10 min read

On Inaction and Presence

Coming back to my writing practice, to my self - one slow breath at a time.
On Inaction and Presence

Its been a while - about three months since I created this little writing nook, and what started as an exhausting over-enthused leap into the depths of the blogging world, quickly met with burnout as I also navigated a lot of uncertainty in my personal life, illness (including isolation) and all the other things that so many of us are experiencing right now. A lot of those things haven’t actually gone away, but it was my IG pal Lily over @tanybryn.farm that nudged me to show up even during those times, bringing my honesty and reality to the table. With the summer holidays only around the corner, my ability to write as often as I had planned is looking bleak, so I spent the evening journalling last night about what I could achieve - of the multiple projects and ideas I’ve been carrying for so long, that I am tired of just sitting on. So with that, I hope to come back to my writing practice over these summer weeks, perhaps not as often as weekly (until autumn), but certainly more than I have been - I’ll share more about work later.

One of the main things I’ve been pondering over the last year, is the accessibility of ‘nature’ (or land) for everyone - Landscapes of Freedom have a mass trespass planned on my local South Downs this weekend (24th July), and after watching George Monbiot’s ‘Rivercide’ last week it really awakened in me my passion to be more active in protecting, sharing and lifting my local environment and people. With the collision of all of these things with the restrictions lifting, I aim to align with simplicity and start seeking connection locally, rather than yearning for far-away trips and walks that aren’t even possible with a four-year old in tow, no car and minimal finances. I drew a diagram last night that looked like the cross-section of a candystripe beetroot (or a King Alfred’s cake fungus, if you’re a keen forager like me) - with myself as a tiny circle in the middle, and then layers encircling me of friends, my local community, my country and the greater world. It struck me just how much I need to come home to that centre, to start smaller, after spending so long anxiously consuming the world’s issues. I’ve been so frozen, I’ve become merely that - a consumer - with so many of these problems hard to get to grips with, when they’re behind the glass of my screen or in places I’ll never be. I need and want to do more; I have a deep sense of responsibility that I cannot shake. I’ve realised lately that I have been lacking movement in so many ways - not just physically but also mentally; all this numbness has had me indecisive. Its not just my body that needs this shift but also my mental one - all these hoarded ideas, all this waiting, all this complacency. I used to think that making decisions was too finite and threatening, but now I’ve realised that decisions are like a form of movement for your mind - like choosing a path or direction; its the stirrings of water, of mist, of leaves. This all comes with an openness to failure, risk and conflict of course - something I’m trying hard to work with. I’ve noticed I get close to finishing books and then subconsciously seem to move on to another, as though I’m trying to avoid the closure and ending (which is much like making a decision), but if Tamsin Calidas is teaching me anything right now, its that others’ words have the power to heal and to mend connections between things that were previously forgotten.

Over the next year, I hope to be able to start reaching out to more local community and activist groups to find my own voice within all of this, and start taking action - I truly believe in the interconnectedness of life, so by bringing it closer to home and having something I can get my teeth into, might help in this state of passivity. I’d love to hear from any readers who are already doing this - whether its XR, your local Green Party, or any other environmental groups around you. I’ve been writing about this a lot, but I think personally I need things I can physically engage with, to avoid becoming stagnant - and it doesn’t take long to discover our own local environmental issues, sadly. After spending time at a community allotment these last few months, its confirmed to me that just taking some small steps locally, begins the process of becoming more deeply connected to the rest of the world (this is partly why I also started sharing my words online). I’ve been wondering how its possible for others, like myself, to become motivated and care for the environment, when so much of it is out of sight and not even accessible (as the above events are highlighting, with Nick Hayes’ ‘The Book of Trespass’, which is high on my 'to read list'). With so much shown to us through the lens of our phones, through curation and algorithms and others’ perceptions - how can ‘everyday’ people like myself, who can’t necessarily just drive out into the countryside and into free-roaming spaces (either physically, mentally, emotionally, etc…) form a bond with the environment? The ‘crisis’ seems too ‘out there’, away from ‘here’ so much of the time; it doesn’t seem local to so many of us, which is where I keep coming back - to our local parks, our doorways, our walls, our skins. Nature is within every part of life and I’m finding it hard to deny now. I’m certainly not ‘turning a blind eye’ to crises further afield, in fact this need to participate comes from feeling so far removed and so desperate to want to do something - this is trying to find my place within the greater healing of life, that isn't stopping at recycling crisp packets or reusing old jars. I hope my writing might be one way to bring these things to others, and to maybe even encourage them to seek their local nature, too - even if its found within your hands, your cup or your bedsheets. Nature isn't just 'outdoors' and as someone living in a housing association flat, I do get tired of the 'pot on a windowsill' comments that are (undeniably meant well) thrown my way when awkwardly trying to be included in conversations related to gardens and green spaces. I hope to bring 'nature' to as wide an audience as possible, which really is highlighting how nature was already there in the first place. Its been hard to do this alone without the support of local community or friends and family as on-hand as they might have been, but perhaps this lack will begin to ease for many of us.

For the first time in almost two years, last week I took a short trip with my sister to visit my family in Kent. I swapped a longer day walk for reconnection, my primary aim of visiting due to a family member unfortunately falling ill. Everything was stripped to the bare bones for a few days as I scrabbled to organise things, having to make a booking at the care home and awkwardly navigating how to make short and sweet call-ins to others over the afternoon, who also lived nearby. The roads were like silver rivers in the blistering sun that was gracing us that day, all warm metal and smooth. Its interesting how anxiety and fear slip away when it comes to connection; as I stood having my temperature checked and testing infront of the care home staff whilst yellow dragonflies darted around the neighbouring gardens. Sunflowers planted by the hands of the residents lined the walls, so hopeful in their reach towards the sky. I looked at the plastic apron and gloves that I had been instructed to wear, as the foggy image of my family inside the care home appeared between the glass room I stood in, and the doorway of their building. They didn’t make it outside, and it was painful to see them so close yet so far away; all I had wanted to do, for so long, was to feel their hand in mine, even if we had to endure the plastic between our skin - to tell them how much they have been thought of, to tell them how loved they are. I left them with a letter, hoping to try again in the coming weeks. This was a jarring of emotions, being able to see them through the doorways yet unable to truly feel them - would this be the last time? I was envious of all the staff who got to sit with them, feel their hands, and hear their voice on a daily basis, yet also incredibly grateful for how much they were caring for and protecting my family. The deeper I go into my connection with earth, the deeper my yearning for connection with my own flesh. My sister and I moved on to a family home in the town centre, and we naturally congregated in a circle in the garden; baring our souls like never before, sipping lime cordial and making light humour whilst we read the maps of each others’ faces again, to see where the last eighteen months had left their impressions. With a magpie overhead and large sycamore trees surrounding the garden, I noticed selfheal in the borders and ferns peeping out of the decking - I took solace in acquainting myself with the trees and plants that had been overlooking my family all this time, whilst I sat on the grass and felt held by my own. To go home with my stomach full with food made by my family’s hands, was a magic I hadn’t even realised was deeply missing from my life. All of these connections and links that continue on and stretch far behind, that I have spent so much of my life removed from - I’m becoming so passionate about my family history and ancestry, as well as my local land (not least so that I can share this all with my son so that he might know his blood, even if he can’t see it all). As we left those smiling faces and photos of others on the walls that I carry within my fibres, I vowed to myself, to invest more in learning my roots.

My own time has been so scarce and inconsistent over this last month, that I’m asking how I might be able to dedicate to myself over the summer - one project fulfils my migration towards simplicity and I aim to sit outside my back door more often, absorbing the evening as it falls over the communal garden outside and my slightly neglected containers (though my Kuri pumpkins are having a nice sprawl, with the most beautiful orange-yellow flowers that are often wide open in the cooler mornings). I’ll tie these quiet moments of observation and reflection into some posts to share. Something that did pull me through the last few weeks of illness and isolation was slowing down, doing some small DIY projects (including cooking lots of simple things from scratch - I have been delighting over Isabel Paige’s beautiful cookbook ‘Tiny Pantry’, with my eye on Anna Jones’ ‘One: Pot, Pan, Planet’ next). Around the time of my last blog post, I submitted a piece for Natasha Carthew’s ’Nature Writing Prize for Working-Class Writers’, and though I wasn’t shortlisted, I will share my submission separately soon. In terms of DIY culture, I’ve accumulated some wonderful zines (I will post about these separately, too) and I’m beginning to envision my own ‘Creaturely’ zine that you and I can hold in our hands; something I can literally pass on, outside of the digital realm. I would love to collaborate with others (this could be writing, photography, recipes, drawing, etc) so please do reach out if this calls to you.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I am looking at a huge backlog of seminar and class recordings that I need to catch up on, and I am hoping to watch ‘How I Write About Nature’ with Elspeth Wilson, as well as a 5x15 talk with George Monbiot and Franny Armstrong on ‘Rivercide’ this week (22nd July). I am also thrilled for the ‘Writing Place Beyond the Binary’ workshop held by WomenTalkPlace and taught by Mish Green, on Wednesday 28th July. I hope to finish Tamsin Calidas’ ‘I Am An Island’ any day now, with a few books on place lined-up (Kerri ni Dochartaigh’s ’Thin Places’ and Rob Cowen’s ‘Common Ground’). I am delving into writing resources such as Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’, Mary Oliver’s ‘A Poetry Handbook’ and Tina Welling’s ‘Writing Wild’, to bolster my writing practice - anyone with a keen eye might have noticed I attempted The Artist's Way a while ago, before falling into disarray with all this instability, against a book that required a fairly rigid structure to my time - something I will return to when I can. Other than these things, my calendar is looking busy with summer holiday meet-ups as I prepare my son to start primary school in September. I’ve come to realise that often the most important aspect of my parenting role over the last five years, has simply been presence - I’ve worked hard to invest moments of time every day with my son where I don’t touch my phone, and I truly and deeply listen in to what he has to say, that I bring myself wholly to the playmat or the park for (which neatly ties-in to the Centre for Place Writing’s wonderful panel discussion last month, where I came to the conclusion that one of the most vital aspects of forging relationships with earth, place, others, and self is listening). Regardless of money, material possessions, identity, status etc, all I’ve needed is to bring presence to these non-judgmental relations. This is what is carrying me through my final weeks with my son before school, and into the somewhat daunting world of the education system. This gift of presence is something I must give to myself too of course, since who will I be left to hold, with so many family members slipping into stardust and my son becoming his own person? I need to cultivate my self now more than ever, its clear.

I have noticed swifts in the sky above my flat these last couple of weeks, and sometimes can catch their screeches from my bedroom as I’ve been getting my son to sleep; their presence a comfort when so much has been unsteady. Their migratory nature reminds me of what will come over time, that often in scenarios that seem so concrete and pressing there might be a spaciousness available, some room for alteration, or time to slow down. Nothing is steadfast. The swifts have taught me that we can and have to adapt. Through all of this yearning for presence and action (which are one and the same), its sometimes been soothing to focus on my next breath as a form of quiet presence that feels more easing than trying to imagine the next few months, days, or even hours; bringing myself right to this very second. And so with this breath, I’m taking a step away from so much of this unrest in a time when we are actively being encouraged to go ‘back’ out there in so many ways, and I am retreating even further than I have been as of late; not spiralling into those icy lands of passivity but seeking a kind of firey specificity within. I’m finding my walls, my doors, my windows, my air, my soil; I’m going home.

Know of any nature/environmental zines that I could support? Drop me a line! My sister, Em, can be found over on IG @GritTrack, where she is often writing about nature and her passion for bikes. Em will soon be an occasional contributor to Creaturely, so watch this space for her first blog post this week! I am always seeking collaborative projects, so feel free to get in touch if you have something in mind.