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The Story Behind Silver Tent – A Movement for Post-Menopausal Women


12 Minute Read

The Christmas after I turned 59 was my dark night of the soul. For the first time, I honestly faced the nagging concern I’d had for so many years – I’d messed up! I’d messed up by choosing not to take my place at university all those decades ago. Fear had kept on stopping me going across the years – fear of being back in an environment where I was not in charge, fear of having to conform – so I didn’t.

I didn’t get married, didn’t have children, didn’t have a career, didn’t have a house, and didn’t create any sort of nest egg. I seemed to lurch from one inspiring project to another but wasn’t able to build any firm foundations and each crumbled one by one. I went from being immersed in a frenzy of activity to crashing and burning. At 59, my lifelong failure stared back at me unblinkingly. I thought all there is left is for me – is to go downhill and die.

Yet instead of sidestepping all of this as I normally would, I allowed it to be. I allowed the possibility of it being true. I stopped resisting, stopped denying, and just stopped. I was holed up in bed with a bad chest infection and I lay there until I was motivated to move again.

Then something unexpected happened. Unexpected as I’d learned that to create one’s own reality you had to focus on it. However, all I was focused on was this barren landscape of a life less lived! At least, that was how I saw it during those few weeks.

Out of the blue, an ex-flatmate got in touch from Peru. He offered me a job, a paid one, writing for his spiritual tour company. Within a few weeks, I was on an all expenses paid trip to experience his signature bucket list tour, which included Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Amazon jungle for a week’s Ayahuasca retreat. I was rooming with another ‘elder’ woman and a seed of a thought emerged that maybe we ‘elder’ women have wisdom to offer the world. It came from some of the quiet thoughts she shared with me about the world.

Much of this magical tour was an ordeal because I was far too unfit for the Andes but it was still an incredible journey. And even though I am at my worst in hot humid environments surrounded by insects, I fell in love with the jungle. I loved the noise – the drumming rain on the roof of my roughly hewn wooden cabin on stilts, the orchestra of bull frogs and other wildlife which escalated during the frequent rain storms. And then there was the beautiful sound of the shaman singing his songs of protection in the middle of the night as I journeyed with Ayahuasca on a deep exploration of my psyche. I had a vision of my birth – me with my feet braced at the entrance to this world screaming for all I was worth ‘Noooooooooo!’. It was an opportunity to let that resistance to being alive on this planet go. About time too.

When I arrived back in the UK, I just wanted to lie face down on the grass in the rain all the time. And as the rainforest had got deeply under my skin, I found myself choosing to spend four months in an off-grid yurt in a secluded Welsh valley during the wettest winter on record in Wales! It was like living inside a drum. And as I learned the rhythm and voices of the stormy winds I knew I might never live in a house again. Emerging out the other side of this womb-like existence – where it took an hour to boil a kettle on top of the woodburner for tea, and two hours to cook a stew or heat enough water for a wash – I realised I may be a worry wart but I was also a resilient and awesome woman!

The idea that we women over 50 are wild, wonderful and wise began to root more deeply.

Having discovered that this part of Wales is my spiritual home I stayed. I found myself a small caravan to live in which shook in the wild winds and where I could hear the rain hammering on the thin aluminium roof. Joy!

An Intuitive PR course I did online around my storytelling – separate from my spiritual travel work – showed me that the people who would be most interested in what I had to share were women over 50. It was like a light bulb going on and it married so well with my increasing sense of us ‘elders’ sharing our wisdom with the world. And before you think you don’t have any – think again.

You can’t make it through 50+ years on this planet without gaining insight, understanding and your own unique perspective. I’d wager a bet on us all being far wiser than we give ourselves credit for. Somehow it’s easier in the ageist society we live in, to believe we’re not worth very much at all, particularly once we’re past menopause. After all, if we aren’t slim, young, fertile and gorgeous, we must be on the scrap heap. So speaks the masculine voice of authority through the press, through our peers and even through our own family.

Another out-of-the-blue opportunity pinged its way in to my inbox – the chance to participate in a shamanic retreat with Elen Tompkins, author of Silver Wheel – the Lost Teachings of the Deerskin Book. As I read the offer I burst into tears. And no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of it, I knew I had to go. I had already committed to following my heart, but this was the first time I truly followed it without having any conscious sense of the reason for doing it.

A couple of months later, I was camping in a tiny tent during a massive storm under the stern gaze of a rock giant and his mate, with the deep rumbling roar of a waterfall nearby. It was a mystical place to be and perfect for eleven of us to experience thirteen shamanic ceremonies from the Elven Realm of Lemuria. I still had no conscious sense of what I was doing there except reconnecting with an ancient vow. I wondered what that could be.

A few days later, I lost my job and my landlord decided that he had better ask me to leave too. I also had a very sick cat, who was cage-bound for weeks. Did I have a Plan B? Of course not! But I do believe that when things become so chaotic, a breakthrough is just around the corner. So I stayed as calm as I could and allowed life to unfold, and for magic to happen.

Money-making suggestions started pouring in. But I haven’t been able to work purely for money for years. I have to work from inspiration and ideally a bonus is the essential cash flow. But something else happened – out of the suggestions emerged the idea of a community. A community of women over 50 who acknowledge they are truly wise elders with something of value to offer the world.

As I drove through a beautiful Welsh valley, I asked out loud what would be the name of the place where these wonderful elder women would meet? Our version of The Red Tent. At that very moment, the name The Silver Tent boomed out. I felt goose bumps race over my arms while energy shot down through my crown chakra and out through my feet. I burst into tears. Just thinking about this moment as I write is enough to make the tears flow again. I knew in that instant this was bigger than me. It was as if I had been the open-hearted goddess through which this could be birthed. My vow.

All of a sudden, I understood why my life has unfolded the way it had. I had been waiting to be 62 years old, in the right place at the right time – in order to bring this divinely inspired enterprise to fruition.

I saw this community as a crystalline structure, transparent, strong and deeply feminine. It would be a place where we would meet on and offline, learn from each other, share with each other, and discover that being wise elders is our birthright. In fact, it is in our DNA, it is what we’re designed to be. This stage of our lives, far from being a fading out is the most profound, magnificent and creative time of our lives. And above all, we’d take our wisdom out in to the world. I began to believe the Gloria Steinem quote that says ‘one day an army of gray haired woman will quietly take over the world’. Yes, yes, yes.

This was back in October 2016. Since then, almost 3000 women from all around the world have joined the Silver Tent Facebook Group. It is the most engaging and supportive group, I have personally experienced and the feedback is quite extraordinary. I was totally clear from the beginning that this was to be founded on the principles of conscious, co-creative collaboration and to be a place of non-judgemental support, nourishment and learning. What came through intuitively is that this would be the space to create a movement of women over 50 who would create this third stage of our lives imbued with meaning and celebration, as well as making a profound difference in our world.

I am in awe every day at the conversations unfolding in the group and the transformations, which occur. One woman shared her sadness and anger at her relationship ending. She allowed herself to be vulnerable. The wisdom and support from the community was way beyond what you’d expect in a FB group. Woman after woman shared their experiences and reminded her of how wonderful she is and that she didn’t need to settle for anything less than she deserves. She kept in touch with us posting her feelings along the journey -of failure and upset and of challenge – until she shared with us her excitement at enrolling in college again to learn something new. She changed her life and herself in the process and told me that her transformation was helped substantially by being a part of The Silver Tent and receiving such non-judgemental support.

Another woman poured her heart out about her ex-husband and his imminent death. As she posted, day by day taking us with her on her emotional journey, she called on our help and support, but what she didn’t realise for a long time was how much we received from her. Her growth shone through as she learned moment by moment to be more of herself through self reflection and forgiveness. She has been an incredible beacon to all of us. She has helped us understand that our most vulnerable moments can give others more than we can ever believe possible. We certainly don’t need to be perfect in order to share our wisdom.

There are many stories of how this growing global circle of women over 50 is transformational. The Facebook Group is giving people the space to be vulnerable and find support. Our online video meet-ups have taught us that even though we’re meeting in a virtual room, we actually feel as intimately connected as if we were all sitting round a blazing fire sipping mulled wine together. There is an oxytocin rush, which gives us all a wonderful level of deep nourishment. And from this, we’re developing offline meet-ups around the world as well as retreats and house parties.

One of the biggest visions of The Silver Tent is to create co-housing communities all around the world. A new Silver Tent member contacted me recently to talk about just this. She had been her mother’s carer for six years until her death about two days before we spoke. Depression had been her companion for a while and she believed there was nothing for her after this. But she came across the idea of co-housing and it brought some light back to her life. After we chatted for an hour or two about co-housing, we knew we were on the same page. She came to meet me and we are now working together to create the first community of this kind. We’re starting from scratch with no funds available so it is a fascinatingly big project, one that is changing her life… and mine!

There are so many plans to develop. Silver Sofas will be our version of AirBnB helping our women travel around the world feeling supported and safe. Our Silver Wisdom Portal along with Silver Tent Radio and TV will be where we share our wisdom within and beyond the community. Not to mention the quarterly bursary and the philanthropic foundation, which will emerge once we are more than breaking even financially. And there is always more.

It is fascinating to look back and see that the seeds of this have been within me all my life. Just like an acorn grows into an oak tree, I have at last grown in to who I have been destined to be. It is an amazing and magical adventure.

Francesca Cassini, Founder, The Silver Tent

The Silver Tent is creating a movement of post-menopausal women regaining their wild, wonderful and wise elder status to enable the re-emergence of the female elder in western society.

It does this by serving women to reconnect with their wisdom and re-ignite their dreams through an online community offering on and offline conferences, coaching and mentoring, luscious retreats and workshops, global travel experiences and peer to peer meet ups.

The current foundational team and faculty coaches/mentors are wise elder women themselves, are experts in their field, have great experience in running relevant events and in particular supporting women to recognise their value and wisdom through a number of modalities.

To join us: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheSilverTent/ and www.thesilvertent.com

AofA People: Caroline Rosie Dent – End of Life Doula, Death Cafe Host, Jeweller


1 Minute Read

Caroline Rosie Dent, 59, was one of our guests at the Death Dinner (screened tonight for the first time at Barts Pathology Museum). She is an end of life Doula, a jeweller and a death cafe host. Be warned – if you’re courting Caroline, never bring her cheap chocolate!
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?  
Caroline Rosie Dent
HOW OLD ARE YOU?
59
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? 
London, UK

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am an end of life Doula – I walk alongside and advocate for people at the end of life, so they feel more at ease and more empowered in their dying days. I also run a Death cafe and am active in the Positive Death movement. I have been working as a creative in Textiles and jewellery for most of my life and I still make Memorial Jewellery under the alter ego Rosie Weisencrantz

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

I find that such a hard question to answer as I honestly feel ageless inside. I am all the ages I have ever been ….I still carry all those younger versions of myself inside me; they all pop out at different times. At the moment I feel about 26 because I am particularly happy right now

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

I have the security of owning a home which gives me choices.  I see it as my passport to freedom and adventure in the future. I have a beautiful son, who teaches me constantly how to be a better person.

                                                                                                                                                 WHAT ABOUT SEX?

I see sex as part of a deeper intimacy. I have zero interest in casual sex, in the same way I have no interest in fast food.  I dipped my toes in the tantric waters for a while, and I got a glimpse of what is possible. I’m an all or nothing kind of person. Never bring me cheap chocolate!

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I was a serial monogamist for most of my life and have had some pretty disastrous relationships, and yet I regret none of them. They all contributed to my growth, no matter how difficult. However,  now I would like something a bit more joyful, with a man who totally *gets* me and shares my irreverent spirit. I am not afraid to be alone, as that is infinitely preferable to being in a dysfunctional relationship. I quite like the idea of living separately within a relationship. I think this keeps a relationship healthy.

Relationships can be a breeding ground for resentment, and living apart can act as a deterrent to that, and help to engender greater respect for each other. As Gibran says *let there be space in your togetherness* I would like to meet a man to travel and explore the world with…that is very appealing…. someone who looks at me through loving and forgiving eyes, and a man who can allow himself to open and be loved fully in return. I would like to experience that once before I die.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Freedom is a state of mind. Thoughts are our greatest jailers.  Sometimes I feel free, other times I feel imprisoned by my fears. I feel most free when I am alone in nature, and the mental noise is switched off. Nature is my sanctuary.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

My son is my greatest achievement. He is a beautiful being with a boundless heart, and he has taught me many things. I am proud of my creativity and my achievements as a designer. I won an international award at the peak of my career. I am also incredibly proud that I overcame my pathological fear of death phobia, that plagued me as a child and into adulthood, and now through my work with death and dying, am helping others to overcome theirs.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Questions and Ideas. My own creative process. I have loved playing with my imagination since I was tiny and have always got a kick out of my own thought processes. I see myself as a catalyst, energy-wise. I would have made a good inventor. I feel I could have done anything I put my mind to..because my creativity is limitless.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

I feel freest and happiest when I am cycling along the river, far away from people,  listening to beautiful music on my ipod. I am also happy when I am having conversations about death and dying and see people opening up about their deepest fears for the first time. I am happy when I am in love.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

It goes everywhere! Creativity is a state of mind. It’s an unstoppable force. Art writing talking feeling being. An open and curious mind is the foundation of all creativity.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Be yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself in all your glorious human imperfection. There is literally nobody who does you as well as you, so celebrate your  uniqueness. We are all glorious paradoxes. Enjoy the play. It will be over soon enough.    And dying? “Get curious about death before death gets curious about you” is my mantra. Don’t wait till your body and mind are failing to begin this most important work. Contemplation of Death teaches us how to live.  As the Zen quote says *the cup is already broken* so live each moment fully and kiss the joy as it flies.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMNG?

Always. To dream is to be alive. Never underestimate the power of your imagination. Enjoy this play.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

No huge acts of outrageousness here…just being myself. That is my act of rebellion or outrageousness. To give an example; yesterday I lay on a bench with my head hanging upside down,  and watched the passers by walking from *the ceiling of the earth* – from an upside down viewpoint walking looks like dancing. It amused me to notice that and I try not to bother myself with what others think of me. By being myself I hope I give others permission to be themselves also.

The Death Dinner – Opening up the Last Taboo


1 Minute Read

‘After the soaring, a peace
like swans settling on a lake.
After the tumult and the roaring winds,
Silence.’

Sheila Kitzinger, the natural childbirth activist who died in 2015

I am 64, and entering into the terrain of my own drawing-closer mortality – yet talking about death is still forbidden. Sex is so much more out in the open. Death is the last taboo. We do not talk about dying, how we’d like to die, or how others have died.

Last October, my mum nearly died of sepsis – her organs had begun to close down but being the 90-year-old Yorkshire woman she was and still is, she battled through – and then by chance, I saw there was a death café at the Dissenter’s Chapel in Kensal Green Cemetery as part of their October Month of the Dead.

I invited a close friend who presumed erroneously that Death was the incidental name of a café, and that we were meeting for Saturday morning tea and a natter. Instead we found ourselves in a circle of twelve discussing – the feelings that are evoked when a family member dies, the nature of a good death and different funereal rituals.

It was simply incredible to have this space to reflect on death and dying. There was a palpable sense of closeness and connection between us all at the end. Amanda and I definitely felt more alive as a result of the extraordinary conversations. One man admitted he’d never really expressed the grief around his mother dying. Another woman talked about the terrible suicide of someone close to her in detail. There was the death/life paradox in action. Plus it took place in this simple chapel created for non-conformists in 1834. Perfect. It sounds weird to say but we loved it, and vowed we would visit more. Forget bars and restaurants, death cafes are the place for truly, deeply, madly meeting.

A few months later, I found myself having the idea – we’d already featured a couple of fiercely brave pieces of writing about death, My First Death by Lena Semaan who told us about her friend, Bob, who had been terminally ill and courageously took the act of dying into his own hands, plus Dreaming of Death by Caroline Bobby who has been in an intimate relationship with death since she was young – for a Death Dinner as part of our OUTage series of events supported by the Arts Council. It would also take place at the Dissenter’s Chapel. The aim was to invite ten people from Deathworld – from mortician and author Carla Valentine to Soul Midwife Patrick Ardagh-Walter, to academic and expert in death rituals, Professor Douglas Davies to coffin plate aficionado, Hannah Gosh who happens to have a tattoo of one on her leg – to dialogue openly about their interests in death and dying, then dig a little deeper. We, at Advantages of Age, are keen to open up this last taboo as well as helping to form a Death Community, supporting the Assisted Dying movement, and also facing the nitty gritty of what we might personally want in terms death and dying.

I also thought it would be fascinating to invite the guests to come dressed as they would like to be buried or burnt. As well to bring objects with them that they’d like to go alongside them on the onward journey. This personal DeathStyle fascinated me.

Our aim was to turn the death stereotypes on their head. The guests arrived to a big red neon sign declaring Welcome to Death and then had their photos taken in or out of a deliberately kitsch Lachapelle-influenced gold frame with a leopard skin backdrop! Of course, not everyone was so keen to be snapped in this Day of the Dead type Momento Mori and we let them off the hook. Professor Davies wore his grey suit but had a rather extravagant cravat with it. Patrick, the soul midwife, was in his suit and photographed with his white miniature rose, the object he had chosen to take with him into the next world, which he felt crossed over between earth and spirit, a living rose. Others were keener to step into the frame, Liz Rothschild who runs a woodland burial ground, had turned up in her cream nightie and had chocolates to munch in the after-life. Suzanne, co-founder of Advantages of Age, was wearing a sexy scarlet dress clasping a photo of her beloved boys. Caroline Rosie Dent dazzled with her gold and black Victorian dress, black shawl and headband covered with ivory roses. In fact, she was the style star of the Death Dinner.

Everyone was welcomed over that liminal threshold into Deathland by the Queen of the Night (Ingrid Stone), all in white, of course, rather than black, with her purifying burning sage sticks. In silence, we made our way to our seats at the table accompanied by the haunting, ethereal sounds of Fran Loze’s cello. An abundant feast – from tomato and goats’ cheese tartlets to Parma ham and the remarkable broken heart cake – had been prepared by Caroline Bobby, our magnificent cook and a guest.

During the first half of the dinner, I invited the guests to tell us a little about their relationship with death and how they were linked to Deathworld.

Charlie Phillips, photographer, has documented Afro-Caribbean funerals at Kensal Green cemetery for years. He explained how Afro-Caribbean funerals are changing and that the emphasis is on paying out a lot of money and having songs like Do It My Way by Frank Sinatra these days. He had brought along his camera, of course, as his death object because apparently he is referred to as ‘the dead man photographer’.

Liz Rothschild is a celebrant, started the Kicking the Bucket Festival in Oxford, owns a woodland burial ground and has a show called Out Of The Box about death. Liz explained how when a friend of hers died, her group of friends gathered in such an intimate DIY way, it inspired her to want to support others create this kind of a ceremony.

Hannah Gosh makes modern mourning jewelry and told us why she is so taken with coffin plates. She had also brought along a pug’s skull as her object, but not her pug’s skull!

Caroline Rosie Dent is an end of life doula and a death café host, she told us about her death anxiety as a child, and why she’d brought along a part of her son’s umbilical cord to take with her on the ancestral trip.

John Constable aka John Crow wrote The Southwark Mysteries, a series of poems which became a play. It is the story of the Winchester Goose, one of the medieval sex workers in the area who were condoned by the Bishop of Winchester but forced to have unconsecrated graves. John has been a campaigner around the Cross Bones graveyard for many years and holds a monthly vigil there on the 23rd of every month.

Caroline Bobby is a writer, cook, erotic healer and psychotherapist. She had brought with her The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen and her favoured piece of fine woolen cloth, that she would like to be wrapped in when she goes. She sees herself becoming ash and being blown away.

Patrick Ardagh-Walter is a soul midwife, which he describes as being simply alongside someone as they approach this last stage of their lives.

Carla Valentine is an author, mortician and the Technical Assistant Curator at Barts Pathology Museum where she looks after 5,000 body parts in bottles. She describes herself as being quite an unusual child who was interested in death and whose grandfather died when she was seven, in front of her.

Professor David Davies lectures in Death Studies, his most recent book is Mors Britannica: Lifestyle and Death-Style in Britain Today. He explained that he’s fascinated by different groups and their attitudes to death, some like their lives and deaths to cohere, others are just the opposite. He said he hadn’t brought an object because he’s never thought of having an object with him at that time.

Liz Hoggard is a journalist who admits to feeling like a bit of a death tourist in our midst. She sports pearls that might act as some sort of collateral in a future existence and has brought along two lipsticks, one of them is black, the other red. Max Ernst described the latter apparently as ‘the red badge of courage’.

During the break, we listen to Caroline Bobby’s recorded version of her piece, Dreaming of Death. It is precious and moving. In it, she says: ‘I don’t know if I long for death just because living with baseline depression is unforgiving, and every morning is a shock. I don’t think it’s just that. This human and embodied world has never, quite felt like my natural habitat. At a cellular level I am aching to go home.’

 

After this raw and vulnerable piece, we entered a discussion about death led by Suzanne. We looked at whether there is a revolution in death going on, whether death is really trending, how we could welcome death into our daily lives in conversation and what sort of funerals we would like. Some of it was funny, other parts were poignant. Professor Douglas Davies declared controversially that the only revolution going on is amongst middle-class women. ‘The Death Chattering classes,’ he asserted.

Finally, Charlie Phillips declared that ideally, he would go while making love. And that he’d like ‘Lucky Motherfucker’ on his gravestone as well as ‘Came and Went at the same time’. As you can imagine, laughter rippled through the chapel.

I announced that natural birth activist and then death activist, Sheila Kitzinger had inspired me. She had a death plan, managed to stay at home to die surrounded by her close family despite doctors trying to get her to hospital because she had cancer, then she was put in a simple cardboard coffin decorated by family and friends, and eventually taken in the back of a car for a small woodland burial. The more flamboyant memorial service came later.

Son – take note!

Death Dinner will be screened for the first time tonight – 6.30pm at Barts Pathology Museum, E2. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/death-dinner-film-screening-tickets-38270917344

AofA People: Sue Tilley – Artist, Model, Writer, Speaker


1 Minute Read

Sue Tilley, 60, is the most recognisable muse – she was the model for Lucian Freud’s 1995 Benefits Supervisor Sleeping – in modern British art. These days, she lives in St Leonards and has her own career as an illustrator teaming up with designers like Fendi to create bags, T-shirts and more. Sue is talking at the Century Club in London this Wednesday about Taboo club and her friendship with Leigh Bowery. Sadly, it’s sold out.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?  
Sue Tilley
HOW OLD ARE YOU?
60
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? 
St. Leonards, UK
WHAT DO YOU DO? 

I am an artist, model, writer and speaker. I also spend a lot of time lying about, reading, watching telly and meeting friends for gossiping.

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

It’s like being 17 but with more aching bones and less angst. Actually it’s marvellous, I have made my life as easy as it can be and more or less do what I want. I’ve paid off my mortgage, live in a lovely flat that I have just finished doing up and in a wonderful town by the sea.

I have realised that it is no point getting worked up about minor (or major) irritations . Continual moaning just makes you irritable and does not affect the person or situation you are moaning about as they usually can’t hear you. It also bores all those around you rigid. I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t sleep as I was worrying about something.

I think that not going to ‘proper’ work has made a great difference to my life. No attending boring meetings about boring subjects which have usually been discussed many times before.

I don’t care what people think of me anymore…if they don’t like me… so what …there are plenty of people who do. I don’t like everybody so why should everybody like me.

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

I have more money which really does make life much easier. I’m sure a time will come when I haven’t got much again but it is so lovely not having to think about every penny and I can pay to make my life easier. I have a cleaner which is so fantastic….I am hopeless at house work and I can’t describe the joy I have at not having to do it.

I also like to think that I also have some wisdom which I have acquired over the years

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

What about it…I can’t really believe I ever did it. I have talked to many women my age and many of them agree with me thinking that it is a very strange thing to do. I had fun doing it when I was younger but can’t bear the thought of it now… I’d much rather share a smile or hold someone’s hand.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I’m not really a relationship person. I’m far too lazy and enjoy my own company and my own funny ways far too much. I’d hate to live with someone unless we had a huge house where we could keep out of each other’s way

I’ve had a very strange relationship with an artist twenty years younger than me for the last 4 years. It’s a friendship that I can’t even really explain and have never really known anything like it before. But I rarely see him, we just message each other several times a day so it’s like he’s with me but he actually physically isn’t which is perfect for me.

I’ve also got a lot of friends and I have a different relationship with all of them and these satisfy all my needs ensuring that I am never bored and always have someone to talk to if I need to.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

I feel pretty free, the only thing that stops me from doing certain things is my very dodgy knees that makes walking too far a problem. But I’m very creative and can usually come up with a solution to make sure I can do what I want to do. I am currently embarking on a health improvement programme, and to get my knees fixed is on my list.

I am certainly free to make my own decisions and I really can’t bear people giving me unsolicited advice. If they do I usually do the opposite thing.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

At the moment I’m very proud of getting my flat just the way I want it, in about 7 months.

I even got rid of most of my furniture and got some old things that were just what I’ve always wanted but never thought that I could have. It’s lucky that there are many shops and warehouses in St Leonards selling just what I want, at very reasonable prices.

I guess that people would think that I would be more proud of some of the things that I am well known for doing such as modelling for Lucian Freud or doing the illustrations for the Fendi SS18 menswear collection. And although I am really proud of these they are things that I was asked to do and I was working with other people but I did my flat all on my own and it was all my own creativity which went into it. It also helped that I was only pleasing myself and didn’t need to consult with or please anyone else.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

I’m inspired by many things, I love meeting my old friends and meeting new people and looking at the things around me. I can find inspiration in most things which means that I am never bored.

My artist friend is also a great inspiration as he challenges me to do things that I haven’t done before and encourages me to make new art.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

I am happy most of the time, which is a wonderful feeling. I am particularly happy when I have finished all the jobs that I am meant to have done so that I can do exactly as I want but then I get a bit itchy and wait for the next project to come in.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

In many different directions, although I usually wait to be asked to do things rather than starting projects on my own. But I am very lucky as people often ask me to do stuff, for instance this week I have sent a painting to be auctioned in aid of Art4Grenfell, I have written this piece and baked a cake to a recipe that I made up and next week I’m giving a talk in London about Leigh Bowery and Taboo.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

To live life as much as you can. I always think that experiences are more valuable that possessions.

Be kind to people. Don’t worry too much. Don’t complain too much. Make the best of whatever you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. Try to see the funny side of everything. Even a bad experience can be made into a good story. To say ‘yes’ far more often that saying ‘no’.

AND DYING?

I used to be petrified of death but as I’ve got older, I’ve seen many of my friends and family get dreadful illnesses and addictions, some have died but some have survived. So now I’m not bothered about dying as long as it’s not too painful. And old age doesn’t look particularly appealing and I’ve got no children to look after me so I don’t want to live too long beset by pain and memory loss. However I don’t think I’m ready to go yet, I recently had surgery and they asked me if I wanted to be revived if I died on the operating table and I didn’t hesitate in saying ‘yes’.

But if I died tomorrow I would be satisfied with what I have achieved in my life and would be glad that I died happy.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

If you mean do I dream when I’m asleep…yes, I do. I like the dreams that you have when you wake up and then snooze for a few minutes. I did this yesterday and the dream was so real I could feel myself flying through rooms and chatting to the various people that I met in them. It was most enjoyable.

But if you mean do I dream of doing things…not anymore. I used to dream about things that might happen to me and they never happened but the things that have happened to me are so bizarre I wouldn’t even imagine dreaming about them. For instance, I have been portrayed on the stage in London and on Broadway in the musical Taboo by Boy George. I also became the subject of the most expensive painting ever sold at auction by a living artist when Lucian Freud’s “Benefit Supervisor Sleeping” sold for 17.2 million pounds in 2008 which resulted in a media frenzy. And recently I did all the drawings that were used on the Fendi Spring/summer 2018 menswear collection and ended upon the front row at their Milan fashion show.

But when I was at school I dreamt about being an artist, this finally came true when I reached the ripe old age of 58 when I had a big show in London and have more or less made my living by my artistic skills in the two years since.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk in the Art Tent at Hastings Pride. My payment for the event was a bottle of vodka which was plonked in front of me, along with several cold cans of diet coke as I sat down on stage. I don’t drink very often but I think the spirit of Leigh Bowery entered me on this sunny afternoon and I started glugging it down, I shared far more that I meant to in my talk and then carried on boozing, I invited several friend back to mine and as I left the field to get a taxi home I fell over and rolled down the grassy hill like a child and then came to an abrupt stop and immediately got my phone out like nothing had happened. We got back to mine and continued to drink until about midnight when I was sick and collapsed fully dressed on the floor by my bed.

From the Big Chill to Community Action


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The staging of our second Campfire Convention event in London is timely. The speed of change around us is accelerating. It’s time to take stock. It’s also the week that I’m celebrating my 60th birthday. I can’t believe how the years have flown by, but I still have the burning passion and sense of mission I discovered in my 30s.

Our idea behind the Convention is to challenge and push for new approaches. Change at all levels, from personal to community, from political to global.

The ethos, values and principles of Campfire are based around cultivating hope and aspiring to be a hub for good. It has to come down to giving people a sense of engagement and empowerment – both individually for each of our members and collectively for our community – and a belief that we can make a difference and that the world can be a better place.

The world’s been in trouble lately and we’ve lost our way in many senses. There is an urgent need to come together to try and reimagine how we might shape our world. Politics is too important to be left to political parties. Political enlightenment begins at home and I’ve come to believe that a far more prominent female energy is needed in the world and Campfire is doing its bit to help bring that about.

I’ve been doing even more dreaming than usual. Being out and about in a motorhome without a UK base since January I’ve learnt to live without luxuries and possessions. It’s not only been a grounding experience but one that has led to a re-evaluation of what is important after talking to many people around the UK at our various Campfire Conversation events and I’m getting a sense that ‘social glue’ or belonging comes pretty high up that list for so many.

Our patron, Brian Eno, admitted that a revolution has unfolded, but it didn’t come from the people most of us expected. Now that it has happened and the course of history has been changed, the rules have been broken, we have a level playing field which means that social and political concepts considered off-piste as recently as two years ago can become acceptable, desirable even. This has both inspirational and sinister potential. We need to come up with the inspirational ideas and get them out there. This is our time.

The end of neoliberalism, even capitalism, is in the air and along with those changes, a shift in the way we live together, work together, interact and do business. Post capitalism needs new models and uniquely we are in a position to seize the narrative, to come up with the concepts. Most good ideas are arguably coming from outside the main political parties, though Jeremy Corbyn has recently shown a fresh level of imagination in his speeches around new economic models.

There is now a focus on sustainable communities as well as sustainable ecology, co-housing and energy consumption, online platforms that work for the good of all. Our Campfire Kudos scheme can work on input / output metrics, rewarding engagement and encouraging a culture of volunteering to get things off the ground. This works hand-in-hand with a growing realisation that by helping each other we help ourselves. No longer is ‘what can I get from this?’ the primary objective. A move from ‘extrinsic’ values – those based around fame, power, wealth and competition, is being superseded by a realisation that ‘intrinsic’ values – universal rights and equality, the natural world and independent thinking – are more important in many ways. In short, the fundamental shift that still needs to happen is not putting ourselves first. A move from ‘I’m alright Jack’ to ‘How does this effect the planet and all those on it?’.

Anomie and alienation have predominated, but now it’s time to move towards community engagement and social cohesion is likely to be the result. Campfire can play its part galvanising at local level via what we’re calling our new ‘Beacons’ initiative.

Campfire is a new community, inspired by my previous project, the now-defunct Big Chill festival, which in its heyday opened my eyes to the power of connections and how they could not only create a feel good factor but also a movement for change. With Campfire the possibilities are ever more exciting. The Big Chill was all about a community built around the idea of partying but it became increasingly about hedonism and commercialism. Campfire is more grounded in discussion and collective co-operation, with essential change at the widest holistic level very much our aim now that it is within our orbit.

Campfire can be many things – an alternative journalistic voice, a means to portfolio our key interests and enthusiasms, a platform for connection and collaboration, an ad-free forum for chat and the shaping of new agendas. Together we can craft something of great value, a resource built on collective wisdom and templates of experience. Members might start a new Project on the future of work and what it looks like, on sustainability, on new approaches to learning, on the politics of food production. Or start a Beacon. Or join one and go to our events in Malvern Hills or Edinburgh.

Our political proposal, Trailblazer politics, has values at its heart. “Values are the bedrock of effective politics” suggests writer George Monbiot. Social networking need not be about marketing spend to boost pages, algorithmic targeted ads, posting what you had for breakfast or swinging a general election. It can have a heart and a soul, a purpose and a real-life element. The Campfire circle is a great leveller.

So why am I doing this? Connecting people and watching the sparks – the buzz of the flow of ideas, the collaborations, not to mention the happy collisions – the friendships, relationships and even the marriages (I know of at least 30 from The Big Chill community).

And of course, seeing others blossom and flourish.

It’s not hard to sense that a change is already occurring at a personal level – health, exercise, nourishment, food choices, mobile and flexible working, jettisoning the stuff that makes us feel stressed and disconnected, less credit and fewer mortgages, freer living, co-ops, joining local community initiatives, exchanging life experience and knowledge. That sense of community belonging can give us an anchor but it can also energise, heal, inform and educate.

I hope to inspire as I’ve been inspired. To challenge my own comfort zone, step up and maybe encourage others to do the same.

Our choice of language shaped by our visions is important – we can build the stories, everyone loves stories. Has anyone noticed the way that words such as ‘love’ and ‘empathy’ have recently appeared in political rhetoric more often lately? Let’s legitimise ‘love’ and ‘empathy’ as political forces in themselves. Let’s turn things upside down.

Our new kind of politics is a holistic politics, sharing from a sense of self, a sense of connection to our chosen communities and a vision for a better world where everyone can have a say and we can all make a difference.

Campfire can connect globally, whilst joining the dots and respecting the differences, welcoming diversity and expanding horizons through initiatives online and offline.

I’ve often started from a utopian viewpoint. On my travels in Greece I reflected on the word utopia, originating as it does from the Greek Ou (not) and Topos (place). It was first used in 1516 by Sir Thomas More in his book ‘Utopia’. “Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”

Politics dies without imagination, people die without nourishment, hope dies without community. More than ever, we need to make a connection between dreams and pragmatism, we need to talk and listen, we need to write and express, to formulate ideas grounded in local communities, to convene in unconventional ways.

That’s how we will make a difference. That’s how we already are making a big difference. Sparks are igniting, beacons are being lit.

We have to believe in ourselves as a force for change. We have to believe in a movement that has the potential to reach out beyond party lines, a message that appeals to as many as possible. I’d like to think that Campfire is here for good.

Campfire Convention 002.UK takes place all day Saturday November 4th at Union Chapel, London N1. https://campfireconvention.uk/events/campfire-convention-002uk-london

AofA People: Kierra Foster-Ba – 5 Rhythms Teacher


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 Kierra Foster-Ba is a 56 year old educator and 5Rhythms dance teacher. Wait until you hear what her recent outrageous action was – it involves a ‘Pussy Church’.
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?  
Kierra Foster-Ba
HOW OLD ARE YOU? 
56
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? 
NYC (Upper West Side)
WHAT DO YOU DO? 
I am 28+ year veteran educator with the NYC Dept of Ed.  I am also a certified 5Rhythms® teacher (10 years), which is a dance based meditation practice.
 
TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE? 
There are pluses and minuses.   I am definitely wiser; calmer; and more generous with myself and others.  I have not always given my body the absolute best care and so my health is muddling.  The good news is that it has given me the impetus to be a lot more consistent with eating in a more health conscious way.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25? 
At 25, I was a single mother of a 2 year old.  I have much more reflection and social time.
WHAT ABOUT SEX? 
I enjoy it
AND RELATIONSHIPS?
Right this moment (it will change) I am a bit heart sick.  I care for someone who has been running hot and then cold right from the beginning.  I have decided to stop reaching out.  I am hopeful that this will give him the opportunity to get clear about what he wants.
HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL? 
I definitely feel free when I am dancing.  I do not always feel free.  Much of what is happening politically in our country oppresses and depresses me.
WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF? 
I am proud of being educated (no easy fete); of being a mom (again, no easy fete), of being a healer albeit a wounded one for healers like educators (proud to be one) help move civilization forward.  I am proud of not giving up when it was unbearable.
WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?
The 5Rhythms®, connecting with people, being in nature, Ida B. Well-Barnett
WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?
Dancing, lazy days at the beach, when I am given sincere praise and ackowledgement, when someone I care about is affectionate with me; when I am physically intimate with someone who cares about me and the chemistry is sizzling.
AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?
To creating and delivering 5Rhythms® classes and workshops; to lesson planning; to create sexy outfits for myself; to creating musicscapes
WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?
Breathe deep and dive in
AND DYING?
Not ready yet
ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?
More than ever
WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?
I took an empowerment course for women that unbeknown to me included something called: “Pussy Church.”  I was selected to go on stage and through video camera show my vulva to a room of 450 women.

The Advantages of Dating a Prosopagnosiac


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One of the more interesting side effects of the stroke I had about 18 months ago – was that I lost the ability to recognise people’s faces.

It’s called Prosopagnosia and it’s caused by damage to the fusiform gyrus on the right hand side of the brain. It’s not that I can’t physically see people’s faces, it’s just that they don’t mean anything to me or ring any bells – even if I know that person really well. I lose family and friends in crowds and even supermarkets and pubs. I know of mothers who can’t spot their children in a playground and teachers who don’t recognise their pupils. I’ve heard of work colleagues introducing themselves to fellow workers at least three times in one day. Or not knowing who someone is once they change something about their appearance like the cut or colour of their hair.

If I hear a voice, however, then I immediately know who they are. It’s not like I’ve forgotten them, just that the bit that ties what someone looks like to whom and what they are to me – is missing. Think of it like this. Imagine there’s a smell that takes you back to a time or place, but one day, you smell that scent and it means nothing to you. It doesn’t bring back the memories and emotions. It’s just another smell. Sort of like that.

One of the odd things about this is that you don’t recognise celebrities or actors. I’ve watched whole films and when the titles come up realised that I’ve been watching an actor I know really well. Not just from other performances, but personally! But they’ve looked different, or acted differently or used a different voice and I’ve had no idea.

There are tests you can take to see if you have this issue – 2% of people have it from birth, so it’s more common than you might think. Mine is the rarer ‘acquired’ type. Oddly, since having this, I’ve discovered that a couple of people I know quite well also have a version of it and didn’t even know that they did.

There’s the other side of the coin – ‘Super Recognisers’. These are the sort of people who can pass you in the street and remember that they were at school with you 30 years ago. But for now, let’s stick with the Proso’s and the point of this article.

I’ve also discovered another major side effect of this condition – is that I don’t really know what counts as good looking or handsome or ugly or pretty or gorgeous or plain or attractive purely from someone’s face. I need to look past that into their character. Their words, their actions, their demeanour. Everything but the one thing that normally acts as the flag. Their face. Which is good news if your face isn’t what you’d like it to be, because it doesn’t matter a damn to a Prosopagnosiac. It’s an old cliché about looking past the face and into the soul, but that’s exactly what we have to do. We care much more about what’s on the inside because we have no idea what’s on the outside.

People, in general, could learn a lot from Prosopagnosiacs. We have to be very careful how we approach people because we might already have said hello, or they might be someone we’d rather not engage with, or they might be a friend or a family member – we don’t have a clue. We have to assume that anyone who smiles at us, knows us, and so we smile back (not a bad recipe for a nicer world). We hope we don’t accidentally snub people that we do know, by blanking them when we’re at social events because we haven’t recognised them, so we’re super- friendly to all and sundry. And we never, ever take people on face value, because to us, their face has no value at all. It’s what’s behind the eyes that counts. And when you’re in the dating pool, that’s what takes you out of the shallows and into the deep end.

La Tempête


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Napoleon planted these pines,

the soil is sandy but not a beach.

I want to lie down,

stare upwards like a child

who hasn’t had enough clouds.

The watery landscape keeps me upright.

On cherche les oiseaux,

mais on n’entend que les chants.

The sky deceives itself.

We talk (my French friends and I)

about how to inhabit the truth,

to sink our teeth into ice-cream

without fear of incrimination or shame.

We sit with gratitude on a fallen trunk,

taste different sorts of apples,

note the sour and sweet preponderances.

 

There is an ending amid a swamp,

tears escape in a storm.

Brambles, bare feet, endless water.

I am scared.

My friends, my parents become.

This vulnerability is unmapped.

Dirty Blood and My Still Born Boy


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Blood has been such a massive part of my life for the last 37 years. Every month, from the age of 12, I’ve bled like a stuck pig. One of my best friends recently said how much she enjoyed her periods. My jaw just dropped. I’ve always hated mine violently. From the first drop. Bleeding pints, great big fat clots the size of my fists, soaking up ultra-maxi pads in one gush, spilling over the sides, through my black pants and through my dark trousers, leaving a bloody puddle leaching into my chair in the middle of a business meeting. The shame of discreetly trying to wipe it off, waiting for everyone else to leave first and hoping no-one would notice.

And the pain, don’t talk to me about period pain. That time I was 15, curled up on the bed in my first boyfriend’s bedsit, then him calling out the GP (in the days when they would do home visits) to give me a massive shot of morphine to take away the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced.  The morphine felt good.

That time in my early 20s on a rural bus in Java, when I was writhing in pain on the plastic seats, silently crying big fat tears down my cheeks. I had no sanitary protection as I’d been taken by surprise. A kind Javanese lady took me off the bus and into her home to clean me up, give me painkillers, wash my clothes and let me rest before making sure I got home. A good Samaritan.

The only respite I ever got was going on the pill as a teenager for seven years.

“You’re not to use it as a play pill,” my mother scolded. Little did she know. Too little, too late.

Numerous tests showed nothing – no endometriosis, no fibroids, no this, no that.

“Dirty blood,” a Javanese reflexogist told me, prescribing a thick black liquid brew that tasted putrid. But I downed it every day, desperate to have clean, light, easy blood.

Trying to get pregnant in my mid-thirties (my mother had me at 39, I thought it would be easy – too little, too late), how I hated my blood even more. Every month obsessing over cycle lengths, daily temperature charts, and urine samples. More tests.

“You have an unusually long womb and a tight vagina,” the gynaecologist said. Dirty sod.

Then a miracle. Just as I had almost given up – a missed period and a positive test. Excitement, elation, at 37 I was going to have a baby. Not my first pregnancy, but this time I wasn’t afraid, I was older.  This time much coveted. Oh, but then the blood came. Hang on, that’s not right. Is it? “Go home, don’t worry about it, everything is normal.” Three months came and went. Blood came and went. Still the baby grew. Clinging on. Heart beating somersault twists and little kicks. Until the clots started coming. As big as a fist. No, no, no. This isn’t right. This can’t be happening. Please God no.

“Your placenta is coming away – see that shadow there – a large clot of blood,” the consultant said. “Very touch and go. Go home, rest, and wait.” A death star lurking in the lining of my womb. There is no God.

My waters broke at five months – ah, what a gush that was. 48 hours later I went into labour, was whisked into the Royal Sussex, sirens blaring. My beautiful perfect, tiny Tom Thumb of a son was born on 2 May 2006. The sun was shining on a glorious bank holiday. But everything was black. My world stopped turning. For the next three years.

“Dirty blood,” said the woman at the nutritional supplement centre, “full of copper, no wonder you lost your baby.”

The cow. So tactless – so unprofessional. I was furious. Bereft. Obsessed.

Then my first husband fucked off. Sick at the sight of my dirty blood. Wanting new blood – fresh and young.

Then I hit my roaring 40s. And how I roared, and wept, and bled some more – a whole lot more – as if my whole insides were falling out. Has someone just been murdered? Has someone slit their throat?

The period pain is minimal now. Almost non-existent. My cycles are starting to dither about but my sex drive has gone through the roof – the sex-surge they call it – do keep up; all that testosterone. The hot flushes come thick and fast (always carry a fan), night sweats come and go. My short-term memory is hopeless, and I’m forever losing things. Ah, the perimenopause. Bring it on – I want it to stop. No more bleeding at long, bloody last. No more packing spare sets of clothes, wearing two pairs of black pants, no more shoving a MoonCup up myself (I care about the environment) and yet still having to wear a maxi-pad, so what’s the point? Dear MoonCup, please can you make a bucket size cup – the size of the blood red moon?

Oh, hang on a minute. When my periods stop, that will finally be it. The finality of my fertility. And I will grieve all over again. Not as intensely, but it will still happen. Lurking in the shadows, popping up on Mother’s Day (will someone please send me a frickin card?), popping up when siblings start to become grandparents, all those life stages and milestones that my second husband, friends and family celebrate as their children grow.  Of course, I celebrate with them.

The joy of being an aunt, a great aunt, a fairy godmother…the magical, mysterious, marvellous elder that comes bearing gifts. The exotic elder that always plays and dances, makes up stories, dresses up, hides and seeks. They all clammer to try on my jewels and trinkets. The elder that still goes clubbing in Cardiff nightclubs and gets crowned Queen; the elder that takes a drag, and does all the things their parents can’t as the responsible adults. I am fun personified. I’ll settle for that.

“Aunty I love you.” The best thing a child could say to me, as he gives me a big fat cuddle. “I love you too darling.” So much love – a bottomless well of it.

There was a time when I had to grit my teeth and sob behind dark glasses, closed doors, and in the loo at work. Although that time has gone now, I’m still a mother, and it was still a birth – however invisible, however silent. Always there. Always loved.

Dirty blood. I’ll be glad to see the back of you.

An imagined 11-year-old

Somewhere, in a parallel Universe, there is a bold young boy playing with his vorpal sword that goes snicker-snack. His name is Vincent. He has blonde hair, and blue eyes; he’s very creative and loves to dress up. He wears feather boas, and glitter. He’s a glam rock star in the making. He loves to fly kites. He can ride a horse and swim the ocean. He loves physics, art and dance like his mother. And English literature and New Wave films, like his dad. He’s a brave young boy, playing in a field full of sunflowers.

9-15 October was National Baby Loss Awareness Week. On the Sunday, I lit a candle and danced – a wild dance, shedding skins in celebration of a short life but whose soul lives on in my imagination, making me feel more, laugh more and love more. SANDS threw me an umbilical lifeline when my world stopped. You can support them here.

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