About Time

When I went through a major breakdown in my late thirties, one of the many things I struggled to come to terms with, as I fought my way back to functionality, was the sense of all the ‘wasted time’ that had gone into building a life that at that stage had come to ‘nothing’.

Roll on more than a quarter of a century, and I’ve had a significant shift in mindset. As each day unfolds I feel a strong sense of being gifted with it; of having all the time in the world. ‘Making the most of it’ can mean anything I want it to mean, whether that be resting, walking, making something out of clay, washing up, doing housework, doing nothing.

So, how did I get from where I was to where I am now?

I’m not really sure, because it’s all a bit of a blur, but I know I’ve done a lot of meditating, a lot of searching, a lot of turning myself inside out, of fighting the thoughts that threatened to pull me into despair, a lot of reaching out, falling, getting up again and trying something else.

Sometimes the last push is the hardest and coming to terms with things that I couldn’t change took some doing.  At around the same time that I had a counsellor who was determined to avoid the key issues that I needed to address, I came across a Buddhist teaching that helped me enormously: https://madhyamaka.org/how-to-accept-what-cant-be-changed/.

The lingering sadness associated with not having been able to form a family of my own has taken a different turn recently, in the form of a furry friend.  She’s not a baby, she’s an adult dog. However, she’s done something to my heart that’s filled a gap I never thought could be filled. Time isn’t about what’s past or ‘lost’, it’s about being here and now, with my partner, and our dog.

A Birthday Present

I was at the funeral of a friend yesterday. He’d died unexpectedly at the age of 67.

As it turned out, the day of the funeral was the day of my 66th birthday.

A funeral isn’t the usual expected place to be on a birthday, nor is it where you would expect to receive an unexpected birthday present.  But that is exactly what happened to me yesterday, at my friend Bill’s funeral. It was a gift given to me by Bill’s grieving wife, Deb, in words that she spoke in celebration of her husband’s life.

Deb spoke about the ancient Japanese art and philosophy of Kintsugi. Kintsugi is about celebrating imperfection; not trying to hide what is broken but recognising the place of mending as a thing of beauty in its own right, and highlighting the mend with gold. She referred to her husband as ‘pure gold’. He was.  As was her gift to me in what she said, using words and with passion that I cannot even begin to emulate, nor do I think that I should even try. They were words that could only be spoken by a wife, grieving the loss of the love of her life. 

I do, however, want to acknowledge those words in this post, feeling broken as I continue to feel inside as I continue to hope and try to heal. I realise now that I don’t have to aim to heal back to how I was before I was broken; that the broken parts and the process of healing – that includes reaching out to others who are also struggling – are the pure gold of life.  So I’ll continue to live it in the best way that I can, cracks and all.

As it turns out, I’ve been making some pots recently that are basically balls of solid clay that may well fall apart in the kiln.  I now hope that they do – so that I can mend them in the Kintsugi way.  Amazingly enough, I also got another birthday present yesterday – from another friend. It was a Kintsugi kit! How weird and wonderful is that?

Doing Again

At the turn of the Millennium, I completed a project under the Mind-Millennium Award Scheme.

My project – the Lifelines Project – involved collecting and publishing poems, pictures and self-help strategies from other people who, like me, had suffered from enduring and debilitating depression.

I had not met many of the contributors, and was amazed – honoured – that they trusted me with their personal expressions, all because of the underlying intention of reaching out in the hope of helping others.

If you, yourself, are suffering with depression, I would like to wish you well and tell you that you are not alone.”

Since then, there’s been increased awareness about mental health and how it can be improved.  While there remains much to be done in society from the ‘prevent’ and ‘promote’ perspectives, being able to – and even encouraged – to talk about mental health difficulties more openly represents a start.

In my own experience, I eventually got fed up of talking – I’ve never been much good at it anyway.  I knew that I needed to take action, to find ways of turning my life around, however difficult or painful that might be.  And I knew it would be difficult and painful, to rebuild from a below zero level when I was in my forties.

From somewhere, somehow, I found the resolve to put my head down, prioritise, and push myself through.  For a long time I concentrated on work and on developing my internal resilience.  Just before I turned 60 I decided to take the plunge and commit to a relationship. I now have a much fuller and richer life than I have ever had before and I’m thankful for that.

Even so, life continues to be difficult and I still take antidepressants – probably always will. But I have other coping skills and strategies, and have also been able to recently retire, taking away work pressures that I could no longer deal with.

I wasn’t able to keep in touch with all the people who contributed to the Lifelines Project but they’ve always remained in my thoughts and I hope that they too have been able to find a way through; a way that works for each of them:

Sylvia

Marcia

Maggie 2

Peter

Virginia

Henzie

Maggie 3

Jonathan

Fiona

Sean

Christopher

Polly

Christine

Caz

John

Caroline

Frances

Susan

Patricia

Mary

Dave

Mark

Tony

Iain

I thought it was fitting to include a poem by one of the Project contributors – Mark:

Recovery

The night has been terror:
depression, cold, confusion.
               – Ears scream.

Grey – the morning in my front-room.

A tear on my cheek and
a child’s grizzle
for a few seconds
               – From my adult form.

A small rebellion
               – The beginning of action.

A tiny sunbeam through the window
               – Doing again.

Unwanted gift? No wear

Photo by Jan Kopu0159iva on Pexels.com

Jacket 1

It’s there, on the chair
The red fleece jacket
With hood and drawstring waist
That I don’t want to wear
Don’t want to keep.

It’s warm and soft when I put it on
But far too big for me
Drowned in a red sea
Shapeless, I feel
A baggy, saggy, faceless entity.

I look at the jacket
On the chair
In limp, loose folds of red, and seams
This isn’t the jacket of my dreams.

It’s theirs to wear
Not mine to keep
Their tears to cry
Not mine to weep.

It’s there, on the chair
The red fleece jacket
With hood and drawstring waist
That I don’t want to wear
Don’t want to keep
So I’ve put a price on its head
To let it go free
To someone who wants it
But who wants me?

Jacket 2

It’s there, on the chair
The red fleece jacket
With hood and drawstring waist
That I don’t want to wear
Don’t want to keep.

It’s warm and soft when I put it on
But far too big for me
Drowned in a red sea
Shapeless, I feel
A baggy, saggy, faceless entity.

I look at the jacket
On the chair
In limp, loose folds of red, and seams
This isn’t the jacket of my dreams.

It’s not my layer
These aren’t my lies
With drawstring waist
And nylon ties.

It’s not my jacket
They’re not my dreams
These aren’t my ties
They’re not my seams.

So I leave the jacket
On the chair
To go my way
While they go theirs.

Jacket 3

Now it hangs upon the door
That red fleece jacket
That I didn’t want to wear
Didn’t want to keep.

It’s warm and soft when I put it on
And not too big for me
Warmed in a red sea
Shapeless no more
No baggy, saggy faceless entity.

I look at the jacket
On the door
In limp, loose folds of red and seams
It’s not the jacket of my dreams
But just a layer to keep me warm
From frozen looks
And glares of scorn.

It is my jacket
With hood and waist
To wear awhile
From place to place.

Jacket 4

What next?

Jacket 5

Jacket
In?

Jacket 6

No!

(c) Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker, 2003

A piece that I’m pleased with

One aspect of depression that is a constant struggle is finding something – anything – to build up my self-esteem. To a certain extent I’ve learnt to live with it, knowing that the worst moments pass if I rest up and tune in to parts of my brain that I’ve trained, using positive processes such as meditation, and affirmations: “I choose to be peaceful and calm; everything is unfolding as it should.”

I’ve identified my own truths and ‘root causes’ of past problems, and arrived at a point – in a very long and arduous journey – where I felt I didn’t need to have any aspects of these verified or vindicated by any one or any thing. However, I have found it helpful recently to have discovered the work of Imi Lo. I went through her book – Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity: how to manage intense emotions as a highly sensitive person (John Murray Learning, 2018) – highlighting many passages that I felt applied directly to me. I urge anyone who has been deemed ‘over-sensitive’ and felt alienated one way or another as a result, to read and take hope from this book.

The author states in a key point (p.45):

We are not here to dismiss the validity of all mental health diagnoses, or the importance of appropriate treatment in the case of severe psychological trauma. But it is important to examine the root of your suffering: often, it may be a reflection of your natural tendencies, and a result of being misunderstood, rather than as a sign of defectiveness. We must be extra cautious to not reinforce any restrictive categories, diagnoses and stigma around emotional intensity.

In the final chapter of her book, Imi Lo identifies possibilities for tapping in to our creative potential.

It’s possible to be creative in many ways – not just through the arts. I’ve been as creative as I could be at different stages in my life and through many different types of work. However, having arrived at the point when I’m now retired, giving me a new-found freedom that I relish, I’m loving being able to re-immerse myself in solving problems associated with art and design, construction and concepts.

A significant difference that I’ve noticed between how I feel about work that I produce now, compared with work that I produced when I was younger, is that now I can feel a sense of satisfaction about having produced it. I can ‘own it’, take pride in it, see it for what it is in the context of my life; a life that I’m glad to have.

My self-esteem still falls by the wayside sometimes, but – generally speaking – I’m in a much better place than I’ve ever been. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m determined to make the most of it, knowing that I am – after all ‘gifted’ rather than the waste of space I often felt myself to be.

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!

A Bag of Clay

A bag of clay bought from ‘Hot Clay’ of Warrington

A bag of clay
some simple tools
it’s time to play
by my own rules

The place to start
is here and now
I’ll make some art
then take a bow

The bag of clay
is mine to mould
to use my way
until I’m old

Pinch, coil and fire
it will become
a bag of clay
in different form

Maggie ‘Glad the Poet/Potter’ Baker 2021

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