Summer’s house

Summer has built her house around me
with green fern walls
and a sky roof woven
from criss-crossed bird flight.
– Melinda Schwakhofer

Slow down

My life in the time of Coronavirus is moving to a different rhythm.   I’ve always loved being at home, so not much has changed there.   The village where I live has a chemist, butcher, greengrocer, newsagent and shop.  There is enough of everything we need and our community is looking out for one another.

When lockdown came to the UK two weeks ago, I made a long list of household tasks and have been thinking about all of the artistic projects that I now have time for.    But some, or many, days it is all I can do to get up and get through the day.  I’ve been relishing my daily late afternoon naps more than ever.  Sleeping pretty well through the night, but having some disturbing dreams.

I’m finding it really hard to concentrate and flit from one activity to another more than usual.  My emotions run the gamut from fear and despair to feeling calm and ‘okay’, often a few times in a day,  This is all a normal response to radically different times.

Rather than focussing on ‘after this is over’, I’m focussing on how it is now.  What can I do now in the new shape that my life has become?

I’m working from home at my ‘bread and butter’ job two days a week.  Continuing to meet my Community Artwork colleagues, via Zoom,  We are developing an online Craftfulness in Quarantine group.  I’m working on another creative project in response to Mayflower 400.  Sometimes it is too much to engage with these pieces of work, but we are all able to express how we’re feeling and listen to one another.  It is such a different way of working together and all of the work is evolving in response to hugely changed circumstances.  I am finding that flexibility, responsiveness and suppleness are key.

All of that and sometimes, just slowing down.

Miss Pandemic 2020

You do not have to be productive.
You are not a dairy cow or a field of wheat.
Nothing will grind to a halt
if you do not take up the ukulele,
learn Spanish, start to crochet, master Pilates.

This is not a competition,
there will be no ‘Miss Pandemic 2020’
you cannot get a sash out of this,
you cannot win a crisis,

only hold each second like you
might hold a hand and think what can I do with you?
And you and you? Before long
you will have collected a minute.

Minute collecting is my new hobby.
I’m practising a lot.  I’m trying to do it as carefully
and slowly as possible and when I cry
I use the minutes I’ve collected to keep myself up.

I look around those minutes and see
what lives there and then I start again.
Everything has changed.  It is okay for this
not to feel like a holiday.  It’s not a holiday.

We are scared of air.  I tried to do yoga yesterday
but instead swore at the screen
and had a coffee and that’s okay.

-Erin Bolens

Mandalas & imagined and remembered journeys

Gosh!  The pilot ‘arts in the community’ project which I have been co-facilitating is drawing to a close.   I have been holding creative/art making space for people living with dementia (LWD) and socially isolated elderly people for the past three months.  I have been the lead artist in the group for people LWD.  What a huge learning curve it has been.  Neither my partner nor I had ever been around people LWD.  On the first session, one of the participants kept weeping and wandering and at the end of the session, we thought, ‘What on earth have we embarked upon?’

Well, after attending a couple of workshops on dementia awareness and arts for dementia and reading several books, web pages and academic articles, I have a pretty good understanding of it.  However, the people living with the symptoms of dementia have taught me the most about what it is to live with dementia.  I have learned that dementia manifests differently in each individual.  A quote I read somewhere sums it up best:

With dementia, a person loses many of the windows through which they can relate to the world and people around them.  However, it is possible to connect with the light that still shines through.  The essential person is still there.

That has been the focus for me.  To find the light and make the connection.  The woman who was so distressed on the first day, gradually became more comfortable.  While she may not remember what the content of each session is, the good feelings sparked by being there linger on.

I came across Cognitive Stimulation Therapy which provides a range of enjoyable activities providing general stimulation for thinking, concentration and memory, usually in a social setting.  I decided to combine this with art making activity.  For our 90 minute sessions we have a schedule of singing, poems & word games or picture/objects to stimulate memory and conversation, chair exercises, an art activity, show & tell and tea, coffee and biscuits.

Because a person LWD has lost many of their ‘executive functions’ eg, attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem solving, and planning, I have found that activities based in the moment, process oriented with no set outcome work the best. 

By a happy choice, I took my button box in one day.

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S,  the woman who was very distressed on day one, put her hands straight into the pile.  I had drawn concentric circles on a sheet of paper and we selected and placed buttons and buckles, happily absorbed for the session.

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The next time, I took a jar of game counters.

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They spilled onto the table with an agreeable sound.

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I had never examined them so closely.

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We found a mother o’ pearl disc with intricate carving on each side.

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S said, ‘That’s quite a special one’.  So we put it in the centre of our mandala.

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Today, I took in Scrabble tiles and Lexicon playing cards.  Lots of good things happened with these.  S and I sorted out the Scrabble tiles and began with ‘owl’ which led to the poem The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear.  We could only remember the first four lines though!  When her husband came to collect her, he said that they used to drive past a roadside cafe called The Owl and the Pussycat.

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J spelled out several words with the Lexicon cards.

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Then she and my colleague Lucy composed a poem with them.

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When S and I finished with the tiles, she said ‘Let’s see what else you have’.  I emptied my bag of beautiful, smooth beach glass that I collected in the surf behind a glass factory in Murano, Italy.

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These were a pleasure to handle and sort.

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This has been an incredible journey for me.  I’m a bit sad that the pilot project is drawing to a close, but very hopeful that we will be able to secure funding to continue.

I am going on a course to become a Cognitive Stimulation Therapy practitioner at University College London this summer.  It is exciting to have found a new area of interest, learning and work to embark upon.  The journey continues!

Jackdaw Medicine

jackdaw

Jackdaw Medicine

Jackdaw picks
and pokes
and stirs
through the glittering wreckage
of my story and the history of my tribe.

Sharp beaked,
keen eyed,
she sorts the heap
half in two.
 .
One side,
dark and heavy;
unwanted burdens,
carried way too far
for far too long.
These will be held,
grieved and
given back to the earth.
  .
One side,
bright with promise;
priceless treasures,
that they threw to one side.
I will make from these
gewgaws and gimcracks,
bagatelles and bibelots,
and hold them up for all the world to see.
 .
– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2015
  .
Photograph by Nigel Hillier

Tear

This morning, before my drawing class, Andrea rang me and asked if I could bring in a poem for her to read during our warm-up exercise.  I’ve very recently discovered Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet & writer.  I actually have about eight of her books due at any minute in the post.  But not today.  I did a quick Google search for ‘Linda Hogan poems’.  The first one I came to, I downloaded, printed off and took to my drawing class.

tear in fabric

Tear

It was the time before
I was born.
I was thin.
I was hungry.
I was only a restlessness
inside a woman’s body.

Above us, lightning split open the sky.
Below us, wagon wheels cut land in two.
Around us were the soldiers,
young and afraid,
who did not trust us
with scissors or knives
but with needles.

Tear dresses they were called
because settler cotton was torn
in straight lines
like the roads we had to follow
to Oklahoma.

But when the cloth was torn,
it was like tears,
impossible to hold back,
and so they were called
by this other name,
for our weeping.

I remember the women.
Tonight they walk
out from the shadows
with black dogs,
children, the dark heavy horses,
and worn-out men.

They walk inside me.
This blood
is a map of the road between us.
I am why they survived.
The world behind them did not close.
The world before them is still open.
All around me are my ancestors,
my unborn children.
I am the tear between them
and both sides live.

–  Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

Image ::  Still from a video tutorial: Tearing cloth in 3ds max 2011 (no audio)