They say the first step in a journey is the hardest. It is true. I go through panic and sweating over tiny little things that are so mammothly unimportant but are blocking me to getting to the final result: a suitcase under 20 kilos, a backpack with my computer and my trumpet.
I left Riverford where I had been living for three years and found myself in the strangest of situations: starting a journey hitching into the dark unknown as a friend pulls up and asks me if I’m going to club tennis this week. Worlds collide, the old and the new. I wanted to cling to my routine: the caravan, washing myself in the cold River Dart, tennis, Totnes Brass Band, friends, writing, life modelling, writing workshops…
I wanted to stay in the glory of our swing band, that had a big gig New Year’s Eve and at the same time I wanted to run to the new unknown full of unbridled potential, full of the fear from not knowing what was going to happen.
Before I begin I would like to hold in amazement the fact that (though I was working for accommodation and food (which normally would have involved an exchange of money)) I have only spent around 2000 pounds this year. In total. Including flights. It is quite incredible. I have managed to sneak out of the capitalist system – if only for a year.
I got off the ferry in France and there was Fabián, his English visa expired, and us, runaways to Europe or rather to the Schengen zone. We were surprised to find our new home a fancy Louis XV style Chateaux complete with luxuries not so abundant in our lasted home: the caravan. I was surprised also to be doing hard labour: painting the professional kitchen.
In the first half of the year there was an overriding theme to the story: Fabián and I arguing. Why? Ohh who knows, but it is not easy to move cultures and countries – there is so much to process. It is not easy to be in relationship with anyone at the best of times and it was not easy to be with someone who has suddenly stopped trusting you. Trust is such a powerful thing: it is not noticeable until it is not there. Fabián decides that enough is enough and that I need to leave. So I do. The owner is full up to the back teeth with his father dying, his gay lover friend dying, and us arguing. He throws Fabián out too. We decide to continue together.
We have an actually quite scary time with a complete mad woman who, being a greater threat, brings Fabián and I back together as we go shoulder to shoulder against external absolute craziness. We only stayed in her house two nights, but it took us both a month or so to let the emotional scars heal from a woman who was out of control with an hysterical personality disorder. We reported her and she was removed from workaway.
Fabián was shook up, so he wanted not to go to Barcelona (my second home) but back to a place he already knew and already knew would be a disaster. It was. We were in a tiny caravan that two wannabe hippies had gotten from someone who knew it wasn’t worth the hassle to try and sell. Then it started to snow.
Our host was a man who had extremely weird personally ‘quirks ’ and would not throw anything away. He was Stig of the Dump. We were building an organic loo, but he didn’t want to buy us wood. He had us straightening rusty nails to use, and then complained that we weren’t getting on. Tricky. I stepped out and starting talking to his wife, who also at a loss of how to proceed with this, her new husband, decided that our workaway exchange should be chatting over coffee. I agreed. Fabián continued, like Eyore, working outside into a void.
We also learned how to go ‘skipping’ i.e. jumping over fences after a supermarket has closed and going through the bins for (good) food they have thrown out. It was a weird experience being up to my knees in food waste and finding real ‘finds’. I was disgusted and loved it at the same time. I believe that each time we went we recovered around 250 euros worth of food. Once we found huge king crabs and mussels still in their ice (remember it was mid-winter). Later when we were in Paris we saw king crabs presented in that fashionable Parisian way at prices that were not free.
In this new psychically complicated home we had maybe a week of cease fire as we tried to work out where we were, but then our warring continued, now in more privacy but much less space. I think we were both too exhausted to be kind to each other. It felt too dangerous. It also felt that we loved each other so much but that love, by itself, is not enough for a relationship to hold.
Limping now, blood stained, we decided to give it one more go, in one more visa zone: Cyprus. But before: a stop over in Paris with Fabienne my friend. Maybe it is just the conditions that are making this an impossible love between Fabián and I?
Cyprus is not in the EU visa zone simply because they have a massive ‘Green Line’ running through the middle of it where north of this line Turkey says it belongs to them and Greek Cypriots say they are occupying. I believe that international politics (including the actions of Great Britain) are to blame for divide-and-rule tactics aimed to separate, with the dull axe of hatred, peoples who were previously living harmoniously between themselves.
There are several strategic army bases. We became accustomed to seeing (and hearing) the war planes speeding over to Syria. Stomach churning.
Anger is an ever burning furnace for the Greek Cypriots towards the Turks (not the Turkish Cypriots) that it is present in the air – you breathe it in and get the tinglings of the rank, acrid taste on the tongue. This atmosphere didn’t exactly help Fabián and I on our romantic quest to not kill each other.
We landed in a woman’s permaculture land. A woman who knew a lot, but didn’t do much. A woman who dreamed of having land but spent most of her time off it. We did our best, guessing what to do. Again we had a honeymoon where it seemed perhaps this time we had a chance but within a couple of weeks frictions rose between Fabián and I and also between the hippy woman who was going through her own grief of her father passing.
There were times too when it was all rosy and healthy. I spent my days writing and faffing about pulling out weeds, cutting back plants and mulching; Fabián worked very hard on building a sandbag wall. We lived in a tiny sandbag dome that you couldn’t really stand up in. It was fine. It was warm: it was the end of March and we were in summer. I cannot tell you if I was happy or not, but I was content.
Eventually the time came when Fabián could no longer believe anything I said and took everything I did as an attack against him and an ‘us’ he had created in his mind. So, Fabián sent me packing again.
Like a miracle a Turkish Cypriot, Umut, was visiting just in that moment and asked me if I would like to go to his land, he was leaving in his van in fifteen minutes. It was one of those big life decisions that one feels one should mull over, sleep on it, wonder about. ‘Yes,’ I said after a few seconds. Packed my bags and within fifteen minutes was on the road to the Turkish side.
Suddenly I was alone, free and in much more wilder terrain. I slept in another (bigger) sandbag hut and then on a bed between carob trees. The next months would prove to be a time that I will remember for the rest of my life. There was no internet, no electricity. There was nothing to do but wait for the fruit trees to grow and do some permaculture. Midday, though only in May, was too hot to work so I would laze around in my ‘quarters’ that I had created blissfully for one.
I did nothing. Nothing at all. It is hard to explain. Doing nothing for long periods of time was double edged: I was beseiged by fears of ‘not achieving’ of ‘not getting on’ of ‘being left behind’, I was forced to face my fears of meeing my myself as I actually am without the trappings of modern day society to cover over, and as I withstood the glorious nothingness somehow the spirit sank deeper and deeper into me – ironically a ‘me’ that suddenly I had no idea who it is.
Who are we when we are nothing? Fears came out, I would once in a while burst into tears as life images tormented my mind of what I wasn’t, what I didn’t have, sniggered at by the imagined person I would have been if I hadn’t followed this path (what had I followed?) tormented by ideas of a house with a driveway with a car on it, with a husband with a salary and me with a salary (and status!) and two little children wrapped up in bed (not making a noise)…but generally, between those carob trees, I found peace. I found myself happy to be alone. Happy to be in so much contact with nature and with myself.
I loved being a cowgirl (without any cows, just vegetables). Maybe I should say: I loved being a vegetablegirl. I shared ‘camp’ with a Turkish Cypriot, a Turk and a Romanian man. We didn’t need to shower, or clean clothes too much, they only got filled with dust again, we cooked on fire, we made fires at night, we smoked, played music on guitars and flutes that we fashioned ourselves out of bamboo cane, we were joined by a Greek Cypriot beautiful soul of a woman and all was ok, even though underneath I knew this could not last forever.
I organised a reading for my book, ‘On Intimacy,’ in the capital Nicosia which was a complete disaster but which helped Fabián (who kindly showed up to support) find new accommodation. He moved into a modernist house. I still had thorns in my legs and beside the perfect white lines of the architecture my t-shirts looked grey. And yet, I preferred being on the land.
I was happy communing with nature, with fire, with the rawness. However there was part of me that was in mild panic. I had NO IDEA where I was and where I was going. Umut told me, ‘Things might be different with you and Fabián, if you had your own life purpose.’ Till then I was travelling because of his visa problems, helping him with his sculpture shows, being an add-on to his life.
That week our little group of six were doing a ‘Bricks of Resistance’ course that changed my mind about adobe and self-builds and traditional communities and conversely how wrong concrete is on so many levels. I had read a book by Starhawk about how our natural connections to the earth have been eroded by our greed to have ‘more’. I was finding myself again, away from the confines of capitalism. I was a veritable hippy. Happy. Lost. Dreaming.
At the end of the course I asked a random man if he knew of a place in Nicosia/Parokia (the Greek side) where I could sit and write. A place, essentially, with electricity. He offered me a grant to go on his Erasmus+ course. He was offering me accommodation for a month, food, workshops on traditional crafts and a ticket to anywhere in Europe. I slept on it. I didn’t really need to.
So I did the course. I had to adapt suddenly to be treasted as a twenty year old. Fabián was still in the background but he wasn’t allowed to come see me. I learnt how to do mosaics (which I loved), how to sew lace (which I found more difficult than hanging on a torture wheel in front of the inquisition) and other traditional skills. It was wonderful. It was me, once again, following life, or maybe my heart, following something I had no idea what it was. I have no idea (still) if I was being irresponsible through all this year, or if I was wisely responding to what life presented.
I somehow felt myself come down from a pedestal of ‘being older, wiser’ with the other three university students, they taught me how to be authentic again. They helped me become more flexible. I learnt that fixed ideas of what to expect in life are often the cause of our suffering. I learnt the power of listening and the resulting empathy for dissolving prejudices. It was intense with the four of us living 24-7 and yet we ended up on the last night dancing, loving, feeling like family. Powerful.
So, with my one free plane ticket, I gave this ‘Fabián and I’ a last go in Latvia. He had gone there because he had a friend. We stayed in his house. Fabián – bless his cotton socks – had tried to clean the upper part of the house that we had for ourselves, but it was still stomach churning: the house was the dirtiest I have ever witnessed (even including student accommodation at Uni). I found myself sometimes not breathing. The up side was that our host, though having his vodka ‘cocktails’ starting at eleven in the morning, had a wonderful creative energy and encouraged me to continue writing interviews with artists. Later I was paid to write. Yea! It is an incredible feeling to be paid for what you love.
Needless to say (it seems so obvious in hindsight) it didn’t last long with Fabián. We seemed to carry the same heavy backpack of mind warping, heart sagging ‘issues’ that were (not) created at the start of our epic journey.
Plato said that there is a standard collective ‘level’ of the human condition. ‘Comedy’ are stories in which persons such as Mr Bean, are blind to what the rest of us see and so come up against blocks that are invisible to them but which we have long anticipated. It makes us laugh to see such demented, ignorance. These stories tend to wind up, to our gratification, with the ‘hero’ coming back to base, back into the collective, to what we also know, wrapping it all up for him to start again. ‘Tragedies’ on the other hand are those who try to rise above the standard, aiming for the sun, for higher morals, for a life that is fairer, more beautiful, closer to the platonic forms. In fact, in inverse, it is a similar sort of blindness that eventually leads to the tragedy: his downfall, his return to the collective.
Fabián and I were a tragedy. We aimed so high and fell on our knees. We could not pull our dreams from the sky into the physical world of common reality.
We met and were invited for a weekend in the house of a the richest man in Latvia. That night we chose to sleep in his pyramid, something that I have wanted to do since reading about pyramids as a teenager. I woke in the middle of the night and realised in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t do it anymore. It was over. I don’t understand energy and pyramids but I knew that I was crying in the morning, pulling out all the pain of having tried so hard and still it not working out. Fabian felt it. He was the brave one who cut the cord for the final time.
And so, once again I had to leave and – again by a stroke of a miracle – I found out that relatively close to where I was, on the other side of Riga (the capital of Latvia) there was a Vipassana course with almost unheard of spaces that was starting in six days. I applied. I got in.
I ended up staying for a second course in which I served in the kitchen. By now, strangely comfortingly, I had got used to reasonably hard labour. It is a relief to come down from working in the psychological, poetic realms and delving into creative writing to land in the physical. The floor needs cleaning. I clean it. Two hundred people need to eat, I cook with huge wooden spoons and an industrial pan. It was a relief, a strange relief to have been brought back to earth. A gift.
The depth of the meditation was profound for me. I do not know if it was because we were in the middle of 64,000 square kilometres of forest. It had taken me a week to get accustomed to the increased oxygen content in tree loved Latvia. Maybe it was the result of a year of constant change and disorientation, of seeking within to find solutions for my heart, of a year of not knowing and yet still enjoying. Who knows? All I know is that I worked hard on my relationship with my addiction to yearning for perfect relationships, with my family, with the world I find myself in. I began to see myself as the problem, at last. And once one discovers one’s own role it is empowering for we cannot change others but we can change ourselves. I give thanks to Elina who accompanied me through the thorns.
I spent a month in Riga thanks to a beautiful soul, Yana, who I had met in the kitchen. She let me stay in her great aunt’s flat that was being used by only one other person, Darta, who I came to love too. I, once again, did nothing. I wrote. I jogged. I walked through the woods. I processed. I expressed. I met a beautiful man, Daumants, who helped me move over from Vipassana meditation to The Course of Miracles. It is a big move for me. Daily meditations on love and peace (rather than non-reaction to sensations) seems to have created a quantum leap in my emotional landscape.
I fell in love with Latvia and her people. They are so open, geniuine, so full of love of healthy traditions, of singing and dancing. It was hard to leave. I felt so at home in this quiet country full of beautiful introverts and huge expanses of spaces filled with trees that have been growing since forever. It was hard to leave.
I found a job offer for a creative writer in England – and didn’t get it – but by then I had committed to coming across to England. And once again I found myself in my parents’ house. This time, for some strange reason, I didn’t feel like a failure. I was so used to adapting to other people’s routines that adapting to the known routines of my parents was a doddle. It wasn’t all strawberries and cream. The neighbour came around and blew up at me in our kitchen because I had closed my eyes at her table next door as we were dining at her table along with other similar misunderstandings. It is strange to be living in such diverse mental surroundings, from the freedom of hippidom to the constraints of conservatism. I was doing the course of miracles by then and it was all so surreal that I could see that it wasn’t real: it was nothing but ego creating fantasy dramas – and suddenly I experienced forgiveness for her and by proxi, for my brother.
I felt underneath that I was here, at home, to work out the problem that had arisen between me and my brother in which neither of us know what happened but that (painfully) created a rift between us four years ago. I was forgiving the neighbour to be able to forgive my brother and I whispered, alone under the covers in the velvet dark of my room, ‘I’m doing this for you bro.’ I felt myself in a familiar but forgotten space of love for him. Real love. I felt close to him. I didn’t fear the closeness. I realise: I have completely forgiven him.
Life with mum and dad cannot be described as any more than a dream coming true. It feels that we have finally gotten over the bullshit of not accepting each other, of being disappointed that we are not dreaming of the same sort of lives for each other. I finally feel accepted by them as I am. I finally feel I can (easily) accept them as they are. The irony is that in accepting each other the differences between us minimised and the similarities were highlighted (in delight and joy). Everyone said to me, ‘You are so like your mum!’ and it was with pride that I heard it. The three months together felt as if we were on a constant holiday enjoying each other’s company. I mean there were a few moments where one of us would be tired and drunk and losing at Rumikub, and I still have hormonal rollercoaster rides around my cycle, but apart from minor incidences we got on like a house on fire. A gift. A real gift.
I had a social life that revolved around Marple Brass band (again music saves my sanity and enriches my life) and going every other week to an Alzheimer’s club with a friend’s dad. I loved being there, with people who suddenly felt so much more real than us lot consumed by societal demands. We would suddenly burst out singing war songs or be silly. But what I noticed is that the emotional connection was very deep, like being with children.
It was really lovely to feel that I belonged somewhere, that I ‘came from’ somewhere. My accent is the accent from my village, I mountain biked through the countryside and muddy terrains as I did as a teenager with my life long friend Chris, I visited my school friends Claire and Dunc, people knew me in the street – it was a deep comfort to my windswept soul.
Meanwhile, a friend (who I had only known on cyberspace) and I started to get more and more communicative, closer and closer. We talked about myths, about life, about philosophy, about ourselves, about death, about love, about anything that you can imagine that inquisitive minds wander into with delight. We cried together, we laughed together, we went through emotional hell with each other’s support. He helped me with some comic books that I have been working on (watch this space) and offered for me to visit him in his house in Pennsylvania, USA. It took a few weeks to process the offer, and finally I said yes.
Burnt so many times, it is hard to step back into the fire. And yet, I wonder if we actually have a choice in life about what happens, or if our only choice is to accept or not; and if we do indeed accept we are brim-filled with love and peace and happiness; and if we don’t accept we are filled with despair, paranoia and hatred. Within my life I have chosen both paths, and though it is harder to get to, but child’s play when you are there, I’m working on accepting.
And so I accepted the offer of accommodation and help on my comic books.
And I am still in the process of accepting my emotions, which are too close to my dreams to be comfortable. Is it a trick?
The journey over from Manchester to JFK was so horribly late (but with all this acceptance stuff going on, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the whole thing) that by European laws the flight company has to give each passenger a standard monetary compensation that actually is slightly more than what I paid. So amazingly, I got here for free. I’m taking that as a sign that I’m on the right path.
But I wonder even if there is a path. If anything means anything. Or if it is simply, as simple, as accepting what is; without having to understand, without having to control, without having to regret the past, fear the future or feel guilty about the present. Perhaps the answer is to simply allow and enjoy what is, even if it is being six hours in an airport gate with a lot of desperate Mancunians, munching on a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, about to go somewhere I have no idea where I am going to.
And then I had a very happy Xmas, accepted by a loving family all talking as if they are from an American film, and finding that individualism and self centeredness combined with loving bonds and mutual support is very attractive and evolved form of being. Perhaps we are entering into the age of Aquarius?
And my brother and his family skyped me, and I was able to have contact with my nephews. It made my year.
And so we come to an end of 2018. From a purely egoic aquarius point of view, I wish you all a very accepting 2019, a year filled with love and peace and joy – just because it’s nicer for everyone.
Lots and lots of love