled the bird feeders for the smaller birds, and reflected, how blessed I am to have found this place as my haven and my home.

New year, and the urge to self improve

The New Year urge to self improve is upon me, the desire to mark the movement of the calendar to a new year, a blank diary, the thought of a new start. Those blank pages awaiting all possibilities. But it is so arbitrary, and with the colder, dark weather, and a desire to hibernate strongly influencing every movement my mind and body takes, maybe not the best time of year for resolutions.

I have been thinking about what I want to achieve, my goals – long and short term – and my ambitions. Advice about how to self improve, and what disciplines to adopt come from all directions, so many individual good ideas.

Yesterday, I looked back at all the advice for self-improvement based on “just spend (time period) every (day/week) doing…” that I have received over the last year, and have started to wonder if  putting all those things into my life would actually  mean that I do nothing except meditation, yoga, exercise, meditative & creative walking, daily writing practice, making youtube videos daily, writing a blog daily, mindfully cooking and eating nourishing meals, reading (spiritual/cultural/political/current affairs/tech subjects/arts/science/…) in fact means there is no time to do any work… And today I remembered pelvic floor exercises, 10000 steps a day, artist’s date-with-myself day once a week, mahjong, singing, dancing, painting, drawing, sewing…)

If I did all things I have been advised to do, there would not be time for work… or sleep… so instead of trying to do everything, I  need to combine, refine, decide what I want to do, what direction I take. Maybe there is a place for seasonal changes of emphasis, as well as a daily core. Maybe there are three areas I could group everything into:

  • wellbeing: for example Physical health, mental health, spiritual health
  • self development: for example Creativity, awareness, learning
  • productivity: for example Writing, teaching, researching

These work together: if I look after my wellbeing – exercise, fresh air, nutrition, friendships, rest – then it will be easier to be productive and to nurture my self development. If I am productive and developing as a person, I will be more motivated to look after my wellbeing.

I need to think about which times of day and which seasons are most suited to those three areas, and whether the types of activity I do change with the seasons. I also need to think about which activities run daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal cycles.

Or maybe, I need to not over-think it, relax, digest my supper and then sleep.

2018 – a year of great potential – what will I do to harness it? Today, despite much thought, I am no clearer on my goals for the year, I can see some of the picture, but not clearly. Tomorrow I shall think some more.

2017 – a year of moving forward and not looking back

This year – 2017 – so much has happened, personally, professionally. So many changes, so many challenges, so many new things that I have tried.

I have travelled to India, Canada, France, USA, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Malta, I have lived all around the UK – in flats, in houses, in cities, towns and the countryside. Moving on, moving on, all the time.

My friends have been my safety net, my front row, my supporters, bringing me encouragement, reminding me of what I want to be and what I am. I think of my long standing friends, and also friendships renewed across the years, and new friends, people I have met for the first time in 2017, yet feel I have known forever. Some encounters built on years of friendship, some encounters were only of minutes in length. Souls touching and parting, linked now only by the tenuous threads of memory.

I have stretched, grown, released tired and knotted muscles, been still and moved swiftly, listened and spoken, laughed and wept, started to spin the threads that I will weave to fabric and sew into a new patchwork quilt of a new life. And now, at the end of the year – I am. I am an expert, I am a student. I am a thinker, I am a comedian. I am a sewer, I am a painter. I am a writer, I am a musician. I am a dancer, I am a swimmer. I am a listener, I am a speaker. All these things I have done, some not so well, but all of these things I have done.

2017 has been an extraordinary year – my life has changed. I acknowledge that I have much to be grateful for in my life: my energy, my friends, everything that has happened. I acknowledge the suffering and pain so many in the world feel, and hope for its cessation.

“Looking forward and not back” says one of my friends, and that is the watchwords – after this brief review, this acknowledgement that 2017 has been a year of personal growth, of creativity, of energy, of growing to know myself better.

What will 2018 bring? What do I want and what can I achieve?

Look back, see the past

landscape clear. Looking forward:

new path starting now.

another year, another autumn train ride, another country…

Another year, another autumn, another train ride, another country. Another two conferences to connect by some days and some travel. Why fly city to city, and wait, when you can drift along the tracks, absorbing the world around you?

This time, from Vancouver to Toronto, the Canadian. Board in Vancouver on Sunday evening, arrived Toronto Thursday evening. Through the Rockies, through the Prairies, through the woods, and past lakes.

I took hardly any photos – every time I took a photo, I missed something to watch, to properly see… There was so much to fill my eyes and mind: the breadth of the sky, the subtlety of the colours, the wonder of a wild and empty world. Being on the train was a capture into a glass cage of stillness in motion, a tiny community of fellows, a transport of ideas.

In Vancouver, where I was for only a couple of hours between leaving the the aircraft from LA and boarding the train to Toronto, I met a labyrinth artist, HiMY SyED (his website is http://labyrinths.ca/)  and we fell into conversation – just a chance encounter in the cool autumn sunshine, as I was drawn to the labyrinth he’d chalked on the open area beside a children’s playground. Mazes and labyrinths, paths with branches and decisions, changing a maze to a labyrinth with a single path of meditation by making a decision. (I typed there at first “a single path of mediation” – a strange mis-step.) Our conversation ranged across Chartres and Cathars, Sufis and Dervishes… and then … the train, and so a brief acquaintance is made and gone.

The train drew out from Vancouver after dark, I sat in my cabin and watched the light of the train’s headlights across the rock faces ahead, and the lights from the windows of carriages ahead of me reflecting in water, flicking lights illuminating so little, hinting at much.

I didn’t sleep much those days – it was too easy to sit at night in my cabin and watch the night sky, overwhelmed by stars and the northern lights curtaining across the wild black.

I didn’t sleep much those days – it was too easy to sit by day and watch the prairie pass by, magnificent in its restrained colours – biscuit and charcoal, fleeing animals, swirls of snow geese rising and falling.

Toronto was the end of the line.

 

Quilt: a wine tasting in Italy

In May I went to a workshop in Italy, run by Tania Katan and Angela Ellsworth. It was a mix of meditation, writing and visual arts, centred around themes of topography, memory, and sensory perception: the Topography of Memory, at Spannocchia

As part of the week, we had a wine tasting for the wines produced on the Spannocchia Estate – the grapes are grown, harvested, made into wine, bottled – all on the Estate.

There were eight of us, a magical week of shared experiences and creative impulse, that I will not describe here. This post is about the quilt that I made, starting at the wine tasting.

We tasted red, rose, white – which was palest yellow – the golden fortified and clear grappa. Five colours, five textures – each liquid having its own unique viscosity and each glass type a smooth but differentiated touch against the lips. There were five sets of perfumes, not a single aroma from each wine, but a whole range which we tried to identify from the wine tasting wheels with their strange and vivid descriptions – fungal bubble-gum fruit… And the sounds – of wine trickling into glasses, of laughter and delight as we tasted, of the rims of the glasses sounding, sounding echoing, fuzzing across the room, against the touch of our fingers. We made music.

As we completed the tasting, I noticed that the glasses scattered across the table, each with a trace of wine left were sometimes quite random, but starting to form patterns. I started to form the glasses into a quilt – red, pink, white, amber, clear, pink, white, amber, clear, red…

I became… slightly obsessed… with the idea of a quilt. When I returned to the UK, I started to draw and paint the experience.

4 sketches: trad-style concept for the quilt, wine glasses vibrating from above, glasses set out in pattern, with calculations, and 8 women vibrating wine glasses

 

Concept sketch – yin-yang of the group and the wine.

 

Next, I went and looked at fabric. I needed something that would proxy the translucent nature of the wine and glass, and the echoes and vibrations of glass music, and the interactions between us.

I found net. I have not worked with net before, so I bought some lengths in red, pink, pale yellow, white to work with. I found that layering the net produced iridescences and merged colours that were very interesting.

2 photos of net overlays

My ideas for the quilt started to change because of the nature of the net itself. I envisioned overlapping the pieces more, and more randomly, than I had at first thought. The quilt needed to be a little wild, a little uncontrolled. It needed to reflect that there are 8 of us, one group, 8 individuals, and within that duos, triples, quartets, sextets, in all the permutations. It needed to be public and private – shared and hidden. It needed to be delicate, graceful, vulnerable to harm, easy to damage, easy to repair. Loosely assembled, yet strong together or apart.

I had net – red, amber, pink, yellow – but nothing for the grappa, nothing for a background. Then, I found more fabric at another store on the remnants table. A clear pale mauve chiffon for the grappa. A white, double sided silky or mat fabric for the background. An Italian style tapestry possibly for the background. I started… experimentally. I cut out circles of the net and started to overlay them.

3 photos of Swatches, cottons, circles and tapestry

Then I realised what I needed: for each person, a white square. For each white square, 8 red, 8 pink, 8 yellow, 8 mauve and 8 orange circles – for the drinks. And 1 white net circle for the tasting wheel. I realised I wanted to quilt the squares as separate pieces and join them together – but maybe not permanently. I realised the tapestry fabric was too heavy – I needed a neutral gauzy fabric for the background. I found a grey scarf in the charity shop, just right for the background. I found some grey satin in my fabric bag for the back of the squares. I got some quilt wadding. I also had 8 colours of sewing thread. I started cutting and arranging. I cut all the circles and the white square, and I arranged and sewed the circles to the squares. Half the squares are shiny-side-up and half are mat-side-up. Each arrangement is semi-random, and unique.

4 Photos: starting to set out a set, starting to quilt one of the backs of the squares, a set laid out for pinning and sewing, and ribbon and bead colours

Then, I cut the eight grey satin squares, and eight pieces of wadding, and quilted the satin to the wadding by hand. On each square, I used the 8 different colour threads, but I focused a different colour on each. Each design is different, each has some reference to the week. All are curved, hand-stitched quilting.

Then, I had to decide how to join it all together. And I realised, it needed to by joined in a way that it could be joined, taken apart, re-joined in a different order. That the net side or the quilt side could be front or back (tho’ I think of the quilts as more hidden). So, the answer was – ribbons and beads.  I got some ribbons of 4 different colours. I had some large beads. And, at the Birmingham Festival of Quilts there was a stand selling Italian buttons and beads. I could buy a set of cloth beads in colours to fit with the quilt.

Now, I was ready to join the back of the squares to the front of the squares. I used a different colour thread for each set, and blanket stitch. I inserted ribbon at each corner, alternate loop and tags.

I sewed by hand again – I knew machine sewing was wrong for this project – too violent, too mechanical, too certain.

As I finished each square I set it on the grey scarf, uncertain where this was going next.

Photo: Starting to lay out the pieces

Once I had finished the squares, I tied the ribbons together, so the eight were joined. Then I had to work out how to attach them to the background. I played around with the ribbons and beads, and eventually set is out with 4 large silk beads each with 2 colours of ribbons down the centre of the grey scarf. This stands for the 4 groups of 2 – we shared rooms in pairs. The eight quilted squares join in pairs to these four., Then more smaller beads are sewn on around the scarf, so the quilt squares also tie to them. They can be untied and moved around, whenever.

NB: the tapestry will get used for cushions or curtains.

The finished wall hanging of quilted and tied pieces: the pieces are designed to be tied and untied, so on can keep rearranging, decide which side to display, and so on.

2 photos: arrangements of the tied quilt

A wonderful, magical week, a wonderful magical afternoon, a beautiful group to be with. The quilt can never be finished, because you take it apart, and make it again. (I originally typed “take it about” and that is true too – it is light and portable, and I will take it to visit my companions from the workshop this autumn).