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AofA Poetry Evening – INTRODUCING THE POETS


18 Minute Read

From our inception in 2016, Advantages of Age has always had a proclivity for poetry. In 1936, William Butler Yeats, widely considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, described Edith Sitwell’s poetry – ‘Her language is a traditional language of literature — twisted, torn, complicated, choked here and there by strange resemblances, unnatural contacts, forced upon us by some violence beating in our blood, some primitive obsession that civilization can no longer exorcise’.

This week, I asked our six poets – myself, Caroline Cadenza, Wendy Klein, Beatrice Garland, Matthew Brown and Debra Watson – to introduce themselves and to tell us something about how getting older has affected their poetry. We will all be performing at the Poetry Café this Thursday, June 27th at 7pm.

ROSE ROUSE

I started writing in my mid-50s so I was already old when I started. I wasn’t a teenage poet however I had been a journalist for years, and words ran with me like water. I found myself in the position career-wise where the opportunities to be a freelance journalist had become less and less. The democratisation of writing on the web and my age mitigated against the career I’d relished for the previous 25 years. It was a scary time. So I decided that re-invention was the best policy. In order to earn money, I started doing press and at the same time, I signed on to a Beginner’s Poetry Class at City Lit in London.

Elainea Emmott

There was something about the succinctness of poems and the task in hand that attracted me, and it still does. And there is a parallel in that, with journalism. Condensing an experience that is long and complicated into something that bites with its intensity. Like pasta al dente. Not to overcook. That is my aim.

My first pamphlet Tantric Goddess was published on Eyewear in 2017 when I was 64. It was an exploration partly of the relationship that I started when I was 60. Hence the title which also has a tongue in its cheek. More recently, I did a project with my partner, Asanga where I sent him ten poems and he created ten watercolours as a response, this then became an exhibition and a book Wild Land.

Here is a poem from Tantric Goddess –

LOVE IS LIKE FINDING A SECRET BALLROOM IN MY HEAD

All those years I’d been doing crazy asanas,
the dancing was happening round the corner.
My Conscious Relationship teacher did a lecture
on Holding The Psychosexual Boundaries.
Destroy his letters in a fire ritual.
I’d always dived into Never-Neverland
with broken men, bits of rope and dirty dishes.
To me, the terms were incomprehensible,
I thought my writing should be on their walls.
Enlightenment came through painstaking logic,
a series of unyoga-like forays into household chores.

Like rebels in flagrante,
we move our old limbs slowly.
I haven’t mentioned the chandeliers.

CAROLINE CADENZA

Caroline Cadenza, 51, is an award-winning advertising copywriter, living and working in London. Not finding much scope to express the deep stirrings of her soul whilst writing cat food ads or car brochures, she often uses her daily commute to write poetry. She loves reading her work at Open Mic events and feeling it resonate with audiences.

She has just published Metaphorplay, which she describes as ‘a wildly poetic romance’ and is a collection of her erotic, naughtily edgy, witty poems. She has also illustrated them with her own inimitable pizzazz and colour.

Here’s what she says about her evolution as a poet –

In my 20s and 30s, my poetry was a microphone for my innermost voice as it sung of my spirit’s longings for wholeness and my passion’s yearnings to bust out of the prison of my shrinking-violet personality.

Throughout my fantastically freeing 40s, my art and poetry were increasingly an outlet for my mischief and wildness. But at some point, this ‘secret me’ was so thoroughly outed as the ‘real me’, that putting it back in its box became pointless.
Now at the tip-over from 40s into 50s, it seems that my former decades were merely fertilising the ground for the fruition and bursting forth I’m currently enjoying. This feels like the midsummer of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually blossoming, blooming, ripening and epiphany-ing all over the place.

My poetry today remains an amplifier for my ever-more daring voice – defying convention, berating ex-lovers and shaming them for chasing ridiculously younger totty. But my main catharsis comes from fondly deriding myself and transmuting my tragedies – confessionly, into comedies. As ever, my poetry doesn’t just express my inner world, it reveals, translates, unscrambles and interprets it to me. The trembling voice of my awe and gratitude to be here at all, offers both poetic prayers of thanks and laments the loss of contemporaries who have already passed away. Through my poetry’s portal, my inner goddess roars her wrath and purrs her promises.

What’s next? Who knows? I love turning my poems into performances. So watch this YouTube space for more like this:

This is one of Caroline’s poems that we published at Advantages of Age. It epitomises her courage and naughtiness.

FRUITION

Fruits plucked in haste when ripe enough to eat
Are fresh and firm and tolerably sweet
But look again and higher up you’ll see
Maturer fruit still hanging on the tree.
Come connoisseur, this mellow one’s for you
Not tang and tart and biting back
Nor am I overdue
But come to my fruition – in my prime
Beyond delicious: my taste is sublime.
You’ll barely need to bite – just use your lips
I’ll yield my liquid treasure for kiss
My perfume beckons – lures you to come near
Good sir – you are the reason I am here.
I’m burdened with this ripeness, heavy with completeness
Never before nor ever more will I exude such sweetness
Nectar-seekers, lotus-eaters have not tasted such
Come pluck me now and glut yourself while I am soft and lush.
I’ve nought to lose and all to gain
For it shall be lamented
If my ripeness finds no mouth
Before I’m all fermented.

WENDY KLEIN

Widely published and winner of many prizes, Wendy Klein, 77, is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England. Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel. Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books.

She writes about herself – ‘I believe profoundly in the curative powers of dancing dogs and reading poetry out loud. I hope that someone will humanely destroy me if I cease to be able to enjoy these pleasures.’

Here’s what she says about age and being the poet she is – I am a bit of an imposter to Advantages of Age, because I really don’t see many advantages in terms of any part of my life. I read the brave, positive items you post with great interest and wonder!  Certainly getting older has made me less confident about many aspects of my life, and writing is one of them. I am a glass-half-empty person who does her best to stay just ahead of the black dogs. Everything takes me longer, I am more disorganised, I forget titles I have changed, waste a lot of time looking for lost/mislaid items, electronic and paper.

I had a pretty good system up until we moved a few weeks ago, but I have just spent a whole morning not finding a reading I did in Chichester recently, which I want to repeat in London this Saturday, and I cannot find it.  Will have to reprint, and I have no replacement cartridge to make my printer work. It is solvable, and I have a wonderful techie partner who bails me out. But…  Performance-wise, I suffer more from nerves than I did when I was younger, stumble more, etc.  Am pretty diffident about promoting my work, more etc. You get the picture.

I think I am definitely past my prime in terms of developing new ideas, experimentation, etc.  I write what I write and know my limitations, which I guess could be described as an advantage. In general, I find the poetry world an awkward place to navigate, and I think I have retreated from the competitive corners of it I used to inhabit willingly. I still put on a pretty good show, but it doesn’t feel secure.

This is a wonderful poem that Advantages of Age published of hers! I love that it’s ‘the beast’ that she covets. I’m sure Yeats would approve.

WHAT THE WEAVER KNOWS

I’m not just any maiden lounging in the millefleurs,
there to bait the trap. On my canvas, invisible
to the innocent, fish knives gleam, wait to scale
your silver, crack open your heart. Listen;
there are rumours of drowning by metaphor:
the flicker of dance, the aspiration of flight,
the whale-bone squeeze that robs breath, moulds
flesh into enticement, promises nothing.
Embrace the rush of darkness, the drip and seep
of 4 AM when eyelids are peeled back, lashes bat
and flap, when the tick of the body is loudest
as light advances, twists, morphs, begins its birth trial:
crown of head, shoulders, the buttocks’ heart-cushion,
legs and feet, their twitch and kick built-in.
No I’m not just any maiden, there to bait the trap, a silly pawn
in some hunter’s game. It’s the beast I covet:
the arch of his back, his mane’s rough silk, the heave
of his white, white breast. Look out, for only the canniest
can break into the spiked circle, where I spell-spin;
a sucker for unicorns; not much of a lady.

BEATRICE GARLAND

Beatrice Garland, 81, has a day job as a National Health Service clinician and teacher, work which requires a lot of publication in its own right (under a different name), so there have been long gaps in her writing poetry since she began in 1989. But it has never stopped completely.

This is partly because she has always read – poetry from the sixteenth century right up to the 2019s, as a result of a first degree in Eng. Lit. – and partly because no job can satisfy every need, perhaps particularly not the need for something personal and self-examining. She spends a lot of the day listening to other people’s worlds. Writing poems offsets that: poetry is a way of talking about how each of us sees, is touched by, grasps, and responds to our own different worlds and the people in them.

She won the National Poetry Prize in 2001 with Undressing, has won several other prizes and has two collections out – Invention of Fireworks and The Drum.

Beatrice is one of the most dynamic women I know. Her poems are vivid and daring.

Here’s what she says about her writing and getting older –

I only started to write really once I was older – say, from 50 onwards. And over the last four or five years I’ve become more confident about performing/reading. But basically growing older for me has meant knowing my own mind, and not being afraid to speak it without becoming strident.

ACHILLES HEEL

We are going to bed.   From where
I am lying, hands behind my head,
I watch your progress with interest
for you are a fine-looking man, good hair
and yes, still slim.    When you remove
your shirt, stretching to take it off
without undoing the buttons, I see your ribs
and catch a drift of something feral,
warm, from the efforts of the day
and it makes my pulse quicken.   But first
I must tell you something important:
you must never ever ever again
leave your socks on till last.

MATTHEW BROWN

Matthew Brown, 54, is a freelance journalist and writer. His poems have appeared in a number of publications, including Magma, Other Poetry and South Bank Poetry. He grew up in Durham and lives in East London.

Matt is brilliant at forensically dissecting experiences, particularly around nature. His poems are have a quiet but flaming sensitivity to them.

Here’s s poem of his that was in a group pamphlet, Sounds of the Front Bell.

GUTS

Weigh it first in the palm of your left, belly up.
Then flop flank down on the block, tail fanned out
against marble or oak. Note the gold scales,

the red-eye dots. See the gills collapse,
the arsehole’s dark O. Touch your blade tip here,
clip a nick, press till the slit grows. Grip.

Use a rag if you must, then slice through chest
to throat – a fine line where pale flesh thins.
Stop before the slack jaw’s wishbone. Make it clean.

Fishwives, it’s said, could cut through fifty 
a minute, their blunt fingers stunk to old age.
Slide yours between the flaps to catch

the guts, a moist purseful of soft mechanics.
This is what there is: a tube for in and out 
made slime. Snip the gullet, tug

the slick innards till membrane peels 
from bone. Adjust your hold, thumb
back muscle, let the knife-point pierce
the spinal column. Ooze as black as claret dregs.
Most goes with a running tap; some spots
need an edge, a fingernail. With luck, what’s found

between the ribs is pink. Leave the head,
let eyes pearl in the pan, skin butter-crisp 
with sting of lemon and dill. What’s left
is skeleton: skull, vertebrae, fin; tail, a tattered 
flag on a grounded ship. Fold the waste
in old news, seal the lid from night’s predators.

DEBRA WATSON

Debra Watson, 53, is the co-founder and director of The Crimson Word, a poetry collective for shows and events exploring multi-sensory, immersive poetry. She is also a regular performer at The Poetry Brothel London and with The Bloody Poets. She has recently published her first chapbook Laments and Incantations.

Debra is a sensual poet whose words wrap around you and wrestle you to the floor. She delights with her provocative tongue.

Leif Sebastian

Here’s what she says about her work and evolution as a poet –

I stopped writing poetry when I came to the UK in 1997 and started again in 2011. I found a batch of poems that I wrote between 1993 and 1997 and to be honest, the themes and the writing styles are not madly different. I think, if anything, I have developed more craft in the writing. It was wonderful working with poet and editor Katie Haworth on my chapbook. The reasons the poems look more ‘professional’ is that Katie brought some ‘grammar rules’ to the work. She has a fine eye for teasing out the style of the poet and creating formatting rules. She is a tough editor and I had to fight my corner. I am quite stubborn, so often my first reaction to changes is ‘no’ – but then I would look again, and I would see that Katie had actually made a really genius and elegant suggestion. If anything, getting older has made me more willing to open up my work to collaborations.

What has made the most impact on my writing is performing live with The Poetry Brothel London. When I first started I asked Gabriel Moreno if I had to learn my lines. He suggested that I did, but left it to me to decide. The first few performances, I read from a book both for the opening performances and for the private, 1-2-1 readings. However, The Poetry Brothel always has photographers roaming about, and I didn’t like the way the photos looked. So I started learning the poems out of vanity. It was very freeing.

It is very much like that point in rehearsing a play when the director calls for ‘books down’ and suddenly, you can concentrate more intently on your body and your internal relationship to the words than you can if reading from the page. I find this difficult to describe, but in some way it has affected the musicality of the writing.

Performing ‘book down’ has then become really useful when performing intimate poetry either with The Poetry Brothel or with The Crimson Word, the poetry performance company I started with Winter James. Being book free has made it possible to get really close to the clients and to experiment with performing multi-sensory poems.

The poet Amy-Nielson Smith was the first person I knew who was doing this in her private readings, using blindfolds and smell sensations. I was reluctant at first – but after a few months at the Poetry Brothel – seeing how much the clients loved it when other poets blindfolded them, I started doing it too. Now it is a central part of my intimate performances and has made me super aware of the use of multi-sensory word triggers within the long form poems.

The second major influence has been working very closely with the violinist Henni Saarela. Henni is a hero. So much of the impact of the work has come through developing work with her. I have worked with musicians a lot since I started performing publicly in the 1980s.

I used to write far more political stuff till the late 80s, early 90s and worked at first with a traditional drummer and then a cellist. I have always written erotica and performed at a lot of arts events in my youth. At my book launch in May, Henni and I were joined by PicturePoems and Gabi Garbutt for some of the poems from the collection.

There are a lot of poets who are musicians and we tend to talk a bit about the difference between writing music and writing poems. Sappho, of course, was a musician, so the two have been linked in a bardic way through many cultures. We keep intending to record. I’d love that to be a collaboration with other musicians. The Spanish poetess, Belen Berlin, played ukulele on the first performance of ‘Dammit Johnny’ with the collective ‘The Bloody Poets’ and it was amazing. Henni plays that part now and sometimes other instruments too.

At the last Poetry Brothel, Henni and I were joined by Gabriel Moreno on guitar for ‘Barcelona’ and it was sensational. The title of my chapbook is called ‘Laments and Incantations’ and some of the writing has choruses/ refrains that reflect this influence of working with musicians. I’ve worked with a few different musicians on different instruments, but never all at the same time. I guess that might be next.

The last few months I have been dealing with chronic pain and have not had much mental clarity or energy to write. The last thing I wrote which I performed with FemmeDemomium at The Uncensored Festival is a prose poem called ‘Bad Feminist’.

It is a huge departure for me in terms of style. The piece before that was a bespoke performance piece called ‘Baba Yaga’. Although thematically it fitted into my fascination with retelling fairytales – stylistically, it was writing to fit in with a performance developed by poet Naomi Wood – playing the young Baba Yaga who gets the calling to visit the Baba Yaga.

I wrote for and performed the more cantankerous version of Baba Yaga. I also re-wrote ‘The Beauty and The Beast’ for a performance of ‘Venus in Furs’ which we did with The Crimson Word. It was hugely satisfying as it was delivered to be read as a pervy bed-time story and it was enacted by our house submissive playing ‘Beauty’ and an audience member playing ‘The Beast’. The fairy-tale turns the roles on their heads.

I am also busy writing for a new collection called ‘The Empire of Fluff’ which includes poems about colonialism, capitalism and environmental degradation. I don’t really know – my writing feels all over the place at the moment. Lacking discipline in so far as I am responding in very different and diverse ways to themes – so it is more difficult seeing an organic collection grow as I did with ‘Laments and Incantations’.

Here’s a poem that we published in AofA –

OLD FRIEND

Tonight
old friend
I immerse myself in you
Wanting you same
as I always did
When we were young
and the violet Jacaranda
fell carelessly in
hazy blooms
around our feet
Later
though we were still
freshly blossomed;
Both busy reaping
the sky of stars,
On occasion
I fell into you,
Carefully
Detached
and light in passing
And though
You said
we’d be doing
this
into our 60s
It seemed
to me
unlikely
that the delights and sensations of spring
could last for endless nights.
I touch you now
your belly
unexpectedly round
beneath my mouth
Your lips
open to receive me
and though we are both older
by decades
when I kiss you
I feel a subcutaneous youth,
tremulous,
surfacing from deep within
My lips
are yours
and my thighs
My longing is both endless and urgent
Generously
Your body lends itself to me
and I can be as selfish as I choose
in choosing you
The feel of you  evokes
so much light in me
that my fingertips
burst with sunshine
Tonight the smile will not
leave my eyes
or my soul
stop from spinning
and I cannot be damned for the
laughter you make well from me
or the way my body remembers
As if we had not spent mere hours together
in this life
but lifetimes with every hour.

TICKETS FOR PIZZAZZ, SIX POETS OVER 50 TAKING PLACE AT THE POETRY CAFÉ DOWNSTAIRS AT 7PM, JUNE 27TH 2019, CAN BE BOUGHT HERE –

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pizzazz-six-fabulous-poets-over-50-tickets-60587359423

Age and Creativity


1 Minute Read

“And now in age I bud again,

After so many deaths I live and write.”

George Herbert “The Flower”

Creativity and age – an oxymoron? The early deaths of Chatterton (“the marvellous boy”), Keats, Shelley and Byron fuelled the Romantic “Good poets die young” myth. Wordsworth proved it by living too long and churning out a great deal of second-rate stuff as he grew older.

Try taking a wider view: where would European civilisation be without Milton’s Paradise Lost, Beethoven’s last string quartets or Rembrandt’s late self-portraits? What all these works have in common is that they are the works of maturity, produced in the artist’s later years.

T S Eliot wrote Four Quartets in his fifties. The great twentieth-century American poet, Amy Clampitt, published her first poetry collection at the age of 53. Annie Proulx was 56 when The Shipping Forecast came out. The popular novelist, Mary Wesley, was 71 when her first book was published. The list could go on and on. Helen Vendler wrote of Amy Clampitt: “The flood of poems that she produced late in life delineate a self – silent for 53 years – that suddenly found a public voice. If she had died at 52 we should never have known about her.” From these examples, it seems that the creative urge, far from decreasing, may well up into a great imaginative surge in later life.

The young know they are immortal – at least in their twenties (I can always do it later …). In the past women have been at a particular disadvantage – Virginia Woolf spelled that out very clearly in A Room of One’s Own. In contemporary Western society, there are enormous pressures on both men and women, especially when they are in their thirties and forties. Paying the bills, parenting, building a career – all too often the urgent drives out the important. Not only are there not enough hours in the day but there are constant interruptions. It’s hard to produce that great work of art when you can’t get a good run at it or when you only have the weary dregs of time at the end of the day in which to write, paint, compose.

“Keep true to the dreams of thy youth” were the poignant words found on a slip of paper in Herman Melville’s desk after his death. The dream of my youth was to be a writer. As soon as I learned to write words I started writing imaginatively. I still remember the first story I wrote. It was about two cats who ran a (comically catastrophic) painting and decorating business. I wrote it in what is now called graphic novel form – strips of drawings and words on each page. I made it and sewed it together. That book was lost long ago but my creative impulse to write is undiminished.

I got hooked on poetry in my teens – reading Elizabeth Jennings and R S Thomas for ‘O’ level (that shows my age). I started writing poetry then and have never (quite) stopped. Recently I turned up a bundle of my poems written c. 1966 – 1990. Poems that at one time I thought were worth keeping. Morbid, pessimistic, strong on nature descriptions, mostly derivative of other poets – and uniformly bad. I chucked them into the paper-recycling bin but it was interesting to see where I had come from.

Over the years I’ve had moderate success writing short prose and poetry for magazines. But it was not until 2010 that my first collection of poetry was published. I was 59. I felt slightly ashamed of admitting my age. I was tempted to make a slip of the pen – born 1980 instead of 1950. I felt as if I would be judged as inferior because it had taken so long for my first collection to appear. As if a real writer would have been published years before. As if I was a woman whose literary priorities were clearly so skewed by child-rearing and a teaching career that she had only bothered to take up writing now as a dilettante project to have something to do in retirement.

When I was a child I loved helping in the garden and sowing seeds. Whenever I asked my mother what I could plant her answer was always the same: “Sow me some thyme”. As you get older you know you have less time. “If I don’t do it now, I never will” is a powerful creative force. There comes a time when, with luck, there’s the opportunity to focus on producing imaginative work without the thousand distractions which plagued earlier life.

What is the secret of keeping creativity alive in later years? The answer is, I think, change – that great feeder of the imagination. The motto of Edwin Morgan, the much loved and greatly lamented Scottish Makar, was “Change rules”. He was still writing and publishing very good poetry in his late eighties while living in sheltered accommodation. “Myself I must remake” wrote Yeats in his seventies. “Old men should experiment” said Haydn. “Old men ought to be explorers” wrote T S Eliot in “East Coker”. And women.

In 2011 I read Christopher Pilling’s translation of Maurice Carême’s last poems Défier Le Destin, written when the poet was in his seventies – as was the translator:

“It is not too late

To start defying fate.”

Do it now.

© Mary Robinson 2012, 2019

This essay won the Notting Hill Editions and Words by the Water essay competition 2012 and was originally published on the New Writing Cumbria website (no longer available).

 

 

 

Leaning into Death


6 Minute Read

As some of you know, I am deeply interested in death and dying.

A few weeks ago I released the beginning of a film collaboration with my friend Andrew Hassenruck. Its intent is to keep some kind of record as I explore the possibility and option of taking my life.

When I say released, I don’t mean in a major way. I’m not a media star, and neither is my little film trending. Nevertheless, I have come out into the public domain with my enquiry. Everyone to whom I matter has seen it. Many people I don’t personally know, some who kindly follow my blog, friends of friends, friends of strangers, have seen it too.

Over the last decade, I have chosen to write from an undefended place. It serves me well as a connective measure, and if on occasion it can serve someone else, well, that is a cherry on the cake.

Andrew Hassenruck
Caroline Bobby by Andrew Hassenruck

Although I’ve become comfortable with the process of working like this, putting this piece out there – still put my heart in my mouth. My close friends were already in the loop. I had had fulsome conversations (you know who you are) and felt into what it would mean, and what it would ask of me, to go public.

It’s an emotive and taboo terrain. It’s an unusual proposal. It’s likely I’ll trigger some people to anger, fear, judgment, or argument. Most difficult of all is when others want to fix me. I get the good heart of it, but that triggers me.

Don’t get me wrong, if I were offered private health care that would take me out of the six months between appointments and praying to get to talk to the same surgeon as last time, groove, I’d say an unreserved, yes, please and thank you. They are the facts of the matter, alongside the time it takes to journey through the necessary hoops. I’d prefer a shorter route to finding out if the surgery to fuse two discs in my spine, either alleviated pain enough to make a difference to my quality of life, didn’t work at all, or indeed made it worse. These are the possible outcomes.

It’s the intense level of generous but onerous offers to fix that sees me off. The endless treatments and practitioners that have worked miracles for someone else. I want to say: don’t you think I’ve tried a lot of different remedies over many years? Don’t you reckon I might have some people in place? Don’t you realize that my disposable income is very small and may well be allocated already? My low tolerance for such efforts may not be fair, or very graceful, but I also want to say: what if you don’t have to offer me anything, and neither one of us needs fixing? My point being that these old narratives make distance happen, and I’d rather hang out in the fields of helpless humanity, where tears and laughter are buddies, and it is as it is.

Death compels me, and always has done, though this last decade of my little life has been the kindest. Kindness found me when I gave up looking for redemption. It was always there. Do I regret how long I didn’t know that for? Yes, I do.

I wonder about the duet of my depression and physical pain. If I were of a lighter disposition, would it seem such a viable option to choose death in the face of increasing disability and pain? The truth is I don’t have and won’t find a categorical answer to such wondering. A simple thread of truth is this: if there isn’t a way to reduce the degree of pain in my back, hips and groin, the pain that is my constant companion, I don’t want to stay in the world. It’s survival. It’s both too much and not enough.

My specialist subjects of death and enduring depression are not always easy to speak about. I feel deep in my blood and bones that doesn’t serve us, and that the unspeakable needs a voice. Many voices. Being a tiny thread in that conversation matters to me. What if depression responds better to being welcomed than banished? What if suicide is not by definition a tragedy? (Though of course it often is) What if choosing to die, is for some of us, the optimum option? What if death itself is not a tragedy, but could be more of a sweet human event to be thought, talked about and walked towards, differently? What if the mirror twins of entering embodied life with the first breath, and slipping out on the last, were equally blessed? What if more of us could turn our faces into dying with awareness and kindness?

I know, that’s a lot of what ifs.

Here’s a thing, I feel a least some gratitude to this opportunity for sincere enquiry. I enjoy, yes enjoy, thinking it through, imagining and creating details. I can feel my integrity and my love of beauty, ritual and intimate communication in the harness. I would put my heart and soul into giving it my best, passionate effort. That must mean at least some part of me, however small, would be disappointed if the surgery is effective and I get to stay in my little life for a while longer.

In the few weeks since setting my film loose, I have received so much kindness and understanding. I am truly humbled by some Herculean stretching to empathy instead of opposition. Gratitude especially to my brother Paul, sister in law, Maureen and precious niece, Genna.

In April 2014, I started sending Postcards from the Window Ledge. My first blog post ends with these words.

Somewhere between a daughter being born and a sister dying,

I have found that I can love life and long for death at the same time.

That both are true, and I am as full of tenderness as of despair.

As Leonard Cohen says in the lyrics of Famous Blue Raincoat: I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. For me, the taking of a few notes along the road never fails to crack my heart open. With my heart open I always remember we are in it together. All our little lives rolling on and running out, in a ravaged and beautiful world, that in my humble opinion – is also dying.

AofA People: Elizabeth Carter – Leadership Development Coach


1 Minute Read

Elizabeth Carter is a transformation lead at NHS England, working on a campaign to promote nursing as an aspirational career of choice. A change leader, feminist, and radical, Elizabeth is determined to enable young women in education and their careers to unlock their full potential. In her discretionary time, she coaches and writes with a focus on her passion, women in leadership. She is a fierce advocate for living well until dying and sees this fourth quarter of her life as a time to embrace the inevitability of death and preparing for a good death by living a good life. Elizabeth is appearing at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival as part of the AoA session on Sunday, June 9th at 5pm in the Mortuary Chapel. She will be reading a piece she wrote – with Nadia Chambers – for AoA on Living Well until Dying.

Age (in years)  

59 ( 60 in October)

Where do you live?

Oxfordshire right now.  I moved here last April having spent 5 years in Spain.  I have lived all over – longest I have ever lived anywhere ( since I left home at 18) is 5 years.  I always know when it’s time to move on and I act on it.

What do you do?

I walk my dogs, I dream a lot, I write stuff.  Oh and I coach leadership development especially women in leadership and coach narrative to leaders.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

I feel exactly the same as I did when I was 17.  I sometimes feel like it’s a bit of a joke that I am actually the age I am but clearly it’s true!I think the best thing about being this age is that I am incredibly kind to myself and allow large amounts of selfishness to keep healthy emotionally and physically.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

An ability to sit still, to meditate, do yoga.  I was so full on then.

What about sex?

I like sex! I am very comfortable with my body and have no shyness or hang-ups.  Great sex is wonderful and I have had some great sex!

And relationships?

Hmm – someone recently said we are hard-wired to be in a relationship – I don’t agree.  I think society tells us that. I am currently single and very happy and fulfilled.

How free do you feel?

Totally.  I really do as I please.  It’s like being at a permanent festival.
I love it!

What are you proud of?

My friendships and the feedback I get when I coach.

What keeps you inspired?

Other people – my faith and trust in young people – I think that Gen Z is amazing.  i am so hopeful for the future in their hands.  And the night sky.

Wherever I am I gaze at the stars – always amazes and inspires me.

When are you happiest?

Pretty much all of the time! Particularly if I am having a great one to one with a friend or family member.  Sparking off each other.  When I am dancing and listening to music

And where does your creativity go?

On paper – I write and I write.  Also into the work that I do – I love thinking up cool ways to engage people.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Do it – every day.  Live it well with kindness and thought for others and always smile and say hello to elderly people – you might be their only contact in any given day.

And dying?

It’s inevitable.  Embrace it and lean towards it using every living breath well.

Are you still dreaming?

All the time awake and asleep.  I am a master day-dreamer!  Or should I call it visualisation?  My night and sleep dreams are wonderful.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I don’t know that I do anything outrageous.  I am prone to spontaneity and follow impulse and it usually works out ok!

Dry shade


1 Minute Read

A problematical bed to fill was how she put it, which left a lot of scope to wonder how the problem came about and when. In her faded Greenham Common T-shirt and cut-offs, she looked too jaunty for sudden widowhood; too down-at-heel to be on the pull, though her breasts were nicely presented. She didn’t seem the sort to offer her bed to a canine companion, and I guessed her to be a cat-hater or even a member of ‘Abstinence Actually’. Dry shade she whispered to the young attendant, and the ghost of Mellors seemed to hover at her shoulder, to hint at maidenhair ferns, though a gamekeeper was probably the last thing she wanted in her garden, dry shade or not. Then she disappeared down a row of euphorbias, left me to conjure her maverick world; the delicate stepping over of a wine and poem drunk woman, her late night dance, how in the morning she might hurry to ‘sent items’ to check her indiscretions.

Wendy Klein is one of the poets who is performing on June 27th at the Poetry Cafe as part of Pizzazz, the Advantages of Age poetry evening. Book your ticket here.

On Ageing With Vitality


1 Minute Read

The first thing that comes to mind with the word vitality is someone who is leaping about, full of energy and health.

But in the process of ageing – I am now nearly 75 – I researched and realised the real meaning of the word vitality.

The free dictionary online gives the following descriptions of vitality;

  • The capacity to live, grow or develop.
  • The characteristic, principle, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.
  • Physical or intellectual vigour, energy, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.

From the age of 32, I have had a lot of experience supporting older people, in various capacities, as a carer in the care industry, Nursing Home proprietor, a friend and having elderly parents.

Along the way, I observed the values, beliefs, and characteristics of those people who were content with being older, and the differing ones of those, who made everyone’s lives a misery, including their own.

For example, when I worked in the local care home, there was a man who everyone dreaded attending to. I was on night duty at the time, and he was the last resident whose needs I attended before giving my report after a long night shift. He started to verbally abuse staff the minute we opened the door to his room. I found out afterward that he had been a cruel husband and father, and no-one came to see him anymore. He was now bitter, twisted and a very lonely man.

There were also those who professed to be Christians, yet they were among the bitterest ones.

The happiest ones were the ones that gave a smile and thanks when we did anything for them. They were the ones that the staff would love to sit and chat to, which is ironic because the bitter ones were probably the ones that needed the chat. But try as we may, we just heard them bemoaning their lot and that drove us away.

Among the most remarkable was a woman who had lost one leg, one eye, and her breasts. Of course, she needed a lot of attention. But far from feeling sorry for herself, she used to make us laugh. “They will get a big discount when they bury me” she used to joke. “Because there is only half of my left.”

From quite an early age – I decided to get rid of everything in my mind, body, and soul that would make my sunset years unhappy.

That meant forgiveness to those who had hurt me in any way — forgiving myself for the hurt; I may have caused too. I realise now that my strengths as I get older, such as patience, compassion, a way with words, staying cheerful, being grateful, will be much needed for the time I have left.

Life happens, and during my 40s, problems arose for me, and this was the time when someone said to me that I needed to find who Patricia really was, and where she was going.

That started the ball rolling; I realised how much I depended on the teachings and examples of others, and that I needed to start finding out how to be free.

I am now coming up to 75, and it has been a long journey of discovery. But in the last seven years, as I got nearer the top, my ascent became more enlightening. I am not quite there yet, but I have certainly found The Truth for me.

The journey has been one of a major loss, divorce, bereavement, but also love, forgiveness, finding out who I am, and a second very happy marriage.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Ten years ago, I used to walk 25 miles a week, and I remember thinking and hoping that I would still be doing that in my 80s. However, now I am experiencing the limitations of some of the things that an ageing body can bring.

I have a vision impairment and fibromyalgia, but I am living with those conditions, and dealing with them, and avoid saying that I am “suffering” from them.

I do not believe in the anti-ageing industry but rather that we need to accept ageing; but in a vital way.

Society, in general, is afraid of ageing and death. People do all they can to look younger and ignore the fact that we all die.

I was amused this week when I saw an article about objections to planning permission for a funeral director’s office because it would be near shops, and where a lot of children go. Are we supposed to hide funeral directors’ offices away so that they only come out of hiding when someone dies?

During my research around vitality in ageing, I came across inspiring teaching from a Buddhist, about the grace of ageing. That if we can forgive both ourself and others, it will contribute towards being a gentle and compassionate older person. And also if we can learn to receive graciously, as well as give, it will help us to accept the care that we may need and make those who care, want to carry out their task with pleasure.

And so, I have reached a point where not only am I a full-time carer for my husband but I am also living with fibromyalgia and vision impairment which can at times make life more difficult.

I have found the grace to ask for help, from neighbours, friends and family. Rather than live in denial of my needs.

I have realised that being vital – stays with us until we die. I want to be a vital human being, in the way of recognising that I still have a vital force within me that will not go until I draw my last breath.

I can be vital by being gracious, grateful and knowing that even just a smile can make a difference.

Of course, I do forget at times, that is the human being that I am. I too can moan, be annoyed, irritated and worried. But I soon realise that I do not have to do that. My fellow humans all have feelings, past stories and experiences that make them who they are today.

I practice mindfulness and consciousness, and as my dear old Dad used to say; “Put yourself in their shoes.”

The biggest influence in my life before all of this was being a member of churches who preached the fundamentalism of Hell and Damnation if you were not “saved.” So I grew up feeling pretty worthless. The only way that I could be loved was to be a born again Christian and behave like those around me.

A big part of my growth, study and research from the heart over the last 27 years, has been learning how the teachings of these people, have done so much damage. I have studied the history of early Christianity and how the bible was written.

My complete story is in my upcoming book “The Truth Has Set Me Free.”

And it has set me free to be who I am and made ageing a pleasure instead of a burden. I am ageing with vitality.

I run a group, on Facebook by that name, (please note the e in ageing.)

And if you go to my website http://www.patriciacherrylifecoach.com you will find blogs about my favourite subjects, including weight and food management, ageing, death and macular degeneration.

Since becoming 67, I have gained two recognised diplomas— one as a Life Coach, and the other as a Funeral Celebrant. In the last 12 months, I also trained as an End of Life workshop facilitator, with the not for profit company “Before I Go” which you can find online — run by Jane Duncan Rogers. At the moment, I have had to go a little slower because of my husband’s health making every day a bit uncertain, but I am still going forth in the way I wish.

Patricia’s book The Truth Has Set Me Free is available here.

HOTSTUFF – Embracing The Menopause


6 Minute Read

As an Energy Medicine Coach, I’ve spent pretty much the last 25 years helping others find their way. Now, it is time for me to forge mine anew.

And my path is based upon a personal story that, up until now, I’ve hidden away in a very dark little closet…

Eight years ago, I was facing a hysterectomy following a failed procedure to cauterise the fibroid that was causing me many dire and unspeakable problems. And this op was not to be a keyhole job; I was facing the whole kit and caboodle. Not only did I not want to lose my womb; as a self-employed single parent, I simply could not afford to take time off work.

I pleaded with the consultant to offer me an alternative, but she was adamant. She said that the only chance I had of avoiding surgery was if the menopause were to suddenly appear. This, she said, would basically starve the troublesome fibroid into extinction. However, blood tests had revealed this was not going to be happening anytime soon; in fact, she guessed it would be at least five years. This consultant insisted that I couldn’t wait another few weeks, let alone a few years.

I’d spent a long time and a lot of money trying various approaches; Ayurveda, Chinese herbs, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Healing, Health Kinesiology, Hypnotherapy and The Journey process, but nothing had made the slightest bit of difference. This – for somebody whose whole life had been spent immersed in all things holistic and alternative – was utterly demoralising. I felt like a failure and a fraud.
But there was still a little voice nagging away at me saying there was a way. I just needed to find it. A big part of me thought further research was futile, but in sheer desperation, I nevertheless burnt a lot of midnight oil trying to find something I hadn’t tried.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a little-known ancient tantric birth control technique, which was purported to stop periods. As a very well-read energy healer, I’d never come across anything like this, and frankly, I was extremely sceptical. 

But it was a chance… perhaps my only chance. A shot in the dark, which my logical brain told me I was stupid to try, but nevertheless, my intuitive brain won the battle and I postponed my op for a month to give it a go.

I never had another period again. Within four months, I’d gone through a ‘mini menopause’ and was out the other side. Job done.  And no op.

After the many years I’d spent struggling with debilitating symptoms, I was utterly flabbergasted by what I’d achieved. And yet I nevertheless kept my story pretty much to myself. I just wasn’t ready to out myself as a post-menopausal woman in a world whose judgment I feared.

Instead, I decided that an adventure was long overdue, and I took myself off to Bali – ostensibly to write a book about my healing work. I meditated, did lots of yoga, drank fresh juices, and slowly but surely, immersed myself – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-style – into this strange and fascinating culture. I watched sunrises and sunsets, lost a stone, grew my hair and took a young lover. And my little sabbatical just kept being extended month after month.

My young beau – a European who’d lived in Bali for over half his life – introduced me to his neighbour, who just happened to be Ketut Liyer, the real-life healer who was featured in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. He was instrumental in turning around the life of the now-famous author Liz Gilbert, whose book turned into a best-seller and a Hollywood movie which transformed Bali almost overnight into the veritable metropolis that it is today.

Ketut and I hit it off immediately. We flirted, joked and talked long into the afternoon. It culminated in me giving him energy healing. Before my eyes, this elderly man who was ravaged with dementia transformed into a coherent and lucid shaman who taught me such a lot during the week I ended up spending with him and his family.
It was, in so many ways, the time of my life but after almost five years of living between Blighty and Bali, and with my young lover having turned his attention to a lovely young Balinese girl to whom he is now married, I began to find my nomadic lifestyle somewhat lonely and rather unsettling. So I returned home to pick up the pieces of my old life.

Of course, life had moved on and so had I. I didn’t feel as if anything ‘fitted’ me anymore. It was time to shed an old skin, turn over a new leaf, and start getting real.

Drawing upon the intensive healing experiences I’d watched Ketut and other Balinese shamans craft with such dazzlingly efficacy, I created The Bespoke Retreat Company to offer private, tailored healing intensives for clients seeking deep and lasting transformation.

After a year of taking all kinds of people from Burnout to Brilliant in literally a few days, I was asked to create a retreat specifically for a woman who was struggling with the menopause. She knew nothing about the energy technique that I’d used on myself all those years ago; but it had an almost instant effect upon her and has since transformed her life.

And with that, a new arm to my business – Hotstuff – was born.

Contrary to the ease with which I’d sailed through it, the menopause for most women is a very big deal indeed. My retreat client had told me she was absolutely at the end of her tether. The symptoms can be seriously debilitating, and affect not only the woman herself, but her relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues too. 

I’m told that doctors receive less than an hour’s training in the subject, and the commonly accepted medical model asserts it is all about hormones, which is only a part of the story. The modern menopause is bound up with a plethora of complex layers, including diet, lifestyle and the psychological implications of a society that seeks to denigrate ageing as something unacceptable. 

The power and devil-may-care chutzpah that come in the wake of menopause are secrets that have been hidden from women for millennia.

And yes, this does bring me well and truly out of the closet and into the open about my own story!
 
But, this is often the case. When we’re finally on track, there is almost always a personal story underneath it. This inevitably takes us into our own vulnerabilities and invites us to be transparent because we receive our own true powers after we share ourselves fully with the world.

And so here I am: Lynn Jackson, Energy Medicine Coach, Retreats expert and post-menopausal instigator of Hotstuff.

It’s been a pretty circuitous route, but it all happens for a reason, and – at the age of 60 – I feel I’m finally stepping into my power.

I thank AoA for the inspiration, and hope my story will serve to inspire others.

Lynn Jackson is an energy healer and retreats guru who specialises in menopausal issues via her ‘Hotstuff’ menopause initiative. lynnjackson.co.uk & bespoke-retreats.co.uk

She is running a 12-week Menopause online course, which starts on 3rd June, and includes a group retreat in a fabulous Elizabethan manor house on 20/21 June.

AofA People: Ashton Applewhite – Writer & Activist


3 Minute Read

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Ashton Applewhite

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

66

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Brooklyn, NY

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I’m a writer and activist.

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

I love everything about it except the physical deterioration: arthritis, osteoporosis, and some hearing loss – none of which keep me from doing the things I want to do.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

Infinitely more self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-acceptance.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Sex is way better than it was when I was young, because I’m more accepting of my physical flaws and better at expressing what I like and don’t like.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

The most important component of a good late life is not health or wealth but a strong social network. Those networks tend to shrink as we leave the workforce and people we’ve known all our lives die. I’m always urging people to make friends of all ages, have followed my own advice, and have many wonderful younger friends. I’m going to need help shoveling and schlepping and getting rid of those damn chin hairs, and I want to be able to cast a wide net. Age is a dumb divide. Think of something you like to do and find a mixed-age group to do it with.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Extremely. Partly because I’ve been brave, but mainly because I’m lucky and privileged: I have enough money, I have a partner, my kids are doing fine, and I’m pretty healthy.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

I’m proud that my first book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, earned me a place on Phyllis Schlafley’s Eagle Forum Enemies List. (She was the dreadful woman who tanked the Equal Rights Amendment in the US in the 1970s by brilliantly framing it as a family values issue.) I’m also proud that I’ve gotten as far as I’ve gotten as an anti-ageism activist with zero training or institutional support, self-publishing This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism in 2016. That changed this spring, when Melville House brought the book out in the UK (along with Celadon Books in the US) – hooray!

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be fascinated by aging, I’d have said, “Why on earth would I want to spend my time thinking about something so sad and depressing?” Now I understand that it’s the biggest canvas there is: how we move through life and interact with institutions and each other. For a generalist like me, who could never decide what to be when she grew up—I certainly never intended to become a writer or public speaker—that’s heaven. It’s also a critically important social justice issue in a world of longer lives, especially everyone with less power and voice: people of color, women, and people of all abilities.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

When I have a smart idea and get it down “on paper.” When my grandchildren run at me. Outside on a hot summer day, ideally dancing — badly.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into my writing.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Don’t have one. Be kind. Try not to judge.

AND DYING?

Check me into the psychedelic hospice, please. (It’s a thing.)

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Of course, bigger all the time.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

Hopping the subway turnstile. Because they announced my train wasn’t running, so I exited, and then they announced it was, so yeah.

If you’d like to catch Ashton while on her book promotion tour, here’s her schedule:

Appearances

 

AofA People: Pete Lawrence – Founder, Campfire Convention


13 Minute Read

Pete Lawrence, 61, created the concept for The Big Chill in the 90s, and went on to found Campfire Convention as an innovative social network, which also sparks membership-based events. They’re very much about making space for important conversations about values and the way people want to live, which will make the way for societal change. Their first outdoor Convention was in Hereford in 2016 and Brian Eno was one of the key speakers. They are launching a crowdfund Fire in the Belly on May 1st.

What do you do?

I am founder and firestarter for Campfire Convention. We are building a member-led online social network, free of advertising and algorithms, already putting on regular face-to-face events. We believe that we have the potential to evolve the way we do social networking as well as stepping up and actively facilitating change at the local level.

We’re busy getting our first crowdfund together which we’re calling Fire In the Belly and we’re launching it on May 1st. It’s important for us to enable the building of an alternative community-based social network that can work for the good of all. The funds will start to pay some of our wonderful volunteers such as our lead developer Tim who is upgrading our software and also working on some very exciting features.

A mentorship circle has formed around the crowdfund, almost by accident – members have stepped up and offered workshops or sessions around their skills and passions, and will share their wisdom for the benefit of all. I regard the nurturing of the concept and functions of elders as increasingly important in the world and hopefully, Campfire can play its part.

Much needs to change. In the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s now clear that the ‘surveillance capitalism’ model of social media is unsustainable, built as it is on monetising data. The full implications of us choosing a digital advertising platform as our presumed safe space in which to share all our most intimate thoughts, hopes, fears and passions are only now being realised. It creates a forum in which the owners of a gigantic operation rule the social media world, arguably the wider world too, for their own ends and for shareholder profit.

My vision for Campfire is to provide an alternative forum which actually does what it says on the ‘social network’ tin: in other words, to help to build and strengthen communities. Campfire works for its members and seeds new ideas and social change for the benefit of all. As part of our next phase, we’re looking to reward our members through a Karma Scheme, which simply measures input and remunerates accordingly. However, we need your help to ensure this dream of an ethical social network – that gives back, and builds real-world belonging – can become a sustainable reality.

The crowdfund will tell us whether we are on the right track. So if you’re looking for alternatives to the tech giants, please support us. fundrazr.com/campfireconvention (from May 1)

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

It’s pretty good in many respects. At 61, I feel unencumbered, liberated from much of the niggling commitments I had at earlier ages and more flexible in terms of how, when and where I work. I am privileged in that respect and I’m not taking anything for granted. I am thankful for my physical health and mental faculties are intact. Having already lived a full life with many memorable experiences, I honour every extra day that I am alive as a gift and a blessing. I don’t feel much different to how I felt when I was 30 in many respects. I’m still a teenager at heart!

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Hopefully, a modicum of wisdom from assorted life experiences, a host of stories and adventures, the responsibilities associated with two children, a house of my own, a motorhome, not to mention some unwelcome RSI and much greyer hair!

And what about sex?

What about it? Hard to know what to say. Sex hasn’t lost its appeal in any way. Quite the opposite, I very much enjoy the physical expression of love and connection, the ecstasy of explosive chemistry.

I’m still a subscriber to the view that an open-minded approach to sexual experiences can be enthralling, enlightening and totally inspirational. In my younger years, I was often chasing the next sexual adventure and the thrill. Today, I might be less likely to have spontaneous sex on a Greyhound bus with a stranger, but my attitude is more about going into an encounter with that same sense of adventure but keeping my eyes and other senses as wide open as possible. Respect for the other person or people in a sexual experience is paramount. The imagination is the supreme gift.

And relationships?

Relationships make the world go round and often richly repay time investment. Several people have commented on the tribute that I have just written on Campfire for my good friend who died, saying that it’s refreshing and even unusual for a man to write in that way about another man. To me, it’s just second nature to pour my heart out and to be open about the impact and effect of a friendship or good relationship, whatever the gender. I vividly remember a Campfire Conversation in Winchcombe based around the word ‘relationship’ which was one of the best sessions we have done yet. People were in tears – one because of the power and memories of a positive friendship, the other because a chance sexual encounter had led to an HIV infection. This was human relationships, raw and exposed. It was hugely cathartic for many.

How free do you feel?

I don’t feel burdened at the moment. Most importantly I am lucky to be generally free of illness and will be extremely grateful for that while it lasts. I am fortunate to have a house without a mortgage and I don’t feel bogged down by grief, guilt, emotion or other human characteristics that can prevent freedom. Having a year living in my motorhome was a great eye-opener in terms of unloading possessions and learning to live out of a suitcase. It showed me that if you don’t have an address, you’re outside the system and hard to track. But that also has a downside in that it’s much harder to insure a vehicle, for instance. Surveillance capitalism is everywhere.

I became much more conscious of my footprint on this planet because I lived with limitations on water, electrics, lights, fuel and other ‘luxuries’ that we often take for granted. I learned a more frugal approach, which has shaped other things, from the choice of food I eat, the clothes, goods I purchase and generally limiting my consumption wherever possible.

Whether ‘freedom’ is totally desirable is another talking point. Some might argue that freedom often equates to the freedom to exploit others, for example. A rallying call from some right-wing politicians for ‘a bonfire of regulation’ tells its own story. Often a degree of regulation and some agreed values and principles, rules, laws can be liberating or reassuring for sections of society. It comes down to whose interests the ‘freedoms’ work for. Raoul Martinez’s excellent book ‘Creating Freedom’ expands on this.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of everyone who played their part in the rollercoaster journey that was The Big Chill, which was a highlight of my life and showed me the power of community and how life-changing bringing people together can be. And it was great fun and I have met so many people through it that I still stay in touch with. We’re aiming to have a little reunion this summer, which I’m hoping to confirm very soon.

Also, bucking the 80s trend of overblown studio recordings by making an album on a £1 recording budget which sold close to a million copies gave me a certain sense of satisfaction and was my first business venture after making the leap into the unknown world of being self-employed.

I’m proud of my kids too. And my friends.

What keeps you inspired?

People – their diversity, their unique genius, foibles, quirks, ideas, their creativity…

Music – the universal language.

Art – creativity in all its forms.

Political change-makers – those working for a better world.

When are you happiest?

When I’m creating. It’s a great outlet. When I’m in a yoga class and not distracted by more worldly irritants, when I’m in stimulating company, with friends or with my children, when I’m immersed in a sunset or sunrise, swimming in the clean waters of the Aegean or listening to a great musical work and otherwise involved in someone else’s creative spark or humour.

And where does your creativity go?

Being creative in all sorts of ways – musically, sexually, in preparing food, in conceptualising ideas while I’m walking, showering or sitting on the beach. For me, nothing beats the reward of seeing other peoples’ ideas spark into life. If Campfire can grow into a platform that can hold space for this, it will be serving its purpose. Much of my creative juices are expended on my laptop, whether in writing, photo manipulation, making short films, music or podcasts. I love my computer (in preference to my mobile) but would love to be doing more with my hands other than tapping keys!

What’s your philosophy of living?

To live every day mindfully, take notice of what is around me, think not of outcomes but of the moment, listen to others, learn, be humble, be grateful, celebrate this life in all its myriad forms, strive to serve the greater good. Stand resolute in the face of challenges, setbacks and negative influences. Aspire to a calm state of mind, whether through meditation and yoga (both should be mandatory for politicians!) or through other regular practice. Reach out, share and be as inclusive as possible. Do something helpful for somebody else whenever possible. Work towards a society based around the motivation inspired by the question ‘what can we build together?’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me?’ Aspire to spread hope and positivity.

I love Swami Satanyanda’s ‘Sankapla’, which might be a good place to start in terms of how to approach life.

I thank my friend Kimm sent it to me today.

I am an invisible child of a thousand faces of love,

That floats over the swirling sea of life,

Surrounded by the meadows of the winged shepherds,

Where divine love and beauty,

The stillness of midnight summer’s warmth pervades.

Life often cuts at my body and mind

And though blood may be seen passing,

And a cry might be heard,

Do not be deceived that sorrow could dwell within my being

Or suffering within my soul.

There will never be a storm

That can wash the path from my feet,

The direction from my heart,

The light from my eyes,

Or the purpose from this life.

I know that I am untouchable to the forces

As long as I have a direction, an aim, a goal:

To serve, to love, and to give.

Strength lies in the magnification of the secret qualities

Of my own personality, my own character

And though I am only a messenger,

I am me.

Let me decorate many hearts

And paint a thousand faces with colours of inspiration

And soft, silent sounds of value.

Let me be like a child,

Run barefoot through the forest

Of laughing and crying people,

Giving flowers of imagination and wonder,

That God gives free.

Shall I fall on bended knees,

And wait for someone to bless me

With happiness and a life of golden dreams?

No, I shall run into the desert of life with my arms open,

Sometimes falling, sometimes stumbling,

But always picking myself up,

A thousand times if necessary,

Sometimes happy.

Often life will burn me,

Often life will caress me tenderly

And many of my days will be haunted

With complications and obstacles,

And there will be moments so beautiful

That my soul will weep in ecstasy.

I shall be a witness,

But never shall I run

Or turn from life, from me.

Never shall I forsake myself

Or the timeless lessons I have taught myself,

Nor shall I let the value

Of divine inspiration and being be lost.

My rainbow-covered bubble will carry me

Further than beyond the horizon’s settings,

Forever to serve, to love, and to live.

And dying?

That’s a very pertinent question as someone I would consider my best friend died last week. I think he had a good death surrounded by friends and loved ones in his last few days, though the traumas around his unexpected stroke a week before were not good in any sense. But somehow death brings others together, not only in grief but in celebration of that person’s life and we have to keep that at the forefront. It’s been a tough start to the year as I’ve lost six friends in quick succession and found myself thinking about death almost every day. But many positive things have come out of that, not least attending my first Death Café in Frome and finding that I had the space and support to properly grieve for my mother who died when I was 15. At the time I wasn’t allowed to. There was something extraordinarily powerful about crying with others, grieving together for the whole world, for sadness, for the miracle of life and the cycle of life and death. It was very moving for all of us.

Dare I hope that I will not live my final years in pain, depression or other suffering?

Are you still dreaming?

More than ever. Collective dreaming. Imagining a different world. What are we dreaming of for Campfire? For starters, an end of quite a lot that’s prevalent at the moment – outmoded politics, right-wing ideology, and surveillance capitalism. An end to a world increasingly fuelled by mistrust. What do we want? Obviously, a thriving community would be the holy grail and much could spark from that. A vibrant website and exciting events are our first priority, but our vision can extend a lot wider. We can play our part in social change, in helping create a fairer society and in empowering our own membership, both individually and collectively by providing an environment where ideas can lead to inspiration. Debate can lead to community determination, co-creativity can lead to collaboration and realisation, which in turn can lead to recognition, confidence and hopefully financial rewards too. We must hold on to hope above all, when hope dies the spirit is extinguished. None of these desires or actions are a universal panacea but the important thing is to not lose sight of the fact that each one of us can make a real difference, though every conversation and interaction that we have.

My personal dreams overlap with what I wish for in my work life. The expression ‘work-life balance’ is meaningless – but I also dream of a more harmonious, less self-centred society that prefers building bridges to walls.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I’m not really the one to decide that! However, outrageousness becomes more subtle with age and thoughts and ideas can be just as outrageous as actions at times. I have just been sitting in a tea hut in East Wittering writing this Q&A. To the outside world, I probably looked pretty dull and boring but who could have imagined what was in my head! I’m refusing to spill all the ‘clickbait’ beans here.

You can find the Campfire Convention crowdfunding campaign here:

https://fundrazr.com/campfireconvention

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