Saturday, 23 February 2013

To make things stay

Andy has now got me into lomography too...I bought him a real camera - it uses actual film! (can you tell how young I am?) - at Christmas. I really liked seeing the photos he was taking, but thought it was probably too fiddly for me.

But! Now he has bought me a little plastic camera too. I haven't taken real photos since I was about 14.
The whole process of looking reminds me of the state of mind needed when drawing.
It also has the bonus of distracting me from the loss of Lyra. Nothing ever takes the thoughts of her from me completely, and I wouldn't want it to, but grief is so, so exhausting. It is good to let the mind at least pretend to focus on something else.

In the film Blade Runner the replicants take lots of photos. I always interpreted that as their way of trying to hang onto their lives, because they knew they are going to be so brief (in the film the replicants are built to have a limited life span).
Ever since Lyra died, I have found myself taking endless photos on my phone. Photos of everything. Of us out walking, of us eating dinner, of us on the computer, what I'm wearing, sunsets, town...Now I have a real film camera to use as well. It seems more magical, not knowing what the pictures will be like, if they will have worked...

And in each photo a moment is captured, so that even though everything in life is truly without stability, without ground, for a moment I can make things stay.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Hidden World

We just watched a documentary about Iceland and the belief that remains there of a Hidden World. This hidden world is populated by elves and faeries who seem to inhabit rocks and stones. The elves are referred to as Hidden Folk or Huldufolk.
The prevalence of this belief is such that sometimes the authorities have the alter the paths of planned roads, so as not to disturb certain stones.

You can watch the full documentary film here.

Friday, 8 February 2013


Frida Kahlo suffered several miscarriages in her life and never had a living child. 

I've been reading a great deal about her in the past week, revisiting some of her work. Frida has always been one of my favourite artists from history, as she is to many people.
I had always felt kinship with her, based on not very much at all: the impact her husband had on her life and her adoration of him (although I am far more fortunate than her in that I have a loyal partner), her bisexuality, her eccentric and lavish clothes, her lack of concern with her facial hair (!), her love of self examination via self portraiture...

The sense of loss in her works now speaks to me much more clearly than it ever used to, and makes me feel a stronger form of kinship with her.

This form of loss is obviously something I had hoped never to have in common with anyone. Despite this, one of the gifts of this loss has been to hear the bravery and love in other women's stories, and to receive their generous support of me. 

Frida, like many women, had the bravery to turn her grief into an energy which fuelled her work.

I feel very inspired by this.
It is possible to create, even if it is not the creation of what I wanted at the moment...There is something both empowering and cathartic about making. Life can still contain art, creativity, adventures around the world and love, even in the face of grief. Frida had all these things, although she suffered terribly with ill health and pain (and through betrayals by Diego). I am luckier than her. 

I have made a self portrait since Lyra died.
I think it shows something of what I feel, and making it helped me see more of what I am feeling. 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Mustard Seeds

Here is an old story, retold by me:

Once, long ago in India, there lived a woman called Gotami. From her childhood she was nick-named Kisa Gotami, which means 'Skinny Gotami'. Because she was not beautiful she struggled to find a husband. Eventually she did marry and soon found that she was pregnant.

Gotami felt happiness for the first time. The months passed and she endured the discomforts of pregnancy. The fire of labour came to her, and she endured it, and bore a son.
He was the most beautiful being she had ever seen, and she was filled with love and joy.

But soon after birth, the child died.

The grief Gotami felt tore her world apart.
She began passing through the village, cradling the body of her child, asking for help. One man, seeing her sorrow and pain, told her that outside the village a great Guru was giving teachings. He was known to have incredible powers and could surely help her.

She went to the Guru at once.

As she neared, he could see that the baby this woman held was dead.
"Please," she begged him, her eyes shining with panic and grief, "Please make me some medicine which will help my baby."
"I will help you," the Guru answered, "Go back to the village and collect a handful of mustard seeds, one from each house. Bring them back to me and I will make you a medicine."

Gotami stood up and turned to leave, but the Guru asked her to wait.
"Each seed," he said to her quietly, "Must come from a household where no one has encountered death."

Nodding, Gotami turned and ran back to the village.

She pounded on the door of the first house she came to. A husband and wife answered. She told them about the mustard seeds that she needed. They shook their heads sadly.
"I'm sorry," the man told Gotami, "Both my parents died last year, within weeks of each other."
"I'm sorry," the woman also said, "When I was a young girl my father died in my mother's arms."

Gotami expressed her sadness for them and then hurried on to another house.

This time a woman answered, two little boys running around her feet. Gotami winced and quickly related the words of the Guru.
The woman, who had looked happy, looked suddenly sad.
"I'm sorry for you," she said, "But when I was younger my brother became depressed and he took his own life. So I cannot give you the seeds you need."

Gotami paused longer, talking with the woman, telling her how sorry she was.

The next house she came to, Gotami was slower. Her panic was fading. She knocked on the door and it was answered by an old man. As before, this man told Gotami how his wife of many years had died a few summers before. He wept as he told her, and Gotami held his hand and listened to him speak.

Gotami went to one more house. A woman younger than Gotami came smiling to the door. Gotami made her request, a tiny spark of hope in her heart. But when the young woman saw the dead child that Gotami carried, she began to weep.
"I cannot help you," she said through her sobs, "I was pregnant before, but the child died inside me, before even reaching birth."
Gotami put her arm around the girl and they wept together.

As she left the village, Gotami turned towards the forest.
She found a secluded clearing, underneath a tall, broad tree. There she dug a hole and she laid her son in it. She kissed him once and covered him with earth.
Then she walked slowly back to the Guru.

As she neared, the Guru could see that Gotami no longer carried the child. Her face was tear stained but calm.  She could see that the Guru's eyes were burning with compassion for her.

"Teacher," she said, "There was none in the village who had not encountered death."

He nodded, "There is nothing that lives which will not die, and there is no being living who has not felt suffering." 

Gotami nodded, understanding that she was not alone in her sorrow.

Then the Buddha said the following teaching to her, "It is better to live one day seeing the Supreme Truth, than to live one hundred years in ignorance of it."

Gotami became a follower of the Buddha. The story says that she eventually attained the freedom of Enlightenment.

Today I pray to her.