The stuff of life…

I am coming to an end to the ‘Cyprus Period’ and synopsing myself into a thread of a story. What is that story? France was so horribly dreadful. On the Greek side of Cyprus, thanks to Kat we landed in a safe place and were able to untramatise ourselves somewhat. Then it seemed the Universe needed to send Fabian and I on different paths for a while.

Kat’s permaculture land from the kitchen

I went to Umut’s land, where I slowed down to the rhythm of nature, living between trees and spending time with Umut (et al) who had decided that his mission on the land was to watch the trees grow. I looked around, understood his project for the land and quite simply, agreed.

A tree takes a few years to mature.

It blew my mind. It was real.

And suddenly I zoomed into a different pace, a pace where there really isn’t anything to do but plant seeds, mulch, pull out weeds, work on the forest garden, make fires, cook vegetables, eat, drink, be merry, be quiet, sing.

My apartment on Umut’s land

Sat in the shade of the agave trees I read a book by Starhawk in which she explained how our troubles began. In the 1600s landowners realised that wool could be taken to market (as opposed to lettuces that wilted on the way) commoners were suddenly tragically pushed off the land as sheep were herded in. She explains how our communities were divided by the fear of witch hunting, as the women and men who held the communities together in their wisdom and care – were tortured.

She painted, amongst so many other stories how the separation from the land and the healers affected us on so many levels. How we lost our power, without but almost more importantly within. Doctors took over the role of healers and suddenly we were forced into paying some stranger called a doctor instead of calling for the person you know and trust helping you through sickness. Take childbirth for example: it is so painful, it is almost impossible to do by oneself. So we ask someone to accompany us, and we give our power to them, to let them guide us through the process while we concentrate on other things, such as suriving pain. If you give your power to a woman who is like you, you are giving your power away to someone you can also be, you are not giving your power away, you are simply sharing power. Whereas a man in a white jacket is not like you and never will be, and suddenly instead of saying, ‘I couldn’t have got through that without you, you who are like me, and I can accept your power when you need help from me too,’ it shifted to, ‘He knows, I know nothing.’ Shift of power, from the collective, to what we have now.

Kant, ahead of his time says that we need to internalise responsibility (again), that we have projected outwards, to doctors (to look after our bodies), to lawyers (to tell us what is fair), to politicians (to know how to organise ourselves), to priests (to tell us what to believe), to teachers (to tell us what to learn) etc etc etc

It struck me deep. We have been removed from our natures. We have been taught to mistrust each other, to trust only Endorsed Authority in the white jackets of the greedy and the back habits of the arrogant. We are being abused.

We are all stuck on computers trying desperately hard to pay for our mortgage, to stay up on the market, to not fall behind and be made into a laughing stock of a failure. We are all running so fast, in desperation. And since we are all doing it, we hardly notice.

We hardly notice we have no land.

While I was on Umut’s land he was working with the ‘Bricks of Resistance’, an abode brick workshop. We were all invited. I wasn’t expecting to be on a self build workshop, it blindsided me. I was simply following like a sheep.

I was struck by how we have everything we need already to make our lives. We have mud. We have (or rather had in the 1600s) land. We don’t need to go to the factory to work for money to buy concrete that is destroying our planet.

Shifts, shifts, shifts.

We bantered around the word ‘sustainable’ like it were a girl guide’s batch. I began stitching it into my too tight uniform of concepts.

Mixing (like grapes) the adobe mix

But what is sustainability?

Put simply, a system that can sustain itself.

We heard an economics professor from the University tell us that economics is nothing to do with money, but about resources: the deployment of energy, matter. And he went on to tell us about thermodynamics. He admitted that he didn’t know that much about it (and I know less and am repeating him parrot fashion) but the thread goes like this:

  • You cannot create or destroy energy
  • Energy and matter are the same
  • Energy tends to entropy (Entropy means this).

So, I got stuck on, if you cannot destroy energy how come it tends to degrade? But entropy doesn’t mean that, it means, thermal energy not available to do work (such as myself) or the tendency to evolve into inert uniformity. The fact that energy cannot be destroyed does not mean it cannot deteriorate.

He went on to say, if we were to make a cup of tea, we take a pan, boil water, turn on the gas. The gas we use has come from the bottom of the sea where it has taken thousands of years – if not longer – to form. We turn on the gas and it heats the sides of the cooker, the sides of the pan, the water, the lid. We pour the water onto the teabag, it heats the tealeaves, the side of the mug, we lift it to our lips, it heats our lips, warms our tongue, our throats, in our stomach it becomes energy for us (to lift the cup to drink more).

Now, if we were to try and return back to the intensity of the energy contained within the original gas that we used, to take out the heat from our tongues, mugs, pans, cooker…it would take more energy to do that than the original amount of energy that we had.

‘Sustainable,’ says the Professor, is a system that can ‘go backwards’.

So, suddenly I understand why people are bleating on about adobe bricks. In the long gone past (but not so long gone here in Cyprus) we went to the bottom of the shared land and made bricks. Not for ourselves necessarily, but for a couple about to wed. Together we would have made a house for them, like the community did for us, which they could extend as their family grew, as the community grew.

Umut’s dome.

An adobe building needs a lot of care, for it is alive. It attracts birds who nest, snakes who slither and creatures that crawl. It allows seeds to root. You have to be constantly on the ball. You have to waterproof every other year or so. It is work.

And if you don’t? It collapses and turns back into mud: earth that you can use to plant vegetables.

That is not true of concrete. We saw that in Famagusta, where after the war here in 1974, all the Greeks had to flee and the Turks have kept it as bartering power. It has fallen into ruin – it is a ghost city. All that concrete is good for nothing, and it will not decay. All the energy of heating up that lime and sand to thousands of degrees Celsius will not be recuperated. It is not destroyed, it is scattered, powerless, held in the shackles of division. It is as if energy has been stored in death. Not destroyed, but not giving life.

All these buildings at Famagusta are empty carcasses, and yet they used to be the Monte Carlo of Cyprus.

It made me think of money, and how we have managed to manufacture something as human beings that doesn’t decay, that goes contrary to all things in nature and yet is in line with our feeble egos that want to become immortal.

And the concept of adobe changed me. It made me want to live in a living building, that is natural, that will return to dust, like I will one day, that is alive.

And then the course ended along with the relationship with Fabian, and Umut told me that the problem I have is that of having no direction. I have no aims, no objectives, and if I had, he says delicately, I probably wouldn’t have any major problems with Fabian. It went in like a hot arrow through the butter fat of my heart.

Next day, the last day of the adobe course, I ask Martin who seems to be well connected in Cyprus about renting a room. He tells me about a course of Traditional Crafts he directs and suddenly I have enrolled.

A little ‘traditional lace’ that I did (basically all the rest was done by Panaiota)…made a bag and a scarf.

And there I am, sat on the Greek side, in a little ramshackle courtyard, squinting into a tightly woven linen I have the misfortune to have choosen as a sewing project, trying and failing miserably to sew ‘traditional lace’.

It is excruciating. I can’t see the holes. I can’t count how many holes I have to sew over, my mind keeps flipping the pattern around so I end up unpicking what I’ve arduously slaved over because it is in reverse. In short: an absolute disaster. This, my first week in a workshop that I hadn’t consciously signed up for, a workshop called, ‘Patience’.

The next week is easier because it is interesting: mosaics. I love doing it. I spend a whole week cutting little pieces of tiles and gluing them into place. I feel myself getting into it.

My beautiful work

And then a week in an art studio painting masks and a backing board. Slow. Very slow. Each day I go further in. Each day I slow down. Each day goes by faster, more enjoyably. Each day I go on the phone less.

One very proud bunny
I wrote a poem for this mask:

Poem for the Green Man

Up from the depths of sleep
Silenos arises to kiss
the beauty within,

Ohh Green Man,
– Nature –
drunkenly dormant
within us,
bring us out
from inert matter
to become
so in our deaths
we can turn to seed
returning anew
into the Eternal.

The Two Masks of Earthly Love – ‘The Man of the Ceibo’ and ‘Awakening’.

And then this morning, I get a wonderful message from Maya Delic saying that maybe we can meet up? She’s coming over to Cyprus to see her mother. We plunge into conversation as if it isn’t years and years since we’ve even texted. (Spoiler: I’m about to blow my own trumpet). She says, ‘btw, i didn’t get to reading the book yet and even tho nothing can be said to excuse such insanity, i do have to say that the past 3 years have made me completely reading challenged (sitting down challenged, relaxing challenged, watching movie challenged, fuck, even challenge challenged!) So my roommate at the time took advantage of this and got to reading it first (and really really loved it:):) making it popular in a chat with my guests which resulted in it being further borrowed AND LOVED♡ …which filled me with a peculiar sort of indescribable pride and joy:) ♡ Aahh Jewels! Tomorrow I’m calling that woman to get my book back!!’

Your chance to get the book and leave it on your coffee table so your neighbour can see it and read it and tell you about it.

And I realised that yes, me too, over the last few years I have been finding it harder and harder to relax, to sit down, to read, to watch a film, to do ‘Dolce far Niente’ (‘The Sweetness of Doing Nothing’). I find myself more and more addicted to superficial, silly commenting on facebook, to the dopamine rush of getting a message that massage my ego. I realise I have less contact with people, with myself. I don’t have time, because I am entroping my time and myself doing everything and nothing on such a superficial level that I cannot remember what I have done, only that it was exhausting and the very idea of having to sit with someone FACE TO FACE (omg) and actually talk, is like the last straw on the pixelated camel’s back.

And yet, I awake this morning to the house empty. Which is no small thing. This is the first time I have been alone for a month. I have been alone for about three days in the last six months. I like it. I love it. I want isolation! I realise that I am getting so attention deficit that having no one around means that it is so much easier to do my chores, get them done in an almost linear fashion.

And then suddenly enters the shirt.

Did my best at stitching

A friend Gabi invited us to her house for the weekend and showed us how to dye a shirt. We used onion skins, camomile, walnut leaves, other leaves (that I wasn’t paying attention to their names only their shape) and an organic purple (bought) dye. We rolled out and dyed a half unpicked shirt, it was exhilarating.

Then it was up to me to stitch it back together. In my mind it was a no-boner. In reality it lay in my room for two week. Today, alone was the day. I panic as reality rushes in but somehow I manage to sit down and have the patience to unpick where I had messed up on attempt number one (on the machine) and ran out of time; and the other swervy line of machine sewing (attempt number two). Silk is not easy to sew. This was actually the second attempt at unpicking, after the first in which I had groaned and given up. Session number four, today: I manage to sit on a chair and hand sew one seam. There are four seams. It is daunting. It is like seeing the towering dark of Mordor looming down from above while hearing without knowing where it is coming from, the despair of my deceased Nana Tetsil.

The only solution is a cup of tea.

I sit there, sipping, staring into thin air and wonder if I should do a seam a day, knowing that I won’t get around to it. And I continue on another seam. I snack on an enormous pomelo. I get around to seam three with a podcast from ‘This American Life’ and continued, and continued, and continued. Will it ever end? By the time Fabian calls, I can listen to him and sew (please note ability of multi-tasking) and notice that I am smoother, my lines are better. But I have to end the call to do the spiral at the end.

Notice the stitching is MUCH better…I am like Neo in the Matrix

And suddenly it is completed!

And I feel so proud. I have made something that I can wear and not feel stupid in. It is sustainable. It is not made with Chinese workers chained to a sewing machine. It is made by my own sweat (it’s 32 degrees here).

C&A model flown in from outer space

And suddenly I realise that had it not been for slowing down at Umut’s, for being forced to be patient with lace making from hell, if I had not been too hot to be able to get up and run away, that it would have been almost impossible to do something that my grandma did quietly all of her life.

And I realise how sick we have all become.

Addicted to skimming over life. Addicted to shallow highs and selfies that take a second to click. Addicted to checking social media. Addicted to not living in the moment, just recording it for posterity.

And I realise in the contrast of having been able (through someone else’s forced structuring) to make craft, of somehow changing the goal post to something that is much closer but slower to get to, that I am building patience (impatiently) within. I want more! NOW!

And I recognise that this little bit of patience, this ray of light, is bringing me a level of peace that I do not get on facebook. Is this a way out? I realise that with patience life is so much easier to deal with. I realise that with patience I can let things go knowing that the small mistakes are nothing, can be rectified, covered over, made into a feature and does not ruin or impede the final result. I am getting it…patience is golden. Patience is an old fashioned way of accepting the world as it is, right now, without having to become a Buddhist.

But I go back out from a drowsy village in the middle of the hills on Cyprus and am hit with modern day society. I am forced back into speed, into running, into red lights and blaring horns, into short texts, into snapping experiences before moving rapidly onto the next. I realise that I have not made any money to survive in this modern world. I click back into attention deficit, where I do nothing but feel I am doing everything all too fast to be able to savour it, but too slow for my jangling nerves.

The Concrete Life of Modern Cyprus

We are becoming buzz words that means nothing. What is happening to society? I look around and see a large proportion of people looking into small screens. What can we do? How can we shift back into a place where we can sit and read a book, listen through an opera, sew some clothes, relax without throwing the technological baby out with the bath water?

I do not know what the solution is.

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