It’s hard to live like I do. No home. No house. No basecamp. Friends who have long known me say I am just a natural nomad.
Each time gets a little harder. The dreams and joys a little smaller. The apprehensions a little bigger.
I start to notice time, that was once an infinite bank account, has contracts, has demands, has an end date. It may be long into the future, but instead of being around births, I’m hearing more about deaths.
I’ve got half way through a natural life.
The immediate future starts to loom, rather than be a far off promise.
And still life, as I thought I would have it pretty much sorted by now, is not controllable. Not really even understandable. Sometimes I have to refuge in the flimsy idea that as I die and I experience the totally of my life flashing before my eyes, it will make sense. Because if not?
Over time things that seemed to help me make sense of things I don’t believe in anymore. Is knowing about one’s own psychology of any use when the psyche is taking an AWOL out of one’s own control? Is trying to ‘fix’ the mind, with the same mind (that is not ‘fixed’) of any use at all? Is taking six months off to explore dance of any use in the long run? Is achieving dreams only a way to not have any dreams left?
And yet each day shines light. Each nightfall brings candles.
And I wonder what is life all about?
Going ‘home’ is hard too. All those people, school friends, people who set out on this ‘race’, who started this ‘game’ in the same corral, with the same sort of opportunities; now have a house, have children, have jobs and careers and (I imagine) respect from society.
And I wonder where I went wrong. And I wonder if I went wrong.
In the car, taking me to the station between Xmas and New Year my I tell my good friend (who has a well paying job in management in the Police Force, who has a family, who has a husband she fell in love with at 16 who also has a good job, who has a beautiful home) how I admire her, how she has made it in life. House, career, children. She tells me how hard it is for her. How tiring. How difficult to withstand the pressures of daily living, of bringing up children, how neither of them would do their jobs if they didn’t have to, how she feels worn down by life.
She proceeds to tell me how she admires my life, how she thinks I have made it. I get confused. ‘Made it?’
‘Experienced things, done things…’
Here I am feeling lost and disoriented and somehow a person is admiring my life. And my friend feeling lost and disoriented and I am admiring hers. Perhaps because each of us sees what we want to see – all that we do not have that the other does – and we don’t want to see what price the other’s had to pay?
The grass is greener.
And I sit on the white toilet that for two months I can call my own, wondering in this my life, in that her life. A strong perception comes into me: with the ‘current climates’ it is hard for everyone – either because of a lack of money, a lack of time, or a lack of love. Perhaps simply, at the moment, the price to pay to be alive is rather, ridiculously high. But what can we do about that? It’s not personal. It’s global. It could simply be as dangerous as over population. And the human globe strains under the weight.
The flower still grows. The oak tree adds a little bark. The sky holds the weather. They have not changed, in their constant change.
And perhaps the bank of wealth is simply the ability to find mental space amongst chaos, regardless of what life you are living: from the rich to the poor, from the disinherited to the privileged, from the bonded to the free.
And who would want to live without a few quotes from Helen Keller? Wealth of experience galore:
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.”
“Believe. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
“What I am looking for is not out there; it is in me.”
It is not a question of money, it is a question of wealth to look at a flower, or observe a sunset, or to wake up in time to see a sun rise. It is enormous if you can get off the treadmill of the habituated mind for a little while to do something you love but don’t often do. And those who are doing small things they love regularly – yea tops! If you can have a nice conversations with friends and people in general you are much wealthier than Trump. If you feel movements in your heart, if you remember you can breathe slowly and deeply as if drinking from a fountain of life, if you eat an orange as if it were the first time, write a poem, draw a silly little drawing, if you can dance around your kitchen, or play a song … perhaps this what life is about?
I have written this blog inspired by a woman, a friend of my friend Alice, who I met two days ago in the Sound Art Radio Studio. I didn’t get her name. I don’t think we got that far. She has eyes that are clear and sparkling and full of fear (NB: maybe I am projecting here) of not being good enough, or fear that the other will not like her or will disagree. Beautiful, clear eyes, light blue. I could have swum in them. I spoke briefly with her – but to be honest I was all over the place. So I couldn’t really talk in a straight line long enough to properly talk. I’d just performed and was in that post high. So I was doing a lot of one-liners. She didn’t speak much at all. Smiled a lot. I liked her instantly.
I know Alice lives in a caravan, like me. But her friend doesn’t know I’ve been living in a caravan. In the midst of many words that were sparkling and exciting about myself, like a true spiritual hero, I suddenly remembered through the rush of post performance hormones that I am not the only person valid here to talk about, and asked her, ‘Do you work here?’
‘No,’ she says, looking at Alice who does. She seemed apologetic. Like maybe she should.
So, without information forthcoming I take another guess, ‘Do you live in the caravan up the top?’
‘Yes,’ she says, clear beautiful eyes tinged again with I ‘only’ live in a caravan, a shyness to her eyes, a trying to cover-overness of herself and what ‘shouldn’t be’. I caught a vibration of: I have not got it together to get a brick and mortar house.
My reactions to her could be projection again, but I don’t think so. I had already explained my heroic adventures with the four mice to Alice, that her and I knew were all staged in the caravan. To Alice and I it was clear we were all in the same boat (so to speak) but the woman with the clear, sparkling eyes perhaps it wasn’t obvious.
I love living in a caravan. I feel proud of it now – of being able to make the most of it, of being a strong enough personality to cope with the inconveniences, so to be able to enjoy the pure beauty of waking up every morning to the sounds of birds, river, wind in the trees. Of going down to the river in wellies, half asleep, to wash a dish, get washing up water or to wash my face.
Silence weaving into the habituated gurgling of the river.
Watching the seasons fall off the trees.
Ducking back up under the washing line.
I wanted to be in a sort of gang of caravan dwellers. But it didn’t happen. I sensed she was afraid of what I would think of her for living in a caravan. And it affected me. What got me was the difference between my eyes looking into her beautiful, beautiful eyes and the eyes she was expecting to feel and therefore (more than probably) did.
I wanted to write this for her. And for me, on this the day that I am sailing out of England on another adventure. Blissfully free. My life packed once again into a suitcase (note the upgrade from a backpack!?), a trumpet case, a computer, a kindle and a tennis racquet. As I reduce all my stuff back into bags I feel life expanding out again.
What I wished I’d realised twenty years ago
I have just looked in the mirror and realised: I am too old to be a mother. Or rather I suddenly get that the women entering into motherhood – a stage I have always considered something for the future – are all (except in very extreme circumstances) much, much younger than me now.
I look in the mirror and see the lines. It doesn’t help that for a couple of days I’ve been packing my life up again, worrying about getting everything into bags and boxes, worrying about the long hitch to the port (which turned out to be a dream of a journey) and this morning waking up to the stomach wrenching sensations of the early hours to get myself on the ferry (which I nearly missed). With all that and slight sea sickness, I’m not looking my best.
However there is no denying: time is moving on. It is strange when, like last night in the AirBnB, I watch English television and see the same people on the screen as I saw as a child. But they are not the same – not at all. In fact their heads are slightly deformed, ears protrude, white or no hair, shrunken, shrivelled. They are old and about to die.
And I have entered into middle age.
Enric once told me that the basic foundations of one’s personality are developed in the years up to the age of seven. I believe him. And in those years you are asked a lot about the future. Who do you want to be? Those tender responses go deep. And they are responses also to please the adult. To get a smile. To be able to move on and get back to the Lego before my brother finds the piece I’m looking for. I’ve never heard a little child say, ‘Robber’ for example, or, ‘It sounds really good fun to be a hooligan,’ (perhaps because at that age they already are). Answers are normally more in the range of something successful and so socially acceptable they could easily slip into a child’s bed time story.
And so on the occasions when I go back to my childhood home, middle aged and not ‘successful’ is actually, quite terrifying. The eyes of that seven year old gain power all over again – eyes that were borrowed from the then adults in my life: my mum, my dad, my teachers, my Brownie guides’ Brown Owl, the priest.
‘Who have you become?’ is now the question. And suddenly I begin to crumble.
It doesn’t matter how many self-development workshops I’ve done. How many Vipassana’s I have sat. How deep I have gone into myself. I tremble.
This year, my mum celebrated 70 years on this planet. It was the first time in three years that I was to see my brother after him going into radio silence with me. He doesn’t like that I haven’t become someone. Told me he feels he needs to protect his children from me.
So, like flour, eggs and milk make cake, whisk all these ingredients up – no motherhood, no job, no fixed idea of life, family reunion – and you get a dribbling, panicking Julia. Someone who was perfectly ok and happy in life and feeling blessed is suddenly attacked and felled by the inner thoughts of ‘failure’, of ‘trouble maker with those wacko ideas’, of ‘wanderer drifting her life away’, of ‘never did much with all that she was given’…
It is gross and it is ugly. It is black and vile and it can get hairy. I do not contain all this horribleness to myself, ohh no, I spread it about all around me. Fabián knows only too well. As do all of my ex’s (evidence that it has nothing to do with them, though at the time I am convinced they are the root of all evil).
I begin to imagine myself hanging from a tree: a blissful end to the onslaught of this darkness, of these cursing emotions and sensations that threaten to not only bring me to my knees, but to destroy me. And I logically, but unwisely, conclude: better to destroy myself, at least then I am in control.
Through the snot and the tears and the wailing of, ‘I should die’, ‘I am worthless’, and ‘How did it ever get to this?’ Fabián, a true trooper, stands firm, dodges bullets, does not, in some miracle of psychological strength, blame me for being so horrible.
Instead he says, ‘See yourself through your own eyes.’
I have no idea what he means.
I go back to the idea of dangling on the end of a rope.
Through the mind fog I hear echoes of him saying, ‘You are wonderful, you are a genius, you write so beautifully, you are great company,’ (Great company?! Look, look now! You are only as good as your last game. I am making your life hell), ‘I love you, you play the trumpet, you speak languages, you are wise,’ – it all seems so naïve – ‘Look at yourself! Look in the mirror. Stop using your father’s eyes.’
That wakes me up.
‘Stop using your brother’s eyes.’
I stop in my victimhood. The eye of the storm. I open into the brief inner silence.
I am OK here, in this little caravan by my caring man, but what about when I go back up north? ‘But what can I say when they ask, ‘So what do you do now?’’
The winds pick up. Panic. New sob. The addictively exciting tingling of hysteria coming on…
Memories of past disasters. Of sly looks. Of quiet slights. Of disappointment.
I was brought up with middle-class, well to do, conservative ideals. I mean my father (still) proudly voted for Margaret Thatcher. I knew from an early age the advantages of laissez-faire. We were taught to be adventurous within the realms of what is correct, but not to step over the line. We were brought up Catholics with the fear of going to Hell to control our unruly instincts. Dad’s garden is still a perfect green, mowed crisscross. Mum was head of flower arranging and church cleaning. My brother always wanted to be a priest.
‘Tell them that you have just written a book, that you are living in a beautiful place, that you have a lovely relationship with me, that you are enjoying life,’ Fabián whispers with soft force.
‘But the book isn’t selling well?’
‘But a few people have said that it was life changing…you’re proud of the contents, you said so yourself…’
‘They are only interested in if I’ve made money…and we live in a caravan…’
Fabián stays bravely in his soft voice and says, ‘It is beautiful here, silence, we can listen to the river, we live between trees! It is a privilege to be here!’ I begin to come out of my hell mind, back into the world where there is this kind man whose face is flickering in and out of the candle light.
‘But they mean, ‘What do I do as a job, how do I get money…’’
‘Tell them… ‘I sell books, I do psychotherapy sessions with patients, I model for art school and sometimes get paid for playing music, but what’s great is that I’ve learnt to live so very basically that I don’t actually need a lot of money…yes…things are going well.’’
It is like falling into a soft comfortable clean bed after a hard day.
‘But,’ I panic, suddenly sitting up again, ‘What if my brother asks me?’
So, somehow we end up role playing it. And Fabián (who is me) and I (who am Adrian) have a practise conversation. I know what to say as Adrian, it is ingrained in my cells. ‘So what are you doing now with your life?’ I use the right tone: derogative, but pretending to be interested. Images of no children, no house, no car, no real income, nothing…waste of a life, ‘I’ve just written a book, published it, I’m pleased with it, especially the contents…’ says Fabián who is me, pathetic me, stupid me, airhead me.
The conversation goes on and I can only see in front of me some ridiculous girl-woman who will not settle down, can’t get her life together, who is never going to get anywhere, who will not listen to reason. I’ve tried to help. Tried to give her support. She won’t stop doing what she is doing, running around like a headless chicken, and she is just really, really annoying. Ever looking for adventure. If you won’t change, please get out of my life. Fabián continues to tell me how ‘she’ is enjoying living in nature, working in some phony art school, written some book that can’t keep ‘her’ alive… blah blah blah. Get out of my face!
It is terrible.
‘Swop,’ says Fabian. ‘Find some answers like I had…’ he says in a positive voice that I just can’t believe.
So, for the sake of getting to know myself workshop style or perhaps out of desperation, faced with the army of rightwing do-gooders who are all successfully wealthy and keen to compete, I swop roles. Who are you? Are you better or worse than me?
I am me. Fabián is Adrian.
He asks me the same questions. I answer, not how I think I should based on what they want to hear but how I feel. I am enjoying life. I have written a book. I play in a couple of bands that I love. I actually have enough money coming in to cover my costs. Actually I am pleased to be able to live so economically – it really takes the pressure off. Especially having no car. Hitching has helped us get to meet a lot of people, we connected with Miguel who helped Fabián with wood sculpting tools and deep friendship, we were in a cabaret thanks to meeting Traci hitching, we met so many interesting diverse views of life.
I think, but don’t mention, the young woman with dreadlocks who has 28 dogs on their farm, and when I asked her how they manage to feed them all she told me about how her mother got into breeding grey parrots, how she herself works in a supermarket in the morning and walks dogs the afternoon, how in the summer she specialises in lama sheering in…England!
I love how meeting so many people opens horizons to what is ‘normal’ what is ‘real’ what is an ‘acceptable way to live’.
I don’t actually say any of this. What I suddenly see is that the person I am talking to cannot see or hear any of the value of what I am saying, even when I reduce it, simplify it. It is too far over their horizon.
And as I feel all of the juice of being alive in my life, I feel satisfied just saying, ‘Yeah, things are well. Thanks.’
Actually that is enough. I don’t need to defend, show, prove. I am happy with where I am at.
That was a big lesson.
But a bigger lesson was seeing how closed down and narrow minded ‘the person’ I was talking to, the ‘person’ I had just embodied. So afraid. As I express myself 180 degrees in a rainbow of colours, he is seeing a 10 degree view in black and white – actually much more black than white. And that incomplete vision, that segment of who actually I am not, will not really change, regardless of what I do or what I say.
I cannot change that level of vision that is bordering on terrifying – for him, for me. I suddenly ‘see’ how he will never be able to see me as anything other than ‘failed’ or ‘not quite right in the head’ or ‘messing up her life with ‘one more adventure’’ – or worse still, given we were brought up together – as a ‘traitor’.
I get it.
A light turns on in the dark room of my mind.
I suddenly realise I am impotent to change his vision of me. It is his and it is, unless something big happens to shift it, it is fixed.
My choice is to either take his vision on as my own or stick with my own richer, more rounded vision of myself.
To see with my own eyes, or not?
How absurd suddenly! Why would I ever see myself as someone else’s partial fractured view of me? How can we ever know what it is like to be someone else? How can anyone ever know what it is to be me? Why would I look at myself with an impartial other person’s view?
I am happy with myself.
I like living in nature.
I love living with Fabián.
I actually am really proud of writing the book, or rather letting the book be written through me.
I love having so much free time.
I DO have enough money.
I do like hitch hiking and meeting interesting people and not having to park, or pay for MOTs and petrol and breakdowns in the middle of the night.
I love being forced to get fit on my bike.
And though I am very rarely asked (with delicate respect to those women who wanted and couldn’t have children) and though I will never actually know the answer because one cannot live both answers, I believe I am happy with my decision to not have children. I like quiet. I like being able to be selfish.
And though when it is cold and raining and I have my hands full and have to open and close cattle gates to get to a little caravan at the bottom of two wellington-boot-slippy muddy fields – I love living in nature. I actually like the challenges and steadily staying more and more comfortable and stable within the ‘hardships’. My comfort zone is expanding. It feels like my system is waking up again, coming into its nature, into what is my true nature. I mean what a privilege to be able to live in nature, with nothing but a thin un-insulated tin wall between us!
Zoom on a week. I am in the party. I am slightly high. I am excited to have been able to connect again – if only briefly – with my nephews who, bless them, have not forgotten me. They have honoured the bond we created. I feel the familiar excitement, the creativity, the being alive together feeling we’ve always had. We shot some videos together of being cool on the climbing frame. They came out brill.
And I go into inside to where the ‘adults’ are. The room is full of all the individuals that I had imagined as a single mass (an army) of right wingers who value money more than living: they are all the adults I grew up with. Neighbours who I still call Aunty someone, the mums and dads of my first two boyfriends, aged 5 and aged 9. The mum of my best friend aged 8. My best friend from college when we were 16 and her husband who was in Geography class with us. And they are all each with their individual lives, wading through their own issues. And they each ask, ‘How are you?’
And I answer.
I answer truthfully, with my own eyes. Who I am. What I am doing. How I love living in a caravan. The book – contents and people’s reactions to the book. ‘Couldn’t put it down,’ says my friend’s partner, ‘You could say it is life changing,’ said a friend, actually two friends, ‘I had a messy unclean house for days, I couldn’t stop reading it,’ said another friend.
‘Ohh the caravan! It is so beautiful to live there! We have candle-lit meals every night. We ate in the summer by the river. It’s so relaxing.’
People look at me, happy, admiring. Aunty Jenny from round the corner says, ‘I’m so happy for you.’ Aunty Maria, who told me fifteen years ago when my bro got married, ‘You’ve got to stop searching! Settle down…’ said, ‘You’ve only got one life, kiddo, keep living it!’ All these people who, from a young age have loved me, who I love in that strange I-hardly-know-who-you-are-these-days-but-hey-43-years-later-here-we-still-are sort of way. Christmas days together. Nativity plays gone wrong. Chinese take-aways. Games that we would all like to play now, but don’t have time for. Memories, memories, memories. Sweet memories of from before we all had to be someone, get somewhere.
I am transported back to when we would all sit on sofas together, the only distraction the wooden rimmed television that wasn’t allowed to be turned on and the occasional ring of the land line that we didn’t call land line because there weren’t any other ‘lines’.
We would play silly games that we would all laugh over together. We had songs that we all knew the movements for. We each had our own magic trick. The delight of getting the cork out of the wine bottle with a handkerchief. ‘Do you remember?’ I ask Aunty Christine. That was Chris’s speciality. Chris being my boyfriend, who I jumped on in the Wendy house.
We would laugh at each other messing up, laugh at not getting it, laugh at the absurd, laugh at our humanity – forming relationships between us without knowing it that are indelible. I will probably go to many of their funerals. Real life long relationships.
And here they are, for the first time, not worrying about me, not asking me awkward questions, but having discovered that despite travelling for a second time, despite leaving my fancy job in London, despite moving around and living in economy stricken countries, despite living for the day, I am alive, I am well, I have lived.
I stand there in my mother’s party and feeling the present and the past mixing in floods of happy memories, also feel the pride of being able to show up as I see myself rather than hiding behind someone else’s dogma. I stand in my own truth, vulnerable in being different. And I see, feel all these smiling faces egging me on to live my own life. To go for it. The sparkle in their eyes. The hugs.
I guess they are softening with age, like a good wine.
But suddenly I don’t mind what they think. That’s their prerogative.
So, I just had a funny little, disturbing idea. I find myself interacting frequently with a person who I like and whom I consider, from my great psychological height, to be somewhat on the autistic scale. And so I adapt. Because I am benevolent.
I just went to the toilet and heard him, and again thought, Maybe Asperger’s? (Apparently 40% of the white male population have some degree of Asperger’s…according to another friend who has an Austistic friend with all this no-emotions-thank-you-very-much-we-prefer-to-think info).
It is sort of mainstream now, to label with these selectable conditions. You are allowed to be so many things these days. I, as well, enjoy labelling myself to give myself special conditions and allowances. I sort of enjoy the feeling of ‘not being normal’.
But this time, having dealt out my silent analysis of a psyche next door and I am I about to sit on the toilet I correct myself, the workshops on non-judgment are beginning to pay off, and say to myself, No he is just low emotion on his typology, he is a thinking typology, probably with sensation as the wing‘. And though I am affectively doing the same thing (psychoanalysing him), he suddenly changes in my head, from someone with a condition, to someone with a personality.
And it shocks me.
Perhaps even I am beginning to accept myself? Less judgment in my projections? I sit there quite smug.
And suddenly I think of all the teenagers I’ve hung around in classes pretending to teach, and kids of friends, all of whom are quick and keen to pronounce psycho-babble as much as I am. I remember an ex’s 12 year old girl saying how ‘Passive Aggressive’ the teacher had been that day and it shocked me because I didn’t know anything about passive aggression until I was about 35. How did she know? And I think of the waves of our joint consciousness informing us, as we, like mushrooms, communicate below the surface. Those of us able to stay awake, surfing the lastest wave, regardless of age. Evolution is not just about getting older. We are all in this together.
And now I am about to start to wee and I think…he who I can hear through the wall has no psychological problem that hinders him from living, he is simply ok. In his own way. He is fine. He is simply an individual. Equally different to the next Joe Bloggs.
Perhaps, as we have become more and more psychologically aware, instead of realising that we are ‘all different’, we realise that we are ‘different for a reason’ (dyslexia, OCD, ADHD, passive aggression developed from inappropriate upbringing, phobias, tendency to psychosis etc etc etc Roll out the DSM-5).
And perhaps, I think, going for the toilet roll, we have unconsciously created MORE of a norm. For the message is: your not-normal-stuff is due to a psychological issue. Therefore leaving lurking in the background a hazy undefined concept of a ‘perfectly normal’ or ‘perfectly standard’ person who would not find themselves reflected in a single page of the DSM-5, who has no psychological disorder at all – not one smidgen. For surely we cannot all have a disorder? That would mean we were all normal ordered. And the DSM-5 tells us otherwise. In fact, I have never met a person who was not psychologically damaged. But still…maybe…one day…
And so somehow, like a parallel dream world, this ‘who I would be if I were not psychologically damaged’ walks along a parallel corridor of life alongside us. The who we should have been but never managed to shrug off our imperfections to become. The normal adapted. The one who never suffers. Ever. Which of course no-one (consciously) believes in. Or do we?
Could it be that we are battering ourselves into a norm set by television and the homogenisation of nearly all of our human processes: the make-us-all-equal internet, the greater mix of regional influences that boil down into homogeny as we move around cities, counties, countries – the world…the greater connectivity. We all wear almost the same clothes as the television and the magazines, eat the same shitty supermarket crap that’s wrapped in beautiful designed packaging, hear the same news at the same time, have the same opinions as our friends on facebook etc etc
But of course, we all believe we are being completely Unique.
Perhaps instead of becoming our true selves we are, and stepping along the path of individuation, we are in fact becoming a mass of similarity and convention. It is as if we all aim, pay for, and talk so as to be ‘normal’ one day, to be accepted by Rupert Murdock, dropping like dandruff the peculiarities of our personalities (which we are calling psychological disorders). It is as if the room to be different is being reduced so much in general societies, it threatens our psyche…and so our psyche/soul needs to kick out.
And then we are labelled.
And suddenly I wondered if psychology, in its present state, is doing us more harm than good?
I remember adults in big coats, saying in kind tones from far above, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ I never really knew, all I wanted to do was learn, to go to school, to big school, to university…but what I felt sure in my bones was that I was going to be someone great. I held onto illusions easily formed in the afterglow of winning the sack race, or getting first prize in the Women’s Institute Painting Competition, or always being the one to do the solo for parent events at secondary it even extended into Uni as I felt the warm glow of achieving the highest mark of my year group for my final year thesis. I somehow believed I would naturally succeed. I always had, so why would it be any different?
Even in my early twenties, travelling the world, I expected a glorious, fantastic future. In Hollywood, USA, I met an English man who took me around in his convertible. We went to see all the famous peoples’ houses on the hill underneath the big H O L L Y W O O D sign. None of them were quite what I was looking for. I wanted more, and I wasn’t joking.
And so at the age of 42 I’m in a caravan. There is no shower, no toilet. I wash in the river that is five metres away. There is no drinking water supply; we carry the water through three muddy fields. There is no road; we wheel-barrow our food in from internet shopping. Click Fresh! Ohh and there is no electricity apart from a little solar panel that lights up LED bulbs at night, that we don’t use much. White cold light. Candle light is so much warmer. There is a log fire made out of an old gas cylinder. There is wood. Plenty of.
And how do I feel?
I feel like I never want to go back. I said to Fabián recently, ‘I don’t think I ever want to have electricity again. Why would anyone live without candles?’ It is winter time now, we came here in summer. The long summer days were glorious, we would eat our dinner by the slate table Fabián set up on the beach by the river, watching the water flow by, watching birds – kingfishers my favourite – swooping up and down the river highway. We saw an otter once when we were on our cheese course. But now the nights come in around four thirty. Four thirty in the night. We light the candles. We cook. We eat together. We talk. We relax. We go to bed, tired. Often it is 7.30 in the night. Sometimes we make ourselves stay up till 9pm. Hibernation.
Living in nature one starts to come back to nature – the Nature of the earth, our own Nature, the Nature of living.
And I feel my body is different. It is stronger, more robust. People say, ‘You still living down there?’
‘Isn’t it cold?’
‘You get used to it,’ I say, ‘We’re still ‘swimming’ in the river.’
By swimming I mean: one of us says by the log fire in the caravan, ‘I need to wash,’ with a slight groan, slight apprehension, and slight excitement. The other one says, ‘Really?’ with admiration and slight fear of maybe having to do the same. ‘Yes,’ confirmation. No going back. Man/Woman or mouse? Then in the caravan, a psychological hurdle: having to take clothes off like you mean it. Putting on the warmest coat and taking towel. Deciding whether to use crocks (quicker to get back to warm feet in caravan) or wellingtons (a bit of complicated balancing to dry feet on beach but feet warmed earlier). ‘I’m going with the crocks.’ The other looking out through the window, or putting on a coat to watch from the safety of the land. Then the walk down the five metre path: a walk to the gallows. A bramble scratches a leg. A branch swipes for the face. Putting towel down and feeling the night air on my birthday suit. It is glorious. It is a bit scary. It is romantic, especially at night under the stars. It is very close to being very cold. Standing there on the beach, breathing in, trying to enjoy such freedom as the mind shouts, pleads, gets angry, ‘THIS IS STUPID, YOU ARE GOING TO HURT YOURSELF, YOU WILL GET SICK, THIS IS STUPID, STOP, STOP, STOP’. Not listening. Taking off clothes fast before I change your mind. Wading in, feeling the cold. It’s not so bad. It’s not so bad. Washing privates. Washing under the arms and then…the plunge. A shiver of delight and pain down the back. It’s actually OK. ‘GET OUT. GET OUT! GET OUT!!! THIS IS DANGEROUS.’ It’s actually OK. I could swim a bit. Two strokes. Cold. Cold. Getting colder. Is this too much? Exhilaration of tittering on the edge of a physical limit. I get out. As I walk out onto the beach – even when there is rain or hale – I think, ‘I could have stayed in longer.’ Suddenly the world is warm. My body is fine in this temperature. Except my feet. I waltz back to the caravan. ‘Not a biggie,’ I say, again. Surprised. Feeling wonderful. Feeling healthy. Feeling my body buzzing alive. ‘I’m so glad we have to do this every day.’
Apparently, and I think it is true, the cold dilates the veins in the body – probably in shock – to stop hypothermia. Going in everyday the veins get used to being a little more stretched (like a muscle) until they are naturally wider and wider. And I have to say, proudly, that now in December, living in an un-insulated tin caravan, I have not felt the cold. I mean, I feel my body reacting to the cold – I am not in a Tshirt running around in the snow – but the cold doesn’t affect me. And if you had ever seen me come back to England when I had been living decades in the Mediterranean, you will notice a huge difference. From squirming wimp to healthy adaption.
And then there is the immune system. Apparently cold water really helps to crank it up. Perhaps that is the buzzing feeling of wellness after the ‘swim’? Now research is suggesting that depression is connected not to synapsing in the brain but to immune system malfunction. Like when you get the flu and feel awfully sorry for yourself. When the immune system is down it affects our mood. The idea is that immune system was turned on for a good reason and somehow failed to turn off again, so that it is constantly firing, and tiring, and getting depressed. I think, based on the river bathing experience and walking through the fears of it, that cold water helps it reset.
But cold water bathing is not the only thing that is making me love living in the caravan. There are lots of health brilliances.
Apparently, the gut has more neurons than the brain. I read that somewhere. I also heard this week that the first amoeba in what is to become a human, forms into the intestine. It is the first thing created in us when we are a group of cells. The brain is in fact a growth out of the gut – which is why they are so connected.
According to my friend Hayley who is doing a course in herbal remedies and essences, people who live in the city have 60% less gut flora. The city life is too sterile. Not necessarily too clean, but too sterile. Meanwhile, here in caravan river tree land, we are not sterile. At all. For six months we have not used soap or shampoo. We have used clothes soap. We have washed our clothes in the river (and when it piled up in Paul Hussell’s house, bless his cotton socks). At first it was hard for me to live with this perceived level of ‘grime’. I was so used to washing my hands often, with soap and clear water. Let me remind you there is no toilet. Au naturel. Going to the toilet means finding a place. Often mean scratching your legs on spiky vegetable. Ohh and just going down to the beach for dinner means scratches, or a quick stab of pain of a nettle, or the fire in winter means a quick burn on the ends of a couple of fingers. And the cold water of the river washing is quite a lot of sensation. It makes the immune system wake up. I’m sure it does. In an amongst all this mud, country dirt, and nature’s sharper edges nothing happens. Nothing gets sceptic, nothing turns into anything more than a scratch. Stones fall on your toes. It hurts for a bit. It gets better. Head itches, scratch, stops itching. The intense cold of the river gives inner heat. Lack of running water makes you appreciate how much we actually have. Mosquito bites don’t bother too much after a while. Meanwhile over time, gradually, I feel more and more healthy, not the opposite.
While we sit in cars and go to sterile offices and eat food from supermarkets that have been thoroughly cleaned (to reduce as much as we can the effects of modern agricultural chemicals) and we’ve been somewhere public, ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS’ with the ‘THIS GEL KILLS 99% OF GERMS’ and gone home and had a shower within clean ceramic tiles – we’ve won the war on germs. But in winning, it seems to me, we’ve lost. Our immune systems have shut down. It is like the famous poem ‘The Orange Grove’ we had to learn it for GCSE Literature, where the prince in his refinery (who is obviously perfectly spotlessly clean) is sat on silk sheets reading an exquisite book. He hears the castle wall door not being knocked upon, but banged on. The brutes, the heathens, the men with clubs are here, ready to fight. The prince has forgotten to fight. We are left to guess who wins.
Coming soon like an old fashioned cinema and a 50p cornetto – Part II: What the River Dart, the woods and the caravan have taught me.
Just when I am not expecting anything, in those moments where distracted by routine into a nothing space in my head, I let go of my thoughts and something happens, something gets in. Normally my thoughts run wildly fast, creating a convenient barrier between me and the world, like an electron in an atom (some travel up to 90% of the speed of light) that in empty space creates rock hard material. My thoughts are like a smoke screen that stops the movement of vision from ‘in’ to ‘out’ and ‘out’ to ‘in’.
In 2014 there was a moment when my brain stopped making thoughts.
They say that when you enter the temple, the divine is present and sometimes it is not. It was not the first time that I cycled down the narrow path between the white washed Greek buildings to my little home. It was not the first time that I flew absentmindedly over the crazy paving cracks painted white, it was not the first time I ever felt lost…it was not the first time I was unconsciously in a zen state…but it was the first time that I felt an atomic bomb of an idea go off: we are killing ourselves from the inside out.
Back then I was in art school and we were reading ‘Odyseus’ by Homer. I read about Telemachus, his son, walking down the beach trying to decide what to do with his life. There was a choice: face the huge leap into the dark void of the unknown, face the start of his own epic hero journey even though his knees wanted to buckle under the weight of the fear of leaving all that is known, loved, comfortable, to enter into almost certain suffering, disorientation, constant unknown challenge (that he may not overcome) or stay home with Mom. In his state he calls out to Athena. Athena is the goddess of War, of Courage, of Wisdom. Bejesus he needed it.
Days later I am walking along a similar beach only thousands of years later, mulling over it. The words ‘God’ or ‘Gods’ these days create so much pre-judgemental tension that they are more like arms of mass destruction – and not without cause. Personally I was brought up in the Catholic system, and though I managed to ‘get out’ by the age of fifteen realising that (for myself) this was not a valid path, this was not an authentic path, and that even the parish priest didn’t seem to be able to bridge any of the dogma with actual life (either outside in the material world or inside in the ‘spiritual’/energetic/psychic world) it took me decades to break through my anger, through the illusion of being deceived, through my hatred. I wasn’t able to walk into a church without feeling alarm bells going off and wanting to graffiti the angst in my heart all over the stain glass windows, let alone begin to believe, or think, of ‘God’. Fuck that.
It took walking the ‘Camino de Santiago’ to get me into a little chapel. They were so numerous, so many little shrines dotted along the path that it was irritating. They were getting in the way of my walk within myself. So after about three weeks of waking up, breakfasting, walking, lunching, walking, dining, sleeping, waking up, walking etc I felt the need to feel the experience of going into a church after more than a two decades of rejection, spite and repulsion. To say the least.
My heart felt like it was going to burst through my chest. My vision went white around the edges. I was immersed in an inner soundtrack of a war film. I left.
Next chapel the same but less.
A couple of days later I tried again.
I mean I could go through all of the chapels but needless to say behavioural-cognitive theory does have its place. After I while I started to break down my automatic response systems.
I stood eventually in a chapel and was able – in relative stillness of mind – to realise that nothing is happening. I am not being forced to do anything. I am not being forced to believe anything. This is just a building, that is, actually, rather pleasant. Good acoustics. I tried out a Beatles song.
But many people have not broken through the word God. Or Gods. I’ve felt that atomic bomb go off in my face too many times.
So much so that when I wrote a book about all this I felt it wise to change the strap line from, ‘On Intimacy: Bringing back the Gods’ to ‘On Intimacy: A Forgotten Art’. I prefer the first, it sums up better for me what I was trying to achieve, but there again I am not still angry at the word God, and most of the people I know are.
I mean we can call it ‘Higher presence’, or ‘Higher self’, or ‘the One’ or ‘Oneness’ or ‘That which is more than us’. Your choice whether to use capitals. But over the years of sitting course after course of Vipassana meditation, of exploring the world through forty-two countries, living in seven, of being a serial consumer of workshop courses, of studying a masters of Jungian Psychology and Psychoanalysis, of having a string of partners all of whom I found to be loving and deep and glad to move away from once we had learnt what we needed from each other, I cannot in my heart of hearts say that there is not something more than ‘I’; I cannot say there isn’t anything more than my own sense of self, of who I am.
Telemachus taught me about the gods. About Greek gods at least. I am mortal, completely mortal, and though I have not died yet and find it hard to even imagine myself not being healthy, I know – though can’t really accept – that I will sooner or later clock it. But there is something in me that is Eternal. I know it. Emotions for one.
Presumably (because I wasn’t there) the Troglodytes felt happiness. Presumably the Chinese people inventing ink felt happiness once it worked. Presumably the Ancient Greeks felt happiness because from my modern perspective I have read about it. Happiness is Eternal. As is Joy, Truth, Peace, Beauty, Desire and all those archetypal states. I mean you only need to go to Wikipedia and scan and scan and scan down to see how many Greek Gods there are, each representing something Eternal. And there is Death and War and Madness too that are eternal. Consciousness holds everything.
In a Jungian analysis there was a patient who had a dream. It went like this. There is a flock of birds. They are all flying in the sky. He sees a bird being birthed in the sky, in the stream of their flow. He sees dead birds drop leaving their collective flight. Then he sees that through the birds there is a continual stream of light. Each bird is like an electron in a stream of light. Each bird is needed to let the light pass through it and onwards. When the bird dies, another one takes its place. Nothing is wasted. We are all needed.
Happiness can flow within any person, between any people. We have all experienced this Eternal feeling. Maybe we all feel it differently. Maybe we distort it in our own individual warped-upness, but happiness is Eternal.
Athena, the goddess of war and courage and wisdom visits Telemachus as he walks along the Greek island beach. He was in fear. He was bewildered. He didn’t know what to do. Then he called on Her, within himself, he called on courage, and opening to her, surrendering to Her, he began to feel it (Her) flow through his veins. He was full of courage. He set off. He went.
So spoke the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, and departed, flying upward as a bird; and in his heart she put strength and courage.
THE ODYSSEY – BOOK 1.
Eternity is not this great thing. Perhaps a god is simply that which is eternal.
And cycling down that white washed street in an emotional crisis in the middle of an economic crisis it hit me, like Athena hit Telemachus, that we are killing our gods. We are killing what is eternal within us. Killing? Well, no not really: it is impossible to kill the Eternal, but we are disconnecting, not allowing it flow, we are not allowing it pass. Do not pass go, go straight to jail. We are not allowing time to let in the eternal.
I thought of my friends, of the Greeks, of the people working in shops, all with drawn faces. All working through the terror of not being able to survive. People didn’t have enough to eat. There were collections for the most vulnerable kids in the primary school to be able to give them at least one meal a day. People had cars but couldn’t get them out of the garage, petrol was too much of a stretch. People were working double, being paid half. People were feeding on worry.
Terror, is also Eternal. So is Death and War and Madness each with their own Greek God. We do not harness them either as a drive, but let them immobilise us. On that bike home I felt like we are killing all the creativity within us, the courage to live, and letting fear and terror destroy us rather than make us. In this world climate it feels that, if we actually manage to feel authentic emotions, if we manage to allow an e-motion to move us, it is in destruction, in fear, leading us down the garden path to become more haggard, less nourished, to block any ability to thrive. Perhaps it is the age old, eternal battle of the light and the dark. And we are losing.
I think if we knew how to, we would all naturally choose to fight for the Light. Or rather would like to relax into love. I personally would like to shed fear. I would like to connect with others and create something between us that is more than each one of us. I want to believe in creativity rather than buying in to short term solutions.
So over the last two years I wrote and published a book called, ‘On Intimacy: A Forgotten Art’ because maybe, just maybe, if we were to find deeper ways to nourish ourselves rather than trying to buy and sell ourselves, if we were able to find meaningful peace within ourselves and with others, perhaps we will change the world as we bring back the smile of the ‘gods’. Perhaps we will allow more light to stream through ourselves and our societies? Perhaps we will thrive…
And as I wrote the book, the book wrote me. As I delved into the fields of what intimacy may mean, I realised that the adage, ‘The Truth lies in the simple for it is where most overlook’ is absolutely true. It took me 450 pages to realise a very easy thing that changes worlds within; that if we were all to accept this truth – but it’s hard because it’s so simple – we could possibly god-damn-it can change the entire blasted world for the better, for our better, for the better of everyone and everything.
But what is this truth? I hear you ask. It is so simple that is as difficult to accept as the knowledge that one day we will die, and it is this: YOU are good enough as you are.
It’s all we need to know. That’s it.
You are good enough.
And child’s play is so easy. It is just so darned hard to get to. To allow. To enter up into.
I mean you can buy the book, read the journey of philosophy and depth psychology, of polyamory, of dance and it could nudge you in the right direction inside, (three friends have said that they literally couldn’t put it down, it was life changing) but essentially this is what it says: you are good enough.
Because you are.
I don’t know how to write it any simpler, any more accessible-ly.
Though I would love you to, you don’t need to read the book. Deep down you already know.
It’s our responsibility to bring back the Gods. Just remember.
‘Be, be who you are, sing it out!’ tweeted the little bird, warbling its sweet song, ‘For we are all nearly dead.’
That is what caught my attention.
‘ Enjoy,’ it sang on, ‘of life, of being alive, of enjoying life as it comes.’
It comes along, this that I wasn’t expecting, couldn’t have imagine. It came along and I had to learn to accept. That was the rub. Though I could try not to, could grumble, could crumble into tears, could shout loudly for it to go away, could even fall to the hard ground, cutting my knees and plead, plead to the skies. But no – this, this thing called life will not go away.
‘But I have imagined it so differently,’ I moan to the little bird, shitting from above on high. I imagined myself so long ago into this life. It was not this and it was controlled, easy. It was after the ‘and they lived happily ever after’, that was where I was heading to. I am the story, but I yearn for after the end.
‘But how can you be so naïve you humans?’ asked my feathered friend, ‘How can you be so blind to the Truth?’
The Truth of What?
‘Of happening, of arising, of passing away? Humankind can bear so little…’
I imagine a life, an age, a year, a season, a month, a week, a day, a second, a billionth of a second, 13 billionths of a second, an exploding universe, an imploding star.
‘Life is what Life is!’ tweeted the little bird, ‘Not what you imagine it to be,’ and then flew away.
Shoulder to shoulder
in the field of straw
in the middle of the rain
I burn the wrist band
– our funny little symbol
that you laughed I should
carry around as
a romantic memory
of our first ever argument:
each of us hovering
on opposite sides
of different needs
as loud flashing lights
of an electrifying concert
blur our vision.
I remember wanting to control;
I remember feeling controlled.
I remember back now and laugh
– how absurd it all seems
to want to control love,
how it would have turned out
so much easier
if I had only been
And yet here I am ME holding this little wrist band ME lighting it
in an idea I have had.
You watch me
as I hold ceremony
and then scream
– not hysterical
more a muffled shock –
as the toxic band
spits onto my finger
and sticks as it burns.
‘I’ll take over…’
you say gently
and through the pain
this is not just me
and my own toxicity
but us, and you and yours
and this growing thing
that we want
to be healthy and strong.
When the toxic band
gets too small
for fingers and fire
you drop it to the grass
where in the middle of the
wind and rain
I worry it will not all burn
and we will be doomed forever
despite the downpour,
it burns on
We stand amazed,
two little flames now
on each side
what is no longer needed,
until nothing is left –
And I realise
in that deep stillness
of the aftermath
I could have dropped it all
a long time ago
getting in the way
and burnt fingers
or residual pain.
Eventually we got the fire warm
and in the blaze
you lay back
on the most comfortable bench
in the caravan
as if it were a billowing magical divan
and turned on your ears.
I felt you do so
and it gave me courage
– cor –
it gave me heart
– cor –
isn’t that also god?
to carry on
and describe my scenes to you
sweet hearted godlike you
with eyes that hold currents
that want to swim out in your love to me
– if only I will let you –
my barbaric life guard still on day duty
as the last flickers of the outside flame
sink beneath us
and yet even he,
trained to protect,
dropped his guard
and let me jump in
– dive even –
into the depths of me
and bring out for you
a few of the diamonds I keep down there
– treasuring –
for you to see
and even, if this flowing
from fathoms below
I can paint in words well enough
to be moved by
to ride with me on e-motions.
‘Are you still listening?’
I ask, landing for a pit-stop.
Sometimes your eyes are closed
as if dozing
yet you nod
‘Yes,’ soft warms tones by the hearth
and I believe him
wondering where he is taking this,
what he does when this that is mine
Don’t you think
it is amazing
that there is a whole entire world
full of everything you can imagine
and more than you can’t
waterfalls, cages for gas cylinders in late night petrol stations, raves with hundreds and thousands of hands moving in the light spectrumed air, sun shining through dense tropical leaves seen by no human, murky brown rivers, cake shops with old ladies who don’t take off their hats, early morning bakery workers covered in a fine white dust, casinos full of one-armed bandit addicts, school buses full of young worlds opening, thousands of couples right now saying ‘I do’ in churches and mosques and temples and beaches, a hospital ward and a person racked with sobs holding onto a still warm dead hand, a new girlfriend daring a new recipe off the internet, the scream of a baby girl coming into the world, a difficult decision between two almost identical products, millions of phones bleeping right now across the globe,
and you and me here
right here, breathing into the same space
with no-one else around
and these thin walls
flickering out of
in this caravan
in a forgotten field
listening to the current
chorusing down a riverbed.
just you and me
while the rest of the world moves on
you and me and the soft silence that furs the air
then a crinkle of the chocolate gluten free cake
its wrapping crunching as your knife searches
for a not so small a slither to slice
and your voice saying
‘How I’d like a whisky now!’
and me saying reminescently
‘It’s because the cake is so sweet,’
and you look at me and repeat,
‘Como me gustaria un whisky.’
you and me
here in this laboratory of two
with only this one time
and this one place.
don’t you think that’s magical?
don’t you think that’s a miracle?
With all the original juicy bits, this Original version with the Purple Cover will titilate your mind, touch your heart and move your body. Not a book to be told what to do, but a book to allow to settle in like dew on morning grass. Allow yourself to reach your own conclusions, your own ideas, allow yourself to slip away into who you really are.