Art

I used to think creativity was only for the artists, like my dad who sketched pictures of us when we were little or who painted incredible images at home. My mom used to try to encourage us to follow in my dad’s footsteps, asking ‘which one of you is going to follow your dad??’ This became a burden on my little sister who was their last hope once we as the oldest three had proven to be no use beyond a misshapen stick man. I started to repeat what I had heard ‘I am not artsy or creative’ as if it was a skill you either have or do not have.

In reality I think we are all artists – that whether or not we are particularly skilful with a paint brush, art is part of our expression as human beings. The saddest thing is that as children it is expected that we will draw, paint, and use our hands to do crafts – and yet for some reason we think we should or will grow out of something so fundamental to us as children. As if we could ever grow out of the need to feel, to express or be heard.

At 30 I developed a sudden urge to do creative arts with paper and pastels and pencils. My instincts were telling me I needed to express myself in a way that wasn’t to do with words and academic work. My soul was calling me to know and express myself in a forgotten way. I get a lot of joy from intellectual wrestling, and my mind is very creative – but art connects with the side of me that pushes the boundaries of imagination even more. I can express in shapes and pictures what I cannot always say in words and this gives me even greater freedom.

The best thing I learn when I do art is that mess is good – it is the only path to truth, to genuine expression and beauty. As someone who likes neatness on paper and in life – this lesson has been the greatest gift. It may take 100 lines before I get the outline I want. I may end up with something I didn’t plan – and yet the end result can still be as beautiful if not more than the thing I had imagined. Even the ‘mistakes’ become useful, and in the end I end up with no regrets, just unexpected moments and experiences that added more colours to the canvas of my life. So I intend to continue to paint boldly and sketch wildly. I trust that I know what to do – and I will keep on expressing what is in my soul. I will be open to inspiration, but closed to comparison. For I am an artist.

 

 

 

Rest

Every year we end with a review of the last year and a list of things we want to do better next year. We start the new year telling the world what we will achieve -often burdening ourselves with ambitions that can often be about our ego and status or proving ourselves to the world, even if we paint them in spiritual language. Hardly a fun way to start the year…

Rest. This is the word that I have been using in my silent prayer and meditation during Advent which is the season just before Christmas in the Christian calendar. I sit quietly on a chair in a relaxed posture, feet firmly on the ground, hands gently folded on my lap. I set my phone for twenty minutes and I sit in silence. One hundred thoughts instantly rush into my mind, and I start to think about that conversation I had that upset me, I go over it and then I remember I am supposed to be allowing my heart and mind to be cleared of all of that drama, by sitting quietly and being conscious of God. I imagine someone painting the word ‘rest’ in big letters on a wall, because that’s the only thing that can slow down my speeding thoughts long enough for me to remember that I am here to rest. I am here to silence my inner critic and learn to receive love from God, myself and others. I am here to be aware of my inner life, and to give up the need to fix myself, others, and the world. It is time to stop making lists, to pause thinking about work and projects, and to give up the need to be impressive or helpful. I am just, me.

It has taken me a long time to get to this place and each time I sit down it takes work to stay there. While this year, my usually destiny’s-child-independent-self has become clearer than I have ever been, of my need to depend on others in all kinds of ways – I have also become more certain that in some ways, I have looked outside for the answers that have really lay within myself. I started to notice that at the root of my planning and hard work was the need to control in order to look after myself, because of the fear that if I didn’t manage things then who would!?! (slight oldest child syndrome). I was convinced that if I could just get things the way I needed, then I would be happy. The fact of course is that, that is impossible. The last few months have involved turmoil on so many levels, that I felt I had no stability and it was leading me to stress and deep discontentment.

And then came the surrender.

Having reached a very low moment at the end of November I decided I could not end the year this way, and I needed to act. All of the energy that had been making me feel low and unhappy, I needed to channel to better use. Rather than tiring myself out trying to fix external things that were beyond my control or to use others for my own purposes, I needed to look after my own happiness. For me, this is about caring for my body and holistic (emotional/mental) wellbeing, looking after my spiritual life, managing my financial plans, spending time in creative arts and being with the people who love and know me the most.

One of the biggest shifts for me, has been coupling the ‘centring prayer’ I described at the start, with practicing yoga 4-5 times a week. The prayer/meditation has taught me to sit still, to trust God and allow myself to find peace by letting go of the need to control. Yoga teaches me to be present in the moment, finding peace by setting aside the regrets of the past and rehearsal of painful memories and also the fear of the future. While I am focussing on holding my downward facing dog, I am getting to know this amazing body which God has given me, caring for it and being aware of being alive. This has brought me great happiness even though all the external circumstances have stayed relatively the same. My yoga mat is a trusting and a grateful space, like a little piece of sacred ground where God looks down and smiles. If Christmas teaches us anything, it is that God who came ‘in flesh’ or ‘embodied’ meets us in our bodies not just in our ‘spiritual’ selves. I have found peace this year, in an unexpected place, kind of like a baby in a stable.

Wishing you a year of rest, of peace and happiness of 2019. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Sorrell

My grandma has a cheeky sense of humour, a keen smile and doesn’t mince her words. I love her company. She knows exactly what she thinks and what she wants and she doesn’t hesitate to state it openly. She is 88 and comfortable in her own skin. So when I called her to say I wanted to learn to make sorrell she told me she was out and I had to come another day. When I rang her bell she opened the door and greeted me with a smile that would melt a snowman, and a gentle hug from her tiny frame. This is the woman who nurtured my mom in her womb and gave birth to her. This is sacred ground, and she is the queen of it.

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She begins by telling me she’s grated all the ginger before I came, to speed it up. I explain to her I am taking notes, and ask her how much ginger to use and she says ‘a lot’ – that’s the best I’m gonna get as far as details are concerned. I impress her with my knowledge of how good ginger is for our health and she smiles a smile that says “your mom did a good job”.

 

She finds the pot full of grated ginger and as she takes off the lid I’m engulfed in the overwhelming aroma. The pot is bigger than most and when I ask why she bought a pot so big she answers me with a look that says ‘it must be obvious’, and explains that its for cooking rice and peas for when the family come around. We don’t use her big pot nearly enough.

She takes out a packet of linseed held shut by a rubber band and throws in a tablespoon. As she mixes it in, she casually recalls a story of almost having a miscarriage. The doctor in Jamaica told her to take some linseed with ‘something from the sea’ (she can’t remember what it was but hopes it will come back to her, I try my best to jog her memory in case some future child depends on it, to no avail) – and her baby was born healthy. Her sister, she remembers, had the same experience with the ‘something from the sea’. She talks about not having money for doctors and using natural remedies and how the free NHS makes healthcare accessible but then lacks the wisdom of mother nature.

I tell her I’m thinking of going and she tells me she’s about to cook, which means I’m staying. I arrived starving from London once and brought food on the way to her house. She is not easily offended but I knew not to do it again. Why did I think she wouldn’t have food on the stove? I’m used to millennials. As we eat she tells me she doesn’t like to ‘cook sparing’ meaning just for herself, because she likes to feed anyone who pops in. I want to be the kind of woman who has a pot that’s way too big to ‘cook sparing’.

Here is her recipe in her own words:

  • A lot of ginger
  • Some linseed (depending on how much you want to make)
  • Enough sorrell
  • Some sugar (to taste)
  • Sanatogen or whichever wine or even some rum (to mek it taste good)

Survival

When did simple questions become so complex.

Someone asks me ‘how are you?’ and I freeze for a moment. I know what they expect, because they asked me with a smile and some excitement. They want ‘things are good thanks’ or ‘yeah I’m fine how are you?’ The problem of course is that I don’t have enough words to explain how I am, but all I know is I am definitely not fine.

Although on one level I may be a little bit ok. I woke up this morning, I may have even had some moment of prayer and reflection today, I had a shower, dressed well and took out my moisturised hair twists from the night before. I arrived at work calm and on time despite my commute and enjoyed my colleagues and students. I went to the gym and had a good dinner.

But then.

I sat down in my lounge about to watch the next episode of Good Girls and my heart filled with an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. It has been building all day really, and it all floods in although I’ve been keeping it at a distance. The triggers were all there: the Fred Hammond song that reminded me of mom’s constant singing, the mom and daughter on the train, the song at morning worship that we sang at the funeral. The grief, like a fire, then sets aflame any other material it can find. Feelings of isolation that force me to right down all the names of people who love me, the fear of being alone which almost makes me call that guy I let go for good reason, the anger that I thought I had conquered but now again forces me into silence before God.

I heard someone say depression grows in isolation. So I pick up the phone, scroll and call, and she answers and says ‘Sel, how are you?’

To her, I can tell it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drive

I was watching J-Lo’s speech at the VMAs (partly because someone was mocking how long it took and I want to see if it was justified) – and I found myself unexpectedly inspired. She talked about her career, which has been consistent even if it has not reached the momentous levels of some. Her early days as a professional dancer led into her career as a singer dabbling in several genres (nothing quite as near to my heart as her RnB days), acting (maid in manhattan is the perfect feel good film) and TV shows (American idol most recently). She spoke about the fact that many people told her to just do one thing, because she couldn’t do more than that but her response was always ‘but why?’

It resonated with me because I am also someone who is interested in many different ways of being and expressing myself in the world. Yes, I love academic learning and teaching, but for me, I am not content to simply be a great lecturer who taught others to make a difference in the world; I also want to be able to point to tangible changes that I have helped to make myself. I have had people say – ‘just do one thing well’, but to me, that would not be being true to myself. I take my cue from leaders who have combined the two – those who have developed a sharp mind alongside a commitment to activism and changing the world in practice. Aside from this, I also love to express myself in other ways which is partly why I started this blog. I can write an academic journal which will reflect one element of my personality and connects certain people, but I also want to write about life using poetry and fiction which allows me to express another part of my personality, and will connect with so many other people. I might want to take a dance class or do yoga, or work with my hands making bread or painting, or simply being outdoors among trees and fields.

I agree that you may not be able to do all the things in your heart at once, but I believe in making the time to do what you can while you have breath. I often keep in my mind, an image of my 90 year-old self, and make decisions that will give her good stories to tell and a sense of contentment rather than regret. I wonder what our lives would be like if we stopped listening to the people who told us we couldn’t, which is often only really a reflection of the fact that they don’t think they could. What if you assumed the answer to the question ‘should I?’ was a huge YES – from God or from yourself? What would you do if you had no anxiety about whether or not it was the right thing, but simply gave it a go? I believe that life can be a phenomenal adventure if you assume a yes until there is a clear no. There are always more possibilities than we realise.

 

 

 

She

May each woman know the curve of her own waist and the sturdiness of her ankles.

May she familiarise herself with the thoughts that grow like delicate shoots and sturdy oak trees in the field of her mind.

May she be certain of what sets her heart aflame whether for love or anger and be attentive to the sound of the alarms.

May she be confident of the divinity engrained in her bones by her creator, remembering her head is adorned with a crown of his words.

May she claim as her own the scars that decorate her frame like diamonds and prove that she has overcome.

That she may dance on beds of scorpions without fear of their sting, and silence the hissing snake by the power of her countenance.

So when alone she knows herself to be in the company of a legend and is proud to sing boldly without accompaniment.

That she may walk with friend and lover through the gallery of her soul, explaining to all the art of her existence.

Courage

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I went on holiday alone for the first time in my life this summer. By the time I found the energy to plan a much-needed holiday, my family and closest friends had all made plans. I recalled the adventures of my year abroad and determined that some time alone in new interesting places could be just what I needed. I booked my solo trip to Rome and Venice, with a tiny bit of anxiety, but the feeling that I needed to just trust it would work out.

I arrived at my hotel in Rome, sat on my bed and burst into tears. Why on earth had I put myself in this situation, to visit two amazing and romantic cities alone, while I am still so emotionally raw from trying to cope with bereavement? Am I mad? Why did I not just take the easy option and go to Manchester? As I lay there with a heart full of loneliness and one side of my face soaked in tears, hunger overcame despair, and I ventured out to find food.

As I walked out of the hotel I heard someone say ‘hey’ and as I looked up, a man approached me who had been on my plane. He explained that he was travelling alone and had done so many times, and asked if I wanted to go with him to get some food. He became my travel buddy for 3 days on my trip, and what a relief to have someone friendly to explore new places with. We had some great conversations (nothing romantic before you ask) and this complete stranger helped me make the most of my holiday.

During this season of my life, I have become an expert at listening to myself and my needs, as the way of survival. I used to fear imposing on others, or being seen as unable to look after myself, but the truth is that I need help with a lot, on various levels. Sure, I can plan my work schedule and pay my bills or for a holiday – but I need my friends to just listen when I have a heart full of sadness to talk through, or my siblings to lighten my mood and balance my intense thoughts, or even a complete stranger to walk around Rome with. (Caveat – my intuition serves me well, there are many people I would not walk around Rome with, but I sensed he was ok).

In becoming more aware of how vulnerable I am (and have always been) as a person, I have been tempted to try to manage circumstances to make sure I am as safe as possible. But it is impossible to control what people say or do, who you meet or don’t meet, what might happen or not happen. This works both for wonderful surprises as well as unexpected difficulties. I did not realise what a risk this holiday was going to be and what a rollercoaster of amazing highs and devastating lows. I spent Saturday morning in my Venetian hotel room on the phone to my best friend, crying missing my mom and feeling so disappointed with how life has gone. On the Sunday evening I found myself being absolutely spoilt on the most romantic date I have ever been on, on Venice’s Saint Mark’s square (see pic). Whatever my life is, it isn’t grey. Would I do it again? I am not sure yet…