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Proud, Loud and Sexy at 70 – Eva Chapman


1 Minute Read

I joined Instagram over a year ago thinking that this would be a good way of promoting my book. My goal was to reach 10,000 followers. Then I got really scared. Did I dare to come out as a sexy, older woman on a platform like Instagram? I thought everyone would laugh at me and say; ‘How can someone over seventy, be sexy?’ I dared.

The response has been amazing. It seems that most people love it. They say it gives them hope. So, I have reached 10K followers and it has been great fun. And is also how I found my publisher, Publishing Push.

This book follows me from the misery of menopause, through my 50s and 60s, to 70. It has been a life-changing journey. I was so happy to finally really wake up. I have written the book for people, especially women, who think that menopause might be the end of the road. For many years, I really believed that my days as an attractive, interesting and sexy woman were well and truly over.

Especially, when I knew that my quota of eggs had run out. I believed Cher when she said: ‘Fifty sucks. Men don’t look at you anymore.’ I bought into all the societal messages that I was a dried out old husk, heading for withered crone-dome. I hated getting old. Cruise ships were full of ageing wives whose husbands had left them for a younger model. The world seemed grim. I ate too much and my evening quotient of wine rose steadily. I developed more chins. I became an apple shape as my middle expanded. I started to wear loose floppy tops.

Annoyingly my husband, Jake, got better looking with age. I railed and railed that it was totally unfair. Men got more debonair as they got older. I hated getting wrinkles. I became obsessed with having a facelift. ‘I will leave if you do,’ said Jake. My interest in sex dwindled to almost zero. I gobbled yam pills and a herb, suitably or unsuitably, called ‘horny goat’, but to no avail. I read Germaine Greer and Leslie Kenton who talked me out of HRT. ‘Was that right?’ I wondered on a bad day. ‘Surely estrogen rollicking through my veins might make me look younger and sexier.’ Germaine said she was happy that men didn’t look at her as a sexual object anymore, but appreciated her brain. I personally would have happily traded in my Ph.D. for just one wolf whistle.

Things came to a head when my husband was smitten by another woman who was half my age. I was devastated. But what could I do? Especially when I was being stalked by the Dowager of Decrepitude. Well, I turned and faced that Dowager head-on. I kicked myself up my sorry backside, dyed my hair black and had a spiky cut. I bought a black leather jacket and leather pants, and out I went to claim my man back. This is described dramatically in the book and with it came an intriguing twist that I hadn’t expected. The best outcome was that my sexuality came back like a tsunami.

Little did I know that this blast of sexual awakening, after several years of being a dried-out husk of a woman, would launch me into a fearsome self re-evaluation. I would become to my total surprise, a sexy, rampant flirt in my 60s. And with this came a re-emergence of my spiritual self. Really? Sexy at 70 and spiritual? I had engaged in many spiritual practices for over 30 years but had not yet learned one of the fundamental principles of those practices – which is to accept and love oneself totally.

With the aid of some tough self-inspection, deep inner exploration and openness to new experiences, I faced down my negative spectre of cronedom. Jake and I found some younger friends who introduced us to a whole, buzzing, new party world and I started to learn to flirt. Jake enjoyed flirting too and encouraged me. The book describes some of my early woeful flirting experiences, but I persevered. What I discovered was it had little to do with wrinkles and sagging skin, but all to do with inner confidence and self-belief. It was transformational and I had a blast.

I also explored different gurus and different spiritual paths, which all helped me see what was in the way of me truly accepting myself. I also explored the therapeutic effects of drugs, which helped me overcome limiting self-beliefs. My mother was destroyed by severe schizophrenia, which caused havoc in my childhood and teenage years, as I watched her descend into a drooling vegetable. She had never overcome growing up in Stalinist Ukraine and then at age 17 was taken as a prisoner by the Nazis, and forced to work as a slave in Germany. One of my powerful beliefs was that I would also go mad. So, I went to Peru to face my fear of madness, once and for all. With the help of my husband, Shamans and the jungle drug, ayahuasca, I managed to put my mad demons into cages where I could keep them in order. That was incredibly freeing.

There were other tough lessons along the way and many tests, especially physical. Debilitating sciatica nearly ended my marriage and cancer spread its dark shadow over our lives; as well as claiming the life of a dear friend. My husband got lung cancer and I developed a rare cancer of the blood. The book describes how we dealt with these misfortunes and fell more and more deeply in love with each other.

By dealing with my unruly unconscious, and as a result of further meditation, I made a startling discovery at age 64. Inside me was a Russian Bar Girl waiting to come out. This was not easy to accept. Russian bar girls are young and beautiful, they stereotypically pick up men in bars. Here I was supposedly on the way to becoming a wise old crone, and instead, I had to come to terms with this voluptuous, seductive inner woman, chomping at the bit. I started to do sexy dances for my husband. I said to him; ‘Aren’t I too old for this?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘I have been waiting patiently for years.’ So at least once a week I put on a sexy outfit, some music, and dance; such fun and so liberating. Below are some of the many IG photos, entitled ‘date night in’.

My book ‘Sexy at 70- a Spiritual Journey’ will be published on October 10th by www.publishingpush.com

Link to Facebook page for Publishing Push

https://www.facebook.com/pg/PublishingPushLTD/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://publishingpush.com/blog/arcs-available-now-sexy-at-70-eva-chapman/

Other links – https://www.facebook.com/evamariachapman

Instagram – @sizzling70s

Twitter – @sizzle70s

Website www.evachapman.co.uk

The Culture Interview: Jenny Gordon – Artist


6 Minute Read

Jenny Gordon is an artist and filmmaker who has a son called Gabriel Bisset-Smith. She is black and her son is white. Or they are both mixed race? Her son has written a lively play Whitewash about race, skin colour and gentrification. It’s on at the Soho Theatre in London until July 27th. Book here – https://sohotheatre.com/

How did Whitewash evolve? 

Basically through situations and conversations my son and I have had over the years revolving aroundrace and the differences of our skin colour. Then, he decided that he wanted to make them into a play that explores mixed raced identity and housing in London.

Could you explain the name – I guess it’s a play on words re London and race, and also something to do with white privilege?

Yeah, it has a few different meaning really, like the word itself. It’s to do with the white privilege of the main character but also the whitewashing of London.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Were you actually involved before your son wrote it?

It is based on our life and his upbringing so in a way yes. And he has been involved with my housing situation which has been part of the motivation to write this!

Did he interview you in order to use your experience?

He didn’t have to interview me because we have an on-going dialogue.

How do you feel about being at the centre of this play?

Initially I found it quite stressful as I’m very private about my personal life so it was odd having people think the play is real when it’s just inspired by some real events. But I’m getting use to it now.

And has it affected your relationship with your son, Gabriel?

The whole experience has been really positive for our relationship. We are always very supportive of each other as my son I are very close and we get on really well. I understand what he is doing and it’s been great collaborating with him as I did the painting for the show and he’s a dream to work with.

I noticed you refer to yourself as black and the publicity from the Soho theatre says mixed race?

I refer to myself as black but for the clarity of the story the publicity says mixed race.

How was it being a black mother with a white baby/son/child? In the public arena? And what does that say about us as a society?

When Gabriel was born the first thing I said to the doctor was  – ‘Is he going to go darker?’ and the answer was no. If I hadn’t seen him come out I would have thought they had made a mistake, so it took me a while to bond with him. He was very blond with ringlets and blue eyes and people always thought I was the nanny or minder, and sometimes people would argue with me that he couldn’t be my son.

It became very tiring so I just went with it, which made me take a step back. I didn’t really talk about it so I would just laugh it off but I think it had aneffect on me.

I’m not sure what it says about society but it madeit much harder if you were different in any way out of the norm. People thought they had a right to comment on it? Nowadays it’s probably more hidden.

Have we improved or gone backwards?

With Trump and the possibility of Boris Johnson becoming a Prime Minister, I feel that these are quite risky times and there is a feeling that we could be going backwards in terms of being a woman andrace.

There’s a lot of focus on white privilege these days? Is that good?

Yes, I think it’s a good thing that white people are made aware of their privilege. It’s been there forever but they are really only becoming aware of it now. And it means people like me have a clearerunderstanding of why we get shut out of opportunities.

How is it a love letter to London?

It celebrates what is great about this city. Clubbing, art, diversity and over the course of 30 years. But it also questions what’s happening to it.

How has your own attitude to race changed?

My attitude to race has changed for the better. It’s so much better for me now than when I wasgrowing up. I had a lot of racial abuse wherever I went. I had to be aware of which places that I couldgo to socialise, where I looked for work and education. Now it’s so much more cosmopolitan with so many more inter-racial relationships. I don’t suffer any open outward racism anymore.

What was it like being a young artist in the 80s and 90s in London? How did you survive?

I lived in Culross Buildings in Kings Cross, which could be a bit edgy, with drug addicts and prostitutes. I had a free studio in the same building as my flat and a communal hall where we would hold celebrations and parties. I would go for meetings with gallery owners and with quite a few of them I had bad experiences. I was invited for meetings on the basis of my paintings. However when they saw me, they kept me waiting for hours and then said my work was too controversial for their gallery. I found this experience to be very disheartening and as a result it made me less confident to promote myself as an artist in the ‘art world’.

I also had a part-time job working in a nursery where my kids went and I used to do a vintage stall down Portabello Road. Soho was my go-to-place for socialising at The French, Colony or Gerry’s.

We created a haven in the Victorian buildings and cobbled streets, which were used as film sets for films like Charlie Chaplin and Mike Leigh’s High Hopes. It was a really great artistic communitywhere you felt safe and protected as everyone looked out for each other.

Overall we could be more creative and less money-dependant. I had great support from family, friends and neighbours. It could be tough but we always had lots of fun and good memories of a London that no longer exists.

One of the themes in the play is social housing and how that is changing? I think you have personal experience of that?

I think social housing is coming to an end. It’s more like social cleansing, which I am experiencing myself at this point in my life. They are trying to redevelop where I am living now. It always starts with small damp issues which are never proven and leads to demolition and an uncertain future.

Is Whitewash also a celebration of London?

Yes but also a battle cry to try and save it!

 

AofA People: Jilliana Ranicar-Breese – Radio presenter, writer, poet, salon host


9 Minute Read

Jilliana Ranicar-Breese, 74, is a radio presenter, writer, poet and hosts a Spoken Word Salon in Brighton on the first Tuesday of the month. Jilliana is a veritable one-woman hive of activity and role model for getting older brilliantly.

How old are you?

I am 74 [Capricorn] and reside in Brighton

What do you do?

A lot in this day and age of Social Media. I am the co-presenter and co-producer of a weekly Friday radio programme called ‘Your voice matters’ at Brighton and Hove Community Radio [BHCR]. I choose my guests carefully, brief them and also interview them separately for my own YouTube channel for my series ‘Jilliana in Brighton’.

I travel as much as I can, up to five months of the year, studying the country, culture and language as a project before I leave. At my destination, I interview people in English, French, Italian or Spanish for my YouTube channel or do Vox Pops. I go to markets and am passionate about fashion, food, music and photography. I am also a senior reviewer for TripAdvisor so I am constantly making notes and taking photographs of food, hotels and restaurants as well as ‘Faces and Places’.

Last year I began my monthly Spoken Word Salon [Jilliana’s Spoken Word Salon] in Hove and created more work for myself!

I fervently write my vignettes and narrative poems when I have time between writing daily to friends and e-friends, sending photographs and texts all over the world to people I have met or people who I will meet. There is not a day when I am not writing something to someone, if not to myself! I cannot live without the power of the word!

Tell us what it’s like to be 74?

I am proud to be a mature 74 knowing that I don’t look my age nor, thankfully, act my age. I had to make the decision when I turned 70 that I would not hide my age if and when asked. The only thing that irritates me, when meeting new people, is if they ask me straight off, if I have grandchildren!

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

A good question. I did not have life experience nor worldwide cultural knowledge. I only spoke Italian at 25 in 1969 and had not experienced life in Paris which became my cultural education. Nor was I a writer. I didn’t have an identity either. I was not a property owner so at 25 I was a free spirit. I had no proper career and no goals. In fact I was an enthusiastic travel agent at Global Tours (Number 3 in the UK) in Oxford Street planning my journey to Brazil in 1970 which would influence my life forever lured by the Bossa Nova and the beautiful sound of the Brazilian Portuguese language – music in itself to my ears.

What about sex?

Well, what about sex? That’s like opening a can of worms. A bit of a joke for me as I used to deal in ‘Erotica’ prints and postcards in Paris and London in the late 70s and recently have interviewed at least 5 Sexperts for my ‘Jilliana in Brighton’ series on Sex Education. An education never given to me in the 60s by my pharmacy owner Mother when I was growing up in Liverpool.

And relationships?

After betrayal by my husband in 2006 and two events in 2013, men do not figure in my life. I am not gay but frankly prefer the company of women to men. I find woman more honest, open and willing to share their experiences and stories. Women don’t play games, men do – in my book!

How free do you feel?

I have freedom of choice now that I have no husband to ‘control’ my behaviour. 25 years of restricted behaviour! I am also free of being in business and earning money, meeting deadlines and being polite to clients and colleagues who, at times, I could not express myself freely to.

What are you proud of?

Proud that from being a technophobic about 7 years ago, I have mastered basic Social Media and am not afraid to ask for help. Never stop learning, I say.

I am proud of becoming a radio broadcaster.

I am proud of winning the award for best co-presenter and co-producer of 2017.

I am proud of winning the Rotary Club of Brighton and Hove award for Community Services Award in December 2018.

I am proud being the MC at my own Salon.

I am proud at my Page Spoken Word reading of my vignettes and poems to an audience.

I am proud I can make an audience laugh.

I am proud I can interview people and get them to reveal stories that they never thought they could tell.

I am proud that I created an international business in the antique collectibles world with the investment of £200 in Paris in 1977.

I am proud that I founded and created Retrograph Archive in the mid 1980s that was under offer to Duke’s University, Hartman Collection for seven years before I was told they did not have the funds to buy it. They wanted me to donate it! Proud I was ahead of my time. Finally my Nostalgia Archive went to another museum in London. 2,000 of my images ended up in the Mary Evans photo library in London and I receive no income. A tragic story not ready to be revealed involving betrayal.

I am proud that I did the fire-walk despite having a fear of fire. Mind over matter. I am unstoppable.

I am proud that I am confident without being conceited.

Proud I became a radio journalist and broadcaster

Proud I became a narrative poet

Proud I found my Voice to express my thoughts and life experience

Proud I was invited to perform my vignettes and poetry in Paris, Chaniá, Kalkan and Fethiye.

Proud that people consider my writing inspirational.

Proud I speak several languages.

Proud that I started to travel at the age of 22 and despite getting into hot water, learned to manage my life through my mistakes.

Proud that I became a world traveller without fear of the unknown. I opened the door to Europe and further afield.

Proud that I survived a serious ‘Breakdown/breakthrough’ and rose from the ashes of my former life.

Proud that I became a better individual with a greater understanding of others, less fortunate then myself.

Proud that I became less selfish despite being an only child in a silent home

Proud that I am a sincere good friend to my close friends.

Proud that I have let go of the betrayal in my life.

Proud that people consider ME inspirational.

Proud of my Jewish cultural heritage

Proud that I am an honest person. What you see is what you get.

Proud to be a Liver Bird.

Proud that I founded Retrograph Archive and its photo library.

Proud that I became an Archivist and a Picture Researcher/Visual Consultant.

Proud that I created and styled non-digital ‘RetroMontages’ in the late 80s that were published in the UK, Munich and New York.

Proud to be the Mentor to my adopted Cuban ‘daughter’ Ingrid.

Proud I became ‘Sultana Jilliana’ and created my own original Sultana fashion style.

What keeps you inspired?

Meeting positive people from all walks of life who have a story to tell and teach me something. Everyone has a story to tell. That’s the jigsaw of life.

Seeing beautiful clothes on lovely beings.

Seeing beautiful colourful flowers and trees or seeing exotic photographs of animals and nature that people kindly send me through social media.

When are you happiest?

Watching good classical movies from the 40s, watching American chat shows or comedy shows on YouTube, listening to world music, listening to piano and violin classical music, selecting music for the radio show, being with tropical plants and flowers in a lovely garden or walking in botanical gardens, being with dogs and cats, especially with Neko, my adorable cat who I have written about.

I am happy when I am on holiday or in the company of my best friend and Soul Sister, British of Jamaican heritage, Pauline Weir who is inspirational. We inspire and appreciate each other. I am happy when I am writing and inspired by my own creativity. Frankly, I enjoy my own company.

Where does your creativity go?

Today my creativity goes into my appearance. I live for colour, which uplifts my spirit. Colour combinations and textiles and textures are essential for me. A daily dose of colour keeps the doctor away!

My creative release is more importantly through my writing. I cannot live without being creative and expressing myself through the Spoken Word. I am forever telling my true stories and have now found a platform and an audience globally. Spread the Word I say. Write what you say and say what you mean’.

Are you still dreaming?

I believe if you wish hard enough for something, it will manifest. I rarely remember my dreams. I am a realist. I don’t dream. I know Walt Disney said ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ but my whole life has been synchronicity and Happenstance. I never planned my life, it just happened. A door opens and I walk through it.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Live abundantly for the moment. No one knows when our time is going to be up! Speak your truth. Be a good, kind and generous friend to your friends and surprise others not in your life from time to time.

Be a mentor to others less fortunate than yourself. Share your life knowledge with others. Take an interest in your health, mental well-being and physical well-being. I repeat. Be generous and share. We came into this world alone with nothing and we will depart from this world alone with nothing. We only ‘borrow’ possessions. In fact, we need very little in life. But in later life we need a comfortable bed, a pet and friends we can confide in. A sense of humour is essential even turning a tragedy into comedy. I speak from experience. In a way I must thank my dear departed husband for his betrayal and mental abuse, otherwise I would not have become the woman I am today.

Of dying?

I do not think about death. I live for the moment. Carpe Diem. My funeral will be a celebration of my life. I hate it when people say ‘What WAS your name? ‘ I usually growl and say ‘I’m not dead yet!’

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I had always planned to age disgracefully like my dear departed late ex-husband did with the inevitable consequences, which caused my breakdown/breakthrough. Now I have changed my mind because people can get hurt through selfishness and cruelty.

Last action was 2013 in Berlin! I was dared to do something and took up the challenge. But was it really outrageous? Umm. But what IS outrageous? We all have different ideas according to background, culture and age. Now that I am a public figure in the Brighton and Hove community, I have my reputation to consider. After all, I AM Sultana Jilliana!

Jilliana’s Spoken Word Salon is on the first Tuesday of the month in Hove. www.jilliana.com

Spirit, Sexuality and the Menopause


4 Minute Read

At my own rather grand 50th birthday party, I found myself in a total physical and spiritual breakdown, culminating in being rushed into hospital with a kidney stone. Not what I had expected. This was the gateway to my initiation into menopause.

Since my early 20s, I had been running headlong on ‘superwoman’ energy, bringing my purpose to the world to change the damaging paradigms of the past 5000 years. I had hit the wall running and it became clear lying in the hospital bed that I could not continue like this.

Over the next months, I was shown again and again those places where I was not in my deepest truth about who I am, about how to relate or simply bring myself to the world. I was being asked to surrender to a new reality and I was putting up a fight. As a teacher and healer, I could no longer work in the world, nor could I take care of the centre I had built, Earthheart, nor the people who rely on me or the dreams that I held of the future. I faced the demons of potential poverty, homelessness and a loss of meaning in my life. I questioned the existence of ‘God’. I saw a landscape ahead with no map to guide me.

I was being guided however by a force beyond the mundane that kept saying ‘Let it all go and trust that life would take care of you’. Terrified, I argued and thrashed about negotiating for an easier passage but it was not to be. I was guided to take 13 moons out of my life, let go of everything, listen deeply inside and allow a spiritual death. So I put my caravan in the woods here at Earthheart in the Welsh Border, made a hearth and a nest in the surrounding forest into which I could sink, pray, listen, feel and surrender.

During my 13 moon passage, I asked radical questions about my life. What came back was powerful, potent, illuminating, terrifying and I knew it was truth, deep truth. And that I could no longer dilute what life was trying to speak through me and the message from the Mystery.

The message was that sexuality is at the centre of the menopause initiation. Having heard all my life that when menopause hits sex is over, women ‘dry up’, lose their libido and die a slow and boring death, I was
shocked!

I can say with absolute conviction that these stereotypes have not been my experience. I have found a connection to my sexuality on a totally new level.

It requires a willingness from a lover to show up in body, heart and soul, and that there is no compromise possible. If the heart is not in, I don’t want to know. Simply put, when I was younger ‘anything’ was preferable to ‘nothing’ in terms of sexual connections. But now ‘nothing’ is preferable to ‘anything’. Death and sexual energy are closely linked as they connect us to the Mystery and the Cycles of life. In this way ‘death’ is essential in order to claim this new erotic connection. We have to allow the old ways to die, so that something new in us can be birthed in connection both to how we express our sexual energy and to what that energy serves. Now my erotic energy is in service to Love, to the Mystery and to Truth.

Over these past few years, I have worked with many women who have come to the menopause work I offer saying they have gone off sex and have dried up. What soon becomes apparent in most cases – is that the
body’s intelligence is asking them to no longer compromise and when they/we were offered sex in the way THEY want, suddenly the body comes alive again. And it doesn’t end with lovers. How these women bring
themselves to the world has changed, they are speaking their unapologetic truth, and in that, they are truly changing the world.

Menopausal women are a powerhouse of erotic energy in service to spirit because oestrogen, the hormone which keeps us locked into a biological drive, drops away. Once this has gone – sexual energy and spirit unite to become an energy of transformation. Perhaps this is why the patriarchal system had to give us the idea that it would all be over at this time, so as to keep our power locked up just at a time when it was about to enter a whole another level of potency?

All kinds of things happen – women leave long term partnerships, leave their careers, no longer want to care for everyone in their family. All of it is a wake-up call for us to ask those deep and challenging questions about our own life; what is it we are truly longing for and can we claim it?

I’m back from my 13 Moons with a cauldron of offerings for this sacred passage and some significant insights as to how we can meet it as a powerful force of change in the world, simply by being who we are. As menopausal women, our light and radiance is both needed and wanted in a world where the old paradigms are crumbling and a new vision emerging.

Welcome

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: Debra Watson – Performer, Tutor, Poet


1 Minute Read

Debra Watson, 53, is a wildly exciting woman. She runs a participative theatre, art and media charity. She’s a performer who’s interested in intimate methodologies. She’s a tutor. She does sensual poetry performances as part of The Crimson Word, The Bloody Poets and the Poetry Brothel London.

Her next performance is this Thursday where she will be performing FemmeDom, tickets are only on sale beforehand from Eventbrite.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Up in leafy Muswell Hill. It’s very suburban and also very green and pretty. I moved here when my son started high school. I love North London because of the proximity to the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. It’s a life-saver in the summer!

WHAT IS YOUR AGE?

53

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

It’s great! I’ve had a fantastic last two years creatively. I am full of ideas and have some great people around me to work with. I worry as I am not sure how much longer I can go at this pace. I had to take a month off for health reasons in mid-October.

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

Debra Watson by Steve Gregson

I am a lot more at peace with the fact that I am odd. My 25th birthday was amazing. I was working on a hit show at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. My sister brought my nephew and niece backstage and brought a cake. I was semi-famous. That year, we were invited to perform at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and then for a run at the Tricycle Theatre in London. Yet somehow, though my work now is much more marginal, I have much more confidence in my process and output, than I had then.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Ah. I have discovered that sex is not as difficult to get as I thought it would be for someone my age. I enjoy it immensely when I have it. I don’t currently have any long-term sexual partners. I’d prefer that to a series of one-off encounters. I’m super into intimacy. I’ve discovered I’m not really that promiscuous anymore. I long for depth and the scariness that comes with allowing someone to know you. You can discover a lot about yourself. I am surprised at how sexual I still am. This year, I’ve performed intimate poetry in a few different sex-clubs. It’s been an eye-opener. I clearly have a lot to learn and explore. I feel lucky to still feel sexual desire and to be desired. I know that for many women and men, sex becomes irrelevant to them as they age. It’s a genetic thing, I think. My mum was the same.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I am separated from, but immensely close to, my ex-husband (whom I met when I was 25!), I work with him sometimes. He is my best friend. I can’t imagine a life without him. We co-parent. He wipes away my tears when my lovers break my heart. I have been experimenting (badly) with polyamory. It has been chaotic. I don’t enjoy relationship chaos. I like being treated well, with consideration and sensitivity. I can’t bear being blindsided by stupidity.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

In what way? Personally, there are things I feel free about, but to be honest, I think I would feel freer if I had more liquidity. I am not free enough to travel as much as I would like, or to give up working for money or to just pack up my flat and go full Nomad. There are many ways in which I feel constricted. Not free at all.

Debra Watson by Lilith Costela

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

I am super proud of my creative output in the past three years. On my 50th birthday, I did a ‘dress tease’ for my friends and it started off a creative process that has been wonderful for me. In my late 40s, I started writing poetry again and this has led to an interest in performing intimate poetry. In the last two years, I have been performing with The Poetry Brothel London, The Bloody Poets and this year, have started a new intimate, immersive poetry collective The Crimson Word, with my friend Winter James. We are set up to do events, pop-ups, and parties; but we keep changing our mind and expanding the horizons of the company. The Bloody Poets was started in London by Mad Pirvan and Belen Berlin in 2017. Mad moved to London a year ago and runs the event once a quarter. It’s been very experimental and probably the closest I have come to re-picking up the thread of exploring experimental performance work I was doing in the early 80s and 90s.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

I can be a lone wolf, but I really enjoy working in collectives. I get tremendous inspiration from other artists and tend to enjoy having events and themes to write to. My work is very, very personal, but having a group and compatriots that are also focussed on work and creativity has been crucial for me in developing in ways I haven’t expected. Social media is fun too. I’ve found that Instagram is an amazing tool for reaching new audiences. That being said, I need downtime and alone time to process, research and write.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

When I am creating. Even though it can be fraught, I love the creative process. The starting with a blank page, or one phrase, or one image and then building that up ‘into’ something. I am often not at all sure that I am going to pull off an idea. It is fabulous when/if things come together. I also get very, very happy when people pay me well and when they tell me that my work has moved them or impacted them in some way or another. Sometimes, especially after the very intimate 1-2-1 readings, people have an after-glow. They say: ‘It’s better than sex’. I used to be very shy about approaching performers and acting all fangirlish. No more. I realise how important it can be, in those dark and lonely hours when you think all your work is shit and that you’ve never have done nor will do anything well, to remember a kind word or a moment of sincere praise.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

I perform, I write, I make costumes. A lot of my work is concerned with intimacy/intimate performance. It’s so intense and unpredictable. I also run a participative theatre, art, and media charity, so I also tutor and facilitate creativity. Part of my life is me being a big show off and another part is engaging very sensitively with other people to get them to tell their own stories.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Go towards what terrifies you.

AND DYING?

I recently had a health scare. I am not out the woods yet. I am still in terrible pain on alternate days, but they don’t think I am dying. Before the diagnosis, I had a very serious discussion with my ex. I felt 100% that if it turned out to be critical, I would take this as an opportunity to step off the planet. I am not too keen on living for long. The world seems to be going to shit. I think I have had a good run of it, I think there is more fun to be had, but if it all had to end, I hope to face it graciously. Secretly, I am envious of people who die suddenly and quickly. It’s horrid for those left behind but I am not, and never have been, a fan of chronic pain and slow decay.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Yes. And there’s still so much I feel I need and want to do.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

I tend to do all my outrageous acts in performance. The Crimson Word is just about to launch the first of a series of ‘Suprasensual Poeticals’ at a private members club in Hackney. It’s a continuation of work we have been exploring over the summer. Our theme is ‘Venus in Furs’ after the 1870 novella written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It explores themes of female domination and male submission. So, I am going to be exploring FemmeDom in performance. I hope it will be fun! It’s a small audience in a beautiful room in a private members club. No tickets will be available on the door. Only sales in advance from here.

Doing a Poetry Residential at Ty Newydd in North Wales


5 Minute Read

There’s something about starting a new pursuit and passion when you’re older. It’s stimulating in a different way. I began writing poetry when I was 55 ten years ago. Partly, because it was non-commercial. I knew I’d never earn any money from it – so it could be purely words and me. Unlike the world of freelance journalism that I’d inhabited for the previous 25 years, which was getting more and more like a hamster wheel.

I sought a certain sort of freedom of literary expression for its own sake. And I found it at City Lit and City University in evening classes with all sorts of contemporary poets from Roddy Lumsden to Annie Freud to John Stammers. The latter had an invitation-only group, which I eventually was able to join and Wednesday afternoons became the highlight of my week. They still are.

Last year, I published my first pamphlet Tantric Goddess at the age of 64 on Eyewear. There was a flurry of readings including a Tantra evening at Book and Kitchen – this wonderful little independent bookshop in W11, which has now sadly shut down – with friend and writer, Monique Roffey. I read from my pamphlet and Mon read from her recent erotic novel The Tryst, then we did a Q & A afterward on tantra workshops. We loved it, there was such an easy, intimate flow to the evening.

A year later, I felt like I needed to get out of the almost comfort – despite the ruthless taking apart of each other’s poems – zone of The Group and float my poetry evolution elsewhere. I had just discovered – how had I not known – that Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre for Wales is actually three miles away from my partner’s farmhouse. I saw they had a masterclass – surely mistress class by now – with the former national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, at 81, a grande dame of the art and Robert Minhinnick, another revered Welsh poet and eco-activist. We had to send off poems and be invited. Phew, I got in. Apparently, they chose 16 out of 30 applicants.

The week before I was feeling a little anxious. How would my London/Yorkshire attitude go down? I also knew I wanted to be committed to this course. No staying up late with other poets, I was going to be devoted to the workshop itself.

I drove into the village of Llanystumdwy, along the river Dwyfor and found the long driveway to Ty Newydd. It is a grand old house – where the former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George had lived – and painted in white and blue with a long, narrow library designed by marvelous architect and eccentric Clough Williams-Ellis, the man responsible for the wonderland of ‘fallen buildings’ that is Portmeirion down the road.

My room, well, our room – I’d yet to meet my roommate – was right at the top of the house. Oh, yes, the long-forgotten joys of the single bed. Eventually Thirza – I learned later that this was a self-appropriated name – turned up and so began our week of negotiating this space. Actually, she was very well-behaved, although definitely a late night poet. On the last night, she outdid herself and didn’t get to bed until 3:30am.

 

I managed to resist. I told you I was going to be a good girl. At last. Thirza, who is older than me, obviously wasn’t rebellious enough in her youth and middling years! She was lovely, by the way, kind, supportive and didn’t complain about my snoring.

The first night was meeting each other and eating delicious food, a good portent for the week. We also got to interview each other in the library and then introduce the group to our partner. An exercise in listening and remembering. And absolutely no run of the mill – where do you come from type questions – for Thirza. She recounted her love of gardening, Italian and her strange obsession with the dishwasher.

The next morning –the workshop ran from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning, which seemed short but turned out to be intense – we started for real. With Robert. Who is an elegiac poet of distinction but in person quite dramatic and direct. And funny. Oh, I have to say there was only one other person on the course from London. This was heaven in so many ways. There were poets from up north and many from Wales. There was that song with us all the time.

Robert had brought an envelope of abstract nouns that he’d prepared earlier. We got one each, looked it and started writing with his prompts. Unlocking the muse suggestions. What does this word taste like? Where is it? What does it feel like? I got jealousy – a shameful feeling with which I am very familiar. We wrote for 15 minutes and then read out to each other what we’d written. The first public declarations. The others had to guess what our word was. Well, they got that mine wasn’t pleasant. One of my lines was – ‘You are a twisted priest’. Robert liked that. Other abstract nouns were dread, fear, joy, wonder, mystery and we began to form an impression of each other as poets.

It was fun. The afternoon was with both tutors and eight of us brought along poems without our names on them. We handed them out and critiqued them publicly. And then wrote little advisory or appreciative notes on them. The first one was called Goldfinches and very accomplished – about the First World War and vividly expressed. I’d put one in called Identity, which was about race, my son and partly about Grenfell. Funnily enough, it hadn’t gone down well with my group in London but it did go down well in this group. I got a lot of positive feedback and some questions. One was about my usage of bastard mango, ie was it gratuitous or actually the name of a mango. It was, I’m glad to say, the actual name of a mango. I found it very useful although the shape of the table meant that we couldn’t really have flowing conversations. And 16 turned out to be a challenging number of people for optimum inclusion.

Later on, we divided into much smaller groups of four to look at each other’s poems. Ones that we’d brought with us. My group retired to that fabulous library with the view over to Cardigan Bay and we were serious about our endeavor.

Incidentally, ‘serious’ is one of Gillian’s favourite words and now at the ripe old of 65, I can finally appreciate it. And sink into it.

We were Alison Lock – a poet and short story writer from Huddersfield, Julia Usman – a poet from Swaledale who travels to Dubai a lot to visit her husband, and Trish Reith – a poet who lives in Biggar, Scotland. It was delightful to find four women who liked talking about poems and poetry as much as I do. There were occasions when we almost had a chat but Trish kept us in line. Poetry, first.

The reason we liked our fours – the others in the group agreed – was that we could share equally. We spent an hour each day with our four poems. Someone would read one, the others would comment, then the poet in question would respond to the comments. We all found it incredibly instructive. And we discussed questions like – how do we bring political events into poetry. Make them personal in some way, I think we agreed.

Later in the week, we dubbed ourselves The Crones. Part of AoA’s vision is to reclaim words like crone and old, in order to make us feel more relaxed about ageing and less in the eternal pursuit of youth. I could immediately see a Crone Tour on the cards.

And it was Halloween while we were there. In fact, Trish had a poem called Mission Time, which was about the original pagan festival, Samhain. And it just so happened that the Crones were the cooking crew that night ie we chopped vegetables for the Lobscouse, a tasty stew that I’d never heard of but apparently fed to sailors in Northern Europe for years – so we performed Mission Time as Crone-witches. It seemed to go down a storm. As did the Lobscouse and the wine.

There were readings in the library in the evenings – initially Gillian and Robert. Gillian read a few from her vast selection, while Robert tried a new long poem about his mother on us. He’s written about his mother before – she’s diagnosed as schizophrenic – but not a suite of poems like this, they will be set to music, they was a triumph. On Wednesday, we were treated to the poems and personal stories of Kim Moore whose collection The Art of Falling has won prizes and many plaudits, there’s a moving 17 poem sequence in it where she describes an abusive relationship she was in. ‘And in that year, my body was a pillar of smoke’. From Barrow, she’s got a new collection that features poems about sexism as she’s also doing a PHD on the subject. She read a couple of poems from this new collection All The Men I Never Married – they are lyrical, incisive, brave.

The week unfolded and I found I enjoyed the workshop mornings where Gillian or Robert would offer poem prompts – like think of an object which has a memory, where is it etc. Mine was the kitchen sink in my childhood home in Yorkshire and turned into a poem where I remember my father washing me in this very sink. It was, I said, a look back in sweetness to that time, rather than when I was a bit older and life with him was a lot more difficult. There was something about the challenge of this deadline that I relished. And their lyrical nudges. Gillian would say – make sure it includes a hallelujah line. Robert would say – make sure it’s powerful. And then there was the important advice – don’t have a summing up line at the end. I liked it when Gillian suggested we look up and over our shoulder for that last line.

On the final day, we were to assemble – Jude Brigley, Anne Phillips and Rufus Mufasa were the fine editorial team – an anthology of our work, the Secrets of Cwtch Dan Star (the cupboard under the stairs) inspired by Rufus’ intoxicating poem that combines Welsh and English.

That evening, we all did a five minute reading in the library. My roommate and I were the hosts with the hopefully entertaining and serious introductions. It was our pleasure to acknowledge this work and these poets. We had a ball. Of course, I wore one of my minor feather headdresses…

https://www.tynewydd.wales/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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