The dawn of the third millenium – 2000. I’m sitting in a small welcoming space, a sanctuary space, facing my spiritual director, herself a lover of literature and wild Ireland, and of the “sacred feminine”, who asks:
Which will come first, the Work or the Name for the work?
I squirm uneasily in my seat. I prevaricate, I wriggle. Eventually I admit that do not know.
I’m not sure now that she expected an answer. Enough of an answer: the not-knowing, and the discomfort at the not-knowing.
Indicators a-plenty that I was not ready to take my place as a Whatever-It-Is-that-I-Long-to-Become. Not yet a-while.
During the intervening years I have done quite a lot of beating myself up about the Not-Knowing. As one by one the “Work-Titles” have presented themselves for inspection.
And then I have failed (or felt that I failed) to live up to my high expectations of what that role “Meant” (with a capital M). And How I should perform the role.
During the ensuing “desert-decades”, one-by-one, two-by-two I have tried, and failed at, being perfect at each of these roles:
degree level science tutor, academic counsellor, Open University course choice and careers adviser, indexer of video archives at my old college, personal assistant to a retired academic, gardener for several elder friends, workshop host, wife, mother, youngest sister, lover, friend…
… and I have added – to this sense of failure-to-be-perfect – the reproach of several episodes of mental distress so intense that they threatened my very survival.
Until I have given up.
Given up the quest for perfection, sown in a rich and difficult childhood. What a relief.
However – deep, deep down there is a river that runs through. What Clarissa Estes in ‘Women who run with the wolves’ calls “Rio Abajo Rio, this river beneath the river”.
And in between each of the crisis periods in my “adult” life (fragmentations I can locate during twelve periods between 1971 and 2016…) I have sometimes felt a deep numinous connection with a wider vision of what life could be like, what I could be like, what the work – or maybe the play – could be like.
Perhaps it could be like the companioned writing, drawing and collaging sessions that I had been hosting for friends for several years. Or like the long handwritten correspondences that I have enjoyed with other friends. Or the elegies and eulogies that I have sometimes offered for use at the funeral services of friends who have died.
In late 2016, an ex-colleague invited me to help her to lead a series of writing-for-well-being classes. Aware of my own burgeoning vulnerability, I chose instead to attend a few of her own classes as a “participating observer”, the better to relieve the situation of any pressure from my being “responsible” or “in charge”.
I enjoyed the richness of the possibilities and especially the richness of the participants’ written experiences. And in winter 2017 to spring 2018 I was at last able to create and offer two series of writing-for-well-being sessions for the mental health charity Arts and Minds in Cambridge.
These inspired rich writing and deep affection, both from my own pencil and from the diverse voices of those who joined the classes. (They were a crucible for new kinships, which we are exploring in a further series of classes this winter.)
And then in May 2018 I moved six hundred miles away from Cambridge: to northern Scotland, to my own writing-sanctuary and summer retreat.
Dhruvaloka – the place of the North Star.
With the blessing of my partner and on a part-time “singular” basis, mutually secure within our continuing couple-commitment.
Much water has flowed under my bridge since then, and some of it has flowed out to sea, carrying in its flood-spates some of the debris that litters my life.
Some of my life-river has taken a more leisurely route to the sea, meandering, idling, trickling, seeping. Some of it may never reach the sea – or not in my lifetime.
However that may be, I have now realised that at last I have a name for the work, and that I am already doing the work – have been doing the work for all of my life.
So here I offer it to you; here I offer the flow of my river to you, the braided river with many channels that fan apart and come back together, diverge and meet again, seek movement and also belong in stillness.
Writing our Way Whole
Kathy McVittie, biologist, poet,
and life-writing companion,
Brora, Sutherland and Longstanton, Cambridge
I look forward to working, and playing, with you soon.
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