My last blog post was just over a year ago now and I’m long overdue an update. So what did 2018 look like for me, and what have I been doing since my last post?
Firstly, I was collating all the work produced during the Flourish Project in 2017 for the purposes of an exhibition. This was held in March 2018 in the Lang Byre Gallery at The Barn. It presented work created by the various community groups involved in the project alongside a showcase of my own work completed over the year of my residency in The Wild Garden.
It took the full three months I had between the conclusion of the final workshops and the exhibition date to do this. (Full details of the reason why I took quite this long come in the second part of this blog post.) It was intense work but highly enjoyable. How often do we take the time to look back through a year’s work and to really appreciate all we have achieved?
The Flourish project felt like a huge turning point for me in my career as a therapeutic writing facilitator, a writer and an artist. This was the first time I had been able to draw on all these parts of my practice in one project.
Initially I wasn’t sure how I would be able to present the work created in all the workshops. Some, such as the visual poetry workshop were straight forward, but those that involved just writing were more difficult. Writing for the self is a private matter – it is not created with an audience in mind. And yet everyone was generous with how much of their work they were willing to share and the decision to show work as it was produced in the workshops, often in its raw form, was taken as the most appropriate way to show the beauty and quality of the work in its first, instinctive out-pouring.
Aboyne Primary had already provided artwork to go along with their poems but we initiated a new art project for Hill of Banchory pupils to illustrate their group poems for the exhibition.
Once the groups were sorted, I was able to look at how I would exhibit my own work. Having received funding from VACMA & Creative Scotland to develop my art practice, I had been working steadily on how to create visual treatments of the poems I wrote during the year. These took the form of artists’ books, poetry sculptures, a ‘traditional’ book of poetry and a series of poetry postcards that paired my cyanotype images of plant forms found in the garden with found poems I created using the 23 words I hung in the garden as their lexicon.
At the launch event, people were proud, excited and emotional and I had a real sense of touching people deeply with both the intent and the outcome of the project. It was a very special night.
Watching as people who don’t consider themselves writers read their poetry to an audience, seeing children’s faces light up when they show their parents their work hanging on a gallery wall, observing people with no personal involvement in the project become moved by something they have read – all these experiences are what make this work so special, so important to me.
The over-all goal of improving people’s sense of wellbeing was, without doubt, achieved.
And of course, my own sense of wellbeing was greatly enhanced by the fact I was given the opportunity and the support of The Barn to lead this project in the first place. It evolved through my collaboration with Learning & Engagement Officer, Linzy McAvoy. Her faith in my ability to deliver on the ideas we generated together, and the joy we both experienced working with someone who shares your passion is another reason why I treasure my time working on this project so much.
Feedback received from visitors to the exhibition included:
“Marvellous exhibition. Great to see how the children have expressed themselves.”
“I love the whole concept of Flourish, from the notion of a community project, to wellbeing approached from the point of view of writing, moving and connecting.”
“A beautiful exhibition with a very calming effect through all the visual works of art and writing, inspirational!”
And so, once the exhibition was finished, and packed away, I was able to turn my attention to the other monumental event in my life in 2018 – the death of my mum. She had been diagnosed with cancer in September 2017, and alongside my almost full-time commitment to the Flourish Project I became her primary carer. Her decline was swift. I was able to keep her looked after in her own home until December 2017 at which point she moved into a nursing home. She died in early February 2018.
It’s hard to remember how I was able to juggle my determination to deliver the project Linzy and I had envisaged and my need to look after my mum. A few of the workshops I had planned were cancelled when work clashed with care-giving, but the disruption was mostly minimal. I think it was the very nature of the work that fed me enough to keep me going. In some ways I thought it was the worst timing, but having had time to reflect, I wonder if it wasn’t also a blessing that the best and the worst experiences of my life were happening at the same time.
And so, while the beginning of 2018 was filled with frenzied activity, the remainder of the year slipped into something aboriginal people call ‘the sorrowing time’.
The second part of this blog will be continued in Where Did 2018 Go? Part Two.