What’s next? Everything.

Being in the ‘place between’ stories can get (too?) comfortable.

Place between stories

Place between stories

After several years of discomfort and kicking the constant quest for meaning and recognition via one’s profession, something settled. My life led me gently back to basics, and fulfilment came from simply doing things that came naturally. Walking, gardening, drawing and painting, writing, cooking, tending the home and relationships. That was all going on when I was focused on my work as well, but it was my work which established my rhythms, and now it is the day itself, the earth’s cycles, and my body.

The long periods of deep uninterrupted focus needed to progress on my book resulted in new insights and excitement as previously unrelated areas began to reach out across ideological space and contact each other. The book is also an excavation of sorts, and I am undertsanding better where I’ve arrived and how I got here.

In the meantime, I joined a neighborhood traffic action group and worked with them for 2 years. Our successes led to the town council wanting to work with us, and now several of us are involved with plans to take what we’ve learned to other villages. Added to our weekly meetings are also planning meetings with the municipality.

Then one of the people I was working with on that project is involved in a regional version of Let’s Gro, an alternative festival held in Groningen. I went to the first meeting for ‘Let’s Win'(short for Winsum, a largish town close by) and suddenly found myself in a group where for once, I wasn’t the only one interested in transition, and alternative forms of art and community building. It was just amazing, inspiring, and the dynamic of the meeting captured my imagination, highlighted my research on my book, and also let me see what my contribution could be as far as facilitating more creative approaches in a number of areas.

So, oops, I have another project to be committed to. All of a sudden, I can’t just take off on my Pieterpad walks, but have to schedule them between ….meetings! My life is suddenly full of meetings! And more responsibility! Is this truly the direction I wanted to move in?

One aspect of the place between is that while you are waiting for what’s next, the possibilities seem endless. I guess one reluctance is that when things start to take form again, I have to make choices, and all of a sudden things get narrowed down again.

So I’m thinking about these things now. It seems that this social engagement is a natural outgrowth of having pulled back out of society for several years. I now feel called to share some of the things that have become clear. And I definitely want to collaborate. So these needs are being filled by the path my life is taking at present. But I am reluctant to let go of the long easy (well,not always) days of doing what I want when I want, and having time to really listen and reflect.


Let’s Gro- an Inspiration Festival


A vegetable garden for everyone

Last summer,  I heard that Charles Eisenstein would be at Findhorn’s, ‘New Story Summit’ conference. At first I wanted to go, but the idea of attending a conference put me off. I’ve gone to similar gatherings only to experience a few intense days of inspiration, then being unable to maintain the ‘conference high’ back in familiar surroundings. The seemingly promising contacts also water down, and in a few months, I’m left wondering if I couldn’t have spent all that time and money more wisely.

From what I heard of the conference it sounded like I’m not the only one to resist this old way of orchestrating knowledge-sharing – despite positive feedback there were serious rumblings of rebellion and dissatisfaction throughout the week.

Mailing briefly with Charles after the conference, he understood my concerns, yet noted that this form of gathering was still precious in that it created a space where diverse people could meet and exchange experiences. But he, too, has been feeling the urge to explore more open-ended ways of doing this.

Well, last week I was very lucky to experience a fantastically successful alternative to the old conference form. And I didn’t have to go abroad to do so. I’m privileged to live just outside of Groningen- a culturally rich university town in the northernmost end of Holland. It has always been on the progressive side despite the Calvanistic influence, but now, things are really starting to hot up.

The Let’s Gro Inspiration Festival was a perfect platform for exploring transition. There were 122 events planned over 2 days in or around the centre of Groningen. The theme was ‘The future of the city Groningen’. All the events were geared to exploring alternatives to existing forms. The scope was huge: community greening initiatives, socially engaged art, repurposing buildings, recyling, upcycling, social work, new energy alternatives, rethinking transport in the city,exploring community in various forms, etc.

Here is a small selection of what was available to do, most of it free!

  • a masterclass in self organisation in the city, how to initiate citizen actions
  • a pop up restaurant using locally produced organic products
  • a talk about creating community green spaces by residents who did so successfully
  • a presentation on the ‘home of the future’ featuring new technology to enable the elder home-owner to remain at home longer
  • panels and events for young entrepreneurs in the creative industries
  • a guided tour around a garden started for low income families, to give them work and enable them to grow their own food
  • a ship container with a display of cradle to cradle projects, and a room where oyster mushrooms are being raised on coffee grounds collected from the huge Internal Revenue building’s restaurant.
  • a café run by volunteers, serving free meals, using only donated food slightly past hold by date, or surplus from restaurants and local farmers
  • a nature hike in the city’s green spaces
  • a vintage clothes swap event
  • a party for internationals- students and young entrepreneurs

There was music, dance, partying, art, theatre, film, and this water sculpture on the main market square. There were seminars on urban beekeeping, on providing a basis income for everyone, creative strategies for the city, safety in neighborhoods, sustainable entrepreneurship, a mini Maker’s Fair, and more.

What I loved about it was the free form way you could put together your own program. You could meet or not meet other people, you could choose where to linger, when to go, what to see, taste, hear, experience. The knowledge gained could be applied locally, which was the intention. And the people one met lived nearby enough, had enough common interests and networks to make keeping in touch realistic.

I attended several events on one day and though I didn’t come home on a conference high, I was quietly inspired and grounded in my neighborhood and in Groningen in a new way. Possibilities opened up I’d not been aware of before. This is truly a place where people are exploring new ways of building community together. There is so much going on!

As a result of contacts made there, I may be assisting a student project about social initiatives, and have since heard about some other socially engaged artists.

And speaking of community, I learned about the Community Lover’s guide to the Universe, which I hadn’t been aware of until now, were you?

Slow down! You’re driving through our living room!

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

Early this year, I wrote optimistically about the action group I’m involved in to try and improve traffic safety on our road. Below is our first action, ‘At home on the street’, a living room set up on the side of the road, with the carpet extending onto the road- to try to communicate that this is not only a through road, but people live here.

'At home on the street', thumbs up for a good driver

‘At home on the street’, thumbs up for a good driver

Now, a year on from our first action in the summer 2013, we’ve gained experience and wisdom. And we see more clearly just what it is we are up against.

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy vehicles on our country road

heavy farm vehicles

The situation: we live on a country road in a beautiful agricultural area. However, it is also a provincial thruway used intensively by agricultural machinery and and heavy freight trucks.

There are, including cars, an average of 1500 vehicles passing by our door-  per day!!

And according to official figures, 80% of them drive too fast, making crossing the street a life-threatening experience, and the question of children playing on or near the road unthinkable.

heavy freight carriers on our country road

2 years ago, taking into consideration the years long complaints about the road, the province carried out a complete renovation of this piece of the N983. There were aesthetic changes meant to emphasise the neighbourhood aspects of the road like new streetlights and cycle lanes, new paving, as well as ‘shared space crossings’. But most importantly, the speed limit was reduced from 80 to 60km/hour just outside the village, and from 50km to 30km/hour within the village boundaries.

Very few drivers, including locals, observe/d the 30km limit. Despite our complaints the province claims that the overall speed has dropped some, to a bit under 50km, and those are the best results we can hope for. They consider the changes a success!

A year on down the line, we now have two light displays-one at either end of the village- showing people their current speed; and as an experiment, the province has placed cement obstacles at intervals down one side of the road.

When these, plus our months of friendly and attention getting actions, didn’t have the impact we’d hoped (in many cases it made people more aggressive!) we turned to the police to ask if they would help enforce the new speed limit. The story we got in answer to this is too absurd for words!

Evidently, the police (municipal)  can’t initiate action on our behalf. They must receive an order from the people responsible for the road (the province). The province doesn’t see that there is a real problem here. But it gets even better, even if the police would come here and give speeding tickets, these won’t hold up in court because the road doesn’t fulfil the qualifications for a country road (remember the renovation that was supposed to ensure this?). Certain elements in the design of the road indicate it as a through road- not a residential area. When we asked why this was allowed to happen, our civil servant contact says, ‘You attended the planning meetings, so why didn’t you tell us you didn’t want this?’ But of course those of us at the planning meetings didn’t have the technical expertise to foresee the consequences of this kind of decision.

So after our summer break, in our first meeting we realised that what we’re really up against is much bigger than a localised question of speeding cars through a village.We now know that we’re trying to change deeply ingrained mentality and behaviour. In our culture and here in Holland for sure, people don’t pay attention to rules unless they are forced to. As long as no one in authority is watching they will break every rule they can. So we’re up against habitual antisocial behaviour which is accepted as normal. Also, people don’t like others to change things, what we get a lot is,’We’ve been driving this road for 30 years at 50km, who are you to tell us we should change now?’

No amount of argument about danger for children and pets and older people helps,’There have always been children living near this road, none have ever been hurt’.


Also, though no one will admit it, the province is dragging its feet on providing the one solution that would solve the problem- place obstacles in such a way that cars can’t go faster than 30km. Personally, I think it all comes down to politics and money- they are unwilling to antagonise the farmers or trucker businesses that drive through here.

So that’s what we’re up against. From the original team of 8, there are 4 of us still actively functioning in the group. For some, a year of intense volunteer work, self funded, with few visible results, was too discouraging; for others, their work is now taking precedence. For those of us left, admittedly weary and discouraged but still committed, our immediate strategy is to unite with surrounding villages who have similar problems.

If you know of any success stories with these kinds of citizen-based actions, please do let me know!



Larger conversations, searching for the soul in my art

Too early on, creating beautiful things became my sole source of praise, and self-worth. I think it took me an entire adult life to start to reclaim my art for myself, and disengage it from the outer trappings of approval.

David Whyte speaks about diving deep down to the core of our work where we are engaged in larger conversations with unknown forces. And that this level of work is hugely distanced from the usual criteria of professionalism, income generation and success.

He says that without this larger conversation, nothing will nourish us, we won’t find the passion or renewal needed to progress and grow and become fulfilled in our work.

I’m finding it increasingly harder to keep on with my oil painting. It seems to me so entwined with the old forms of art making, but not in the positive sense of craft mastery. Rather that, once finished, whether I see it that way or not, my painting becomes a product. It belongs to the market value system simply by existing.

I think if my work sold effortlessly, I wouldn’t get so hung up on the promotion aspect of it. If people bought my work for who I am, and not who the gallery is, and this work was seen to be a necessary part of someone’s life, or of the community,  I’d just keep keeping on.

This is my latest still life, I like the tippy-top band of colour best.

Tanny's bowl

Tanny’s bowl

I have been wondering how/if my painting is connected to my soul, to my heart’s path….It still seems to be about doing something well, and the very real joy of mastering  technique and using it expressively. But it has no context. I don’t feel part of the artworld or akin to my fellow painters who are trying to live from their work. It is made in a vacuum and stays there. It is something I do, but not who I am……..

But maybe I haven’t dived down into it deeply enough. I can’t seem to find the ‘passion’ or ‘renewal’ to go on with developing it. [Later: I reconnected to my painting again and there is so much delight in just the doing, and in seeing the progress, and getting closer to my vision of how I’d like to paint. The reward is in the joy of doing and discovery. So though there are ups and downs, I won’t be stopping anytime soon.]

On the other hand, this little laying out of objects collected on my last 2 walks does make my heart beat faster. It feels very close to who I am and who I always have been.



The little grass ring was woven while waiting for the bus to go back home, it has since been pimped up a bit with wool, pine cones and feathers, I’ll add a photo of the finished object later. (On this photo, inside the ring is a pinkish disc of lepidolite given to me by Rende). The wonderful weathered sticks are each from a different nature reserve- Gasteren Duinen, Balooërveld, and Sleenderbos.The flint is also from the sandy paths of Ballooërveld.

All my life I’ve been collecting feathers, sticks, shells, stones, seedpods. And weaving baskets from grasses and laying out collections in various configurations. I’ve never linked these activities with Art. It seemed too personal, like my own intimate rituals which had nothing to do with anyone else.

But it seems that this urge is more widespread, and that it is an expression of a new kind of art, linked with nature. So I’ll share it here, and so doing, feel to be part of a larger community also working with natural materials for healing, connection, meaning creation, peace, and the simple pleasure of it.










Disrupting the old story

The world as we know it is built on a story. To be a change agent is, first to disrupt the existing story of the world, and second, to tell a new story of the world so that those entering the space between stories have somewhere to go.
-Charles Eisenstein- ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’

Eisenstein speaks  about ‘disrupting the existing story’ as an effective way to detach from the *old story and help create the new.
He points out that methods of trying to convert people to a new story won’t work if based on the old way of thinking. You can’t convince people your story is the ‘right’ one, because you then imply that theirs is  ‘wrong’, and this will threaten and provoke people to dig in more deeply to their own viewpoint. Anyway, everyone uses their own logic to argue their point.
Also, you certainly can’t force people to change their beliefs through guilt-tripping them, that would only create resistance.

So how does one disrupt the old story? One way is walking out of it into the space between. If I’ve been obediently going to work everyday despite dissatisfaction, and because of social and financial pressures, then stopping disrupts the story that ‘in order to survive, we all have to do work we don’t like’. Or the ‘economy needs to be kept running’, etc.  Or ‘if I don’t work, I’m not a valid member of society’.

Living in the place in between stories is a disruption personally but also in a broader sense socially. The answer to ‘what do you do’, is not readily explainable to people still functioning in the old paradigm. Lately I’ve been saying,’I’m, 64, I am in a transition between life phases and professions, and to tell you the truth, I am just resting and waiting to see what is next’.

Eisenstein argues that:

the best way to disrupt the story of separation is to give someone the experience of non-separation. An act of generosity, forgiveness, attention, truth or unconditional acceptance offers a counter example to the world of separation.

I think that alot of the new art forms (or unforms) demonstrate these qualities. Flash mobbing is generous and humorous and disrupts taking one’s surroundings and daily routine for granted.

Flash mob performances catch an audience unawares and before they can mobilise defences,  the music goes straight to their souls.

And attention; the attention I was able to give to people with dementia and their families when I worked as a volunteer activity director in a nursing home, was disruptive as well. It challenged many negative beliefs about what people with Alzheimers were capable of or not. Attention is a powerful tool for healing and change, and it went hand in hand with unconditional acceptance.

Forgiveness is harder, it means letting go of feeling wronged. It means softening and giving up one’s ego position, it means admitting I’m also wrong. And it does disrupt all the old stories of unworthiness, guilt, shame, anger, separation.

Personally, my present activism seems to be to give gifts where I used to charge. It isn’t easy moving into a gift economy mode after a  lifetime of being in a professional one. In the past when I have given work free of charge, there were always hooks in it, it was never truly free. I wanted something back in the place of the money-  gratitude, recognition, more work, etc. So I was still functioning from a business paradigm. And eventually I stopped giving my work and time away because, ‘I really can’t afford to’, ‘it is never appreciated’, ‘you get taken advantage of’,’the universe doesn’t work that way’ etc.

But over the years there arrives some kind of tipping point, a lot of us are experiencing now. Being in the place in between has certainly helped this process. By completely disengaging from my professional work and identity, I’ve been free to function closer to my nature, which enjoys giving purely for the satisfaction of seeing people being made happy. And it arises from the conviction that there is enough after all and that I will be provided for.

Actually, the more I give the richer I feel. This is such a cliché, I know, I can’t believe I said it. But when entering a disruptive activity completely, the experience can be transformative.

This article on Random acts of Generosity goes a step further in linking gift with art, and exploring the shadow side of gift giving.






*In his book, ‘The More beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, Eisenstein speaks of the ‘old’story as the paradigm we are currently enmeshed in, it is one of separation, an indifferent or hostile universe, everyone out for himself, money as the bottom line, etc.

The new story wanting to be born is one of connection, to one’s neighbourhood, to nature, to the cosmos. It is one which naturally fosters service,community, caring, and wholeness.

What did I love?

I don’t promise coherence in this post, it is an early morning (public) musing. I do it here for lack of a conversation partner at the moment, and because this blog, as opposed to artcalling, has only a handful of followers, most of whom understand the context of transition and the place between stories.

Recently, on a friend’s recommendation, I ordered David Whyte’s, ‘Crossing the unknown Sea, Work as a pilgrimage of identity’. I’m halfway through it and what I’ve read so far is spot on for me at this point in in my journey to a new story.

One thing he says is that in childhood, we  have all had an intimation of the work that would fulfil us as adults. Whether we are able to keep true to that vision or not is something else, of course.

For the life of me, I can’t remember wanting any profession at all (this in itself is a key!). Though, for a brief time, inspired by my love of horses, I wanted to be a vet.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawing and painting. I never aspired to be an artist because I already was one. Working with my hands and creating informed every part of my life.

I think the crunch for me and my work came in the way that purity got overlaid once it interfaced with the world. I was fortunate to have parents who nurtured this direction and gave me every encouragement to follow that path. But they and their friends were a bit in awe of artistic ability, so immediately I felt special because of my  ‘talent’.

Too early on, creating beautiful things became my sole source of praise, and self-worth. I think it took me an entire adult life to start to reclaim my art for myself, and disengage it from the outer trappings of approval. David Whyte speaks about diving deep down to the core of our work where we are engaged in larger conversations with unknown forces hugely distanced from the usual criteria of professionalism, income generation and success. He says that without this larger conversation, nothing will nourish us, we won’t find the passion or renewal needed to progress and grow and become fulfilled in our work.

When I think back, though to childhood, what did I love? Certainly art materials, I still rejoice at the colours in a new set of oil pastels or paints. But I equally loved being outside in every season, and playing  in nature. And I adored and still do adore horses above all other animals. I loved playing by myself, making up stories, writing them down and making little books, cards and other gifts for my parents. I wrote poems a lot. I made doll’s clothes. I made jewellery. I crafted a tiny desk and chair for my mother who loved miniatures. I specialised in calligraphy in high school and college-  encouraged by father who loved my handwriting.

Now, I find, I am happiest being left alone (figuratively) in my studio to do what I want. I paint, and sometimes I write, sometimes I make crafts as gifts, I actually am inexplicably stockpiling a number of finely crafted tiny books, pin cushions, and crocheted hearts to give away. Why is yet to be revealed. After decades of concentrating so desperately on generating an income from my art, gift giving is becoming an increasingly prominent activity which I find fits who I am now and is extraordinarily fulfilling.

Aha! the insight, this is what I loved best to do in childhood! I’ve paid the dues for 40 years, (and they were often fulfilling and enervating years) doing work on commission, meeting deadlines, haggling prices, administrating my freelance business. But these activities all took the joy out of creating.

And now I am free to follow what I loved most as a child, to just make stuff and occasionally give it to people. But also to be outside much more, to garden and walk and go and visit the horses down at the end of the village.

I still feel an approaching vocation that I sense will find me when the time is ripe. It will be exciting and meaningful in the new context of social engagement and ecology. It will be collaborative without a doubt. It will use all of me, not just the making things with my hands part. And it will demand that I contribute who I am, who I am becoming,  and not just what I do.



Message from inside the white cloud

It is such a resounding blank sometimes, there is no motivation to begin anything, no real reference points which make sense of putting in the effort. I’ve hesitated to write about my life right now for fear of sounding whiny. After all, I have my health, knock on wood, am married happily, am surrounded by loving friends and family, there is nothing to really complain about.

But things that used to make sense no longer do. I’m still working with Charles Eisenstein’s, ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, and he spends a lot of time addressing ‘the space in between’.  One of the characteristics of leaving an old story behind and entering a not yet clear new one, is chaos, vulnerability, uncertainty. So, while in the middle of this kind of turbulence, it is difficult to collect one’s thoughts in a way that makes sense.

Where this is most difficult for me is in relation to art and my old professional identity. The creating part is fine, that is an intimate discipline between me and my own heart. It is when third parties become involved that it gets complicated.
Recently a friend was here and saw, really saw, my most recent work. And there was an urgency-“Why aren’t you exhibiting these, why aren’t you selling them on the internet?, why don’t you sign up for the art gallery route, why don’t you contact this gallery owner” etc etc?  And there is no answer in the context of this old story that could make any sense to her.

Charles also says that holding a new story alone is almost impossible – friends, family, the pressure to earn and compete, the society itself keeps drawing us back to the old forms. We need community to keep re-enforcing the new direction so together we can hold and create the new story.

The world asks me for goals, career moves, achievement, promoting myself and my work, creating an aura of glamour (making a name) so that I will be appealing to potential buyers.

For years these have been utterly empty strivings for me, and I have withdrawn from them with all the consequences of isolation, lack of income, losing face professionally that has brought.

But now I can start to sense what is emerging and it has nothing to do with ‘goals’. The elements are vague but create a sense of openness and delight when I name them;

gardens, walking, village, friendships, cooking, community, cooperation, painting as discipline and joy, wellness, more walking, wayfaring, crafting, house, stewarding, nurturing, cultivating, horses and foals, tending, gathering.

Another point Charles makes which is important, I feel, is that bringing in the new story can’t be willed. Like the volition to act itself, it comes as a gift. Here are some relevant direct quotes and paraphrased passages from the book:

When we are trapped in a story we can only do things that  story can recognize. A lot of stories have to change, it goes all the way to our basic understanding of self and world.

That is why an activist will inevitably find herself working on the level of story- the most practical hand-on actions tell a story, they come from and contribute to the making of a new story.

In between the old and new is an empty space which must be navigated. The lessons of the old are integrated, there is completion. Returning to the place between stories we can choose from freedom and not from habit. A good time to do nothing is when you feel stuck. We feel vulnerable chaotic, nothing makes sense, old choices seem absurd, you can’t imagine new ones. The challenge is to trust that the next story will emerge when the time in between has ended.

Doing nothing is specific to the time when a story is ending and we enter the space between stories. Non- doing here is used as non-forcing. It means freedom from reflexive doing; acting when it is time to act, not acting when it is not time to act. Action is thus aligned with the natural movement of things, in service to that which wants to be born.

The wisdom to act in entirely new ways comes from nothing, inaction, the void.

These words are a solace to me who has felt increasingly unable to act in the ways expected of me. And who has sensed a deeper and kinder rhythm that my soul already knows- one that involves trust, waiting to see what comes on my path, patience, and yet more trust.

Maybe that is why walking is taking on such an importance lately, putting one foot in front of the other in trust, not rushing, taking in the scenery, being grateful for the miracle of just being able to move out in the fresh air and open road.