Beyond Borders – a Scottish Summer

beyond borders 2017

How lucky am I?  I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty which is just a stone’s throw away from The Edinburgh Fringe and International Festival, I can indulge in our own Creative Peebles Festival right on my own doorstep and Beyond Borders International Festival  is mere spitting distance away at Traquair. It seems as if the world comes to me to share the Scottish sky of skeeting clouds and blue heavens promising to come out of hiding if you wait long enough.

This summer there were no trips away or exotic holidays, but I was lucky enough to see a great production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and the upbeat and cleverly staged Adam by Frances Poet, both international in flavour and apt for today.  I spent yesterday and today at Beyond Borders listening to remarkable people talking about human rights and seemingly intractable world issues and making those issues so very human. The talented Barbara Dixon provided lunchtime tunes on Saturday and Raj talked us through a wonderful yogic start to the day. Traquair grounds are chilled and friendly.

I’ve bought books at the Edinburgh Book Festival but haven’t had a chance to open them. So, I restrained myself from purchasing at the Beyond Borders festival, fearing I may never hoover the house again as I indulge my nose and eyes in flipping page after page. It has been a good weekend.

I spent a day with the Playwrights’ Studio doing workshops and socialising with others interested in theatre. And then there was the Edinburgh Art Festival 2017 day spent among other keen writers. August has been indulgent.

My weekend earlier in August with the Go Big Women’s Activity Group was entirely different. I’m all for variety and challenge in life. I just wish my knees were younger!  We could all do with indulging ourselves more often.

Gorge Walking August 2017

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Edinburgh Art Festival 2017

 

 

Today I had a gloriously sunny morning in Edinburgh writing poetry with a talented bunch from Helen Boden’s Ekphrastic writers’ group. We were escorted by Helena of Edinburgh Art Festival around the current celebration of Patrick Geddes and his contribution to Edinburgh’s built environment.

Here’s what I did:

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The Sociology of Autumn by Toby Paterson

Society

Systems

Panels of coloured perception.

Interwoven, rigid, metal, gapped,

forced rectangles of education,

politics, gender, race, economics, and more.

The individual weary of conformity.

Autumn: social, cultural patterns

nearing the end?

Remnants of the past.

Our cohesion

gapped and scaffolded

giving way to TV

the internet

Netflix.

Everything has its time.

 

I liked this installation by Toby Paterson. It reminded me of home – Basildon in Essex: a new town. I grew up with these sociological ideas. Yet the irony of Chessels Court and how time changes ideas to functional practicality is that it was designed as a city garden with a pioneering nursery for children and now there are two signs saying “No Ball Games” and the lower windows of the original social housing, meant to create community, are barred. IMG_20170808_111333044

 

I loved the Palm House by Bobby Niven in the Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden which is not normally open to the public.

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The Palm House by Bobby Niven
This lovely setting and its installation inspired the following:

Chip, chip, dappled, dip, dip.

Sanded fingers stretch into

the imagination of a working artist.

Bright lit and natural,

the oak and glass stand proud and pristine,

reaching to the apex of creative thought

settled in this garden.

Cool, hidden corners cradle the sky-drenched artists’ space.

This is my kind of garden –

Wild and natural and unexpected:

a verdant escape from crowds and bustle.

Teaming with meaning

Bugs and brains

Light and shadow.

Aaaah!

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For Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership I wrote:

Inflated greed punctured

by mummers with leaves of green and darling primary pupils

demonstrating their opposition

through soft fabric and pudgy-footed dragon toes.

An angry red mouth emits a silent roar.

It’s cute

This social rebellion.

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The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership by Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich
And finally, the video and potted plant installation called With the sun aglow, I have my pensive moods by Shannon Te Ao inspired the following poem:

Brushed pale skies stretch

yawning over the wild grass panoply

while speckled power lines,

the towering transporters of man’s energy,

take their place,

foreign and misfitting –

necessary –

for human connection across the vast expanse.

 

Two bodies, shoulder to shoulder,

dancing at dusk,

holding tight for humanity,

for the natural connection of bodies.

Yearning,

holding

hands tight and tender:

the foliage of life in its elemental

original form …

Yet,

An earring adorns a lobe:

a foreign body part.

We have always

desired union with

the foreign.

Hypersensitive Nerve Pain

img_20160911_215620007So, the physio this morning spent ten minutes making me sweat with pain as she massaged my injured torso.

I am so determined to be fully functioning again, I give gorge walking a bash, as you saw in my earlier blog – and get out of the water early and walk along the path once the nerve pain and tingling in my hands becomes an issue. Never mind. I still did it. I still got to join in with other adventurous women. I still got to feel like I once used to. I couldn’t sustain it but am so glad I did it anyway. Inside I am an adventurous woman. In my head. The body’s been a bit bashed about is all.  I knew I had my appointment this morning if anything desperate happened and I stopped whirling and floating in the water early to protect myself.

My physiotherapist, lovely Sally, took to the massage oil almost as soon as I arrived. She demonstrated the pressure she was using by massaging my good side. No pain. Touch my right side and I break out in a sweat. My glasses steam up! The pain is bad. In my last mammogram, I was taken out of the machine just as I was about to faint with the pain. But Sally says if I massage through the pain – three times a day for ten minutes each time – I will desensitise my nerves which are telling me I’m in pain when, really, I’m not – it’s safe – and we have to get those pesky nerves used to the pain so they stop acting up! Lots of sweating about to happen in this house then. The body is a strange thing.

Since my cancer operations and subsequent radiotherapy, in late 2013 and early 2014, I’ve been in constant pain in my chest, side, neck, shoulder and down my arm. My mouth used to be so dry I drank water all the time and nothing lubricated. My eyes are now so dry, I need daily gel to moisturise them. I even get up in the middle of the night and put more gel in the left one, as it sticks shut and wakes me up. I have weak muscles, tingling thumbs and fingers. My jaw and cheek hurt as I tense myself to protect my body from pain. It’s been a waiting game – three and a half years.

I am so glad to finally see a physiotherapist who knows just what I need and says it is a common problem for breast cancer patients. I just hope she proves to be right. She is sending me off to an MSK physiotherapist for my knees which play up since taking Letrozole. It isn’t cancer I’m recovering from, it’s the treatment for cancer: surgery, radiotherapy, drugs.

But along with my physical pain, there are multiple other issues. I’ve taken early retirement through ill health because I simply cannot sustain school teaching while my body is tiring so much. It becomes prone to viral infections which lay me low. It isn’t fair on pupils or colleagues to repeatedly be absent and I cannot thank my school, Galashiels Academy, enough for all the support and patience they have shown me. But no job equals no money. I’m too young for a state pension. My own pension doesn’t even pay my council tax. I still have a mortgage. My house has been on the market for six months and no sale. I need to get the equity out of it to invest for a small income. I’m trying to reduce my stress so my body doesn’t succumb to viral infections from being tired and, unfortunately, my circumstances are stressing me!

Being single and being a woman are both tricky financially. I’m not complaining. I’m a woman, after all, we are resourceful, but sometimes, just occasionally, it gets me down that I have a degree, I’m bright, I’m committed, I’m experienced and I’m still powerless because money is power, power is control and I don’t have much of either. I’m no different to so many women and, no doubt, a lot of men. But a degree and a profession are meant to protect from financial insecurity. Staying home to look after children punctures that equation good and proper.

Yet, I still maintain that those years where I prioritised my children helped them grow in resilience. Teenage years chucked a lot their way and they didn’t escape unscathed, but as life settled down they returned to the strong and caring individuals they are, secure in the knowledge they are loved. But the irony is, I have always worked, freelance or part-time from home. I just squeezed it in around my family. And my efforts to keep my finger in, to do a little freelance work, did nothing to give me financial security in the long-term.

So, now, because I value work, I am struggling with not working. I feel like I should be working. I apply for jobs. I plan self-employment projects. But the reality is, my body still needs time to properly heal. I am going through the benefits process and even that is hard in terms of it being done at a distance. There’s little leeway to hold a conversation and ask questions when all you’re doing is filling out a form with boxes; following a designated path through the bureaucracy. Life feels inhuman at times like that.

I must go now that I’ve explained my circumstances. I’ve excused myself for looking well yet hope you understand I am not fit enough to work and support myself like I once did. It is hard having to re-evaluate who and what you are. I would like to still be the girl pictured at the top of this story working at the University of Illinois; the girl who cycled to work in London, fearless of the traffic; the woman who held down a full-time job and established a respected community theatre group at the same time. The mental transition to being me but a less dynamic me is difficult.

I’m going now to lie down for ten minutes and create a sweat with some olive oil. If you’ll excuse me … Ouch!

 

Gorge “WALKING”

Gorge Walking August 2017Yesterday I spent my day bumping and buffeting my way downstream in a cold August Tweedsmuir. It was a microcosm of life.

One minute you are laughing at life’s vagaries: the slippy stones planted in your way, ready to trip you up, but you dance upon them lightly. The next moment you are swept away in the current unable to control your speed or the direction or even find your footing.

It was a wonderful day. Safe and risky at the same time and it reminded me to go with the flow and laugh while you panic. And to remember to have a cosy bath, good hot food and to relax after the effort.

Thanks to Jo and Biggar Adventure for organising the day and a huge thank you to the brilliant group of women who came together to laugh and support one another in wetsuits!

Getting started on Playwriting

So pleased to be on this playwriting programme with Jules Horne and the lovely Kirsty Jobling (pictured). Kirsty played my daughter in The Gap by Oliver Eade when we toured Borders Banter around the region with Odd Productions.  Dorothy Bruce’s See Them Rats completed the Banter production back in 2012. It is fitting that I was directing new writing from the Borders then and now one of the cast is with me on a project to create more Borders writing for production.

 

Wheelchair Or Not. An Afterword.

I am sharing my friend, Phoebe’s, post below. She is a struggling with ME. I feel for her because being unwell is rotten and because I recognise a lot of what she says is true for me.

I too carried a mental image of what I should be in the world and it didn’t include being a single mum or having cancer or having to retire early due to ill-health.

High tempo secondary teaching meant I continually had oral thrush, herpes in my mouth, nose and eyes, exhaustion through a low thyroid and fear that, while my body was fighting these minor immune issues, my cancer was being given a back gate invitation to recur (they didn’t get all the pre-cancer out due to it being back against my ribs).  I think being run-down gives these diseases a chance to take hold. Additionally, the radiotherapy left my right ribs very tender and painful. I am compromised in health and finance. They go hand-in-hand.

I want to work. I like working both for the challenge and the social aspect. It’s good to be part of a team. I simply need to work in an environment that allows me time to recuperate if blisters erupt. It doesn’t take long for my body to heal if it gets a quick response from me and I let it rest a little.

I am planning on making more of my writing skills through publications and workshops/talks. Maybe my new novel, The Organ Donor, which I’m editing just now, will bring in some money. I hope so. Maybe the Playwrights’ Studio programme will open a new avenue of productivity and pay.

Moreover, I love yoga for restoration – Yin yoga – and I hope my reputation as a specialist in that will grow. I start at the Eastgate Anne Younger Studio in October with Yoga Zone. Tutoring is an option.  Borders Youth Theatre may need my services. And I need to sell my home of twenty-four years.

Unseen illness is more common than you think. Like Phoebe, I look well. For that, I’m grateful. And for the massive support I’ve had from school, the council, my family and friends I am very thankful. Something is going right!

me by David

puffins&penguins&me

After my last post I realised something, albeit with the help from my counsellor. It’s not what other people might think about me as an occasional wheelchair user that is holding me back, it’s what I think of myself.

This life was not meant to happen to me. I’m meant to be living in my beautiful flat in Leith, Edinburgh, with views of Edinburgh Castle to one side and Fife to the other. I’m meant to be working, advancing my career at Cyrenians, or maybe I would have moved on to another charity. I was meant to go to Antarctica. The wildest and most unlikely of dreams I ever had came true, I worked hard and I made it come true. I was chosen, trusted and selected as one of the four staff to work and live at Port Lockroy, the ‘Penguin Post Office’, for four months. My main role…

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The Slave’s Lament

Last week I joined Helen Boden,  a specialist in writing from art, at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh to see Graham Fagen’s The Slave’s Lament installation (on until 29 October). It was a fascinating 45 minutes sharing reactions and thoughts with others.

One participant, a Greek national, told us of the Syrian camps in Greece today – the shocking but, sadly, unsurprising, exploitation of vulnerable people. Another sparked curiosity about the nature of consciousness when she revealed her mother had been in a coma for three years and she had been compelled to prove her consciousness. I remembered meeting an elderly man from Virginia when I was a research assistant at the University of Illinois in 1980 who spent a good hour tutoring me in the “fact” that the negro is not a fully formed human. Our flawed humanity and unwillingness to embrace all humanity in compassionate terms are given a historic anchor through this moving and beautiful installation.

Go and see it. Take time to absorb the mix of classical strings and the sweet voice of the golden toothed reggae artist, Ghetto Priest. See the three ships go sailing by and marvel at the suggestions embodied in the bronze rope sculpture. The tree, the noose, the roots, the fraying reach for better times are all entwined.

Gorgeous and thought provoking.