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For me, relationship is an evolving creative process. It is an exploration into who I am becoming, who the other or others are becoming; and then being aware of, and expressing what happens between us. My own journey is to become more wholly myself. This is also happening in a dance with both Tony and Rose. It is possible because of the willingness and generosity of Dexter, and the luck of our circumstances.

It is also possible because we have the luxury of time to communicate often and deeply with one another. I wouldn’t be able to do this without a shared commitment to authenticity and honesty. Whatever you might think about a ‘threesome’, this triad probably isn’t that. Our relationship continues to unfold daily around the kitchen table. We have become woven with each other as chosen family.

“How do you do it?” someone recently asked, and I replied, “Articulate everything.” Rose added, “And be accepting of the different ways you articulate those things.” I have discovered that it’s hard for me to explore all of me with one person. To love more than one person takes energy, time and emotional capacity. Two duvets is a practical sleeping solution. And being toasted by two bodies in a three-way-spoon is sublime.

I have retreated into the shadows. I continue to feel the pressure cooker of Covid 19 times. David Fuller uses Stanislav Grof’s term to describe it as a ‘non specific amplifier’.  This increases the intensity of our experiences, whatever they might be.

My busy mind urges me to step forward into action, but there is a stronger force, which is pressing me back into quiet consolidation. Sitting on the overground, I look up from my notebook to see a poem by John O’Donohue in confirmation.

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall…”

Yesterday at my desk, working on the infinite steps of a stop frame animation story, I met another pair of eyes. A young white morphed fox, was slinking through the shrubs, scouting around our garden. White fur caught my attention,  fox’s cloak of invisibility unmasked. Our gazes locked for a moment. A second later, slithering like a fish, it turned back into the undergrowth, and disappeared.

Away from the eyes of the world, I feel as though I have become a strange creature, in a mythic realm where trees talk and animals bring messages. Fox brings the spirit of patience. Attending to my creative task, white tail gone, I continue to allow lines and patches of colour tell another tale.

Despite his fresh-faced boyish looks, Sam Lee’s album, ‘Old Wow’ digs deep into oral folk music traditions with the wisdom of an old soul. I am a funk music fan. Folk is out of my comfort zone, but I am lured in by the meanings of words that ache with melancholy, and the bass lines that creep along in tracks like ‘Lay This Body Down’.

He offers a brilliant synthesis of old and new. He uses or re-imagines folk songs learned from singers of disappearing oral traditions. He arranges modern fusions to bring these songs to new ears – using an eclectic mix, which includes double bass, piano, percussion, guitar and violin. The arrangements come alive, full of sorrow and the beauty of nature.

‘Soul Cake’ begins with three verses of ‘Green Grow the Rushes O’ – a folk song, which goes back centuries, weaving astrological and Christian symbolism inextricably together. I sat as a small child next to my mother on the piano stool, enjoying the oral yoga of singing its ‘jibberish’. Now, the poetic lines hang between my ears. Lee has re-written this as a foray into mortality. Symbols from the original build into a counting song that describes the circle of life. Lee winds folk poetry with the harmonies of grief. ‘Old Wow’ reminds me of the magic of Scott Walker’s haunting lyrics, served with an inducement to love life.

Watching him perform at the Medicine Festival was stirring. He orchestrated the crowd to sing a powerful nine-part lament. I was moved as we sang a Requiem for nine recently extinct species: the Pyrenean Brown Bear, Passenger Pigeon, Eurasian Wolf, Rita’s Island Lizard, Large Blue Butterfly, Bermuda Night Heron, Eskimo Curlew, Silver Trout, and Charles Island Tortoise. In his own words, Sam Lee aims to create: “a timeless bridge, music that can be looking both backward and forwards, and a soulful accompaniment to an urgent need to fall back in love with nature if we are to know how to protect it”.

I go back in time as the ‘endodontist’ sends back my chair, pulls the giant Polo-Mint-shaped light overhead, and peers at me. For the last quarter century I have regularly gazed up from horizontal at the painted fish, receding above. I close my eyes as the dental surgeon approaches with what seems like a giant syringe.

A memory comes from an earlier incarnation of my life. Four doors down from Carnaby Street Dental, in 1981-2, ‘Hot Sty’ was a night put on at Fouberts nightclub. I climbed up the dingy staircase then, in bright pinafores made from upholstery prints. We danced to P Funk grooves. My hair was between lengths, in unbecoming shades, crimped and teased. Hair limp by 4am, we left the club and headed to Harry’s all night café, in Kingly St for hot chocolate and chips. The bin workers and stray revellers collided there during the early shift.

Lying prone, I am child-like in the dentist’s chair, hoping to be seen as a good girl, who cleans her precious teeth well. Instruments are scrutinised under the light, then employed to excavate 25mm down my root canal. Like an alchemist, different elemental materials are used in the endodontist’s craft – mist, water, bleach, resin, smoke and cement.

I am aware of the deep-seated stories that can be stirred by teeth and dental trauma. The injured maxillary central incisor – whose image is now projected in ghostly X-ray on a large screen – was formed around four months into my development in the womb. It has bitten into countless apples over the years, and served me well.

An energy meridian runs through each tooth, linking it with an emotion and organ of the body. Upper Left 1 represents ‘acceptance’. Now I am facing the challenge that ageing brings, of accepting all that I have not done, while coming to terms with who I have become.

‘Honeyland’ is an extraordinary portrait of  Hatidze Muratova, a woman keeping wild bees using traditional methods. The story which unfolds, came about as the film-makers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomire Stefanov, were filming in Northern Macedonia, and met the bee keeper. Unusually, the film was Oscar nominated for both ‘best documentary’ and ‘best international feature’. It is visually stunning. Gold light pours like honey through the film, as we step into the bee keeper’s domain.

Much like the narrative of the film, it is long, slow and painful. The old ways meet the contradictory demands of modern poverty, played out through the interactions between Muratova, and the family who move in next door.

At the Medicine Festival, I made a bee line to hear some of the barefoot hive philosophy of Chris Park. He is a very unassuming Dad, beekeeper, Druid, and storyteller. He spoke of ancient lore from a time when Britain was known as ‘The Honey Isle’. As he spoke, he invited us to roll words around our mouths with him, to hear the etymology of bee keeping. It was as though we were sipping linguistic mead or metheglin (mead brewed with herbs or spices). He spoke of the three medicines in Druid philosophy – water, honey and labour. Like the finest pollen taken from bee legs, unadulterated, he is the bees knees.

 

These changeable days feel autumnal. It rains, then the sun comes out. There’s a cool breeze. It is back to school weather. For the first time in months, red and grey school blazers pass by. Young faces wear the generic blank of masks. The boundaries we have held – by choice, by consensus or by law, become more complex as society ‘opens up’.

In our household pod, going nowhere but the park and to buy food, boundaries were easier to define. As our contacts expand, so do the conversations we need to have, in order to navigate our boundaries clearly. I like the traffic light system, which some people have suggested. Red denotes very cautious, amber for some managed risk, and green for broader risk taking. Vintage words like ‘quarantine’ are in common usage. I consider it a kindness to be aware of other people’s level of engagement, allowing space for their concerns.

To make our levels of willing interaction explicit, it is helpful to use the tools of consent. We may need to accept our different or changing needs, in the face of differing attitudes and situations. I notice how easily fear inserts itself into protocols for virus protection. I see my relationship with authority arises, as I question the rules made by others. I recognise how easy it is to assume the age-old cognitive bias around illness and death, “it won’t happen to me”. Aiming for taking reasonable precautions, I am trying to avoid becoming paranoid. I am trying to slow down my responses, while being aware of the other in each meeting, to allow more opportunity for feeling into, and communicating boundaries.

Follow the link here to watch ‘Consent and the Nervous System: Self Care and Community Resilience in the age of Covid 19’ by Rose C Jiggens and Rupert James Alison.

 

My summer usually includes working and playing at several festivals. Long weekends under canvas bring me happiness. The effort of gathering all the paraphernalia for comfortable, dry nights includes digging wellies out of the cellar, rummaging at the bottom of my wardrobe for sequin hot-pants, fishing tents out of the attic, and then playing packing ‘Tetris’.

My reward is sitting on a sheepskin, kettle on the boil, looking out at trees in a field of tents. This is a pre-requisite for shaking off my city shell. Festivals mean diving into an environment where creativity is celebrated; including music, dancing, and having fun with people. But this is 2020, during a pandemic, and things are different.

At the Medicine Festival, it feels special to be able to gather. ‘HELLO’ this bright orange tent announces, welcoming us back into some semblance of festival culture. There are canopies, beautiful installations, shamanic drums, onesies, but no hugs in sight. Dancing happens in my individual portion of field. My extrovert stays at home, while my introvert tries to navigate the socially distanced crowd. Seeing friends and familiar faces at arms length is both a joy, and an impediment. Instead of becoming wild and feral, I use hand sanitizer at regular intervals.

The programme, despite holes, (a consequence of indigenous participants remaining in other places), is still full. We follow a random trajectory through ceremony with some of the ‘Wisdom Keepers’, talks, performances, and workshops, via skinny-dipping in the lake. We connect with the very alive woodland, shared intentions, live music and each-other in hands off ways.

Over the garden wall I discover a Goldfinch, head stuck uncomfortably inside the bird feeder. Some of her feathers have been torn out in her effort to free herself. Without much hope, I lay her in a container with seeds and water. It sits in the studio, away from the cat’s view. Defying my expectations I come back later to find her reviving. She spends the next two days hopping around, making a cosy place to sleep out of paper towels, scattering a bowl of small finch-friendly seeds, drinking and bathing in a saucer. She eyes me steadily, but makes no attempt to flutter towards the door.

Leaving her to sit quietly in peace looking out at the garden, I research finch care. Goldfinch is a totem of joy and self-expression. I wonder whether we are good luck charms for one another? I feel the responsibility of this beautiful grounded creature. At last I discover The South Essex Wildlife Hospital. I am impressed with the ethos and efficiency of the charity. They answer the phone, give me helpful advice, and agree to take care of my charge, much to my relief.

A game of catch the Goldfinch with a red fishing net allows me closer inspection of her gorgeous yellow and black livery. Swiftly transferred to a ventilated cardboard box, we transport her up the A13. She flaps intermittently on the way. On arrival, in the delightful country setting of the wildlife hospital, we are welcomed by the sound of a lively bird chorus. In response she emits a single “Cheep!”

We admire the clouds in Victoria Park. They are worthy of John Constable’s paintbrush. With my ‘Romanticist’ eye, I see Tony and Monique, standing heroic against the tumultuous sky. We three share a love of words.

“Most of my students use too many adjectives,” says Monique. I wonder how to find the words that might describe this bold scene with pithy nouns and verbs. Writers stand in sunlight. Wordsmiths walk under a dark cloud. Friends look for change.

From our different perspectives, we search for words that expand our conversation, avoid those that close down communication. We discuss the tensions, which spring up from assumptions, judgements, and lack of information or imagination. How do we find the right words, use skilful speech, embrace complexity, debate with nuance? Can we encourage ways to reflect our experiences to increase our ability to understand one another?

We have taken our last walk with our decrepit family dog, riding in his pram. Despite loss of sight, hearing, mobility, his nose still scans from left to right to suck in all the smells of his territory like radar. Dementia has stolen the signal between brain and limbs, so he can no longer remember how to sit or lie down. The final blow is his loss of appetite. For the last seventeen years, Pickle’s enthusiasm for food – meat, cheese, treats, pavement bones and raided scraps – has driven him. Despite increasing lack of agility, he has until very recently, been able to topple the cat’s bowl from its shelf, without up-turning it, to scoff her more dainty biscuits.

At this final lunch, we toast him and celebrate his life, remembering the list of close scrapes, relishing his personality quirks. He has remained a loyal, devoted companion to an extended pack, which includes two households and three generations, as well as other pets.

I have been loved steadily and unconditionally by Pickle. His brown eyes and attentive ears have witnessed my every mood. In return, I have thrown balls, sticks, been muddied, pushed his chariot, taken him for regular ‘spa days’ at the vet, carried him up and down stairs, and walked ever more slowly with him. I forgave his anxiety at fireworks, smoke alarms, rioters and thunder, because he calmed mine. During one of several close calls, I sustained an injury, which will mark me for life. It is my capacity to love, which feels expanded. My heart is deeply marked by the depth of my love, in response to his. Four of us place a hand on him, saying our last appreciations and farewells, as tears and snot streaks down my face.