I wrote a piece several months ago called “Curating Reality”, which, in essence was about the realization of how powerfully the internet affects our psyches and the need to regulate the quality of the information that is coming at us. Much broader than that, it was about how this could be applied to all aspects of our lives, if we can take control, to a certain extent of our social media feeds and our news feeds, choose to use the internet as a powerful tool to engage in spiritual and productive activity, why not apply that principle to our interactions in the real world. While my piece of writing was sincere in its desire and need to protect myself and to empower others to protect themselves from the negative and potentially overwhelming features that the internet was bringing up, I now realize that these desires and wishes I was expressing were very naïve. Even if I tried to cut myself off from the negativity, the fear mongering and overwhelming effect of this new age of information and information warfare (it was something I very much needed to do at the time to preserve my sanity), in the end there wasn’t going to be any way of sheltering myself from these things. The impacts of these new media are so entrenched in the psyches of humanity that there was never going to be any way of escaping this negativity. I found it coming back to me in my relationships with other people in ways I didn’t expect.
Yesterday Trump supporters “stormed the castle” in Washington and while old school leftist and mainstream liberals dismiss these people as crazy and deluded, one can’t help but sense a fascinated gloating stare, as if staring at a car crash. We can watch a group of people whom we abhor with a sense of awe, strangely horrified and satisfied that those people are taking the action of revolting that we have never had the courage or stomach, stupidity, violence, passion or real urgency to do. The chickens come home to roost. For everyone. Today Trump made a speech condemning the mob and saying they will be punished for their violence. And so from one day to another, they are utterly betrayed by their cult leader. Trump used these vulnerable people and now they can no longer contribute to his power, he chucks them like toilet paper to avoid legal action.
My Curating Reality piece started with a dream that Leah had while we were at an art fair, where her mother told her that you make your own reality. Leah took it as a sign that we would have a good art fair if we chose (why not- that is what we were doing) and we went on to have our best one ever. I had a conversation a few months later with two male friends in which I was discussing how tenuous our collective grip on reality and what constitutes reality was becoming. I used the line that you make your own reality, a statement and a dream that could have any number of interpretations. One of my friends remarked that this was the narcissist’s truth, which I was a little offended by, often cynical, he clearly didn’t share my more positive or meaning-creating interpretation. At the time Leah had the dream, dreams were very important to us, they still are, but they then had a mystical quality where we really needed some guidance from them to help us in the direction of our personal lives. There is a drought of holistic wise elder advice and support. We very much needed the ethereal, if at the same time materialistic reading of the dream to keep us buoyant in that world, during a time of exhaustion.
It was a naïve and, one could argue narcissistic way of interpreting dreams, but we were and are still learning. We are now much more aware of the collective consciousness aspect of dreams and are much less apt to interpreting dream content in a purely personal way. Thus you make your own reality could be taken as marking a coordinate or point in time, where the collective consciousness was realizing something new about different levels of reality and the personal interpretation that would probably be made in a narcissistic individualistic culture. Just as when the Nestle executive remarks that water is not a human right, our immediate response doesn’t necessarily have to be outrage, it could be more read as an archetypal statement of truth about where we are at this point of time, where we assume that water, or clean water is a human right, when really, it isn’t at all at this point. We may even thank him for pointing this out to us and showing us our blind spot, he was just telling it like it is, or stating the reality that made most sense and was most advantageous to him. Still, maybe our interpretation of Leah’s dream was more grounded in reality than I realized, a kind of fake it till you make it motivational or non-fatalistic proposition that we needed in an exhausting male-dominated art world. This is the fascinating thing about dreams, their potential meanings constantly shift.
Over recent months, however, it has become clear that the internet is full of information for any reality you might want to choose to believe. I hadn’t accounted for confirmation bias. And I hadn’t accounted for people’s inability to filter information. I hadn’t accounted for how, what one might call a “democratization of information” could be misused, how the algorithms keep people trapped permanently going down rabbit holes, or the incorporation of yet another part of the commons into a monetizable asset: the selling of attention spans. Whatever it is we are into, we are all addicted to the internet, addicted to the influx of information, some of it mind- expanding, some of it mind- narrowing. Expansions and contractions are part of the flow of life.
I am reminded of a recent conversation where a man in the village described another man in the village as a “Covid denier”. It occurred to me, that by identifying the other man as a “Covid denier”, (as well as potentially protecting himself from the other man’s potentially uncareful behavior), what he was really doing was identifying himself as a “Covid believer” and thus creating a comforting anchor point for himself in this moment in time. But his reality isn’t any more real to him than the Covid denier’s reality is to himself on an individual basis. The Covid believer, can comfort himself that his belief is backed up by consensus reality and thus is more reality based. The Covid denier can comfort himself that he is more comfortable with the reality of more difficult truths than the consensus believer, who is merely one of the herd. Not to say that all realities are of equal value, (though who is to say, really,) just to point out the exercises we all engage in to feel more settled, protect ourselves and shut ourselves down from less than comforting realities, in a deeply unsettling time. Delving into spirituality in a less than grounded way seems almost inevitable, given the sheer enormity of personal and collective grief and trauma there is to process, whether you define spirituality as the seeking for truth that conspiracy-spirituality makes available on the darker side of the web, or any other seeking for truth or clarity.
Whatever you choose to believe about the Pro-Trump crazies or the Anti-vax crazies, however you have tried to frame the virus and its deeper meanings or lack of deeper meanings in your head, I feel deeply that it is very intellectually lazy, irresponsible and lacking in emotional intelligence to dismiss the people you hate and disagree with as crazy. It constitutes an unwillingness or fear to look at the deep personal and cultural traumas we are all living with. There is a tiny grain of truth in most conspiracy theories, at least enough truth for something to springboard from and to be considered by some (many) as a plausible, if not obvious explanation for things. Just as there are deep psychological and emotive reasons for people to believe what they believe.
If you haven’t been exposed to a lot of the conspiracy theory world and are baffled by what the hell is going on, it is worth dipping into to get a handle on the increasing power of the shady side of the web. This brave new world of information overload is a melting pot for emotive speech, both positive and negative, in a depressed “reality”, where we are so disconnected from each other, nature, our emotions and real needs. I highly recommend starting with the documentary about Alex Jones on Frontline, in which we see how one “narcissistic crazy person” and his team used his platform to do a great deal to contribute to the election of Trump. If you want a more State/ corporate account of why we are where we are, I recommend the HyperNormalisation documentary by Adam Curtis, which has been on the BBC Iplayer for the last few years.
I also recommend catching up with the latest in intersectional feminist discourse, since this attempts to do the work of filling in many of our blind spots on where we are going wrong sociologically, even if it remains mostly only theory for the moment and has not yet been able to fully expose how the systems of power have negative impacts on everyone INCLUDING white men to an extent where everyone is willing to listen and open up. It will take a little more participation by men for this to happen, but there are still so many old wounds being licked. I also recommend the Conspirituality podcast, which addresses the meeting point of conspiracy theories and the dark web with spirituality and the wellness industry. Also on the to do list, must be catching up on the essential foundational knowledge of how ecosystems work, which none of us were taught in school, but is essential for the healthy survival of ourselves and our non-human partners in life.
Even if you have a high level of education it is worth realizing that you, being human, still have very many blind spots and it would be advantageous if we all made an effort to fill in the gaps and suspend judgement for just a brief moment so that we can catch up with just what the hell these last few years and decades have been all about in a healthy non-addictive way and at a speed that is manageable. To help in this work, I recommend meditation or mindfulness, or starting with yoga to get into the body and the energetic body rather than always relying on the relentless and addictive intellect. Perhaps this is the best opportunity this virus can offer us, for those of us who are “privileged” enough to have the time. It is a precarious and difficult journey because it is true that the freedom these practices offer can initially make one dissociate from the “real world” and don’t necessarily help in an immediate way with our communication. In the end, however, we always have to come crashing back down to earth and in the long term, these practices are worthwhile in opening up the space for something new and learning to listen to ourselves and each other.
It seems, in this current dualistic power dynamic, between left and right, man and woman, black and white, etc. , we are still forced to make a choice and to pick a side, even if, as in the Southpark episode, the election choice is between a “Giant Douche” and a “Turd Sandwich”, or if those are the only choices we can see. There is, however, always a third option. The third option is to focus on what and who is being left out of the conversation, what are the gaslighting or spiritual bypassing linguistics being used, where does my creativity, my growth, my Eros want to go, where is it stifled, where are the healing opportunities, how can compassion be expanded upon, what matters most. The third option is always the creative option, the healing option and the mind- expanding option that dichotomies or dual relations leave out. It is also the option requiring most work or depth, as well as the most fulfilling option. Curating Reality, now means to me, the work of reifying, bringing into tangible speech and reality, what has previously been inarticulable. It is work that requires, arguably the feminine, or the less overt, the subtle, the less tangible, the vulnerable, to be acknowledged and expressed.
We got up early to take a brisk walk at dawn around the village and are finishing by wandering up the ancient Roman terraces, to forage for Cornelian cherries. My wife Leah and I are accompanied by a young couple, who have bravely taken the risk of coming to spend some months on the island while they are in transition, deciding where to live. I say ‘taken a risk’ because it is the autumn of this (first) year of Covid, they could end up getting stuck. We find a cluster of small trees and fill a couple of bags, pulling the branches down with a beautiful hooked stick which Finn found on the walk up. The autumn air smells sweet with cistus and oregano in the early morning dappled sun. The cool deep greens, contrast with the pale yellow of grasses dried out by the summer heat. Overhead I glimpse what I call ‘my mountain’, the biggest peak visible from the village. I was compelled to try and climb to the top the first time I came here – I was foiled by maleficent goats, but have since succeeded. Benevolent, it stands above the terraces of this small mountain village – a stage, nestled in a mountainous amphitheatre. I think it was this mountain that told me to come here, to commit.
Despite all this beauty, the polarities of life at the moment are inescapable. I talked with a friend back in the UK recently about some of the difficulties with my life here – an ostensibly idyllic life, on ‘permanent holiday’ on a beautiful island in Greece. I was aware of this pressure that I should be enjoying myself more. I do know that I am in a very good place; in many ways this is the perfect location in which to spend these Covid days. We are very ‘isolated’ from the virus – there have been only one or two cases here – but perhaps not from the implications. My friend pointed out that it was an ‘act of resistance’ to enjoy one’s life in these insane times. And it’s true, I came here inspired by Charles Eisenstein’s notion of a kind of ‘radical hedonism’, where you really think through all of your options in every decision that you make, trying to orientate yourself towards what would be most beautiful, what would be most enjoyable, most freeing. This is not mere selfishness. It is a seeking for more life, more life-fullness and integrity, for myself and the people in my life. As D.H. Lawrence wrote:
Men are not free when they’re doing just what they like. Men are only free when they’re doing what the deepest self likes and there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving.
Transitioning to a new ecological ‘lifestyle’ – the reconfiguration in mindset and body that is required, the challenges that arise – is not easy. The shift brings Leah and I to some difficult places. I have to try and remember why I came here. Was it so that I could learn to enjoy life more, to be more at peace with myself and with the world, to become more integrated with the Earth? It was certainly so that I could feel more grounded and connected to the land and to the food that nourishes me. I was tired of only making art for money, the treadmill that leaves little care for personal growth. At least here I can be closer to the subject I want to paint, I can spend more time in the immediacy of painting from life, outdoors, rather than in a studio. But the fact is, I don’t really know why I came here, other than because the mountains told me to and I was listening to them. There was no ‘rational’ reason, at least not from the perspective of the world I grew up in, apart from, perhaps, the ambitious kind of hedonism of the ‘80s which said: ‘follow your dreams and you can have everything (material) you ever wanted’.
Perhaps if I could align myself more with the rhythms of the world, the need for resistance would be less felt.
Leah and I were at a stage where we wanted to commit ourselves to something. Making a commitment to more beauty seemed reasonable – my artwork deals in the beauty of nature. That’s what I sell back to city people who are disconnected from it, I suppose. The place we almost chose in Italy would have made much more sense: geographically, and because we both speak Italian. But something was pushing us, this time, to really listen to our hearts. Maybe a survival instinct. Inspired by radical rewilder Finisia Medrano’s book Growing Up In Occupied America – in which she describes her life, living on the ancient Native American ‘hoops’, trying to restore and replant the native foods they relied on along those nomadic trails – we chose this island. This part of it desperately needs replanting and, from our patch of land, we can just walk openly up the mountain. Eventually we hope to host art, nature and healing courses and to grow and forage a lot of our food. It will take time, because the steep land is so overgrown and the terraced walls are collapsed. Some of the local people are encouraging about our learning the native flora. This knowledge, of course, wants to spread its own wild seed, by stealth.
One of my biggest struggles is an exhaustion with feeling ‘at odds’. At odds with the dominant culture, with ‘my’ culture, as well as with certain aspects of the traditional Greek/southern or eastern European cultures. Trying to be OK with being odd/at odds, especially as a gay couple, after having become used to living in the open-minded Bristol art scene. The Orthodox church is decidedly anti-homosexuality in a country which, as our Greek-American friend pointed out, ‘invented it all’. Negotiating the dance between what is OK for me and what is OK for everyone else seems to have made me increasingly tense in recent years, and now there is the added challenge of the small village environment where everybody knows each other’s business. The dance metaphor seems to help. We came here wanting to do several things in older ways, to re-learn, to remember. Some of the local people are a little confused. The look on our Albanian builders’ faces said to me: ‘what they chattin’?’ when we tried to explain to them that we didn’t want a flush toilet because we wanted to build a compost one. Once it had sunk in, they laughed, saying that it is like in the old Albania, when you would go up the mountain. They put the piping for a toilet in for us, just in case.
Leah and I try to be OK with being overly emotional or ‘sensitive’ about the environment, in a place where people don’t necessarily care. Illegal dumping takes place around the island, much of it from the big hotels, or local renovations. Men with beachside businesses come in from the cities for the summer season and sell drinks in plastic cups with straws and don’t take care that the waste is removed from the beaches.
Parts of the landscape here are so very beautiful they almost make me cry. Ancient plane trees with bulbous formations and pines with giant snaking roots intertwine with giant rocks in one of the mountain gorges that still just about manages to fulfil the island’s water needs during the tourist season. This gorge is now my new art studio. But these scenes are in stark contrast to the parts of the landscape that are really struggling to maintain life, which also make me cry. The contradiction screams out to me: ’What is it you are choosing: life or death?’ As if the choice were mine. A huge fire devastated a third of the island’s trees five years ago and the topsoil has been washing away with apocalyptic rain storms. The fire and rainstorms, exacerbated by mining projects lead to many homes and cars being flooded by mudslides last autumn.
Desertification is moving northwards quickly in Greece. This isn’t ‘climate change alarmism’, this is basic ecology. The pattern from the southern islands is clear. All the trees go, the soil washes away, the rains come less, the islands run out of water. A cartoon recently posted on the environmental group for Thasos shows mountains with a load of tree stumps from cut down trees, with a flooded village at the bottom of the valley and a man saying: ‘It’s not our fault, it’s the nature’. The last time a big fire happened, 30 years ago, trees grew back eventually, but mostly only the highly flammable pines that had been previously planted for the timber industry. There is a sense that regrowth is really not going to be so easy this time. And the proliferating ’wild’ goats that nobody wants to take responsibility for are getting hungrier and thirstier for green shoots.
With time to examine, I come starkly up against the darkness and the storms in my own mind, experiencing what Jeanette Winterson called a ‘battle for the sun’ in a place where the sun shines most days. The art world as we once knew it is in total disarray, with the last of this year’s fairs having just been cancelled. There is no real outline of how I should be spending my time and what my routine should be. I have always been very goal-orientated and very good with my ‘time management’. But all that seems useless here, in a place where things will happen when they happen and there is no use getting frustrated that they are not happening sooner. Resistance is, at worst, an aversion to something, a fruitless conflict.
Feeling like the prince in Sleeping Beauty, holding the sword of discernment and clear-sighted vision, I spend days battling through a jungle of thick brambles at the back of our house, knotted up with new trees growing almost horizontally to try and reach the light. This is not our land, but it clearly hasn’t been cut back in years, the overgrowth a fire hazard, as well as blocking our view of ‘my mountain’.
For five weeks now our builders have been digging a trench on three sides of our house, drilling through massive boulders that the building rests on, to go down to nearly three metres. Last autumn it rained solidly for 18 hours and we were up all night filling and emptying buckets of water trickling in through the rock downstairs, the rock which turned out to be a set of massive boulders. The works are to put a structure in to stop the water coming in the house, but they feel violent: the house has stood this way resting happily on its boulders for 150 years. And then we ‘moderns’ come along, expecting to use the basement, which would have been a pantry or animal shed, as an actual room.
Everyone has an opinion. The old man who sold us the house, also clearly anxious about the scale of the works, stops by to tell us he is sceptical that this solution will work. ‘I lived in this house for years’, he explains, ‘and sometimes there was water that came in, yes’. Now he tells us. Living as he does in a house infested with cats and rats, perhaps his view is that we should accept water coming in occasionally. But I am not sure if he experienced the deluge we had last autumn. We can’t say how many centimetres came in, because we were baling out all night long and most of the next day. I would like to ask him if he has any better ideas, or whether he is just enjoying a habitual scepticism. But I don’t.
The night after the third day of drilling we awoke to the house moving. I thought our house was collapsing, the works having destabilised its foundation. It was an earthquake, the first I have ever experienced since being here. The builders were hoping for no rain during the works, but a few days later the heavens opened at midnight and a river started pouring straight into this trench. Another sleepless night, only earth and rocks between the river and our bedroom. It seems symbolic: as if my foundations are being dug up, shaken to the core, deluged and reconstructed. I have never owned a house before, it feels overwhelming; scrambling my way up to adulthood, physically and psychically, at the age of 38.
Since the compost toilet is not finished yet, most mornings I make the biggest act of resistance that I can and take a small walk up the mountain to complete my morning ablutions. The soils and water of the world urgently need our love and attention, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream human babble. Only outrage and cynicism gets fuelled, even in ecological matters. The least we humans could give back to the earth is the minerals or seeds, the fluid that move through our bodies. And yet, sometimes I question my sanity for caring. Resistance is, at best, a commitment to the struggles of living outside the box, true to your deepest values. So, while I pause to wait for the clarity of how I should be spending my time and the opening up of the path to Dionysian happiness that I’m sure this mountainside has to offer me, I perform the most humble act of resistance I can conjure, which, for the moment is replenishing the soil every morning near my little patch of mountainside. Little do our Albanian builders know that I am actually going up the mountain. But then, they still do too; I spotted one of them not far from our garden.
Perhaps resistance, and the fighting that is loaded into that word, has become too exhausting, too emotionally expensive. Perhaps there is some other way. So, I intend to dig my little hole every morning with a sense of reverence, of holiness and communion. It is the only option now that I am too tired for resistance; the compost toilet and corresponding processing area will take as long as they take to be completed. I have remembered, in the meantime, that if I were an animal in the wild, eating local seeds, then some plants would probably grow directly out of my mountainside deposits. So I have started planting some Cornelian cherry seeds alongside, saved for this purpose. This place, not so long ago, was a symbiotic food forest, a garden of Eden. The part of my brain that is indoctrinated still resists: ‘You are wasting your time; you have no idea what you are doing and whether it will actually work’.
But I am trying to learn to not need immediate evidence or validation that my small acts of love or attention are worthwhile. As the Tibetan teacher Pema Chödrön says: ‘When the resistance is gone, the demons are gone’.
The art of curating is something that I have been learning, let's say over the last 12 years. Curating art that is. Curating reality, or life, has been something more recent. But, as a Buddhist once said to me, “Art is Life”. A teacher appeared in my life a few years ago: Saeed, a yoga teacher in Bristol: the real deal. Of the many things he taught me, such as: “thoughts can be thoughts, but you don’t have to believe them”, he taught me some breathing techniques. One night, I used one of these breathing techniques and made an intensely uncomfortable physical symptom in my body that I had been suffering with for about a year, totally evaporate. I was so elated that I vowed to myself I would start meditating. So I did, the next day. I guess what I had realised is that there are many more layers to existence than I had ever been told and I wanted to find out what else was possible.
When I look back at photos of some of the early art shows I curated, I can see that my skill and finesse was limited, and that the artwork I was trying to put together was difficult to integrate. You could say the same thing about the jumbled thoughts and attitudes in my mind. With the nomadic art gallery I run with my wife Leah, we curate art with a focus on beauty, nature and geometry. Last year we were doing an art fair in Brussels and Leah had a dream in which her mother told her: “you make your own reality”. Leah decided that had something to do with the outcome of our art fair. We had our best show ever. There was definitely something meaningful about her mother giving her this information, even though it was being conjured in her own mind, her mum never having said anything of the sort to her in waking life, not that Leah remembered.
In the seminal book on Transactional Analysis “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”, we learn about how we all have a Child, a Parent and an Adult inside of us running our life interactions. The Adult, who should preferably feel like they are running the show, frequently gets contaminated by outdated information locked in the files of Child and Parent. Leah’s mum, her Parent in her dream, was effectively giving Leah, the Child the permission she needed to start running the show as an Adult, the third choice, the third possibility, the creative option. But there is no immediate happy ending in that. There are still files and files of outdated data from the Parent and the Child to sift through. I feel like lockdown is the perfect time to get on top of some of this work. A crisis, from the Greek, means ‘a turning point in a disease’, the point where things will either get worse or better. The verb that the noun is formed from, ‘krinein’, means to sift or separate out.
There is an existential crisis, but when exactly did it begin? Did it begin at secondary school, where we learned about global warming? Did it begin in the Cold War, when the schoolchildren learned how to Protect and Survive in the threat of a nuclear strike? Or did it begin much earlier than that? After birth perhaps? The first position that the child learns is “I’m Not Ok, You’re Ok”, because the infant is totally incapable of managing its experience and its suffering and the only one who can do that for them is the parent. Did the crisis begin with Original Sin, which could be seen as an allegory for the birth trauma, where we come out of the bliss of the womb, into the context of not being ok? Most people never get over the position of “I’m Not Ok, You’re Ok”, as this position plays out throughout their adult life.
Art fairs are strange events to be involved in. Leah and I sometimes joke that we are travelling sales women. And we are, but there is more to it than that. The other gallerists, a lot of them seem to lead difficult lives. They clearly have a nomadic streak in them, but they often have a family at home that they are quite relieved to get away from. At fairs, they may let themselves go in the evenings, drinking to forget their lives. This type of work is one of the last areas of life where travelling, living a semi- gypsy lifestyle still applies. And who knows if it will continue now, with viruses and lockdowns.
I remember a few years ago, when opinion- pushing was starting to get really intense on social media, some of my friends were beginning to struggle with the intensity and the anxiety it was producing in them. I started to articulate that there was, perhaps a need to start curating our experience of the internet. I must have started to realise around the same time the possibility of curating our experience of life, of the mind, of perception.
The path of transition to adulthood is at a crisis point, with an absence of helpful elders to guide us towards successful, healthy or ecological adulthood, a kind of adulthood where we can feel integrated, part of the ecosystem. There used to be clear- cut paths to adulthood, to being viewed as an adult. For the last generation, it involved kids, marriage, car, house, in whatever order you like, as long as you did them all. Job also, particularly if you were male. That didn’t necessarily mean that you earned the respect of your elders. I don’t think my dad ever felt that his dad respected his chosen career in theatre. But you could still tell yourself that you were doing what you were supposed to do, even if it was made more complicated to “keep up appearances”, with divorce laws being more relaxed. The world has changed so incredibly fast, that my generation has a whole new unprecedented set of difficulties in reaching adulthood.
The fact that it was so difficult for university graduates to find well- paid or satisfying work afterwards, set us off with a sense that we would always seem like failures to our elders, a fear that we may always be dependent on them in some way. Then there was the fact that fertility was going downhill. Some of my female peers followed the script to reproduce with such painful dedication that they went through physical and mental hell, endangered their bodies and spent thousands and thousands of pounds to do so, a trauma that they may never fully acknowledge. Others chose to not try so hard to have kids, or to accept that it would be difficult and that it probably wouldn’t happen, a situation that carries a grief that is difficult to articulate and overcome, there is no cultural narrative for successful adaptation to that situation. My parents’ generation’s experiences negated the need for the archetype of marriage. There is too much traffic, too many expenses and too much war and pollution to make the car option a viable one for many of my generation. I don’t think I need to mention the property ladder. We have been literally adrift, with no map whatsoever of what it means to be an adult, of what one must do to earn this sought- after status.
“I’m Ok, You’re Ok”, tells of the possibility of transitioning to a rare state of consistency, where the initial infantile position of “I’m Not Ok, You’re Ok”, gets transmuted into “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”, a steady state where the person’s Adult has done enough cleansing or sifting to know that it is, for the most part, uncontaminated by the outdated opinions and default behaviours of the Child and the Parent. From this new position, one can mostly operate from the Adult position, allowing the Adult to curate his or her experience, the interactions with others from the perspective of the Adult, allowing the positive aspects of the Child and the Parent to filter through, wherever appropriate. That book was written in the late 60’s. These days we may also talk of trauma, perhaps lodged in the body or subconscious, needing transmuting through body work, dream work and shadow work. There can be trauma from early life experience, or from one-off events, traumas we have inherited from our parents and ancestors. Most of us never get helped to work through these things. The process of doing this work is an awakening, an initiation. It will only take place in rare situations where the circumstances are right, because it is not part of our culture’s smorgasbord of human experience and it is difficult to get to a stage of life where one feels safe enough to start this work.
In our human ancestry, still practiced by many indigenous cultures, we had the rite of passage, or the initiation, in which we were guided by our elders into an experience where we are totally on our own in the wilderness for a period of days, seeking clues about what our destiny is and sometimes being given a new name, denoting our Nature. The rite initiated us into adulthood and delineated a new era of being recognised by our elders as a valuable member of the culture whose input matters. What do we have today? The right to vote? The right to vote for elders who have absolutely no idea how to curate a healthy existence for themselves, let alone other people or the planet? The only initiations I ever saw in my day at University were peer to peer drinking games or freshman year “themed” pub crawls, often organised by older students or graduates who seemed to have a passion for delaying entering adult life by remaining lodged around campuses in the form of Student Union representatives. Quite some mentors or shepherds they were. I have just used the words “in my day”. I must be becoming an adult, or perhaps that is grandparent talk. The difference is that “In my day” used to be followed by something that was supposedly better or simpler in the elder’s day. Here it is not.
Saeed taught me that: the things that happen in your life, you think they are happening to you, but they are happening for you. What is difficult to recognise, is that all of our challenging life experiences are initiations, they are events that are sent to make us into who we need to become and to help us learn. Except nobody tells you that. There wasn’t a ritual to show you how it worked. So nobody can tell you, because you wouldn’t listen or take it in, even if they did. As a result It feels like hell and madness to go through. And if you are unfortunate not to be capable of learning the lesson, you will keep repeating the experience in a never-ending cycle of Samsara.
When I first became a curator, I answered an advert a man had put in a local magazine, saying he was starting an art gallery and he wanted local artists. I went to him and presented my work. He was a guy in his mid- fifties, I was in my mid- twenties I saw that this man had no idea how to curate or run an art gallery, so I offered him my help. In hindsight now I can see that I ended up becoming a parent and an adult for this man, as well as the person who ran his art gallery. He always liked to say he had a “chequered past” and his experience was in dodgy dealings on the street, on markets, not in curating and organising an art gallery. I helped him to realise what was essentially a great business idea, just one that he didn’t have the stamina for. He preferred to stand outside, chain smoking and drinking coffee, to running the gallery. As business and personal dealings with him became more strained and I started distancing myself, the gallery went downhill and the man eventually closed it, running away with lots of artwork, owing a lot of money to a lot of artists, including myself. But I was never angry about that, because on some level I knew it was an initiation and I was on a path to having some keys to helping me sell my artwork and the artwork of others.
In Women who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes a buffet with all sorts of delightful treats laid out for us to survey and to choose from. We may get taken in by it, letting our appetites become aroused where there was none before. The Wild Woman, the person who is connected to her instinctual self, to her soul, never gets taken into making choices in this way. She instead asks, without looking outward:
“What am I hungry for?”… “What do long for?... “What do I desire?”… “Is that on the smorgasbord? Maybe yes and maybe no. In most cases, probably not. We will have to quest for it a little bit- sometimes for a considerable time. But in the end we shall find it, and be glad we took soundings about our deeper longings”.
Curating reality is not for the faint- hearted; in the East they call it “Warrior Training”. It involves opening up to the intensity of what goes on in our minds, our dreams, our subconscious, the intensity of life that we have tried for so long to dull with alcohol or whatever other addictions or behaviour patterns we might have. The pace of change and realisation can be so fast that it can give you vertigo. Opening up to our existential fear of boredom, of vulnerability, of intimacy, which are essentially fears of death, of living to the full, or of not being able to manage our own levels of stimulation. Our weaknesses and our irritability, our impatience doesn’t just disappear, as we hoped it might from our early successes with peaceful states in meditation. They may well flare up in their full intensity to show us where the roots are. In my experience things will often get a lot more intense, even more stressful, as life unfolds in exactly the way it must, to show you where all your Achilles’ heels are, before things get easier.
Eventually, you take a long, hard look at yourself, facing up to your demons or shadows. But the payoff is that you start to gradually loose the sense or the fear that you may be wasting your life. This does seem to be the only way to learn happiness and freedom. You start to curate your use of language and become much more aware of subtle differences: how are goals different from intentions? Curating reality sometimes involves non- action. Leah and I used to find that we would reach an impasse, when under pressure to curate our art shows in such a short space of time. We had to take a break, to walk away, to be still, just as we have to in life sometimes. Sometimes a pause, a letting things come to you is the only viable option. Setting intentions during yoga practice becomes tricky during these times: there is a void. But perhaps that is a sign that we are getting close to curating the beauty we crave.
Suddenly, from nowhere, apparently, there is a virus and this threatens our survival as a global species. Suddenly, now, we are to be contained. I could substitute the word container for containment, or confinement, or many other words. But some words will sound more political in their effect. These neutral words, like container, are archetypal in nature, poetic in their possibility to be received non- aggressively and their ability to create a sense of unity, or wholeness. Words like these become more interesting. Last night my life flashed before my eyes in my dreams. It was a beautiful nights sleep, in which all the symbolism seemed to make sense and opened me up to what I might be missing.
The first thing I remember is a body of water. I have travelled far over land to get here to this magical place. Water is supposed to be about emotions. This water is a beautiful turquoise. Sometimes I am in it, sometimes I am above it, looking at it from different angles. It sort of cascades, but not like a waterfall, it is smooth, in the way it flows, but there are different levels. The water isn’t necessarily being contained by gravity or by the things it is moving through, but it rises above the normal levels, similar to another dream I had recently where it was unclear what level the sea was at. The edges of the container, which I explore from an underwater perspective, are wild, like roots, like the sinkholes I explored in Mexico that have become a big part of my visual language. The watery scene seems to cascade down, like the Cornish gardens at Trebah, there is, perhaps a beach at the bottom, with a long rectangular, war- like building, the kind you get along the British coast line. It is light- coloured brick.
I am now in this building, this other sort of container. It is like a prison. There are bars on some of the sides. It has a few sections or cells. I will be locked in one of the cells, just until the morning, I am assured by a pleasant young man, for my safety. I am agreeing to this. It seems to make sense. As the man closes one of the barred gates to seal me in, he smiles at me, as if he is looking forward to seeing me when he comes to open the gate. I think he probably fancies me, but he is following some script laid out for him and he will never show himself to be deep enough in character for me to be drawn to pay attention to him. I feel a belated pity for him. As I get locked in, I see myself in a mirror at the other side of the cell. I am wearing a cool, slightly pointy orange dress and I am slightly surprised to see that I look very appealing, this must have been what drew the young man to me, I now understand. There is another woman with me in the cell, I am not sure who it is, but we decide to entertain ourselves for some of the time we are in there by putting on makeup.
We do the lipstick last and my friend chooses red, while I put on a shimmering dark pink lip- gloss, that reminds me of something I had when I was in my late teens. This would never have been one of my pastimes, putting on makeup with a female friend, and while my mum tried to spark my interest in makeup when I was in my mid-teens, it was a beautiful androgynous man, Brian Molko from Placebo that finally made me interested in makeup. But in this scenario the makeup isn’t being used in a gaudy way or to cover up our ugliness or imperfections. It is being used to highlight our beauty. We make ourselves beautiful. For nothing, for nobody, other than ourselves. We have nowhere to go, nobody to see us. There is a sad sort of beauty to this scene. It is a scene that would never have occurred when it should have occurred in my adolescence or in my early twenties, because I never ever felt beautiful. And it is a scene that would never have occurred with me and another beautiful girl, because of my shyness and the difficulties in being gay in that era. It is a scene playing out now in my dream and it is a scene being played out in my real life, as I live, what I am scared will be an all- too- short prime of my life, I finally appreciate my own beauty, and I nurture it in this time of confinement through yoga, through inner and outer work, but I do not really know what the purpose is, since nobody will see me. I must accept that there will always be this sense of sadness, this impermanence to any kind of beauty.
But there is someone who will see me. My wife. I am in a big Georgian- style house with big sash windows. It’s the kind of house, in size, grandeur and beauty that our baby- boomer parents tried to contain us in. Our parents went all out in providing these beautiful containers for us, worked themselves to the bone for this material security. But, as in Ibsen’s A Dolls House, they could not protect us, or make us feel safe from the underlying sense of darkness, the ghosts from their past, their parents’ past and the state of collapse that we were all exhausting ourselves towards. Labelling us “The Disaffected Youth”, they did not know how to handle our rebellion, the self- harm that we inflicted upon ourselves, the mental breakdowns we took the time to have that they never had time to have. We needed them to somehow know that no matter how ok they tried to make things out to be, we were sensitive souls and we did not feel like things were ok. In this house it is peaceful, it is dawn or early morning. It is green outside. In the corner there are some photos. One of them is an enlarged photo of my wife, Leah, in her wedding dress, it is the morning before our wedding, and the composition gives a sense of her, taking a few moments, in the space she is in, as herself, with her emotions, during that short period when we didn’t see each other, preparing ourselves for our wedding. She looks so beautiful. And I need to see this, to remind me of how lucky I am to be being contained with her, by her, at this time.
In other wedding scenarios, there is a sequence showing my mum, getting married to a handsome man, I think it is Antonio Banderas. It seems like a good idea, on paper, but as soon as he gets the paper in his hand, he gets up and leaves. My view cannot see where he is going, but I have a sense he may be just leaving for good. Marriages in and of themselves, as a container for people are limited in their efficacy.
I am in a bedroom at dawn and I hear the phone ring. My mum answers. I am just waking up and there is no urgency to go see if it is for me, though I suspect it might be. I go out to see who has called, Leah has been outdoors, but she has come back. The phone call was from the girl that Leah and I have fallen in love with, she has called to speak to us, asked us to call her back. The stuck energy seems to be becoming unstuck, as she reaches out to speak to us and we are joyful. It seems like an unlikely thing to happen now in our real life, since this girl has escaped the chaos of her life to self- isolate. This opportunity for containment, for isolation seems to have come at precisely the right moment for her.
But right now all bets are off and there is everything to play for. It is nice to re- contemplate the possibilities for joy.
I have to take my time before contemplating calling this girl back and I am transported on the back of a truck, like in Mexico, like sometimes when hitch-hiking in Greece. Then I am walking along a path, in a high up place. I look behind me and there is a native family walking past. I am shocked, stunned and outraged to see a tiny child, about a foot tall, with a round form and a red t-shirt: he is smoking. His parents, or elders walk on in front, beckoning him along. There is a mother, looking encumbered by the layers of clothes that are wrapped around her and carrying a basket on her back. Then I see, what I presume is his brother, a boy a bit shorter than me, I think he is smoking too, he is long and skinny and in a green t-shirt. I can’t believe that the state this family are living in is so wild, or so alien from my culture that this tiny child, the size of a toddler, would be allowed to smoke. Where is the containment? The older boy has many wrinkles on his face and I am suddenly struck by the idea that I am not sure whether these smaller people are kids at all, or whether they could be adult pygmy people. Maybe my initial judgement or shock was misplaced. I am confused.
A little later, I hear that this smaller child is going to be sent to jail for a few months or years, for a misdemeanour, presumably smoking. Although generally in waking life I do not agree with prisons and punishment, I somehow am relieved in this situation. Why should that be I ask myself on waking up and contemplating this part of the dream? Because I felt that this was a good solution in this situation, where there wasn’t enough containment. And perhaps also, there is an element of me needing to feel like, in the end, my initial judgement was correct, or needing some satisfying resolution. I learned yesterday in my morning breathing workshop that there is a chemical in the body called Resolvin. Apparently, Resolvin helps cells return to a healthy state of functioning, providing a satisfying sense of resolution, after a situation of inflammation and stress, but it is rarely given an opportunity to function in this high- stress situation we live in, this modern society. Perhaps I liked the sound of this because it gives the impression that there is the possibility for a temporary sense of resolution.
In the midst of all these dreams, I see a full view out of one of these big Georgian windows, but it is also like I am looking at a screen, because someone has posted on social media a photo, or artwork that has been made, through using an app. It is a woman, who has recently retired, but has been a stable person in my art career that has posted these images. The application takes all of the photos that you have shared on social media and composites them into a larger image, a gimmick that is often used in the art world, for example many pictures of women’s breasts from pornography will be used to make up an image, for example, of a cartoon character. This woman who shares these images obviously had lots of lovely photos of daffodils and irises from her English- style garden and the compositor app has converted them into an image of these flowers being viewed through a Georgian window. It is a strange dynamic of outdoors vs. indoors, screen reality vs. real reality, art vs. gimmick. I am struggling to contemplate the fact that technological corporations, which thrive on data and our need for efficiency and convenience, are seizing this moment to become all- powerful and to push our lives to be as online as possible.
With my interest in fitness, yoga and meditation classes I have been particularly struck by Move GB, which started a few years ago, piloting in Bristol shortly before we left the city. I assumed it was a government- sponsored organisation to get people more active. Not so, this is a private company, as I discovered through my research yesterday. I had been struck by how seamlessly, almost as soon as the lockdown went into effect, all the technology seemed to be already in place for the fitness providers to move their classes online. Move GB have now changed their home page to sell themselves as a hub where you can get all your fitness needs online from the “safety” of your own home. They were quick to contact all their “fitness providers” and convince them that going online was going to be the new thing, even if and when things do go back to normal. They also contacted them all to tell them that they were slashing the money that they were all going to be getting paid in half. This is the story I hear from one of my yoga teachers, who is now taking time to figure out what her next steps should be. 5G is also being piloted in Bristol, interestingly.
One can’t help but feel like there are and are going to be some very fishy things going on, as Amazon, Uber, Deliveroo and all these data- based companies consolidate their power and need to keep us online as much as possible in order to do so.
“The universe is exactly the way we think it is and that is why”. John Woods.
And so I have a responsibility to not see the world only as fishy. But I also have a responsibility to question how things work.
But what has struck me the most in everything that has been going on, is how keen to be contained the people who I know in this civilization have been. The way many of them seem to be containing themselves in an above- and -beyond kind of way, as if they had been waiting for this opportunity to “do the right thing”. I suppose I should view this as sweet in the caring nature it reveals, if only this caring nature will have the time to fully blossom into the kind of caring we now need. But I am also a little disconcerted by it. I have always struggled with containment and frequently resisted attempts to confine me wherever possible, as in when being told to put my seat belt on as a child in the car. I did not want to be in that car, the car smelled of diesel, I had seen cars that had driven off the edge of the cliffs and on top of this I was being made to put this confining thing across my torso that world stick into my throat and press onto my gut, exasperating the feelings of motion sickness I would feel on those windy roads. My parents probably saw this as demand avoidance behaviour, or as “being naughty”, as, apparently, I often was. And they got angry with me, which was the only obvious way they saw to deal with this behaviour, especially when there were schedules to be maintained. My pattern is to resist containment at all costs. But my language is getting political.
Nearly all the people in my life seem perfectly happy that the government is taking over and telling them what they should do. They are taking it as literally as they possibly can. This virus comes at a time when our society’s primary values are safety, security and comfort. Where can we end up, when we are all so scared of death, of the unknown and have such a need to block it from our consciousness? Leah’s black mother is elderly and lives in an old people’s social housing complex. She is not allowed to leave her flat, apart from to go in a small garden, in which you can only go one at a time. She is struggling to get hold of fresh food. She gets up, watches telly for a few hours, then gets bored and goes back to bed. She doesn’t know how much longer she has to live. She can’t see anyone. I would not want to spend what, you never know, could potentially the last months of my life like this. But it is maybe too soon to have these discussions.
Can I confess that I am much more scared of the ongoing implications of confinement, of what could become the “new norms” than I am of this virus? I have always known how vulnerable I am and I feel relieved the wider world is now getting to look at this state of insecurity and vulnerability that is our nature. Most people in this culture spend most of their time indoors and so, for the most part, their lives will not have changed all that much in that sense. I almost sense that most people are relishing this opportunity to be confined. Or, at least the people who get to do this securely in their own homes. Leah knows of a girl who works for the NHS and lives with an elderly grandparent. Safe isolation is a luxury that many do not get to have. Should I even mention the homeless here, who have probably never had a sense of safe containment in their lives, except, perhaps through chemical dependency? These street people, we like to think are now being safely contained somewhere, but are not at all and now have nobody to beg to. I needed to stay here, in this city to try and witness what is going on. And it is very difficult for me to make out what is going on. On some days the homeless seem to have completely disappeared. On others they are being patted down and questioned by police. On others they are back in their usual positions. But one thing is clear, that they are not being “safely contained”. This is not political, this is an issue of compassion, or of omission.
We are put on hold. It is a great archetypal moment of collective pause and that pause will sink in at different times for different people. Last night’s dream seems to have given me the permission to finally take a day off. I allow myself the pause to recover… something. Friends ask Leah questions about permaculture and how to make their gardens work better for the wild life.
For how long will people keep on board with being contained, confined or isolated? Can it go on indefinitely? Will our attention start turning towards the wild, towards the outdoors, towards the fresh air that stimulates our immune systems? Will hugging and all touch, the intimacy that is so lacking in British life, be permanently off bounds, or require the same level of consent or negotiation as sex? Will we all wear masks in the street as a sign of respect, as many do in China? Will we finally start to become more aware of the constant bombardment of hysteria we allow into our system from the media, as we simultaneously try to control whether unseen organisms will enter our system? The buzz- word of the moment in progressive circles is resilience. Resilience seems to have been lost somewhere along the way, subsumed by safety, security and comfort. Resilience and relaxation are twin sisters, one of my yoga teachers tells me. Do you think we need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable? My friend Jessa asks. Did she realise that this is a Buddhist teaching? Resilience requires the ability to look with open eyes at the situation we are in, whether it be emotionally, biologically, ecologically, politically, socially. Resilience is about cultivating a balanced degree of porousness. It requires the strength and bravery to process the grief of trauma, collective and personal. It requires a holistic view. I plead with you not to let safety consume or subsume a holistic vision and not to contain or repress your spirit.
And please don’t tell me to “stay safe”, as my nature makes me recoil from this. It tells me that I am a thing that you are trying to cling onto and that is not what I am. I am reminded of a scene before we went on our last adventure with the wild woman Lynx, where her partner admits that he hadn’t been able to organise the consent forms, through some failure of technology, or through some failure to engage with technology. Lynx steps forward and puts her hand in the air. She makes a gesture as if she were writing in the air.
“Here is what I like to do”, she says. “This is the contract, in the air”, she starts writing”, “We are all gathered here today, to acknowledge the fact that Life is fundamentally dangerous. And, as such, we all take responsibility to watch out for ourselves, and each other. Agreed? Ok.”
We all sign in the air. And then go off to spend a week sleeping amongst bears and wolves. Her wisdom is refreshing. And, coming from the society we do, one can’t help but feel a sense of fear of recklessness. The fear of recklessness stands out as being bigger than the fear of danger. There is supposed to always be someone there to protect us. Because we, the vast majority, are not adults who can be trusted to look after ourselves.
I am more scared of confinement than I am of a virus, that could kill me, or could make me stronger, but could I be convinced to be more scared of being responsible for making someone else sick or dead? Could that overwhelming sense of responsibility keep me confined? I had a dream that I believe dealt with that issue the other night. There was a danger in the corner of the room that we were letting lie still. A tiger. Leah went over to the other side of the room, I am not sure she has realised there was the tiger there, as she went very close to it. Remember, there is a tiger there, I say to her. She gets startled and, in her startled movement, startles the tiger, who gets up and chases her across the room, bringing her to the floor and mauling her. Leah is the only person that I can really directly have sole responsibility for harming in my situation. As I watch on in horror at her, basically being killed in a horrible way, by a wild thing I have no control over, I am powerless. I don’t necessarily feel guilt, but I wonder if what is happening is due to my negligence in some way. As I let out a “No!”, the tiger turns and starts coming towards me. I wake up with terror, as it reaches my feet. I also identify with the tiger and my own potential for conducting wild, destructive behaviour.
When do we start negotiating what degree of confinement is appropriate? Can we be trusted to have such an adult level of conversation, when we are unused to even talking about our feelings? I do not want to offend anybody by seeming to have a reckless attitude, or by appearing to question the virus as the thing we are being told that it is. I know a few people who have been quite ill lately, including my wife and that has been worrying. If you have been affected, or think you have been affected, or people you know have been, it is not that I am uncaring. It is that I need to acknowledge that, I don’t know and don’t currently know if I ever will know if what these people I am close to have is or was this virus. I need to acknowledge that I don’t really have any direct experience or knowledge of this thing myself, and not knowing if I ever will, is a very difficult thing for me, for most of us, to conceptualise, and yet we are being forced to care a great deal about it, unquestioningly, with nothing other than blind faith, with nothing more than numbers of ill or dead that come through on the radio. I want to take time to point to that lack of real knowing and to have compassion for it, it is a big deal, for, as Charles Eisenstein opened his great essay about the virus:
“For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point”.
We have lived so long in a paradigm when we thought it was possible to know things about the world, to know “facts” and we are discovering, over a relatively short span of time, that this fundamental thing we believed was true, is not. And that takes courage and bravery to look at, because, it is such a big change in thinking, to discover that there is nothing concrete. I want to also quote Eisenstein’s next paragraph:
“Covid-19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. None of the world’s problems are technically difficult to solve; they originate in human disagreement. In coherency, humanity’s creative powers are boundless. A few months ago, a proposal to halt commercial air travel would have seemed preposterous. Likewise for the radical changes we are making in our social behavior, economy, and the role of government in our lives. Covid demonstrates the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important. What else might we achieve, in coherency? What do we want to achieve, and what world shall we create?”
Alfred Adler believed that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. I think we are starting to see this is true.
Perhaps I am missing an opportunity for gratitude, when someone tells me to “stay safe” and I recoil. Perhaps I am even missing an opportunity for gratitude for the politicians that are looking out for me. “We have to trust our leaders at this time”, my friend Tom says, a staunch labour supporter. And he is right, in the sense that we have no other option (or do not see that we do). But this has never been my default position. Which is why I am getting an opportunity for a new perspective. I have loved having more contact with my family through this thing that is happening. But I cannot live my life virtually and it scares the hell out of me. Perhaps others feel they can. Maybe I am not yet grounded enough, maybe I have not opened my mind enough to see how a life online could be grounding. We, the civilized, have been going all over the place. I can accept some containment. Perhaps we will even start getting paid to be contained, if that is not what many of us were already doing.
I remember a conversation with my mum a few years ago, in which I said that I felt that something big was going to happen soon and that many people wouldn’t be able to survive. She asked me what I meant, but I couldn’t describe what I meant. And I don’t know that I was even talking necessarily about a specific literal event that would take place, more about an awareness of big changes that were going to take place, that were already taking place within myself, a compassion for how things would suddenly hit everyone else, people who would not be prepared for such big changes and would not have cultivated the necessary resilience for them. Or, perhaps a compassion for what I was going through, that I found difficult to explain to anyone else in my life. We are all equal in our vulnerability, though some, like our monarchs and politicians are more equal than others, as we see when they get to have blood test before everyone else. But what is really needed now is the grounding, the emotional containment and safety that only our healers, sages and the intelligence we find in nature and can offer us. This planet earth is our container, our ground for focus. We must start with this in order be able to expand out, set out on this steep learning curve and revise all our ideas about everything. And then, perhaps, eventually we can start to honour and to experience the eminent groundlessness, the exhilarating fundamental insecurity of our situation. This life is a container for that which cannot be contained.
On eating mouldy vegetables and the challenges of trying to balance spiritual pursuits with the practical realm.
I’ve been on my own here on our island for 5 days, Leah comes back tomorrow. It is day 5 of trying out living without a fridge. We thought that we would be able to use the fridge that was in the house when we bought it. It got left outside all winter while the building works were being done. When we came to take a proper look at it with a view to putting it in the house, we found that the previous owner had left a mouldy Tupperware in the freezer compartment for god knows how many months/ years and the seal around the door was all mouldy. It’s already a little traumatic scrapping that fridge, without considering the consequences of buying a new one, which will eventually be scrapped. I remember a dream I once had years ago, when in my early 20’s. A beautiful mountain village, the little buildings made out of stone. And in front of it: a big pile of broken fridges and washing machines. I remember because it was so vivid that I drew a picture of it. This is the state of things. It has been for decades. Fridges get shipped elsewhere so they don’t stay in front of the village forever, but they do go somewhere. You occasionally see them on the edge of olive groves, or along the side of the road, the “waste disposal” systems here not being as “efficient” as getting stuff out of sight and out of mind as they are elsewhere in Europe. Our house is so dinky it would just seem like having a fridge in there, making noise would just be too much of a strong presence. So Leah and I bought a couple of large ceramic pots to make an “old style” fridge out of- you have one pot that’s smaller inside a bigger pot with a layer of wet sand in between and a lid on top. Admittedly we still haven’t got around to putting the sand in and doing it all properly. We were using Leah’s parents’ fridge up until we left on our last trip. Transitioning takes time. It is not made easy.
So when I arrived back on the island a very kind new friend picked me up from the ferry port and took me to a greengrocers, so I could get some veg to tide me over for a few days. When I got back to the house I put them in a cotton bag and put them in the ceramic pot downstairs, figuring it was cooler downstairs. I cooked myself a couple of dinners, which served as lunches as well and so there was no real issue with stuff going off.
I’ve been having a wonderful quiet time on my own here these last few days. I meditate/ journal for two hours, I paint for 3 hours whilst listening to incredibly inspirational talks online (we finally have internet!), then I go to the gorge in the late afternoon sun for a walk and a cool dip. Then I come back to the little house, have dinner and write/ play music. If I didn’t need so much sleep I could fit in a run as well. As I’ve said to Leah, when I spoke to her on video call the other night: it’s been like my kind of perfect day. We joked, singing the song Oh it’s such a perfect day… I’m glad I spent it… on my own.
This morning I sat down to my meditation and I could feel inside myself that I was incredibly anaemic. Energy draining fast. Nearly that time again. I think of how I may be low on iron from eating just plant food the last few days. The sensation induces a mild panic, as I worry about whether I am looking after myself well enough. I have intermittently had this panic about whether I am able to look after myself ever since I left home at 18. I think it’s partly because my childhood was so medicalized, so many hospital and doctors visits, that when I got discharged from it all as a young adult I was left wondering: well, how do I know I’m ok? There had been so much worry about me not being ok, and so much measuring to check I’m ok, that how do I know if I’m ok now without all that? Also, my gut flora probably got shot from years of preventative antibiotics. I resolve to go to the restaurant to eat some meat for lunch after the meditation. I had been trying to hold off on going to the restaurant until Leah got back tomorrow. I’m trying to control my salt intake: that is difficult at restaurants.
I was able to put into practice some new techniques in my hour- long meditation and had an incredible experience in regenerating my energy levels. I make some quick notes then head down to the restaurant. They are packing up, the season is over! No tables, no chairs, just a lorry having stuff loaded onto it. Nooooo! Shit. Crestfallen I wonder what I will do instead. What’s the back up plan? The village is 5 kilometres away, stuff will be closing for lunch soon and I don’t fancy treking down there in the heat while feeling anaemic. Not going to be able to buy any meat, unless I call someone. I know there are people that would take me somewhere at the drop of a hat, but not necessarily in the village. I’m going through a hermit phase and I don’t want to call anyone for help. If I were here for longer on my own I would have to learn to do that. But not yet. I could possibly trek down to the village later when it’s cooler, if I get some food in me first.
I go back up to the house to check my stocks. There are a few veg left in the pot, but the bag has gone mouldy where it rests inside the pot. Veg breathe, you know. They create humidity. Probably would have been better just to hang them outside in a cool spot, like they did on the course with Lynx. I live and learn. But, after 3 full days of bliss and creativity, the practical realm has caught up with me and I’m not sure I have I done what’s necessary to plan for my basic survival needs. It’s not easy re-adapting when you are so used to having everything you need so close to you, you know, city life. If Leah had been here she would never have allowed this situation. She would have been straight down to the restaurant as soon as we got here so as not to miss out. She would refuse to eat veg out of a mouldy bag. There would be heated words exchanged. Maybe. I wash the veg off to see if they will smell of mould after I have done this. They seem to smell ok. The mould was mainly on the bag, rather than the veg. I decide to make a coconut curry and I go down to Leah’s parents house to borrow some spices. As I arrive down there, starving cats swarm around meowing loudly. The restaurant is closed and there are no more tit bits from there. They are panicking about their survival too. We are out of cat biscuits. But they are a sorry sight and sound, so I think… I can maybe give them some canned fish from the cupboard here. Then I remember- ah-ha I have some canned fish in my stocks up there too, that I can eat! Only canned octopus, down here. I open a can and dole it out, a little piece for each of the cats. I return to my little house with some spices and make my coconut curry with my mouldy veg and a bit of fish on top. It is delicious. Maybe a bit of mould once killed someone, or maybe on a few occasions. But I don’t think it will kill me this time. We’ll see…