Category: communal living


ImageNavigating the transition from school term to holidays is never easy, and I am grateful right now for my two hours in a cafe while Jude is at the low cost Women’s Centre creche. As many of you know, I finally made the decision to go with my gut and keep Jude out of school for at least this next year and home educate. The root of this decision lies back in his babyhood when I began to read about the philosophy around home education and the problems with schooling. So the impact of suddenly seeing the shape of my life without 15 hours of nursery per week is, to say the least, quite startling.

I often find that once a decision is made, the other side – the path not taken – seems to stand out in bold relief. I know that if I had made the decision to send him to school, I would be seeing all the flaws of that path in minute detail, so I can rest in the middle here, taking it all with a pinch of salt.

A few things have come to pass and to end lately. The vision of my son at school, joining the ranks of the vast majority of our society – there is a kind of loss and grief in that, even though I feel right about the choice; the end of a significant relationship; my decision to not take my place on the Creative Writing MA to start in October after all. Instead of the massive undertaking and financial commitment of a 2 year degree I am doing manageable little bits and pieces that nourish my writer self: such as the Sark ‘WINS’ course, which I started a month ago and am absolutely loving!

Sark is one of the most insightful and inspiring writers I’ve ever had the luck to come across. I loved her book ‘Succulent Juicy Woman’ and have aspired to be one ever since. Her program for writers, WINS, has in the space of a few weeks transformed me from a chronic writing procrastinator to someone who is doing something to do with writing almost every single day. I hope this keeps up! I know that if I get stuck there is abundant support to get unstuck again.

I have some interviews lined up with amazing creative and soulful mothers for my non-fiction project, and have already gratefully received some written material answering my questions from those who are not able to do face to face interviews. I am going to send a proposal to an agent who I have a connection with through an author friend. I am so excited about this project!

My son and I have spent 2 weeks camping this summer so far, one week at Midsummer Camp in June and one at Dance Camp East in late July – a week blessed with the most stupendous unexpected sunshine. We met lovely people, re-encountered lovely souls we’d camped with before, and generally unwound ourselves into the space of blue sky and the simplicity of cooking over a fire.

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But I noticed something different this year: the camps don’t feel like the be-all and end-all of my life, as they did the last two years – the first two years in which I discovered them. It may sound sad to say that only a couple of weeks out of a whole year would have such an impact, but they did. I was woken up to a way of living that resonated deeply with me: a way of being in community in freedom and mutual respect that I recognised with my bones. I came home from them absolutely overflowing with love and openness.

This time, though, I found myself almost impatient with the seeming irrelevance of the camps to my everyday life: after all, living on my own with my son barely resembles a situation of sharing cooking, childcare and songs with 30 other people. It’s as if there seemed no point in surrendering into an experience that, beautiful as it is, is not going to last and cannot be translated into my life in Brighton. Some kind of cynicism or disappointment had taken root in me, to my sadness. This didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience as best I could while there: I discovered some wonderful new things, like Taize meditative singing, which had me in tears every time, and circle dancing, and loved singing my way through a 60’s and 70’s songbook with a guitarist in my circle, and performing ‘I’m Alive’ with a small acapella group in the cabaret at Dance Camp East.

But I wonder if the community is simply evolving more slowly here, but happening in its own subtle way nonetheless. Several people I know through the single parenting community in Brighton have supported me recently with both practical and emotional issues – mostly online or via text, but it helped tremendously. Another single mom is looking at setting up some single parent houseshares, and I am dabbling with the idea. I am loving the home education community already, and am so grateful for things like the forest school at Stanmer Park which is like a mini-recreation of camp life for me, once a week, where Jude can make a stick man to celebrate Lammas and also run around with a sword with other boys. I also love my various women’s circles, which nourish me and connect me to my femininity, and am so excited about the collaborations in the form of yoga and creativity workshops I am brewing with other talented women. And it seems that various acquaintances are setting up new social events and gatherings almost every week.

Dance Camp has also renewed my determination to learn guitar. In the style of Sark’s micro-movements, (where you take actions that last no longer than 5 minutes, to move you steadily towards your goal), I have taken my guitar out of the cupboard and put it in the living room, looked at tuners online and peered in the window of a music shop.

I encourage you all to look at the little steps you can take towards your dreams, and see how these little seeds take root and flower. I am hoping that the roots of community and music will slowly spread right underneath the foundations of my life here in Brighton. Who knows where they will come up to light and flower next.

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(Jon Steel).

I’m having one of those smooth flowing days that seems to often come after dancing the 5 Rhythms movement meditation practice- and I was lucky enough to make it two classes this week, Saturday in London and Wednesday in Brighton. Somehow surrendering into each rhythm of the dance and following my own changing moments lays a pathway for going deeper into my creative work and also for relating to others in a fresh way.

Funnily enough the effects seem to have nothing to do with how much fun my dance was – at both classes I struggled with self consciousness, inertia, crippling self-judgment, and many other shades in between (interspersed by moments of beautiful connection with both self and other). I guess it’s just about being with all those different states and not running from them, and feeling the river that runs underneath them all. After two years of doing the 5 Rhythms practice regularly I can feel like a complete beginner on the dancefloor all over again, just as when I show up to the blank page, or to a day of mothering, I can feel totally clueless. I start over, and from somewhere the impulses come, and as the facilitator on the inquiry group I’m in says, ‘I happen’, it just happens, life happens.

In my continued effort to get my work more ‘out there’ as a way of motivating and encouraging myself, and feeling part of a community of writers, I’ve had some pleasing results in the past couple of weeks. My flash fiction piece, ‘The Idea of An Aeroplane’ appeared in Flash Flood Journal, a flash-fiction journal created by writers and edited by a team of volunteer editors on behalf of National Flash-Fiction Day 2012. A 75 word version of this piece has appeared on ‘Paragraph Planet’ on May 27th, where the challenge is to make an impact with exactly 75 words. I am also working on a guest blog proposal for the American natural parenting Mothering Magazine, as a follow on from my article on ‘Wild Motherhood’ in Wild Sister Magazine (April issue). Watch this space!

Writing in an unlined moleskine notebook for the first time is bringing out some lively pieces I look forward to developing, which I think would have struggled to break out of my usual traditional lined notebook. The suddenly sunny weather has meant more longhand writing rather than being hunched over a laptop. I am still laboriously reading through my novel and just itching to write some scenes when I am familiar with the plot again; I’m also 2/3 of the way through a children’s story and nearly finished editing 18 poems for submission to the Mslexia poetry pamphlet competition. I am delving deeper into the subject matter of spirituality, creativity and motherhood for my future non-fiction book by compiling a list of possible interviewees – there are so many juicy women to interview! – and looking at other books and blog posts on the subject. I came across this one, which condenses a lot of wisdom in one place.

I particularly loved this quote from Gangaji, from her question and answer session printed in ‘You Are That’: What is inherently free is who you are. Who you are does not become free. It is free. In recognizing this, there is the natural ability to respond. Before that, responsibility is a concept of duty or of something to be shouldered. It may be tempered with love and care, but it is also something to be born. Therefore, your child becomes an objectification, a separation between you and that which you really are. (emphasis added).This is a deadly joke! You are this very child. Recognize this and you are not searching around for personal freedom. Then nothing can be an intrusion.’

This has certainly been my experience lately. As I have been exploring the work of Byron Katie to investigate thoughts that cause me pain and suffering and finding the truth underlying them, I have been astonished at the changes in my experience of parenting Jude. It is literally like having a narrow beam of light being expanded into the sun. When I look at him I feel I am seeing him properly sometimes for the first time, without the barriers created by needing to control him so that my own desires can be met, and the separation melts away to make space for a new way of enjoying being with him. Where every moment I can be led into greater joy and playfulness. So, much material for my book, coming from real life experience!

Inspirational input wise, I’m into short fiction at the moment. Maybe it’s the short attention span and reading time afforded by motherhood, but I find it much easier to pick up something I can finish reading in half an hour. I’m currently on ‘Don’t Know a Good Thing‘, a collection of stories by women writers edited by Kate Pullinger which is just mouth- and eye-wateringly good. Not a single story in it so far that doesn’t move me, confront me, or make me want to put pen to paper. Any good novel recommendations welcome though – I need something to grab me from early on!

Jude is starting ‘preparation for school’ mornings at his new school tomorrow morning. It’s hard to take in he is at this stage already. Two more months of nursery and then long summer days! I’m looking forward to our adventures, and in particular circle camping, dancing on the land and celebrating the summer solstice at Midsummer Camp in two weeks time. Bye for now, and enjoy the sunshine :). Thanks for reading!

“Every city has its own internal logic” – Angela Carter, “The Kiss”.

I knew my city from the first time I saw it. Strange that it is ‘mine’, now, when I was born in Cape Town, but there’s something different about a city that you have chosen to live in. And Cape Town seems increasingly distant and abstract to me now, after six years in my adopted country.

I first ‘met’ Brighton in June 1998, on a gap year holiday to England filled with pubs, pool and boys. It was only for one summer’s day, but it reminded me very much of the seafront in my home city, and I felt instantly at home. I saw it in an idealistic way, and Brighton stayed in my head for long after that.

I spent longer in Brighton during November 2003, when I came up for my best friend’s wedding. The unaccustomed cold didn’t put me off: I was in love with the place, taking photographs of the beautiful University buildings, the Pier, even the pebbles on the beach, to show eagerly to my then boyfriend when I returned home (I was trying to convince him to join me when I moved to England).

Brighton is both more and less innocent than Cape Town with its laundromats and rastafarians competing on street corners with glue-sniffing little boys offering to clean your windscreen. When I first moved to Brighton I thought it was a haven compared to the perpetual threat I felt in my home city. The lurching Big Issue sellers with their cheeky or frozen smiles depending on how much hope is left in them, and the clink of change in Londoners’ pockets as they walked past beggars under Trafalgar Street bridge – all seemed harmless in comparison. All I really saw were the lights and bonhomie of the North Laines, the way people could wear any hairstyle or costume without it attracting ridicule – unlike in conformist Cape Town – and the sunshine glinting off the pebbles on the beach which were still a novelty then.

In Cape Town there was no way I’d walk through the centre of town at night without a man at my side – so when I first came here the freedom was intoxicating. I walked everywhere without fear. Recently, though, I’ve been noticing the underbelly of Brighton a lot more.

Maybe it’s having a child, and an awareness of what I don’t want him exposed to – but the gap between the ‘ideal place to live in’ and the place I actually live in, seems to have become ever wider. Every time I walk down Western Road or North Street there seems to be a fight going on – even in the daytime – and I have to positively gird myself up to face London Road and the Level with the perennial alcoholics at midday.

It’s also the sheer unstoppable force of the city – the way there’s always something stimulating happening, and finding peace in the face of that can be challenging. I feel like I’ve become hooked on it, though, because everytime I consider moving somewhere quieter – like Totnes in Devon, a recent bee-in-my-bonnet, I feel paralysed with fear of boredom, and something missing.

I know that the sheer amount of choice I have on a day-to-day basis in this city is something to be tremendously grateful for. There are centres where we can connect with others in similar circumstances, have access to communal organic allottment gardening free of charge, many different parks to choose from, some of them beautiful, and of course the unchangeable sea – having grown up by the sea, I’ll always have a bit of an attachment to it.

I know that my long term dream is to live communally and close to nature. In the meantime, though, and until I find the right people to do that with, I’m faced with the question of where’s best for a growing boy and his mother? How do we meet both of our needs? It’s clear that Jude loves the city and thrives on the excitement. He’s not yet noticed the things that make me cringe. And I have to sit in the gap and know that sometimes peace has to be cultivated regardless of my surroundings. After all, as meditation teachers say, wherever you go, there you are.

Lately I’ve managed to touch that, but it was only when I decided that I could and eventually would leave Brighton, despite my love for it – that like a relationship with a lover, you don’t have to wait till it’s all falling apart to see the sense in moving on – it was only then that I started to feel the peace even walking down the busy streets with the shouting teenage mothers and the clamouring shoppers. Only then did I start to re-discover all the things I once loved about Brighton, and still do. It had to be a special place to become my adopted city, and often what I hear in people’s voices when they criticise the place, is a cynicism I don’t want a part of – a lack of appreciation for what we have here.

Sometimes it is about accepting that nowhere is going to be perfect. Obvious as it sounds, this is something I really struggle with! For now, it’s about just taking baby steps towards my vision – and right now, that looks like it may be moving to a smaller town or village in Sussex, where Jude can still easily see his father and I can still see my friends here.

It’s not perfect – it’s not rural idyll, and I would be giving up a lot, and facing the uncertainty of having to build up a network of friends all over again. But I’m reminded of the huge risk I took moving countries six and a half years ago, and how I have never truly looked back since. In the meantime, I’m hunkering down for winter and aiming to enjoy this city as much as I can while I am still here.

Midsummer Camp East Circle sharing food

I went to a great talk by Kate Evans recently – she’s the author of Food of Love: Your Formula for Successful Breastfeeding which was published in 2008. Her talk touched on much more than breastfeeding, though: she talked about what a baby ‘expects’, on a biological level, when it comes into this world, and what we as parents also biologically ‘expect’: and how modern nuclear society fails to fulfil this.

Basically, for millennia of our existence as human beings, a baby wouldn’t survive unless it stayed close to its parents day and night. Crying when separated from its parents is not, as Gina Ford would have us believe, a manipulative device to make our lives difficult, but an adaptive mechanism to alert the parent so that it does not get eaten by a tiger! I remember coming across the idea that ‘We keep on giving birth to Stone Age babies’ despite all our modern innovations.

The high contact needs of babies was not a heavy burden on parents, though, because people lived in tribes or extended families where they received support and co-parenting from the other members. Many people could carry the baby around – not just one exhausted mother as in today’s scenario – and as soon as a child could walk, he was off exploring with and learning from the older children.

Kate Evans, in her characteristically frank, humorous style, pointed out the contrast with the scenario we have today of a parent (usually mother) or childcare provider having to, largely in isolation, provide all of that child’s ‘stimulation’ and learning experiences. At the same time the mother has to severely restrict the freedom of exploration that child has, to keep him safe in today’s urban world.

Kate made the point that today’s cots and separate sleeping are very much a recent phenomenon which doesn’t necessarily work with what babies really need to feel safe. Yet we are often encouraged to ignore the cries of a baby or young child at night in order to ‘train’ them to sleep through the night. Yes, I’m aware that for many parents this seems the only way to save their sanity and survive in a world where the full load of parenting and managing of day to day life falls on their heads.

Kate’s comments echoed the sentiments of a list I saw only a week before, at the Midsummer Camp in Norfolk: an excerpt from a book whose title, unfortunately, I can’t remember. It was a list of what we, as human beings, expect on an evolutionary level: living in groups of 20-30 people; co-parenting or shared parenting among the members of this tribe; working 5-10 hours per week; and living in connection with the land and its cycles and seasons. This is the way we lived for thousands of years and what is most adaptive for us, what allows us to thrive, feel safe and connected.

This was followed by a list of what, in reality, we get in modern Western society: living in isolated nuclear families; parenting mostly done by one or two people; working 40 hours plus per week; living in disconnection from the land and its cycles.The suggestion was that the imbalance, stress and mental health problems that are rife in our society are due to the breakdown of our supportive structures, overwork, and our relationship with the land that sustains us.

As I touched on in my first post on this blog, my week at Midsummer Camp was a concrete experience of our ‘original’ way of living, and it felt so deeply fulfilling on many levels. For a week we lived in groups of 20-30 within a larger camp of 90 people, and in those groups grew surprisingly close. It’s not an exaggeration to say we felt like family. We shared cooking and chores and everyone did what they were best at – rather than having to cook every night although you hate it, for example. For those who like their privacy, there was space to be alone and no pressure to interact with others all the time. People shared their skills for the benefit of everyone: chopping wood, making wooden structures, massage, teaching yoga.

My son had the opportunity to interact with people he wouldn’t usually: to form bonds with seven year old girls for example, who, reciprocally, could ‘practice’ their mothering skills for the future (while most new urban Western mothers have never taken care of or sometimes even held a baby or small child – causing bewilderment and overwhelm when new parenthood hits); and he gifted people with his presence who usually lack these opportunities: childless older men and women, for instance.  It worked very smoothly on the whole.

And of course, we were living right on the land and being outdoors most of the time. Yes, it was a holiday, and you might say utopian – but I’m not suggesting this way of living is a solution to everything, just that it’s perhaps far closer to what our bodies and minds need to feel refreshed and avoid burnout.

Reading this list, and attending Kate’s talk, affirmed for me that there isn’t something ‘wrong’ with me because I don’t want to, and can’t, fulfil all my son’s needs 24/7 while living alone. That I’m not ‘weird’ or a bad parent because my needs as a human being aren’t completely fulfilled as a single full-time parent. I can go to the park of a morning with my son, surrounded by other parents and children of my neighbourhood, and still feel totally isolated. And this is in a relatively ‘community minded’ city and neighbourhood. To meet my needs for mental stimulation and adult companionship often requires both a lot of organisation and time away from my child, which is often difficult to accomplish.

I’ve been playing with the idea of living in community for a long time. I’ve tried living in communal house shares, but for me this is too confined a space with too little room for personal space – and still living in the city with all its attendant problems. What I dream of is living in a dwelling with others on the land, where we each have our own space and can come together for meals, shared childcare and conversation. We as humans have the capacity to look after each other and share love and support in ways that are obscured by our isolated lifestyles in the Western city, and my sadness at this is balanced by my inspiration and excitement to co-create something different. So I’ve got my eye on this…until then, and while I exist in this gap, I’ve been very grateful this week for the help of friendly, kindly neighbours when I a) locked myself out of my house; and b) was mobile phone less for an extended period. I have to add though that I am quite good friends with this neighbour already 😉