Friday, 1 January 2016

The Time Between The Years.

"When the world breaks the light pours in. It's always been this way." 
~ Karen Young.

It's New Year's Day, quite early. The sun is just creeping up through the inky night. The house is silent, seagulls clamour suddenly above the rooftop, the familiar clicks and cracks as the walls and floors cool down after the heating has gone off. I am very grateful for this warm house. Not so long ago we were in a very different situation and every day I appreciate what we have now.
I love this time of year. I love the Solstice, and Christmas, and I especially love this part now, where the important day has been and gone, and we get to pause, retreat back into our burrows and sit by the fire, watch through the rain spattered window as the dark swirls around us like a pulse, a vital sign, barely gone from the east side of the house before it's back again; indigo nights coalescing into skies too omnipresent to simply be called grey. I want to find new names, to call them cesious, cinerious, griseous, plumbeous.  To stand beneath them, to feel the stinging rain and know that this weather, these grim skies, belong to this dear island of ours, no matter how much it shocks people to find it here in December. The darkness holds, pulls us deeper into reflection, contemplation, and so here we are resting between the years, looking both backwards and forwards, making notes from the past for the future. It's been a couple years since I had any definitive new year resolutions, but this year I seem to have a ream of them.

This last year was not an easy one, for the last few months in particular it has felt as though everything around us has begun to fracture, unravel and come apart, the world wobbles on it's axis; murder and terror in Paris, children and families drowning in the Mediterranean, marginalised people right here on our doorstep dying tragically, unnecessarily, climate change, rising sea levels, pollution, suffering of animals, storms, floods, the list goes on. It's as though someone hit the fast forward button and everything is exploding, multiplying, and we cannot stop the tide.
Now stay with me for a moment while I dive into this dark place that I know we don't want to go, I promise it finds the light again. I have been mulling over this post for some time, the words eluding me, like a timid deer somewhere there among the trees but not quite visible, as though some part of me did not want to look too closely at what I want to say. I realised that I was paralysed, I realised that feeling in my chest and stomach was grief. I know I am not the only one to feel this. I found the exact things I needed to read were popping up in my news feed, articles (highlighted throughout here ~ please make a big pot of tea and click on them for further reading), that were addressing these very questions and thoughts that were waking me at five am, the rising panic that it was too late. What on earth can we do? And above all, how do I talk to my children about this? They know. They feel it. In particular, ask anyone with (or who works with) teenagers and they will tell you, if they don't have first hand experience then you can be sure they know someone who does, (their teenagers definitely do). They are the vanguard, whether they like it or not, and they are telling us in no uncertain terms we need to face this because they don't know how to. We have sailed some stormy seas with ours these last two years, and even though it has not been something we have, until recently, spoken much about with them, I have no doubt this is part of it, the fear, the unknowing, their growing awareness, their expanding sense of self, looking to their future and thinking 'what the hell!?'

Was I just naive and now I am cynical? I think I was naive, but I think I am now realistic rather than cynical. I was looking the other way even when I thought I wasn't because I was aware and doing my bit, right? And I know many people dear to me are there now, and like me, too uncomfortable to really go there. But I invite you to, now, before we are forced to (well, I admit, we are actually kind of being forced to already), for as fast as the forest darkens and grows frightening, dense with tangled undergrowth and clinging vines, there are lights among the trees, flickering there, if we can just slow down our thrashing (or come out of our hiding) and look for them quietly, hopefully. And if we find one another in the darkness we have hope because there is still so much we can do. And yes, we may have to really shake up and change our ideas, our perspective, about some very fundamental things, such as what exactly it is we actually need to live our lives. It is uncomfortable, maybe even painful. We are nostalgic creatures, we really are. We love tradition, and our sense of place and who we are that history gives us. We have become used to defining ourselves by what we have, what we own, how we dress, what we look like. But perhaps it's time to be defined by what we do, what we say. We are all here at this time, and there is no getting away from that, so we might as well buck up and take up the challenge. It's very empowering to stand up and say f**k you, I am not sitting back on this any more. It's absolutely not up to our children, it's up to us, it's our generation that need to doff our hats and say 'I'm sorry, here let me help". It's important to grieve, to accept this state of affairs and in doing so release ourselves from the paralysing non-action we have been stuck in.

"Living more simply does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means being content with what is sufficient, and seeking enjoyment from non-material pursuits. Living in ways that are frugal and that minimise resource use should not be seen as a burdenor sacrifice that must be made to save the planet. These ways can be sources of great life satisfaction."
~Frederick Trainer

So how do we help our children? Hey Sigmund, a brilliant website I discovered a few months back, posted an article on this recently, which, while it may only skim the surface, at least helps to address the beginning of a conversation with them. Watch Tomorrowland with them, (it's brilliant - Disney meets Dr. Who, with a bit of Miyazaki thrown in, and 'if its diagnosis of what’s wrong with the world is ultimately simplistic and rather hokey, there’s still some truth to it' - what's not to love?) and ask them what they think about what Hugh Laurie has to say about the state of the world. I think they might surprise you with their depth of understanding.
Above all, talk to them, open up room for the possibility of having these conversations. Please don't pretend it's not an issue. In today's connected world you can be damn sure they are aware of it. We owe it to them to allow them to give voice to their concerns, to help them understand, because as we all know, misunderstandings can cause all manner of fear and confusion to the young, and that's why we are here for them.

"The answer is obvious. We don't need more scientific data or superficial behaviour change initiatives but to engage individuals at a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual level." 
~ Jo Confino

At times it may not seem like it, but there is much going on that is positive and hopeful. We know we really and truly cannot rely on the likes of COP21 to do what is necessary, so it's up to us, the real people. So go talk to your neighbour. Be visible. Ask questions. The bottom line is, start conversations. Honestly, in my experience people are relieved to talk about this. A kind of magic happens when people find their common ground, as I wrote about here before, and the most heartening things happen. There is power in coming together, it is tangible and real, and it is encouraging and gives you reason to get up and keep going. Find out what is already going on in your local area; if you live in Ireland check out ChangeX for a growing list of initiatives at community/local/grassroots level, and if you want to know how we started and made a success of Common Ground Bray, and Edible Bray, come and visit us, ask us, and we will help you do the same.

"However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. We humanise what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”
Hannah Arendt - Men In Dark Times.

Above all, remind yourself daily of all that is good and beautiful in this world, because this is where our hope resides. Physically get out into the forest, go up that mountain, it will help you sort it all out in your head and get the right perspective. For starters, read the illuminating writings of Maria Popova on Brainpickings, look at what they are doing in Canada with their Leap Manifesto, think about how you can implement a Simple Life Manifesto for yourself, check out Incredible Edibles in Todmorden in the UK, see what one small village in Spain has been doing since the late 70's, check out the Pachamama Alliance, and please share here in the comments any other things you think we should be reading or seeing.
There is nothing like a state of emergency to bring out the best in people. But I am proposing we initiate this response before it is actually a state of emergency. Here at the beginning of a New Year, we have an opportunity to reflect on what the coming year can mean for us. What do we want to invite into our lives? Let's reaffirm what a resolution really means, and why we make them at this time. Let's start living more co-operatively, open-heartedly, and honestly.
Reach out, and I bet you will find another extended hand taking yours.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Theory Of Letting Go.

"Kindled in earth, of a kind with all animals, kin to kittens, cubs and chicks, children are not aliens to wildness but akin to it, wild at the raw core. Their original fire is sparked by the embers of a world flame which also lights the peacock and the stars. Intimates of wildness, all of them." ~ Jay Griffiths, Kith

Yesterday was one of those days that arrives with it's own plan, an inkling the day before becomes a quiet certainty upon waking in the blue dark before dawn. Before my eyes were even open I knew I would be changing what I had planned to do that day, and so, instead of taking off without them for the two days I decided to go with my younger two boys on the adventure that had been planned for them for my absence. 
We gathered a little gang and we drove up into the mountains, marvelling as always that we have this right here on our doorstep, a mere 40 minute drive away. Every single day I love these mountains from afar, I see them each morning and afternoon as I travel to school, framed as they are now by glorious autumn maples that line the roads like merry medieval flags leading the way towards them. Some days it's hard not to bypass the turn for school and just keep going. These great tellurian mother's arms that encircle this town of ours here on the edge of the sea, I love them from afar each day, and some days I just have to go to them.

We arrived and we walked down the mountain into the valley to the lake, a winding road that found the children racing, roaring, tearing onwards ferociously as though trying to outrun all those indoor, sedentary hours of school and darkening evenings; that October-knowing in our blood and bones that the light is fading from our year, hastening us towards the dark point, turning our thoughts inwards, deeper, and we just have to inhale as much of it as we possibly can to keep us buoyant in the dark months ahead. 
There's something about all that wide open space that allowed them to just let out their inner Wild Things, yelling like demented moose across the valley to hear their voices yell back, (to the bemusement of the herd of deer grazing peacefully below), chasing, running, tumbling, like the pack of cubs they are.

This photo here, this was the moment of arriving, of stepping into the cool waters of Lough Dan after the race down the mountain, when they took a moment to take a breath, to reflect, and just be there.
In all the tumult and joyous riot of the getting there, I found myself thinking of a conversation earlier in the week with our youngest, aged 8, and his unexpected response to something I was sure he'd love: a lovely video of a child his age doing parkour in a purpose built learning gym, something he dreams about doing. Instead of being sparked and inspired by it, and running out the door to climb a wall or a tree or my car, as he would have just a few months ago, his first response was 'What if you fail?' Can you imagine my shock? Those words have never been uttered in this house before and I have to say it kind of broke my heart a little. When we talked a bit more and agreed that to get as good as the boy in the video you'd have to 'fail' (fall) quite a few times, he then told me that the people who owned the gym would be 'blamed' if the kids fall and hurt themselves, and it all came out then that this is what they are told in school. All the time.
Let's just say I am quite impressed with how I managed to not react as I wanted to...
(There may have been steam coming out of my ears as I smiled at him.)

It brought to mind the many articles I have been reading on Another Way of late, which talk about the mollycoddling that we are guilty of, and the affect this will have on our children as they grow up. Of how insane things are getting in the US around the issue of children being free to walk around by themselves, (seriously, just consider that for a moment). 
I've always considered myself defiantly permissive about letting my children roam, play on their own away from us and out of sight, light and tend fires, make decisions, rely on themselves...I could go on. But I do realise it's pretty much impossible today for our children to be as free as we want them to be, as they would want to be. It's so difficult to live in such a fearful society and not be tainted by it in some way, despite our best intentions. Every day I have to ignore that faint but squawking, hysterical mother-voice in my ear as my boys play out in the fairly busy street, cycling, chasing one another, and trust that they will be safe. It's not easy. But we have to do it, in spite of the neighbours grumblings (yes they do, on occasion). 

And I have even fallen prey to it myself. 
As we made our way back up the mountainside, their energy still, somehow, boundless, I actually heard myself warning them to stop; stop flinging themselves into the ferns, look there's big boulders hidden there; no, not on the other side either, there's a cliff! 
Honestly, they were in no real danger, yet I jumped in as though they were. Preempting a possibility. Just in case. Within minutes I heard myself and I was dismayed and I shut up, but following as it did so soon after my chat with my wee lad it really brought me up short. Am I doing this a lot? When did it start to creep in? Surely I would have noticed. And I am sure I am not the only one out there who thinks the title of 'helicopter parent' doesn't apply, (and of course it really doesn't in so many ways), and yet....for all our best intentions perhaps we really are all getting caught up in this? It permeates our culture so thoroughly, how on earth can we remain immune?

We have a responsibility to these small folk in our care, to trust them, and to trust ourselves. To know when to stand back and let them figure it all out, and eventually fly away on wings that are robust enough to take them where they need to go, for we know we do them no favours by hovering to make sure they are doing it right, do we? 
There is no doubt that they are well capable and willing, if we let them. 

We need to be those tellurian mothers, solid as the earth, arms out to shield and hold our charges but from a distance. 
And as they grow, some days we will be hidden by rain or mist or cloud, but always here for those days when they need to go to us, to be reassured. 
And even when we are not in sight, the knowledge that we are there is all the surety needed.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Forgotten Me.

Reflections on five days immersed in Nature.

How long is it since I lay with my face in the grass
breathing in the sharp green smell whose tendrils weave into my fibres
pull me back into the forgotten Little Me that I see mirrored in my youngest one.

How long since I muddied my knees
felt the rain on my face
dug up a worm
lay in the lee of a tree
examined a daisy
played all day, rain or shine?

I woke up this morning and it felt like a dream
a sun dappled, green dream
that had hidden
somewhere in the neglected silence
of the Little Me.

That place where mud and flowers and creepy crawlies live
Where their simple existence is a reminder of our insignificance
Our place in the grand scheme of things.

I was reminded to stop and look
to listen
And not just to the trees and the wind and the turning year
but to listen to my children
and to listen to myself.

For the first time in years my hand was taken in a childlike way
I was grounded
given roots
given permission
to not have answers
to be wrong
and most of all
to be Little Me again.

I woke up this morning and it felt like a dream,
a sun dappled, green dream
that has followed me into my day.

For anyone in Ireland interested in finding out more about 
Forest School Leadership Training, look here

Or in the UK look here 

Saturday, 10 October 2015

First We Get Away.

This post was originally written a year ago for Another Way. Myself and Martin Hodges, of Square Sunshine, had set up a Facebook Group under this name, which is proving to be the most active thing amongst all my social media. It's a place where people can share their thoughts, and posts they find online, around the topic of educating our children. This is a subject that has been taking up a lot of my headspace over the last year in particular, and one I will be writing about here regularly, and one which, clearly, a lot of people have a lot to say about. Parents are passionate about this, about what they perceive to be wrong with today's system, and the conclusion we are coming to is we are going to have to sort it out for ourselves.
So, my ranting sparked some lively connections, and a bunch of us like-minded folk got together one weekend to just get outdoors with our children and eat, play, love, and just hang out together. It was great. And out of it I wrote the following piece - the first time I'd written a blogpost in the best part of a year, which is what has finally led to the existence of Milkmoon ~ Part Two.


Last weekend, we drove out into the autumn mountains, the winding road taking us up away from the sea and into the wild wilds of Wicklow, down into deep, green valleys where the trees are just beginning to turn, that first melting of green into yellow and ochre and brown. 
Down we came, down the steep roads, across the rushing river, and the place we found ourselves arriving at felt like a refuge, literally the last house in the valley. No electricity, no running water, no phone signal. Perfect.

Here was a gathering of folk, families much like ourselves, many of whom had never met one another before but who were there because they wanted to talk, to connect with others who shared the same concerns of today: how do we guide our children, and ourselves, through this very new experience of parenting the first ‘touch-screen generation’, or Digital Natives, as they are being called. In the last couple of years having two older teenagers no longer gives me the sure footing of the experienced parent, as our knowledge garnered from parenting them in the late 90’s and into the first decade of the 2000’s, doesn’t cover this most recent, all encompassing development, (and indeed leaves us totally unprepared for what the teens are experiencing, but that’s another days discussion). 

Alongside this growing concern, is a strange dichotomy, whereby this digital age is, on the positive side, allowing us to put our voice out into the ether, and to hear common voices that others are putting out too. Suddenly topics that need to be addressed are gaining ground. Topics that before may have felt like a voice in the wilderness for those that were searching for communal ground and a place to be heard. Suddenly we are finding one another. We are connecting with one another, discovering we are not alone in our questions. For me now, the questions and uneasy feelings are about something we have never questioned before: our education system. And how does it fit in with this new app-for-everything age. It’s confusing, right? The pros and cons, the good and the bad, the amazing advantages and the horrendous disadvantages of this digital age. How do we find the right balance? 
Here’s something I don’t understand: we want the newest gadget, the latest update, the most recent version, of everything else in our lives, yet why are we not looking for the same for our children? There are countless writings out there on the latest studies on how children learn best, and yet, as the wonderful Ken Robinson points out, we are still using an education system that was devised for the industrial age, an antiquated system who’s purpose is to turn out workers. 
We know better. We do. But it’s so huge no one wants to tackle it. 

But what if we did? Us parents, and educators, what would we do? What are we already doing? It’s as simple as starting a conversation, because that is where the seeds are sown. If you have read this far, chances are you are on this journey with us already. 

Last weekend we started a conversation. We talked, shared ideas, and who knows where it will lead, but it is definitely a beginning. And here on this blog, and over in our Another Way Facebook group, we've started a conversation, and although we are all scattered around the world, we are all thinking the same thing, and that's what reassures me that change is on it's way.
And in the meantime we can get our children off those screens and outside into nature, back into the wild where they know how to learn without being told how or when or what goals they have to reach in order to be deemed successful. We owe them that much at least.

So, back in the valley, while the grown ups warmed themselves up, cooked up some food to share, got the fires going, and talked up a storm, our children ran wild. They forged the river, chased one another in the dying light as the sun sank behind the towering mountainsides, and even the darkness did not slow them down. Later, before we made our way to our candlelit beds, we sat by the river, around the campfire, and the conversations continued, our thoughts and ideas carried along with the rushing water, like prayer flags taking our wishes and dreams to the future. 

In the morning there is frost, the gorse festooned with dewey spiderwebs, a spider city revealed to us as though our time here has granted us special Nature Powers to see, really see the world around us. Driving home the road steams, mist drifting into the sunlight, and the trees across the valley seem to fall away from us, as though we are skybound. We feel energised, renewed, cleansed. In the back of the car, Billy (age 7) cannot stop talking, and do I imagine his voice is lighter and clearer than yesterday? There has been no mention of the iPad in the time we’ve been here. ‘When we get home can we smash the iPad with a hammer?!’ he calls out with slightly manic glee in his voice. There’s a moments silence and we all burst out laughing at his uncharacteristic drama.

And as we pause at a crossroads on the road, turning towards home but for a moment gazing at the further mountains that seem all too inviting,  all at once we see them, a pair of sika deer hidden among the trees, the dappled light almost fooling our eyes. They pause in the dim glade, gaze at us shyly, and for that moment we are held captive, connected to this creature who’s curious eyes meet ours with calm acceptance. 

Eyes shining, hearts singing, we make for home, yet he takes us with him when he turns and melts into the deep green of the woods.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

About This New Thing Here.

For six years this place was my blog home, the place where I wrote about being an artist and a parent, the beautiful environment I found myself living in, the weather, and my musings and reflections on these things. I stopped writing here when my life took a very new direction following a number of changes that happened in our lives which I found difficult to navigate for a while, a significant one being leaving the beautiful place we had grown our family in. But now, more than two years after moving, and over a year after winding up this place here, I have a new sense of where things are going, as though my head has finally just broken the surface of the fast, muddied eddy that I have been caught in. I'm not clear yet, there is still murky, choppy waters ahead to negotiate, but it's a move in the right direction.

I am an artist, first and foremost. I stitch and mend things. Thread, needle, wool. I make. I also use words. I use them as I would a paintbrush, suggestions rather than hard lines, and I love to use them to reflect on those things such as what I mentioned above. The path I weave in my art is patchy and only faintly consistent, as I suffer from distraction and great ideas that have nothing to do with art, that pull me off down into exciting rabbit holes of adventure, and which I gladly explore and always love to share with others.

Over these last two difficult years a number of different things have begun to take root, and not only are opening up exciting ventures both personally and as a family, but are prompting me to examine more than ever how we live, and our response-ability in the choices we make. How do we do this thing, this Living In The Modern World? The time has gone when we can just look the other way, or stick our heads in the sand and pretend that all will be well if everything looks good. We now need to put up our hand and say 'I pledge to strive to live a sustainable life', to do the best we can, no matter what, and, to paraphrase Paul Kingsnorth, author of One No, Many Yeses, a book which was a turning point for me and one I refer to again and again, to figure out our own Yes in the multitude of yeses that are in response to the one resounding NO. The no, in this case, being 'NO, we won't be part of this plunder any more, we won't buy into the rampant consumerism that has it's claws in every one of us and is sucking the meaning and joy and poetry out of Life, and (insanely) is destroying the only damn thing we have to keep us alive, this beautiful planet of ours. The insane part of it is that we all know this, yet those insidious claws go deep and most of us haven't a clue how to extract ourselves because it's all so neatly sewn up that it appears we cannot.
As Marshall Rosenberg said: "We're living on a planet where we have enough resources to meet everybody's needs. We've enough food so it isn't necessary for millions to starve. We have the medicines that could be preventing millions from dying of diseases. So it's only the consciousness that we need to alter..." 

But we all do our bit, in however small a way, and here in these reawakened pages I am attempting to create a new place where I can bring together the many different strands of this new, resolute part of my cloth that I am weaving now; how we eat, how we educate our children, how we live, how we commune, and how we express ourselves on these subjects. I am no expert on any of these things, but I muddle through, and am willing to try, and to share this journey with whoever is doing the same.
Because I for one am not ready to give up and walk away, as Mr. Kingsnorth has. I understand why he has, and some part of me thinks he is right, but I'm just not there yet. I need to have hope. And so I will keep trying, I'll keep on trying to figure out the how, for whatever good it does. Because our children shall inherit this earth, and when my child turns to me, as has happened, and cries and asks why we are so beholden to money and why we believe we can only do what we are told we can and cannot do, and not what we know is right for us, I want to be able to say that, at the very least, we did our best to do what is right, to do things our way, and that will have to be good enough.