Broken Wing

Walking back from the woods, I find you, a couple of spruce pine cones, squashed, into shapes that reminds me of a broken wing; feathers bent back at an awkward angle, tawny like an eagle or an owl.

My breath catches at the thought of death and destruction, of an imaginary bird, landlocked without the aid of one wing.

My heart somersaults at such a striking thought that’s followed quickly upon by feelings of blame lying at our feet.

Saving Lives

I could make excuses or just tell the truth.

I’ve missed two days of being here. I didn’t post anything over the weekend. Did you notice? I mean who is actually reading my blog. Some days nobody and sometimes that hurts but then I remember I write for me first and foremost. But sometimes that harsh reality feeds into my desire to post or not post especially if I’m sick or low on energy. Self-care is one of my mantras as well as practice.

This weekend I completed my Outdoor First Aid training. 16 hours of intense learning, practical study all the way so that if anything was to happen while taking a group out into nature I could administer first aid.

60% of deaths in the U.K. could be unavoidable if more people knew how to save a life or give immediate, temporary first aid to give an individual who’s injured or had an accident a fighting chance of survival.

I found this figure staggering and unacceptable. Also the figures show that women and children receive the least amount of first aid, CPR really, as there’s a reluctance to touch for a fear of causing offence or being too heavy handed. I find this even more appalling and start to think what the figures would show regarding black women? I’m not even going to look because I don’t think those figures would have even been recorded, never mind be any better.

I shouted out in my class, I don’t care if you have to cut my bra and see my breasts to administer CPR on me if it saves my life. Of course this received a laugh and then jokes about having a t-shirt made with that same message on.

But I think there are people in this world who think that my life isn’t worth saving. And who has the right to think that or to act or fail to act in a way that endangers life?

I find this world maddening and angering a lot of the time. But I have practices in place that helps me to diminish this anger towards others and this society we live in so I can turn towards light and love. And that’s no new-age woolly all nicey kind of love but this is a fierce, fighting self- love which is self-care and feeds my self-worth so it isn’t dependent on anyone else’s opinion or actions. It has to be.

So yes I missed a couple of days here and I’m not tracking back to fill them in as I might have done in the past. I’ve made this decision because I think and feel, and I don’t need anyone else’s opinion on this, that I was doing greater and better things this weekend.

Moving Foward

Over the weekend, I attended a Wretched of the Earth gathering in London focusing on #climatejustice, billed as Building Our Power. This was a first for me to attend such an event; where I knew the majority of participants would be black, brown and indigenous people as well as gathered together to discuss the climate crisis. I didn’t know what to expect but I was excited about the prospect as far too long I’ve been the only black face in the room when talking about the natural world, the environment and conservation.

The event didn’t disappoint. It was such an amazing and inspiring space to be part of as everything was being co-created; the values and actions, the tactics and strategies of the movement moving forward. What struck me and what I take away with me and move forward with is the way that the climate debate is framed within Western society is wrong and misleading. There has been growing concern for endangered species and the melting icecaps and how we can make a change through recycling and other such individual measures. Yet this narrative keeps hidden the major causes of climate change along with the pain and suffering that has been experienced for decades within the Global South because of such.

Climate Justice is about re-writing the narrative and exposing the inequalities and injustices that have been going on for the last 500 years through colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. This climate emergency cannot be divorced from other issues such as housing, crime, poverty and racism. we enjoy a privileged standard of living in the West because communities and people in the south suffer, be that through being used as cheap labour or have their homes and livelihoods decimated due to extractions industries and drought.

There is so much to be learned around these issues which I’m motivated to explore and share. The creative non-fiction memoir of mixed genres which I’ve been writing this year centres about a black woman’s body with/in nature, I envision to take on a more climate justice stance as I continue to champion how nature has helped me heal and how we, humanity, need to heal through our re-connection with nature.

Things I Know About Starting Over

Work in Progress

In 2015, when the shit hit the fan, I had to change. My whole life was in tatters and I had to find a way to live again. But live on my own terms. Live true to my soul.

For decades I’d been on the production trail. Do do do. Produce produce produce. Because I’d eventually I’d get to the promised land. I’d be successful, famous and accepted.

What I know now from having to start over is that there is no end point. There’s only the journey. I’m in a constant state of becoming. Becoming a better version of myself. But I will never be complete or perfect because that state just doesn’t exist. It’s a fallacy we’re fed to keep us keeping on. The desire or promise keeps us working with our heads down, selling out our souls for very little rewards. We think we are living the life we want to live but really, we’re living the life ‘they’ want us to live. The system, that is.

Now, I’m happy with less. Happy to work small. Happy with little ripples I create because I know in my heart that this is the authentic me at work. I know now, what I do, I do from the heart. I do in service to others with no expectations or need for anything in return. Living my life on my terms is my reward. And that’s enough. I’m enough just being me.

My Story

I’ll be coming back to this topic again in future blog posts but for now let it be known that I started blogging because I’ve got a big heart that has to share.

Blogging called to me many years ago, like 2004 when I started the first website for a group I set up. Back then I saw the blog as a means of keeping an audience up to date with what we were getting up to. I saw it as a means of spreading the word and connecting with others. I suppose I still believe this is my reason for blogging now.

It also helps with writing practice, something I didn’t realise or appreciate until the words ran dry and it was because I stopped blogging. I stopped showing up for me, for believing in me and began to believe what others thought about me and my writing.

But that was wrong, as even when I knew no one was really reading my words, connecting with my thoughts and feelings, I still chose to share them in a public way in the hope that one day, someone out there is search of some words that could inspire them, touch them, change them stumbled upon my blog and it made all the difference to their moment, their day, their life.

Getting Angry

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Last night I got angry and I mean really angry. I think I might have scared @hazmatt72.

This was a different anger to any I’ve experienced before. No I tell a lie. I think I might have had a glimmer of this deep visceral anger back in 2014 when I was organising #blacklivesmatter events and I was finding my political voice and going public with my thoughts about race.

And then I was silenced and all that anger turned inward. Turned against myself and how stupid I’d been and the mistakes I made. Anger turned up so high that I almost didn’t hear the whisper of self-compassion, forgiveness and love.

Fast forward to last night, the anger has shifted from focusing on myself to sending fierce fire balls out there.

I recently became a member of @secretmessagesociety ( or am I supposed to keep it a secret?!?) and my first Zine talked about developing a back bone. To start putting myself at the centre of my life and everything/ everyone else out there, outside of me is ‘the other’.

At the mention of ‘the other’ I had a gut reaction. A recoiling. As a black woman in colonial, imperial, patriarchal, hey (wo)man, in any kind of discourse, I ‘m labelled/ perceived/ treated as ‘the other’. And even though I have argued against this, this didn’t stop me internalising it. Taking on the label myself and seeing myself as ‘the other’ in comparison to the white norm.

Coming across ‘the other’ @secretmessagesociety, something shifted and was dislodged to the point that I’ve de-centred my whole belief, operating system. I no longer claim ‘the other’ as me, my label, my positioning out there and within me.
No. I’m right bang centre in my life, in my identity and everything outside of me is ‘the other.’ I’m no longer kept in the margins, the minority, the freak, the fat ugly black bitch, the deformed, the other.
I’m so gloriously centred with me/ within me.

And I’m angry. But a shimmering healthy get things sorted, changed sort of angry. Which always flows from love. #iaintsorry #hellno #fuckem #angryblackwoman #othering #decentre #takingbackwhatsmine #practice #process #patience #self-love #self-care #secretmessagesociety #gettingmesomebackbone

New Month

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I’m glad January is out of the way. We enter the new year with such high hopes and expectations that we, well me then, weigh the month down with it all.
It’s a dark time of the year in more ways than one. And I’m not sure when it became the norm but me and January fell out. I’ve been trying to heal the rift through time away, meeting friends, setting goals. But I have to be honest, I lost it there mid month. Maybe it was coming down after my Iceland trip. Or maybe it was post-Christmas fatigue. But I am glad to see the back of January.
February has already got a different feel to it. But correct me if I’m wrong but it is lighter, in more ways than one.
So as I stand at the threshold of this month, I set my intentions, take on new challenges and commitments for my creativity and soul.
I’ve returned to the body and my self-portraiture practice. Projects are started and will continue leading me where, I haven’t got a clue. Feeling my way through the process and practice and enjoying the journey.

Studios Notes: A Love Letter From Iceland

Hello

I write to you on a cold wintry night from a luxury hotel room in Southern Iceland.

A storm is raging outside my window, which overlooks the world-famous black-sand beach found just beside the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.

 

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The wind is lethal and the waves are hellish. But I wouldn’t want to be any other place right now but here. I’m back in Iceland completing the final details for the retreat in June as well as trying to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

There’s no chance of the Lights tonight not with this cloud cover and thick wet air. But I’m not complaining. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful to be able to follow my dreams.

While here, I’ve been posting on IG about my adventures as I’ve been experiencing frustrations like mini geysers. But I’m looking at these as periods of growth.

 

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Did you check out the mention in the first paragraph of ‘luxury hotel’? This wasn’t the plan. I try to do the things I want to do within budget. This trip was conceived on the cheap with stays in hostels. While here, I got to thinking about going south, of returning to Vik about 180kms from Reykjavik.

I remember my first time here, back in May 2016. I was blown away by the black sand. I couldn’t get my head around it. And I just dug my toes in and giggled as I felt the cold rush of waves. I fell in love.

So I return. I booked a guesthouse for an overnight stay. Not even half way here, weather warnings go out. Storm coming in about 3pm. Okay enough time to get to Vik, this is 11.30am. Next stop, no. Storm coming in at 2pm. Still 80kms away from Vik. It’s just after 1pm. The pressure is on to get safely to my place of rest. The beach can wait until tomorrow, at this rate.

Trying to keep calm and focused, I drive on. The heavens open. The wind thrashes and I’m still driving. Fog moving in. I could start to panic right about now. But I keep my head.

I managed to get to Vik and locate the guest house. Has anyone seen Rising Damp? 70s British sitcom about lodgers in a rundown house with Leonard Rossiter as a vindictive landlord called Rigsby? Well that’s what this guesthouse reminds me of. Not sure about the landlady as I don’t hang around long enough to find out.

 

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Will I ever learn! Anyone who’s followed my adventures will remember a similar situation when I visited Malaga in 2016. Book a place, cheaper than the rest with good reviews but turns out to be useless. Hence, staying in a luxury hotel tonight.

This experience holds many truths and lessons to be learned.

One, it reminds me of a time with my mum, when I was returning back to London after Christmas. Mum came with me, as I had to find a new place to live after a breakup with a boyfriend. I was teacher training, so looking for a room in a house. While we looked, I booked us into a guesthouse. We ended up in a smelly attic, in a double bed and all I can remember is mum saying, Don’t let the covers touch your face, Sheree, for God’s sake, don’t let them go anywhere near it. I can still hear her now after 18 years dead. Mum booked us into a B and B for the following night with a shower and TV. We laughed hard that night.

Two, how I relish my solitude, my own space. So hostels are out if longer than one night’s stay. But I also have standards, something I keep forgetting. Or more profoundly, there must be something within me that believes I don’t deserve to have better than I‘ve been giving myself. Allowing myself.

Three, it’s a big risk and commitment, leaving home and coming to a strange new country. I suppose I forget this. I’m getting used to travelling to Iceland, to travelling internationally alone. I’m not sure when I started this habit. Maybe while completing my PhD (2004 -2010), I was invited to speak in New York, Boston and Leon etc. It’s a practice but performed over time.

I’ve been neglecting this fact. Other people, other women, might not be used to travelling alone internationally. Might not have practiced it as much as me.

Hence booking up to run away with me to Iceland for a creative retreat is a big ask. A big ask and a big risk which I haven’t really appreciated until now.

So I thank you for coming with me on my retreats and adventures. Your presence is appreciated.

Anyway, enough from me for now. There’s a bottle of beer and bar of chocolate with my name on. I deserve them.

Until next time

Love Sheree x

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My Creative Year in Review – Part 2

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In recent years during December I’ve taken the time and space to reflect back on the past twelve months in terms of my creative life. It is always inspiring and surprising to remember the things I have achieved as well as the mistakes I have learnt from along the way.

Following this practice of review means that I enter the next year, fired up and focused about the choices I want to make going forward.
If I had to sum up 2017 in 3 words it would include courage, voice and business.

Let’s take a look at each month ( the year is split into two part,  part one here) and see what happened along the way to carry me into 2018, older but so much more younger in terms of wonder and curiosity.

July offered up the opportunity to share my practice with others as I became one of the women in residence with Idlewomen for a week on a canal boat. This was such an amazing experience, one I was most thankful for as I got to share my love of visual journaling with other women who were in need of a safe space to explore their own voices. I also felt reaffirmed in my desire to support women, particularly black women in their relationship with the natural world.
Hence me putting feelers out there on social media about who was interested in the creation of an Iceland Creative Retreat.

August was downtime as I took the family for a tour of Southern Iceland. It was lovely to return with the family and witness them fall in love with the country just like me. The only problem is now is that they want to return so it might mean I don’t get back there alone ever. But it’s not really a problem as I love sharing my experiences of Iceland.

After the summer break, in September, I came back to business with planning a visual journaling workshop just down the road from me. I also completed an important draft of the chapbook focusing upon black women’s bodies in society due to be published with Culture Matters in 2018.

October was a month of upheaval and change as we were forced to move house and downsize. But it was really a blessing in disguise as it gave me the opportunity to declutter, to become more minimalist as well as to prioritise my creativity. As a reaction to less time, I made time to blog more consistently through the move.
I started my next creative non-fiction project around the theme of death. More to talk about around this soon.

November was earmarked as a period of time to settle into the new home but that didn’t go to plan as I did withdraw from social media again but I was still beavering away behind the scenes. I was interviewed by Amanda Fall from The Phoenix Soul, as part of this digital magazine’s Truth Tribe Interviews. I had a soft launch of The Iceland Creative Retreat and filled half the spots. And then I enjoyed a women’s gathering in Pendle Lancashire called Shifting Loyalties when I enjoyed the challenge of sharing my visual journaling practice with over 30 women all at the some time. To be there, to witness this transformation in creativity made my heart sing.

December was time to wind down and get ready for the holidays. I took the time to explore December Reflections on IG hosted by Susannah Conway. With a much needed rest again from social media, I spent the time gained to read as well as fire up the creativity with completing Tara Leaver’s Practical Intuition course to create my own Iceland Oracle Deck. This fed into #IcelandInsights where I am sharing text and images each day in January in relation to my love of Iceland. There are more Oracle Decks in the pipeline for 2018.

So on reflection of 2017, on the whole, was very productive and successful in terms of moving forward with my voice as well as increasing my courage in being present as my authentic self. I hope to build upon the gains made here into 2018. I have learnt that the downtime and rest is just as important if not more so than the productive times. In these quiet moments, conversing with myself, I am learning to listen and observe more deeply and truthfully.