Hope springs

‘And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that the space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.’ (Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1958)

I’ve been very sad recently.  My childhood home in India which was locked up, had been burgled. Not satisfied with not finding much there (yes, we were very poor), the thieves then ransacked the place, even ripping apart the mattresses.  Even if a home has been a very humble place, with not many things there, it still has its memories. It was also my first home and a place I always went back to.  I learnt to walk there and play with the children who lived nearby.  Our school was nearby.  So many people came there.  The address is forever etched my heart.  My beloved uncle and my father both passed away there. That place was the centre of my universe for decades until I left but I always came back to it whenever I visited India from the UK. My British born children loved it too.

Then this burglary happened- totally out of the blue. I felt violated myself because my home was so intimately connected to me- it was who I was, it was my body. The mattresses that had been ripped apart lay on the same bed that my father had died.  I was angry and helpless. But there was nothing to be done. When I was praying, the thought came into my head, ‘You need to concentrate on yourself. There is nothing to be done by getting angry or upset’.  And then I read about the people in Australia who had lost everything in the recent bushfires- and precious things like their pets, photographs of their childhood, livelihood, etc.  Tragically some had even died trying to save their homes. I began to feel grateful that such physical evidences of my life were still there- photographs, mementos, and my memories too.  No one had been injured during the burglary.  I heard a woman say about her home being destroyed during the floods in the UK, ‘After all, it is just bricks and mortar.’  And I thought about all those people around the world who had lost homes, left their homes fleeing wars or other disasters, or were even homeless.  Suddenly I began to see a brighter side to everything- and really how lucky I was.

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Black mountain on fire, February 2020 (image: Wikimedia commons, Saritha Balram)

Then today, I saw this- a little tiny shoot of a cactus plant.  Cactus plants are quite difficult to grow at home from seeds but somehow this little thing had managed to sprout. I felt like it was saying to me, ‘Don’t give up hope.’  It is still a long way from becoming a proper cactus plant but I thought this little thing has struggled and found a way to come out of the dark sandy soil, so could I come out my own dark place.

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My tiny cactus plant!

Deciding what to do

Recently I have been reviewing what to do, having spent many years doing it all, or rather trying to do it all.  I feel now I have come to the state in life when I need to edit things out.  This kind of editing has involved giving away of things I am not using; not going to events/shows/talks; editing out facebook and other social media contacts; getting out of mailing lists and also deciding what to do with work goals.

The Konmari method of cleaning out spaces uses the idea of throwing out anything that is not ‘sparking joy’.  William Morris suggested that everything in our house should be useful or beautiful (or both).

The author, Scott Sonenshein, says that the Konmari method is ‘not just about what we do to our physical space.  It’s about what we do to our mental space. Once we break that dependence that having more equals more happiness and more success” and apply the “spark joy” filter, we “can recognize what is most meaningful and important to us because it doesn’t get lost in clutter.’

However, it has taken me a long time (decades) to see what sort of rest of my life I want to lead.  So he says, ‘Deciding which projects to pursue may be more challenging for individuals beginning a new career, as they have yet to develop a strong sense of the work and environments they prefer.  However, just as the KonMari Method is structured so individuals can “calibrate before getting to sentimental items”, people may need time in their professional lives to gain a better sense of what “sparks joy” for them.’

Using the method by William Morris, one can decide if the project is not useful or creating something beautiful it is time to let go of it.  After all, we live short lives and in that time, we do not leave something behind that is beautiful or useful (and even both), then there is nothing to remember us by.  That leaving gift need not be a physical thing- it can be advice or love you give to another person.  For example, my Uncle did not leave me anything but his love and advice (which I use all the time).  He lives on in my life and also in my children’s lives as I recount things he used to say or do with me.

Worth watching this 12 minute funny TED Talk (assuming you are not offended by the language!)

Creative traditions

Every country has age old traditions that manifest themselves creatively in days of celebration.  But these traditions have become commercialised.  So in an age of mass produced goods and of artificial perfection where the sign of hands and any ‘errors’ have been carefully removed, it is good to make things by hand and make them not too perfect.  Easter offers one of those occasions where the hideous and unhealthy tradition of factory made ever larger chocolate eggs have captured children and parents’ hearts and stomachs.  On the other hand, many traditional Easter foods have been home made, free from additives and perhaps more healthy, if not entirely so.

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Having an Armenian link in my family, I decided this year to make traditional Armenian Easter eggs alongside a traditional meal.  Making these Easter eggs involves using onion skins, turmeric and other natural dyes to colour eggs.  Here are some of my efforts.  I collected red onion skins- shopkeepers were happy to get rid of them.  I also put in some chilli flakes that I was not using (these also make the water red).  I boiled these for about twenty minutes and left it to cool overnight.  In the morning, I pasted some leaves I found in the garden on the raw eggs using water.  I used organic hens and duck eggs.  Then I put the eggs inside cut up old stockings and boiled them further for about 20 minutes. After removing them from the stocking, I left them to cool.  When they were cold to touch, I polished them with some olive oil to make them shine.  Even though the duck eggs were less successful, the over all effect of mottled colour with silhouettes of leaves, was charming on both types of eggs.  We ate those eggs with some goats cheese, yoghurt, traditional bread, olives and tomato and onion salad.  My children had been given some of the shop bought chocolate eggs but after eating lunch, they did not feel like eating those!  What did I do with the waste?  The skins were put in the compost and the leftover liquid was used to dye an old silk blouse.  No waste- a perfect end to Easter holidays!

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