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Two small pieces

The outcome of my first day of making things from clay at home:
small, imperfectly formed, and mine

43 years ago, when I graduated with a degree in Ceramics, I knew that there was something wrong with me – mentally, emotionally – but I didn’t know what or how to deal with it. Since then I’ve been close to the edge more than once and in more ways than one. I nearly lost my life during a psychotic experience in Iceland, felt broken to the point where I didn’t think I could possibly mend, and ultimately pushed myself through such extreme, painful experiences that many times I wondered why.

Thankfully, I also thought ‘why not?’ and bit by bit I found a way through.

Being in survival mode doesn’t leave any energy for forward planning, including consideration of what I would do when I retired. The idea of doing some work with clay again suddenly came out of ‘nowhere’ and I’ve been enjoying going to workshop sessions at a studio not too far from where I live. However, I also thought it would be good to be able to do some work from home, especially during the winter months when I can’t work outside in the garden.

Pieces of a puzzle; sawdust fired 1978

The work I produced at college for my degree show was fired initially to bisque level and then finished in a sawdust kiln. We have no space here for a proper kiln but I’ve been exploring possibilities for sawdust firing; even firing ‘greenware’, that is without having put the pieces through the initial bisque firing. This will produce porous pots that are not ‘vitrified’ as they are when fired to higher temperatures, but some beautiful subtle effects can be obtained.

So with a few basic tools and a dining table, I’m off to a good start. I’m still going to continue to attend the studio sessions – apart from anything else it’s a lovely encouraging atmosphere and I enjoy the companionship and sense of shared experience. But it’s also great to be able to ‘sit and do’ at home – to make whatever I want to make – without time constraints or consideration of anything other than what I’m working on.

This brings me to Poetry/Pottery Rule No. 20: Enjoy the process.

Now that does sound like a plan – the housework may not get done, but these are pots that won’t need washing up!

Clay

Today I sat outside turning a piece of clay from one form into another. It’s called ‘art’ and I love it.

I have limited tools and equipment at the moment, so improvised, and just became profoundly absorbed in the process of ‘doing’.

The end result may not be classed as a ‘masterpiece’, but it’s my ‘mixed up piece’, and that’s what counts.

I’m looking forward to spending many more happy hours making things out of clay. It’s a wonderful medium to work with, providing all sorts of possibilities to explore.

Poetry & Pottery: The Perfect Partnership

1978

1978 was not a good year, for me
even though I hold it dear

Try as I might I could not find the key
to unlock my brain
work out its mystery

Lurching this way and that
never finding a hold
I fell so many times
but got ever more bold

Crashing right down
I broke back to the core
then inched my way through
to daylight once more

The clay in my hand
is the life that I’ve led
I have cried, ached and screamed
and wished I was dead

But I never gave up
and I never gave in
I just kept on going
and drank lots of gin

Joking aside –
though I do like a drop –
I feel like I’ve won
I’ve come out on top

For I have love in my life
a treasure most true
I’m here and I’m now
simply human, through and through

© Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 2021

1978 was the year I graduated with a degree in Ceramics from Bristol Polytechnic. 

I’d reached out to art in my teens as a way of asserting a direction, without knowing where that direction might take me. It was driven by some deep-rooted instinct; an instinct which for a long time I thought had failed me. But it hadn’t.

As it’s turned out, my life has taken many “twists and turns, and loops and leaps”, most of which have left me struggling to find a foothold. Finally, however, I feel I am on firm ground, and astonished to find myself turning back to working with clay, after a break of over 40 years.

What’s even more astonishing is that I’m not only loving working with the medium, I’ve got ideas coming into my head from goodness knows where. I’m not having to push myself just to produce something, anything, as I did when I was at college (although I was proud of what I did produce in the end; it was no easy feat, considering the complexity of mental health problems I was dealing with).

Art didn’t work as a therapy for me when I was younger; the damage went too deep and I had to find ways to dig it out – just like clay has to be dug out.  What I’ve got now is malleable and mouldable in whatever way I choose. I can be creative in any way or ways that suit me; working with clay or words; working with my life.

I hope my pots can be poetic; and that my poetry will continue to be potty.

Solid and fluid at the same time. This one’s long gone; I’m making others now.

The Playlist

When I was young I didn’t really follow any one
I wasn’t into screaming at the Beatles
Or collecting singles or going to concerts
I’ve always been a bit behind with a lot of things
I can never remember names
Or who played what or where or when
But then that maybe only matters
In pub quizzes or if you want to feel flattered
By other people praising you for what you know
It would be nice though, sometimes, to be the one
Who remembers what they heard when they were young
And relate it to a first kiss, or a walk in the park
But then I never could get up with the lark
Always had a bit of a struggle, doing the usual things
Although I did listen quite a lot to Cat Stevens
Wishing I could be Sad Lisa but ending up just being sad
Still, it hasn’t all been bad
At least I haven’t got cluttered up
With a load of CDs that I don’t know what to do with
And now that I’m 61 I can listen to anyone
Or anything I choose
And my music collection
Is out there waiting for me
Just as it was
All those years ago
When I was young

© Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 2017

Qigong – body awareness of a different kind

I first encountered Qigong when I was exploring anything and everything that I could find that I thought might help to restore my mental health from a point of crisis to some semblance of stability. That was over 25 years ago, and I had a long and arduous journey ahead of me. Along the way I took part occasionally in Qigong classes and workshops. It wasn’t until some years later, however, when I was struggling to push through the challenges of a demanding job – in itself part of my recovery process – that I considered a more regular commitment to the practise of Qigong.

Google searches came up with limited references to Qigong being offered locally. Luckily, one of these few was an evening class at a school just a few miles from where I was living, in Leeds.

An online Medical Dictionary notes:

Qigong (pronounced “chee-gung,” also spelled chi kung) is translated from the Chinese to mean “energy cultivation” or “working with the life energy.” Qigong is an ancient Chinese system of postures, exercises, breathing techniques, and meditations. Its techniques are designed to improve and enhance the body’s qi. According to traditional Chinese philosophy, qi is the fundamental life energy responsible for health and vitality.

The Dictionary goes on to state:

Qigong may be used as a daily routine to increase overall health and well-being, as well as for disease prevention and longevity. It can be used to increase energy and reduce stress. In China, qigong is used in conjunction with other medical therapies for many chronic conditions, including asthma, allergies, AIDS, cancer, headaches, hypertension, depression, mental illness, strokes, heart disease, and obesity.

Qigong is presently being used in Hong Kong to relieve depression and improve the overall psychological and social well-being of elderly people with chronic physical illnesses.

[Source: https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/qigong]

While I can’t claim that I commit to a daily practice – not yet anyway – I have been attending these evening classes – and some day workshops at weekends too – with the same teacher ever since. 

When the Covid lockdowns first started, Sue Dunham – the teacher – was quick off the mark with setting up Zoom classes.  Just as in the live classes, Sue’s commitment to her own practice and to sharing her knowledge and vast experience has shone through into these Zoom sessions.

Sue doesn’t just demonstrate what to do for us to follow. She talks through and builds up each movement step by step, repeating as necessary; infinitely thorough and always engaging.  Her approach is very meditative and mindful, working deep on different themes in each group of three classes.  During the height of the pandemic, focusing on the lungs could not have been more appropriate, and we’ve also recently worked on the spine and the digestive system. 

Though the movements are slow and steady, I find that I sleep really well after a class session, and wake in the morning with the sense that I’ve had a really good workout, even though it isn’t ‘exercise’ in the conventional sense.

According to Sue:

“Qigong is an extraordinary practice: it can bring you to question fundamental beliefs about mind and your life, bringing you to that in a supported, gentle way. I have found it to be accessible and yet challenging, it’s enigmatic but intriguing!”

One of my favourite Qigong movements is called ‘Healing Form’, and Qigong has certainly become an essential part of my own movement towards health and healing.

When I started to become aware of my body, as a teenager, it was on the basis of how it looked. The negative compulsive obsessions I developed were – I realise now – associated with complex psychological and emotional traumas that have taken me 50 years to unravel.

Fortunately for me, my body was and is healthy and, while I continued well into adulthood to control my life by controlling what I ate, my body served me well. Deep roots hold tight, though, and it was a long time – being ultimately faced with the choice of life or no life – before I was able to find the strength, coping mechanisms, and resolve, to push through and come out the other side.

Qigong has helped me to work at a deeper level with my body – my amazing body.

It hasn’t provided me with a miracle ‘cure’ but it has helped to shift my focus into health and wellbeing, which is where it should be.

I feel a lot ‘lighter’ these days, even though I’m 65 and probably weigh at least 4 stone more than I did when I was 15. At six-and-a-half stone and still feeling the need to lose weight, I was weighed down and locked in as a teenager.

Some of the grief, sadness and regret linger on, but less so day by day. I’m thankful for a lot of things and hope that I can continue to be so for many years to come. Qigong helps me to nurture my body, with all its intricate mechanisms for feeding and flow.

One of the wonderful things about this practice is that it takes me beyond what I ‘know’, what I can measure or evaluate, into that sense of wonder, about what I don’t know, with all the associated mysteries of those realms.

When I’m practising Qigong, under Sue’s infinitely patient and painstaking instruction, I feel as graceful as a dancer, and that – for me – is something of a miracle.

The Covid pandemic has shown us just how vulnerable any of us can be, at any age, but also how those vulnerability factors can increase as we get older. The more we can do ourselves to mitigate those factors, the more likely we are to be able to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives for longer.  That’s my plan, anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

If you want to know more about Qigong, you can visit Sue’s website and Facebook pages via the following links:  https://www.facebook.com/suedunhamqigong and this https://sites.google.com/view/qigongwithsue/home.

Additional references:

Image: Physical exercise, yin yang transparent background PNG clipart | HiClipart

My Garage

My garage
is very large
and accommodating
with space for everything
except my car

The garage walls
and roof
and door
make sure it is safe
like sacred space

My garage
doesn’t judge
it just accepts
and holds
and waits
until the winter cold
abates

Then when I start
to sweep
and sort
I rediscover
all the junk
that I once bought

Summer sun
brings clearance days
some things I take
to car boot sales
the rest I give
away

Eventually
the garage space
is free once more
large and accommodating
with space for everything
except my car

Ready for the debris of my life
to accumulate
all over
again

2017 & 2021

The Man in the Thin Grey Jumper with Eyes like George Clooney

The thin threads of your grey jumper
Lie loose on the bones of your back

Your life has been hard
Just getting through
So little has come your way
So much that you lack

But now you are here
And a change has begun
You have a wife
A new life
Less pain

When you smile
Your whole face glows
For a while
And best of all
Though you do not know
You have the eyes of George Clooney
Fit for a movie

As the story of your life
Continues to unfold
I hope you will find
The strength to be bold

Be happy
Be true
All good things
In the world
Should now come
To you.

© Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 2015 & 2021

Walking

The predicted weather was cold, with possible snow and hail.  Even so, we set off, determined to make the most of the chance to meet up outside and walk with others, following the ‘Rule of Six’.

Although it did turn out to be cold, there was no sign of snow or hail. We walked through glorious countryside in bright sunshine and completed an 8-mile circuit. Not bad considering the effects of ‘lockdown winter’ with gyms closed and the impetus to exercise at home starting to dwindle.  We needed those hills, that fresh air, that blast to the senses.

With 38 years between the youngest of the group, at 27, and me, at 65, our walking speeds were variable. Our younger friends waited patiently at regular intervals for us to catch up – me and my partner plodding along at a steady 2 miles an hour.  We’re not going to break any records but we’re not aiming to.  What we do want to do, however, is maintain reasonable levels of fitness as we progress through our sixties and beyond.

We’ve both struggled with long-term depression but also both never given up on pushing ourselves – and now, sometimes, each other – to keep making that effort – massive though it is – to maintain an exercise regime, in one form or another.

For me it’s tended to be a bit ad hoc – I find routine difficult – although for years I did cycle to work regularly. It wasn’t a long distance but there was quite a lot of uphill on the way back. I often cursed at the end of the day when I wished – how I wished – that I’d driven there in the car.  But I’m sure it’s helped me a lot and I’m glad of it now. Glad to have kept going, pushing those pedals.

[https://wordpress.com/post/gladabout.life/220]

Every so often I used to try jogging.  I found it hard to psyche myself up, sometimes got into a bit of a ‘stride’, and even completed a 10K run once.  Jogging wasn’t for me though, long term. My knees complained and I had to call it a day on that one.

There were times in my life when I simply set off from home and walked until my heels bled. Not recommended but at least it got me out and active.

In later years I did volunteering involving hard labour with a sledge hammer (and called it a holiday!). For that, I set myself training targets, carrying a back-pack loaded up to 50lb in weight with books, tins of beans and bags of flour.  A good friend used to come with me on some of these training walks, to make sure that I didn’t fall backwards off the hillside – with that load I would never have stopped until I landed at the bottom!

Now, I enjoy our leisure walks – sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of us.  We’re planning to do Helvellyn later this year. Must get into training again soon.