The Long Journey To Claiming Books

I was brought up to treat books as sacred. They were a source of knowledge. You get your education and you’d have choices in life. You’d move on in the world. Have a better life than your parents before you.

Books were the gateway into this Paradise.

Each week, we would walk into town from our maisonette, along the busy dual carriageway. Once in town, we’d go to the market, to the one book stall and pick out a book. They were the tradition fairy tales with pictures and text.

If not them, then Enid Blyton books. For some reason, I felt the importance of books and the connection of them to my dad. He’d read us bedtime stories and I’d just love to be in his presence then. As he was softer and loving. Different from the angry man he was at all other times.

For some reason, who knows what goes through a child’s mind, I took to doodling in one of these fairy tale books. I want to say it was Snow White, but I could wrong.

A whole heap of scribbles and doodles took over the pages of this book. Why use the book when I had plenty of blank white paper? As I said who knows what goes through a child’s mind.

I just know that my father found the book and shouted at me with rage. And beat me. I’d done something wrong. I’d ruined the book. I’d ruined my chances of getting on in the world. I’d gone against the unwritten rule( or was a spoken one?) around how to respect books.

Older now, I hunt for books. I buy my own books. I read then. Some I don’t. Some I keep or give away. And some I purposefully, consciously make the decision to repurpose. Reclaim them.

I tear out pages and I cut these up. I smear paint on the pages left in the book. I stick images in them, tape, stickers. And yes I write in them. I write out my hopes and fears. My desires and dreams. My memories and traumas.

I think I was brought up right. To treat books as sacred. But it’s what you do with those books that count, I think. And a book has multiple uses/ purposes. I think. Multiple ways and means of instilling knowledge and opportunities and freedom.

It’s been a long journey for me to get to this point of choices. But I claim them all.

Eyes Wide Open

Sometimes I use my journal space for a rant. For a deep and meaning conversation with myself. It’s the space I can go to and be totally me and know I won’t be judged.

My visual journaling space is a time and place I can come to make sense of things that are bothering me. Which have me thinking and sometimes hurting. But it means getting it out on the page, gets it out of circulating around my body, mind and soul and pulling me down and holding me back.

Within these pages which are a mix of paints and images and words, I make sense of the world on my own terms. There might be other people’s voices that invade this space, but for the majority of time my voice reigns supreme. There is no where else in this world where my voice holds such sway as it does within this visual journal practice.

I get to try out different voices, registers, ideas and know it’s safe to show up here in all my fucked up glory.

This has been so appreciated and welcomed in these last few weeks when I’ve been stepping out more into the physical world as well as into new, expansive virtual adventures.

Knowing that I can come home to the page, after each encounter, good and bad, gives me permission and confidence to show up out there more and more as my whole self.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

I received a scholarship from Lighthouse Writers to complete a four week course Reading as a Writer – Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu. It’s taught by Angelique Steven who is another brilliant memoir writer.

I really hadn’t heard of the book before this course but I was drawn to it as what I’d read from The New York Times review was that Pilate Dead from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is mentioned and her missing navel.

In Song of Solomon Pilate’s “cut off from her people early” left without a trace of her physical connection to her mother. Pilate spends her life adrift not making any real connections with other people and places rootless and unrooted. But the flips side of this is independence and freedom.

Nadia Owusu, through Afershocks, explores through her memoir her own rootlessness. What does it mean to be rooted? A daughter of an Armenian-American and a Ghanaian UN agency worker, Nadia is born into movement, travel diversity and trauma. She’s becomes fascinated with place because no place belonged to her.

Aftershocks takes it premise and structure from earthquakes, with shakes, rumbles foreshocks and upheaval affecting the narrative as it moves backwards and forwards in time. The present is marked by Nadia spending a week in a blue chair just rocking as she suffers a breakdown, after her whole world is devastated when she learns a different reason for her father’s death. A father she idolised since her mother abandoned her at the age of two and was fleeting in and out of her life since then.

I’m so enjoying reading this book as a reader but also as a writer as this means I’m carried along with the narrative, the shakes and rumbles along fault lines, at the same time as deconstructing it, exploring underneath the lines to find out how Nadia put this beauty together.

This is all helping me think about my own hybrid memoir and how this will be structured but also it’s giving me permission to put in stories and experiences that maybe I was shying away from before.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Nadia states, “I write towards truth, but my memory is prone to bouts of imaginations. Other’s remember events differently. I can only tell my version.” This so hit a chord with me. A disclaimer at the beginning to let the read know this is the truth, but how one individual feels it and it might be embellished a bit.

And then when someone in the course group mentioned how they find Nadia so narcissistic in her writing, only focusing on her thoughts and feelings. I was like ‘HELLO!” This is her memoir, her story to tell, because who else is going to tell it?

Angelique, the course tutor said, while writing a memoir you walk a fine line. The line between narcissism and humility. When you can create the balance between the two extremes then you have yourself a brilliant memoir.

I can only say I’m working on it. And that brings me joy to say that, I’m working on it.

I would recommending this book, Aftershocks, as it’s so well written and even though details an individual’s life experiences up to the age of 28, there are still universal themes and episodes within this text that will not only draw you in with wonder and awe, but will also get you wandering down your own path of memories and natural disasters to try understand your own nuanced neurosis and make-up and sense of self.

The Situation is Ruined

The bride stays calm in her three tiered dress.
Pretending not to notice the munchkins
slicing into the her bodice or the gingerbread man
chewing on her trailing lace.

With each full toothed grin, she hopes she dislodges
the sharp prongs of scorn cutting
into her skull from her tiara.
Hopes she flicks off the droplets
of bloods staining her veil.

With the dark cloud gathering
and the guests running for cover
she stays at the altar, mouthing her vows
to love, cherish and grieve the little girl lost
and wasted on marzipan and sugared icing.

Honouring My Wholeness

It’s nearly been a couple of weeks now since we, Olwen Wilson and myself, completed facilitating our online visual journaling retreat called Honouring Our Wholeness. For three sessions spread over six weeks, we created space for a self-care visual journaling retreat for women, feminine and non-binary people who are Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour.

This was a unique and well-needed safe space for us to come together and just be. To let down our loads and know that we weren’t going to be judged but held. It was such a nourishing and nurturing space that without it, I feel a bit remiss. This space came along at the right time when I needed to take things slow and lean back into my visual journaling practice. What I need now is to remember what I learned from this experience and continue the journey; this healing journey I’ve been on for over six years now.

Six years ago, I started my visual journaling practice through a virtual course run by Lisa Sonora called Dreaming on Paper, at that point. It came into my life when I needed to explore my voice. When I needed time and space to get in touch, probably for the first time, with my true self. It provided me with an anchor when everything around me was disappearing, had been destroyed. Visual journaling kept me afloat, when I could have easily drown.

These are the things I need to remember when I do get a bit lost because of outside demands, or when I’m being far too critical on my own arse. Self-compassion. self-care and self-love are waiting for me when I open my journal and just play. Just try. Just turn up for me.

It was such an honour to be gather with these beautiful and generous people during Honouring Our Wholeness because that’s what we did for each other and ourselves, we showed up and offered ourselves compassion, care, grace and love.

All I can say now is MORE. I WANT MORE.

Summer Writing Intensive

Many moons ago, I went to Washington State to visit a new friend, Sarah Spaeth, who I met while picking grapes on Monteleone in Lazio, Italy. That was over 10 years Aga now and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ve had some adventures in the States, over here in Scotland and also Iceland.

While I was in residence with the Jefferson Land Trust, where Sarah was the Executive Director at the time, I fell in love with Fort Walden which was just down the road from where I was staying. It’s a national park with the sea, beach and trees and a creative centre, called Centrum.

I remember Sarah talking about this centre while in Italy and how much I would love it there and to come and see. She was right, I felt right at home there. And when I took my family over there, we spent plenty of hours hanging out there. It was my dream to sometime return and do a writing retreat there, or attend their summer writing program.

The summer writing program is just like going back to college for a week. Writing workshops in the morning and afternoon and then evening readings. To be immersed in writing for a whole week, with other writers, bliss. Obviously this year, it’s had to be cancelled. So instead they’re offering a Summer Writing Intensive but virtually. The next best thing. And something I could so attend.

So I am, starting tomorrow, I’m going to writing college and going to spend the week in poetry and fiction workshops. Go to some readings in the evening, but totally live the writer’s life and I do so from the comfort of my own home. And what’s even neater is that I’ve been given a scholarship to take part for which I am so grateful.

So apologies not is you don’t see me here next week, as I’ll be soaking up the writing atmosphere and vibes from across the pond.

 

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This is what I’m listening to …

 

Listening and allow it to touch you soul.  I just love the powerful lyrics in this singer-songwriter’s  Danielle Ponder,  recently performed at NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. ‘ Poor Man’s Pain.’

“Freedom, won’t you, call out their names, Freedom, won’t you, call out my name. “

The Prompted By Nature Podcast Interview

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I had the pleasure of being part of the Prompted By Nature podcast this month. It was good to have a chat about my relationship with nature and the work I’ve been completing within the region, with Earth Sea Love, offering opportunities to Black, Asian and ethnic minority women and girls to enjoy experiences with/in nature.

We talk about amongst other things:

* The importance of BAME visibility and representation in natural spaces and the marketing of nature-based brands as well as the need to motivate a new generation of black women leaders
* The financial side of accessibility in nature
* Land as holding trauma and associations with enslavement
* Nature as a space of oneness

I’ve just listened to the podcast for the first time and I was smiling along with the conversation, as it is so good. I share a lot and there are some words of wisdom that we could all take away. Check it out here. Thanks.