Wednesday, 25 April 2012

My most beautiful thing

Yesterday, there was a blogsplash organised by Fiona Robyn of Writing Our Way Home in celebration of the release of her new book 'The Most Beautiful Thing'. Bloggers all over the world were invited to write about their 'most beautiful thing'.

I kind of planned to join in, but the day got a bit gritty and a bit stressed and then a bit busy. Then I had a lovely visit from a friend which led to tea and cake and dinner and hectic kids jumping off the furniture and generally no space for writing anything. However, I found lots of beauty in the day anyway.

First off, when I went to brush my teeth in the morning, I found that there was no water coming out of the tap. This is an annoying thing that happens in our house quite regularly. Maybe the plumbing's so rigged up with the neighbours that when they're using their taps ours don't work? I don't know, but we've got used to a slightly unpredictable water supply in our bathroom. Yesterday, in my attentive search for beauty, I decided not to get irritated by this and appreciate the way that it reminds me how amazing it is that I can expect to be provided with clean water at the turn of a tap in my home! The injustice which this brings to mind certainly isn't a beautiful thing - the statistics stating that over 3 and a half million people die each year from a water related disease, including the equivalent of one child every 20 seconds and that 884 million people lack access to clean water. So, I think about these things and the luxury of having clean running water in my home and decide that I won't worry too much about calling a plumber to sort out our temporary inconvenience, because it's important to be reminded of how precious and valuable water is, and how we can never take it for granted. Then, after several minutes, it starts flowing again and I can truly see and feel and taste it's beauty!

Later, I'm trying to do five things at once. Hanging washing out, trying to stop the dog digging up cat poo and dragging muddy sticks through the house, making porridge, planning a home education activity, supervising my son with his penknife as he whittles an old piece of wood he just found into what I think is a long-necked goose but he tells me is a knife. In the midst of me stressing about the way he's handling the penknife and my heart pounding that he'll slice off a finger, he says "I love turning something that's rotten into something that's beautiful". And there it is, another beautiful thing, and I relax a little and just look at it, the moment with all it's risk and worry softening into love and gratitude. (With the added bonus of all fingers still attached when he puts the knife away and goes inside to do something else!)

When we're walking the dog, I pick up a fallen stick from under a willow tree and take it home just in case. Later on I manage a sneaky moment out in the garden with one of my son's recent birthday presents. I used to enjoy whittling spoons but haven't used my knife for a couple of years. Chris Lubkemann's 'Little Book of Whittling' reinspired me in a couple of minutes.

This led to my picked up stick evolving into a dog (howling up at the moon perhaps) which can also be a knife /athame / letter opener. It was whittled mostly in moments during the evening when it became a retreat from some shouty, stressy stuff happening. By the time I was ready to go to bed, it was finished but for a bit of sanding, some eyes and oiling, which I finished it off with this morning. Despite the little crack which appeared across its nose overnight as it was drying out, I look at it and feel my son's joy at the transformation which can happen under our own hands.

I still can't really say what my one most beautiful thing is. I think it's deeper than one person or one thing, even though on the surface I might immediately name those things. I think it's more in that sentiment expressed by my son yesterday - the ability to and the love of turning 'something that's rotten into something that's beautiful'. As long as we can do this, we can still find meaning and motivation to stay engaged with the world, to never tire of searching out its beauty, and not feel defeated by its rottenness.  


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Playing with the camera!

I've always enjoyed taking photo's and felt quite a bit of satisfaction when taking a picture that appeared to capture the moment or subject in a special way. I've been aware of trying to make the best use of light and camera angles but within the bounds of an automatic point and shoot.

When I've used my 'big' camera (a 5 year old Canon DSLR) I've mostly used its automatic settings and when venturing outside the 'green square' into the manual modes, it's been largely stepping into the unknown where any resulting good photo's have been more like happy accidents than a result of knowledge based skills.

Never even having made the time to sit down and read the handbook properly, I barely knew what most of the buttons and dials did. So, when I received the offer of a good deal on a 3-hour course in getting to know my camera, I decided this was the time!

Thanks to the Rose Studio in Southsea, I spent a fun afternoon this week with a lovely class, boggling my brain with shutter speeds, apertures, ISO's and experimenting with all those buttons and dials. By the end of it, although we'd barely scratched the surface, we were all eager to be getting out there and playing with our toys!

Today, my son and I were on a train coming back from Southampton where we'd been looking at an exhibition of paintings and photographs by surrealist artists in Southampton Art Gallery:
Roland Penrose, Night and Day (1937) Copyright Roland Penrose Estate, The Penrose Collection, England 2012
The Road is Wider than Long: Roland Penrose and British SurrealismUntil 13 May 2012
Galleries 5-8

"This exhibition explores the weird and wonderful world of Roland Penrose and British Surrealism. The show looks at British Surrealism from its origins to the present day and brings together over one hundred significant artworks.
Image credit: Roland Penrose Night and Day (oil on canvas) 1937 © Roland Penrose Estate, England 2011. All rights reserved". ~ From Art Gallery publicity.

We decided to do a bit of experimentation with my camera which made the journey home a lot of fun and presented us with the opportunity for our own bit of surrealism! Here are a few of the results:

My son loves magic tricks and enjoyed the way that we could turn him into a ghost, make him almost invisible or give him two heads so he could look in two directions at once - and the 'magic' was all the more exciting because it could all happen without the help of Photoshop!

We got off the train just as the sun was setting and couldn't resist taking one last photo...

Monday, 9 April 2012

This last month, some words and pictures

Shortly after I signed up to an online writing group, I felt lost for words. I could blame it on being too busy or not having enough time to myself or not having anything worth saying. I could blame it on feeling overwhelmed by so much to say and not knowing where to begin.

I could blame it on all the other more important things I should be doing, the same things that I'm convinced stop me from doing yoga or meditating or going swimming or calling friends.

I could blame it on the effects on my spirit of everything that's compressing this world into a corporate, polluted, packaged, exploited, war-torn, synthetic box of ugly cruelty dressed up in pretty lies and with a price tag which attempts to sell all that I love down the line.

I could blame it on my own personal reasons for sinking into an unmotivated pit of anxiety and falling silent. But.

I like words. Despite their potential for misrepresentation, manipulation, making things worse. The words shared in the writing group were supportive, beautiful, inspiring. The questions that were being posed were around exploring what our presence is all about in the world and to live with awareness, week by week, day by day, or ideally, moment by moment, valuing life. Our words make us vulnerable but also provide us with an opportunity for being courageous and making real connections and creating change.

While I was feeling blocked from writing, I came across two books which felt like a bit of a revelation and freed me from the struggle for words and from thought.

I could just draw. I could take my book and my pencils or paint and just bring to the paper what emerged. Creativity felt like it was flowing in from the margins of my life to a central place where I've never fully acknowledged or allowed it to be, although in reality, it has usually influenced whatever else I've been doing. It was exciting to start taking a journal everywhere and experience a new way of being fully engaged in the moment and a deeper observation of what was there. And words could come in too, but they didn't have to be in sentences or carefully constucted paragraphs. They could just flow around with the images in this personal space without being judged by the internal (or external) critics which try to cut too many of us down because we're not an acknowledged 'artist' or a 'writer'. Acknowledged by who? The media? The market? The 'experts' and 'professionals'? We can all be artists and writers, or singers or dancers, or whatever else helps us feel alive in a culture that tries to dampen and rob our natural born spark and sell it back to us as a shiny wrapper which we'll always need to be searching to fill up from their shelves or screens, leaving us ever more empty, ever more alienated from our own creativity, imagination and joy. 

'Everything is it's own reward' - These words were going round my head a lot. This is it. Just this. Freed from expectations, hopes, things which went wrong. I began moulding clay, painting, deciding to start letting go of the plans that haven't been leading me anywhere useful and heading into a new direction... doing more of the things I love.
 Being together with good company.
Being in nature.
Recognising how memories hang around and get in the way of experiencing the fullness of where I am.
Realising how different media feels different - how photo's feel like they don't belong in the sketchbook because they capture instantly instead of absorbing slowly and the experience is not felt so deeply afterwards.
The pleasures of sitting amongst crows!

Just scribbling and doodling and noticing what comes to mind.
The stuff that fills our days, so that when we ask where did they go, we can peek back and remember.
Remembering also, that these pages only tell a tiny part of the story, but that it doesn't matter.
The empty page is a portal, always waiting, without censure, without need of correction, a door opening, a place to go to that's free. At least for now!