Oct 052016
 

moonLast Friday, our son Arun was three months old. When people ask me how it’s going, I’m not sure what to answer. It is as if they asked me how it is to have a right hand. Not because I’ve recently acquired a right hand or have always had a child, but because both things are so basic and rawly habitual that words don’t reach so far in.

Motherhood is what it is. I don’t wake up every day filled with ecstasy, nor with despair. I don’t feel like I’m losing it nor do I feel suddenly solved. But I do feel larger, as if a particular Jo waiting on the sidelines of life has suddenly stepped on stage. The door of birth, and the essential, iterative tasks of new motherhood, are like magnets which pull new parts of me forth.

But being a new mother, it seems to me, is not a wordy thing. Maybe the words will come later. But other things flow. Attention. Affection. Milk.  And I like to think that Arun is too young to write about. Given that he doesn’t yet use this language, but speaks with his full body, in roars and smiles and grasping gestures, this written language that has been skimmed off the top of life is not his, and should not, perhaps, be about him either.  From linguistic reflection he should have a cocoon of  silence, waiting for him to become his own craftsperson in this weird magic that we speak.

So I cannot close anything in language about these three months. But I would like to share with you some open ragged fragments.

On exhaustion and milk.

With doom-laden relish, we were told over and over again about the exhaustion that would accompany Arun’s birth, like a monster waiting to consume our souls. But Naomi Stadlen, in her deeply philosophical What Mothers Do, makes the point that perhaps some of the exhaustion we feel as new parents is not so much associated with lack of sleep but also with our inability to value what it is we are doing. If we spend all day feeding the baby and wondering why we are not also feeding the cat, cleaning the windows, doing the dishes, looking for a new job, feeding will be profoundly and soul-shatteringly exhausting. But if we go with it, like a ship on the ocean, or a strange new lullaby of milk that our bodies or our kitchens are singing, and let our houses and our lives rest around us and watch wide-eyed at this weird miracle of mothering, then the tiredness will be of a different kind.

I should mention, in case you imagine me reclining on the bed in a holy aura of meditative nurture, that this wide-eyed witnessing is not my regular practice. And to be honest, quite often it is not what I need. I need to be sorting – the house we are building, the procession of life we are dancing, and Arun is balanced in the crook of my arm and I am trying to email the carpenter and the search e-bay for reclaimed doors. But when it happens, then the exhaustion of new motherhood becomes something different, an absence of necessity and a dancing heart of peace.

So alongside exhaustion, peace is what I am listing in the hallucinogenic experience of new parenthood. To understand this peace, instead of thinking about the bewildered parents, I prefer to think about it from the perspective of the baby, who’s been sleeping, and dreaming, and waking, swathed in amniotic fluid for the past nine months. And even though now alive, scoured by hunger and confused by weird bodily sensations, there’s little out of the present to fracture the peace of this child. When he’s drinking, he is utterly full of drinking, and when he is satisfied after, there is nothing other than this satisfaction. And when he falls asleep on my chest, and feels my heart beat, the quality of his peace perhaps resembles the peace he had in that amniotic fluid. Like a starfish, at the bottom of the encasing ocean. Lying into life. Stretching into life. Sleeping and growing into life. This is an intense quality of peace, and I think that even though we are exhausted, we couldn’t be the source of that peace, and not have a capacity to share it.

Time

It is impossible to get things done in a linear progress of beginning, middle and end when there is a baby in the house. Any task on which we begin to concentrate could be immediately shattered by a tiny being’s appetite or digestive system. In the first two months I seemed to spend most of my time when I wasn’t breastfeeding or changing a nappy wondering around the house trying to work out what I should be doing before I next had to breastfeed or change a nappy. It’s as if our linear progression of achievement is a gentle stream, and now this stream has stones thrown into it constantly, so that it is patterned not only by flow but rings, rings, rings of water changing our concentration into something other than it has been. Now, perhaps, we are getting into the rhythm of things. Repeated actions from day to day, like bedtime baths and afternoon walks, seem equally as important as individual day achievements. As if through the tunnel of days we are carving a corridor of depth-illustrated life.

Reality

This is a truly miraculous society in which we are given so much scope to individually exist. But if – as the philosophers intimate – there is no such thing as an individual entity, since, after all, we’re all blurred up with the rest of the universe, then all this concentration on self-satisfaction may have, indeed, a strange quality of unreality to it. If we get right down to it, we are just dreams of essence. Circumstantial knots of consciousness. To please ourselves is lovely. But pouring time into keeping the small one alive has a breathtaking quality of reality to it.  Does I + baby have a deeper resonance than simply I, like a larger bell ringing in the cosmos? Do the more conglomerates we have give us substance, gravity, rememberance of reality? Just thinking out loud. And I’m not saying that motherhood has any kind of exclusive capacity to endow reality onto life,  nor that this maternal multiplication doesn’t have the capacity to be as illusory as real. I’m only saying that – this keeping alive a child who is constantly struck by and newly immersed in the reality of the world is an intense shot of being here.

Nurture

Breasts. I knew they were a part of me, like chin or lips, but I had no idea that they had the capacity to become the fundament. David Abram says that birds think with their wings. If that is the case, perhaps I am intelligent at this moment via my milk. What if consciousness dropped down there fully, to that physicality of nurture, whether it be the hand that is holding the bottle, or milk-rounded breast. What would we see? What would we know?  A goddess in a terracotta valley? A grove of fig trees? The moon?

 

That’s it, my friends. Linguistic rags of three bright moons. When Arun was born, and it happened in its own way, in a own wonderfully uncurling riddle of blood and pain and achievement and need and agony, I repeated to him, once he was out and breathing, “I’m alive, and you’re alive”. And after three months of ridiculously intense discovery and nurture, about all three of us, I can say the same thing. “I’m alive, and we’re alive”. What wonder.

 

 

 

Jun 242016
 

IMG_20160624_233005A strange night last night. After dreaming all night of a clear Remain victory, with a sense of safety permeating my sleep, I woke at 4am and hauled my phone from under my bed to check the results. Nothing was decided by then but the leanings were clear. Dark doors seemed to open where they were not before. Utterly unable to fall back to sleep I decided to do some pregnancy practice breathing and as soon as I did so, contractions began, first gentle and then more intense. I woke Eurik up at 6am, mostly because I thought the baby might be coming, perhaps partly also because I didn’t want to be awake and alone with the news.

No baby has arrived today, and I am glad 24th June 2016 will not be his birthday.  But the contractions in the morning, and the calm that the breathing brought about, made the strangest patterns in my thoughts. Although, of course, things can go wrong in pregnancy, the very fact of being pregnant and about to give birth feels to me like a state of near-incomprehensible wellness.  Whether it is creativity, spirit, change or child, this capacity to draw things through us is what makes us fully existent. In this nine months, the ancient flow of ever-ning has been a physical manifestation in my blood and beneath my skin. So within me, breathing, there was that – pain of contractions and a sense of deep wellness, a sense of participation in the igniting new existence of the world.

And then there was the news, and that was something else. I don’t know if anyone else has felt this, but to me, all through the campaign, there has been a sense of bizarre – and wrong – inevitability. It makes no sense, and yet for some massive, cold and terrifying reason it is still happening, as if we are in a dream over which we have no control. It feels as if we are heading towards something historical and very frightening and this is a way-marker on the rushing way. And maybe we are all being pessimistic, and the UK will be fine, and the EU will be fine, but maybe not. Maybe this part of something larger, and darker,  a shadow that is also part of a very, very difficult change.

So the things I think today, emerging from the paradoxical state of rightness and wrongness that I experienced at 4.30am this morning are, let’s just count our blessings. The darker the world gets, the more necessary it is for us to contract down to the awareness of what we have. People to love. Bare feet on grass that blossoms colour underneath the sky. The ability to witness roses. Water, at least, still where we are, so life can continue in utter magnificence, including, even, ours.

And if gratitude, like the mockingbird in the lullaby, isn’t enough to gentle and allay the world then let’s go deeper.  In this contraction to the miracle of subsistence, what basic essence of ourselves are we gifted with? In times which change incomprehensively and in which the battering of angry voices seems to leave no space for hope, what delays and hesitancies can we be released from and what new encounters out of the darkness can we make with ourselves?

And, indeed, what new encounters can we make with others? One thing throughout this past week that I have both experienced and heard from friends is a sense of the result as incomprehensible. I do not know anybody, I am not friends with anybody, who would vote to leave. But why not? Particularly if that is 52% of the country, and that 52% is passionate, angry and desperate enough to want to.  It does not just feel as if the two sides to this referendum communicated badly – it feels as if they exist in separate worlds, worlds divided in some part by class, privilege and education. It’s easy for me to call for a blessing count when I am writing in a garden (literally) full of roses and can see the grass and sky like great vistas outside my skin. I have been taught to see that and live in a place where I can. How can we hope to live in a world in which others are welcomed across our borders when the country itself is trapped in a system of othering dependent on pernicious spirals of class, wealth and degrees of hope?

So if gratitude is not enough, let it be a beginning, like an oncoming rush of consideration for the place in which we – still – live, and let it, then, spill outwards, wider and stronger, into a great fearlessness of being within it. Of doing the work and having the conversations. Of doing the work for conversation. Work for making the world – all over – a place in which we can hear what the people who walk beside us say.

Midsummer 2016 feels a hard time to be bringing a child into the world. The space into which he comes is as beautiful as I could wish it, but the times are tremulous and threatening, and I hope that he will also come into a time which is eventually rushing towards repair.  All I know is that it is, still, summer, the sun does rise and is at its peak, as is the green in the fields. By having things grow within the grass and sky we are still surrounded by wellness. May they continue to come through us, to sharpen and brighten and soothe us, and to remind us of what matters and who we are.

Jun 222016
 

This is not a time for closing doors
To keep, and reap, and sleep,
With nearer laws.
When all is change, proximity,
Climatic space, infinity,
And all we open, eases
All we are.
 
There has been a time,
When land came on,
Towards us,
And we bled for it,
As ours, and all our sons.
Now “ours” is a word
Not helpless, hopeless,
But a space,
Conducive, endless
And the land,
We tethered, ranged,
Comes towards us,
Bearing change.
 
We are no climate of amenity today
And nothing shut upon the world
Can force the world to pay.
We are owed nothing, only space
To stand within our homing place,
And make a hole, still out of grace,
And watch the flow, the hope, the pace.
These are the doors today –
Sun-fingered
That request our time
To see beyond the strange,
Dig deeper,
Change our living rhymes.
 
We are their prophets and their guards
These doors that mass towards the stars
And earth’s tremendous turning now
Sounds in its porous ways
A great disparate churning
Or an upswell of all days.
From here to there
The valleys sound
And dreamers flow
And lives abound.
There is no lock
Nor gracious wall
To keep us sleeping well
Only to stand
Beside the gate
And bid the bearers
Bear us well.

 

 

 

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May 042016
 

In our garden, about 30 metres away from the house in which we currently live with my mother and sister, my husband and I are building a house. It is a small house, though not too small, and will be built in a patch of land in one corner of the garden, where there used to be an intensity of wild bluebells. I am hoping that the bluebells will allow us to move them elsewhere.

It is a wonderful thing to be able to build a house, in the garden which we both love. Originally our building plans were to create a straw-bale round house. We would have put it in the field at the bottom of the garden, where little else sits but trees, wild rabbits, and himalayan balsam, and it’s invasion would have been quiet, like a sound made at dawn.

The complications of planning meant that we would have spent years fighting for permission to build this house. We sought advice from within the complexities of building and planning law, and discovered we could build something else. For multi-generational situations like ours, it is possible to apply for permission to build an “adjacent dwelling” next to the pre-existent building, for which one doesn’t need planning permission, but rather a legal certificate much simpler to obtain, and, most importantly, thoroughly possible. The details of this require it to be close to the main house, and to be “a static caravan”, which is essentially a bungalow that is built in two pieces. We found a firm that creates these, and their building techniques are excellent, and thorough.  No gentle straw bale house sung with the land of Sussex, but a well built timber and beautifully constructed mobile home on a cement base, with all the things that are necessary to be inside it, inside it.

Now I find myself in strange locations, with strange methods. Had the round house been possible to create, it would have been created by two wilderness builders who create houses of hobbit style with straw and local wood and reclaimed resources. If that house ever had come into being, it would have conversed with the places and spaces from which it was forged. Into the bluebell patch will arrive a brand new house, in pieces, like jigsaw. The house will be built from excellent and ecological resources. It will be a good space and a good house, and will not, we hope, take years but rather months, so that the baby might be able to spend his first autumn there, and his parents have their own brand new space beside the family home. The fact that we are able to build it at all, both financially and legally, has come upon us like a white-horse flamed miracle.

But I still find myself in strange locations, with strange methods. For every five houses we build in the UK, the equivalent of one house in waste goes to landfill. While our new building company is wonderful at sourcing the best resources and creating houses nearly passive in their energy use, they are not fluent in that other thing – the knotted not of pausing before consumerism happens at all. The former is an eco-living that flows with the tide of today’s economy, the latter is not. But if the latter doesn’t become so, then we will, of course, build, produce and consume ourselves out of existence within a fairly short space of time.

So I negotiate. Is cement a necessity? (Yes). Are there ways of making it more gentle, less pernicious? (Yes). Are there things which may come into our house from junk yards and not factories? (Yes). How much and how many? Can I source them? Can we use them? To their credit, the builders are open-minded, but given that the motivation and resourcing comes from me, trained as a story-teller and comfortable dealing in fairy tales, I fear both for my sanity and our house. This is not my fluency. These planks of timber and straight measurements, these architectural conversions of sketch to world, their unerasable corners and severe edges require dedication to a disciplined accuracy that makes me want to laugh and turn aside in panic.  In negotiating – about windows, doors, floors, drainage, gas, electricity, roofing and all else, I feel not so much that my ground is shaky, but rather the ground, and my feet, are not on the same plain.

But we want to live there, and we want to live there well. We want to build an efficient, possible, warm and real house with minimum invasion and assault upon the world in which we live. So we are in the midst of compromise; we are living in the heart and heat of compromise. Invasions, which we didn’t want, are necessary. The garden must be compromised, and trees sawn down. Cement on bluebells. We give things up, in the name of time and efficiency. The timber is not from Sussex and new trees cried. Wood was shipped in swathes of plastic across long seas. Things were made, for our house, while things which could have made it lie unused in junkyards.

And we continue to negotiate for things. Is it possible that the cement base be mixed with recycled ash, so while our foundations may not speak with the earth, at least they whisper of an acknowledgement that everything we produce continues to pester, bother, celebrate and exist? Is it possible to find floors, roof tiles, doors, beams that are not perfect and not unnecessary, rather pre-existent, shabby and exquisite? Is it possible to enjoy our budget, to have control of it, to purchase not in the compulsive rhythm of pervasive novelty but in conversation with what realistically exists, so that we might, perhaps, have money left over at the end for other things – less physical – that we need and long for? Of course it is possible. But whether we can achieve this in the midst of lives that demand rapidity, practicality, dedication and massive effort in a hundred and one other places also, as every single modern life does, we don’t know.

This is me, now. I have a first child coming in less than two months and three as yet unpublished manuscripts, one of which, at least, I wanted to finish editing and send to a publishers before becoming a mother. But what needs time, really? A published book is a magical transmission of secrets that can change a destiny and open doors. A house, you just live in. It’s construction requires a patience I have not been schooled to give. Yet also a time that, if given, like pouring thoughts upon a field, may perhaps make time different. More careful. Fuller.

What is time? Do we have time for the massive stasis of the clumsy incumbent materials with which we live? Do we have time to see beyond their stasis and acknowledge their outrageously, incomprehensively, fundamentally essential and endless existence? And, if that is time we take, how will our conversations with the world differ? How will our homes?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I’ll update you about the roof tiles.

 

Feb 282016
 

I’m a storyteller, and a doctor of fairy tales, and this is my blog about making home and telling stories. What is the connection between home and stories? And why am I writing a blog about them both?

I’m not a particularly domestic person. The only dessert I can make is a crumble, everything else comes out like unprepossessing mattress foam. Cleaning is fine, when I’m in the mood, when I’m not, dust is also fine. Ironing is a waste of time and energy; cooking is enjoyable, as long as it excludes any pretensions to puff, blanche, broil or flambe.

I’ve just been thinking a lot about time, ecology, and the way we live our lives. I’ve been thinking about the bizarre paradox that we feel hopeless as the world slides towards environmental disaster, when every single day, we alter the world by consuming it. Consuming’s not bad.  It’s what we’re here to do. I wish there was a way in which we weren’t trapped by the illusive necessity of speed, efficiency and efficacy to keep space for our ingestion of the world as sacred, and, in doing so, realize the incredible ecological power that simply eating, building, loving and surviving involves.

In June, I’m going to be a mum for the first time in my life. That’s going to involve a lot of homemaking. As a woman with a fairly single-minded ambition to teach, write, and change the world through stories, I’m immersed in another paradox. How can ambition and the slow space for home-making speak to each other? Where is the connection, the marriage, between the cyclical acts of domestic care, which have no transformative permanence – i.e. washing nappies, washing dishes, washing – er – windows and other things  –  and the mattering acts of creation and coordination that we do in our workaday lives to make a difference and to change the world?

Let me get this straight. I’m not writing a blog about women and domesticity.  What I’m writing, what I’m asking about is, how we can separate domesticity from any tired, historically-bleached question of gender binary, and explore it as a way of being here that has the power, by reinvigorating our attention to the slow materiality of unfolding existence, to re-empower our being in and with the Earth.

I’m doing this via stories, because stories is what I do. Welcome to my blog.

 

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Mar 312016
 

Howbaba-yaga many times will you come to me
asking questions?
My chickens have more eyes than you,
my hands much deeper bones.

In the thorn bushes,
beyond the golden light,
it may be that you could find yourself.
But would you want to?
My oven is a simpler option.

Listen, my child, for when midnight
comes, there will be no more time.
I am not as fearsome as the
horses that travel faster than
their own souls.

I have asked you to separate poppy seeds
from chaff. Be grateful.
For this task is forgiving to the ornaments
of your mind,
in the way that other things are not.

And if you wish –
I know children, nowadays, want it all –
if you wish to meet yourself in
a cold clearing
and still separate the
seeds from the chaff on the
advice of a wooden poppet,
then I cannot help you
only to give you a glimpse of my
eyes
which are the colour of rain
and yet markedly fire.

If this is your choice
remember that the skulls
around my house are also illuminated
and within the bathhouse
is a warmth that cannot be
dreamt of among courts and gods.

Trust yourself. For even snake
bites can be cured with the right potion
and a little good humour.
I have not forgotten the
way and so it is remembered.

A corpse is only a corpse,
and the market will be fine
when you return.

Feb 122016
 

On 31st October 2015 I joined Dr Steven O’ Brien of the University of Portsmouth and distinguished folklorist Jacqueline Simpson to celebrate the production of a new interactive map of Sussex Folklore produced by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy at the University of Chichester.

My task was to create a story inspired by some of the legends on the map. I chose the dragon of St Leonards Forest and the witch of Ditchling – an unlikely combination, but a bewitching adventure it certainly was to tell their story.

You can watch the storytelling session here.

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