Thursday 19 April 2018

Everything That Rises Must Converge

The writer keeps the door open, so the world doesn’t close down ...When you stand on the edge of the society you have been taught is everything, and plunge into an unknown territory, you feel you know everything in parts of your self you did not know existed.  (from Snake in the Box)
'In the future the real function of the artist will to act like a host and to gather the people'. On the leafy woodland stage at the last Uncvilisation Festival, Fern Smith is playing Rachel Dutton,  the artist who walked out into the American wilderness with her husband and collaborator, Rob Olds in 1993. They left their art and city life behind and had only their tracking skills to hand. The critic Suzi Gablik (who interviewed them) stepped away from the conventional art word, arguing for a Reenchantment of Art. In this reenactment of their seminal interview, Doin’ Dirt Time, the trio discuss a return to the roots of creativity, how writers and artists lead the collective in the direction they need to go.

Fern has just left the theatre she founded 25 years ago and is also stepping into the unknown. In 1991 I left a conventional bohemian life as a journalist in London and never went back. Sometimes it feels as if you cannot go anywhere new unless you relinquish everything and swim heroically against the collective current. And yet the challenge to host and gather, raised by the play, has found me in this last decade working in communities, curating events, editing collaborative books and online platforms, showing  people how to write and edit as a team, and most of all finding ways to discuss, outside among the trees or in a teaching circle, what happens when our loyalties are not to the work we have been doing all our lives, or to the social classes we have or we have not been brought up in.

What happens to us as writers when we relinquish our inchoate desire to wage war on a childhood or imperial past, circumstances over which we had no control? Will we find other shards of ourselves buried beneath the drifting sands, tracks we can follow into the uncivilised wilderness?

In a time of fall and fragmentation , if you are wise, you do not look for the powerful Ones with their faraway promises and angry rhetoric. What you find yourself searching for is something real, something coherent, something you can count on – your relationship with the fabric of things, a certain meaning that comes from the natural world, held instinctively in the forms of creatures and plants. And also in a deeper part of ourselves, if we could but find them and give them voice.

What does coherence look and feel like? One thing I have learned, coherence does not emanate from the me-only writer in their cell of solitude. It comes from the writer-within-a-group, in symbiosis with everything around them. The writer who speaks on behalf of others in the human and non-human world. It comes from asking questions on the edge of things and having the courage to wait for the answer. It comes as an invitation to take part that you proffer, even when your conditioning pulls you to hide in your small room, hunched over the keys, playing with sentences like an emperor of a lost kingdom.

Here is the paradox, so clearly outlined in that small play: if we don’t ask key questions of each other, we won’t find any answers.

Writing in a Moment of Fall

This summer I am co-hosting two gatherings around non-fiction writing and editing in times of radical change. At the end of May, a group of us will investigate how we might learn from the honeybee hive, not just about the challenges bee colonies (and we) face, but also about their innate gifts of harmony and co-operation, in order that we might bring those shapes and skills and stores of sweetness into our own creative lives. We will be converging around the apiaries of the Natural Beekeeping Trust in Sussex, guided by their visionary 'curator' Heidi Hermann, and tuning into the world of the honeybee on both practical and inspirational levels.

Flights of Imagination: Writing with the Bees  will be taking place in Forest Hill, Sussex on 25-27 May 2018. This will be the first of such writing courses that explore working with the natural world in different places around Britain (see also Carrying the Fire weekend set in the heart of the Cairngorms this November).

In mid-June I will be teaming up with my friend and colleague, theatremaker Lucy Neal (whose book Playing for Time - Marking Art as if the World Mattered I helped edit in collaboration with 60+ artists). It will be our third course for Arvon teaching the craft of collective and dramaturgical writing. And this year we are delighted to welcome the novelist, editor and columnist, Nikesh Shukla as our midweek guest. Nikesh is the compiler of the groundbreaking book, The Good Immigrant - a collection of voices not often heard in mainstream circles and has just published his third novel, The One Who Wrote Destiny.

Writing to Make Change Happen will be held at Totleigh Barton, Devon on 11th–16th June 2018.

If either of these courses/gatherings sound as if they are for you, please do register your interest by the end of the month and we look forward to meeting and voyaging with you soon!

Image: Still from MAHAPRALAYA: The Great Dissolution by Gustaf Broms; Horse Island Woman by Kate Walters. Both images are from the recently published Dark Mountain Issue 13, a collaboratively edited book of over 60+ writers and artists, looking at 'Being Human in an age of social and ecological collapse'. You can find all details about the book on the Dark Mountain online shop.