This image means something so much more than it is possible to express. Imagine as a new artist and poet building on a silk thread of confidence. That’s so important as it punctuates my somewhat raw expression.
I question how ❓ 🤔 it even happened and how I got to this space of meaning and creation. Then I am reminded that art, poetry and creative expression is often like a fever. This was clearly a lockdown fever that drove my desperation to establish meaning within connection and consciousness.
I have a constant desire to form multiple positions of lensing and associations between perspectives. I sleep very little and find myself almost always perplexed by people and the choices we make. I struggle with intimate meetings but thrive presenting to large numbers. Almost as if I can hide in the character of performance 🎭.
Then it happens… as I have said in previous blogs. My tired hobo poet form rested asleep next to the fire looking up at the stars and then I heard a sweet whisper. A call and a creative kiss.
I received an email from a distant but open soul. I was asked about my oxygen and being, I was asked about my poetry which is like asking me to express the true self. As a newly diagnosed dyslexic academic with autistic tendencies, I navigate a chaos every day. Trying to ensure I sleep and balance life ensuring that I don’t lean on maladaptive addictions.
So I was asked about poetry and what I have given back was unknown to me as it was organic and emergent. It was the punctuation to three years of pain, the reconstruction and the reconstruction of meaning in the formation of paper.
So I arrived at an art studio with my trauma of voices caught in paper. But the final piece needed to be completed and I wanted this to be done with Kate and Catriona. Unaware of the divine within this simple activity. As we cannot know impact in others unless we ask. So the piece called the cloud of unknowing had to be sealed within a triangle 🔺️ of red threads and sealed at the three points.
So we began a process the wax tears falling and the seal pressed and the meaning expressed…. finally, as the last seal fell against the paper the weight placed and meant. The light of the wax going out as we all recognised the depth of the moment.
But still I was unsure of the feelings of those with me but as we closed the time together, I knew that it was simply a moment.
My job involves initiating projects that I think have some kind of magic, and then finding a way to share that spark with others. However, the intermediary process can sometimes feel like an extinguishing. In the middle of a project, there isn’t very much room for magic; there are logistics to work out and risks to keep at bay.
In the middle of December, we arranged to meet Tom on campus to continue working on his exhibition. The act of meeting people for cultural projects has been complex this year, and given that Kent had entered in another local lockdown in December, we had to seek special permission to come on to campus and be in the building. When I asked for this access, I was told that we could continue our work, but that the building would be cold. I said that was fine! We would wear coats! We would find heaters! We would work briskly in the chill.
The day of our meeting was at the end of Chanukah and while I’m not Jewish, a lot of my family is, and I grew up celebrating this holiday, this festival of lights, remembering the miracle of the pure oil that should only have been enough for one day, but went on to burn for eight days and eight nights in the desecrated temple.
During Tom’s visit we were going to discuss logistics, but there was also going to be some magic: one piece of paper sealed with three red wax hearts, a string binding them together in a triangle. A beautiful image, but my bureaucratic brain could only think of the burning and whether it would be enough to trigger an alarm. It was nothing more than a birthday candle, surely it was safe, but I couldn’t be sure. I know it’s a blessing not to know where the alarm’s threshold might be.
The day before we went to campus, I confirmed arrangements with the Estates team and was told that there would be heat. They would make sure the building’s systems were working! In my end-of-year giddiness — because what a year we had — I sent back a thank you note burbling about this coinciding with the last day of Chanukah and how although I knew that no one was thinking about that, I would personally see it as a small oil-based miracle.
When it came time to burn the wax, we opened windows to drive out the smoke, to drive out the virus, and I cast a wary glance at the detectors hoping they were feeling momentarily sleepy. I tried to hide these magic-killing feelings from Tom, who was fully engaged with the wax and the seal, lighting the wick, laying down the thread, dripping the wax on to the paper, pressing in the heart. Repeated three times. Repeated while the alarm stayed silent.
When the final heart was pressed, the flame went out, all of its own accord. And in that act, I thought I recognised an echo of that ancient miracle in the temple; the flame knew its job was done and it extinguished itself. Chanukah is a holiday that has risen in prominence precisely because of blended and secular North American families like mine, and not for its own religious significance. And I know that this comparison may seem like a clumsy continuation of that popularisation, particularly to those more observant than I. But at the end of 2020, in the middle of a project, I was hungry for tiny miracles and silent moments of connection and that’s what I saw when the light flickered out.
Dr Kate McGown
“Our unexpected meeting threw up many memories. Tom and I schooled together many moons before. I’d not thought much of those days and had a complicated memory of what I thought were happy times. Over the last decade I revisited those days through my daughter’s experiences. I can only say that hers were traumatic, and I had a revelation that mine were not as fun as I’d remembered. Meeting Tom again after all these years was very cathartic. We had an immediate understanding of each other’s time and shared very frankly the traumas that my daughter had suffered. Till now discussions of recent years were just of hell. The day of the wax was a moment of enlightenment. I had just received news that would begin mine and my daughters next step with coping and moving forward! There was a lift, a shift. There is light! There was light that day! Beautiful light. Light of speech, of flame and spirits. The calm that I had felt so many years ago was returning. The new path was opened and the past was sealed. Some folk return into your lives for very good reasons, so thank you Tom. Thank you for your honesty and clever words of understanding.“
What this represents is the image but it was so much more. It was a meeting, a becoming and bridges to the truth
The drawing together of our collective meanings was like the lining up of three prisms. A real beautiful moment of truth.
Or as a close friend said… it’s like ‘The red threads align; facets of the same prism – separate but united…’
So this and other reflections of trauma are available at the Verena Holmes gallery space at Canterbury Christ Church University and I welcome you to come along…