Category Archives: BLOGS

New care home residency

So, this new care home residency is the first residency Pippa and I are doing on our own – on our own together, thankfully. Our training continues but the training wheels are off and although Susanna continues to support and guide us when needed, she is no longer running along beside us, we are doing it! The staff have been very supportive too.

What’s so interesting – and challenging – about the residents I’m working with this time is how diverse they are, in terms of the language they use, and the obstacles to clear 2-way understanding and comprehension.

N speaks very quietly – at times the words barely leave his mouth – and he speaks quickly. He also has a strong West Indian accent and sometimes speaks in dialect. It’s taken me some time but I’m beginning to understand him better. He also can’t see very well, so eye contact isn’t possible, but his hearing is good. He laughs often, and I laugh with him, and it feels good, even when I don’t know what we’re laughing about. It feels good.

I’m excited to be working in Spanish with M, who speaks very little English. It feels really good to use my translation skills here, and the communication bridge which her book will be – with her words in Spanish and the line-by-line translation in English – feels twice as important. Perhaps the staff will be able to read her book with her and communicate through Spanish.

H has an intense desire for conversation – so much so that she appears to carry on a conversation, despite hearing very little. It was only when I asked her a direct question (loudly, in her ear) that it confirmed she hadn’t heard me. She’s become very adept at the appearance of a conversation, because she wants so badly to connect. She often expresses frustration that nobody talks to her (though of course they do, but she can’t hear them and then she doesn’t remember). I remembered Susanna working with someone who was deaf last year, and how she communicated through showing him what she was writing – so I thought I’ll try that. It turns out her eyesight is very poor as well, so I soon learnt to write very large, clear letters that fill the page with just a few words. She takes my book from me and reads it, and it pleases her enormously to read her words. It’s a laborious process, and tricky because she says a lot and writing large takes much longer so I can only capture a fraction of what she says. This is where the recording helps enormously, to help get the remaining 75% of what she said which I missed. [recording our exchange is a temporary memory aid which helps us to transcribe a resident’s words accurately, after which we delete the recording]. It’s extremely gratifying for us both, to know that she has heard/understood me, and that I have heard her. She says “ you can understand me” and her face lights up. Because isn’t that what we all want – to know that we are heard and understood?

Shazea Quraishi

On 22nd March

Therapist, author and dementia trainer Danuta Lipinska spent a morning with us a couple of weeks ago, furthering our vulnerable adults awareness, leading experiential exercises and lending her supportive insight in to this work. She emailed this over, to be shared here on our blog:

On 22 March

It was a great pleasure and honour to share the session with you all as you venture forth into this incredible work.  I had met Shazea and Pippa before and it was great to meet Astrid. It seems
like you have always been together.

What is unique about the ways in which you engage with the men and women living with dementia, is that you each bring such passion and enthusiasm to the relationships and the work. This is accompanied by tangible respect and a great depth of integrity. You are on a quest to offer an unfolding of Self in the presence of other, in order to affirm and enliven the life of that other, for however many moments or occasions that may be. I heard and felt it all. In all aspects of my being. This is no easy ‘add on’ behaviour. This is transformational and surprising. Shocking, even. It takes all of your willingness to unfold and de-construct, in order to re-shape and re-create a Self that can be authentically present. As Carl Rogers, author of the person-centred approach said, it is a ‘Way of Being’. As you always say, it is indeed also a work in progress. There is no finish line. You take seriously too, the need for the mental as well as emotional rigour this challenge brings. It is not enough to be kind and tender hearted, although you are. You all are aware of the need for sound training and embrace wholeheartedly, the methodology and process offered by Susanna in the varied ways in which she provides them. She is unselfish in sharing her legacy of Living Words, based on many years and many experiences with persons with dementia.

I left our session energised, encouraged and awed. Thank you for sharing with me and for the ways in which you are bringing Living Words to life.

Danuta Lipinska

 

Coming Off Script

Coming Off Script

It was about this time last year that we did our first training residency at Westmead Carehome. This was a three month project with four artists working with 2-4 people living with a dementia under the close supervision and guidance of Susanna.  For me this experience was life changing. It was an intensive roller coaster of a journey. The majority of the training was learning on our feet. In the rehearsal room we were trained in the very specific Living words process and had reflection and discussion, giving us the opportunity to learn from each others experiences.

Applying this training to the (sometimes seemingly chaotic) relationships we were forming was another matter.  The specific challenges that arose within each relationship was always surprising and sometimes tricky. There were many unexpected personal side-effects to the work as well. Some of the most prominent being: a re-evaluation of my own priorities, questioning the nature of consciousness, emotional transference / a strong empathetic response, beginning to see dementia in a new way, confrontation with my own mortality and (dare I say it) a kind of process of maturing from all of this.

Coming back to the work a year later felt both foreign and familiar. There was a new ease with the work, as if my brain had been practising, processing and building upon my experiences from last year. When I first stepped towards ‘E’ I was very nervous, I thought I wouldn’t remember how to do any of it but was surprised by how easy it felt.  It was like remembering you speak the language in a foreign land.

In this residency I have begun to feel as though I am able to come off script. My background is in theatre and there is always that moment in a rehearsal in which the text seems to spring off the page and into your own mouth. It becomes your own words, part of you and a kind of ownership of and freedom with the language is born. Suddenly you can go deeper into the play, the relationship and the moment. In relation to this work what I mean is that I have begun to feel a deeper understanding of the process. I have got to grips with it more, seen it work, come full circle and have more trust because of this. In this residency I have been more able to move with my intuition and be more fluid with my actions, speech and reactions. This would not be possible without the strong foundation of ‘the script’ of the process.

Being able to have some space to follow and act on the feeling in any given moment has helped bring the work deeper. (Rather than all my concentration being used up by trying to remember my lines!) Sometimes an observation said out loud can open up further trust and space for a person I’m working with to express something. It can add to the validating experience. I feel I’m able to follow that person far more because I’m not having to think so much.

Every person I’ve worked with is so completely different. It takes time to get to know the best ways of working with someone. Time to adjust to each persons daily rhythms, needs, use of language, behaviour, feeling states etc and this means that you can never really be prepared in the sense that it will always be new and you don’t know where a session will lead to. You don’t know what you are going to encounter or how that person will feel or behave on any given day.

It all still feels new too, fresh and the process continues to surprise and challenge me. I still have masses to learn but I feel less like I’m free falling and more as if I’m parachuting!

Pippa Wildwood

Process

Process

Our current project – WHERE NOW? – is the first time we have directly teamed a nursing home residency with the creation of a performance piece.  The timing and structure of the project means that each week, along with our rehearsal room reflection and enquiry, we are starting to explore performative possibilities and create a devising language. At the end of the nursing home residency we will transition in to the rehearsal room full time for ten days.  It’s a short process and we will be sharing our work-in-progress on 27th May at Folkestone, Quarterhouse as part of Normal? Festival of the Brain and on 14th June at Chelsea theatre for London Creativity and Wellbeing Week.  So, contrary to all previous work – we have begun with the end in mind.

At the heart of Living Words is our intention to be person and process centred.  This work is about relationships and about words – in that order.  As an actor and writer, I believe if you focus on the process, the outcome takes care of itself.  As a team we enquire around appropriation across all art forms, and consistently return to it as topic in our work – both within residencies in the way we work, edit and share people’s words; and in how we share, contextualise and represent participants in our publication and performance work.  So, it is important for us to put the performance out of our minds as we work one-to-one with resident participants and staff.

This project has a different framework than usual in a number of ways but for now I will focus on two: 1) We know what type of dementia a person has (this links to the premise of the project); and 2) We are particularly listening for how a person is experiencing life – we begun the project with the question: What does it feel like to be alive towards the end of your life and living with a dementia that affects your senses?  Usually we ask not to be told each participant’s diagnosis – after all, as the saying goes ‘When you know one person with a dementia…you know one person with a dementia!’. But we were guided in our choice of participant, linked to diagnosis, by Dr Seb Crutch at UCL Dementia Research Centre. Dr Crutch is partnering us on this project and we are delighted to be included in his successful Wellcome Hub bid – for info: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/2016/WTP060262.htm  The aim of knowing a person’s diagnosis was to enable us to work with people who had particular types of dementia that are known to have associative sense and perceptual issues.  What does the information of diagnosis do to me?  Well, for one – having conversations about prospective participants’ diagnosis before the project felt uncomfortable and at odds with our work and process.  Secondly, I feared that there might be an almost imperceptible shift in the equality of the working relationships.  This may sound overly concerning but it is the minutiae and detail of interpersonal dynamics that the relationships are formed, words are spoken and communication potentially improved. The second difference – us wanting to explore how participants’ see the world – is proving less of a challenge for me.  I have discovered that I can have this as an intention as we work without it coming too consciously to mind.  What both of these new elements do is bring to mind the need to focus on process, rather than how it usually is for me – a learnt behaviour.  Obviously we would all be aliens if, for example, when a participant is expressing something that is relational to our work in the rehearsal room, we didn’t have a spark of awareness of the connection but what I remind myself is that – although yes, we started this residency with the end (the theatre piece) in mind – the work is as it has always been.  Relationships.  And words.

Susanna Howard

Navigating authenticity

The struggle for authenticity in this work was the last thing I was expecting when I entered into the Living Words process two weeks ago. As an artist and animator I am used to a solitary, controlled studio existence, so I was prepared for an emotional and physical response to such a different new working environment, but certainly not for an existential crisis!

The first question I had in my mind before entering the Butterworth Centre was: how do you navigate? As a visual artist working outside of the defined parameters of the Living Words ‘scribing’ process, I was given free reign to discover my own working methods, so I had no established routes to follow. Shazea and Pippa said they see me as an explorer, charting new territories, a notion which is equally thrilling and terrifying to me.

The first three sessions were filled with clumsy attempts at discovering a good approach: observing Shazea with A and Susanna with B from a distance, feeling like a lurker and trying to catch floating words and images; sitting with Susanna and C and frantically sketching everything C was describing, a kind of literal-drawing version of scribing; and working one-to-one with D using the observed Living Words technique, just writing her words with no drawing. This last method felt the least authentic to me – introducing myself to her as a writer at the start felt like an outright lie and added a layer of discomfort to the encounter. I began to question what I was doing there, what benefit I was to the participants or the project.

During the fourth session, I had a revelation. My mechanical pencil ran out of lead, so I switched to pen. One of my stated intentions last week was to ‘follow the line’ and I found by switching to an indelible medium I was able to do this. I sat with Shazea and E, and was able to clear my mind and connect to the emotions behind what E was saying, and let the drawing flow. The drawings were simple, clean, metaphorical and surprising, almost like they didn’t come from me.

Authenticity is such a slippery fish, and mainly defined by inauthenticity, which always seems much easier to recognise. Authenticity in my own art has never been an issue for me, as I view my work as flowing freely from my character, uninterrupted by external influences. But when you are interpreting somebody else’s emotions, how do you know if you are hearing them or feeling them correctly? Especially when listening to people who may use words in an unusual or confusing way, sometimes you may not understand their particular lexicon until the third or fourth time you see them.

I can only trust that when something feels right – like it did with E – it IS right and authentic.

Astrid Goldsmith

Beginnings and equality

So, we have begun this enquiry into what it might feel like to be living with a dementia that affects the senses. As part of the project, we will be devising a performance piece in response to a nursing home residency, and it’s the first time I have been commissioned to write/devise a performance piece.  It’s exciting and somewhat terrifying.   I trust in the work and that with the varied skills we bring to this, it will be good.

We are 4 visits into our nursing home residency and each day I learn more, understand more. Before we began, I worried I wouldn’t remember enough from the residency/training last year, but it ends up being fine as this is all part of the process, part of the enquiry. The vital things float to the top, becoming part of the instinct we are developing for this way of working.   Susanna has said before that every residency is different, every person is different and so is every meeting of that person.   The fact that it is always new is reassuring.

There are two things that have been particularly helpful and relevant in this beginning stage:

That I am creating and holding a safe space in which to be with that person at that time: they are safe and I am safe;

And that this encounter is a meeting of equals.

It is helpful to remember that not only am I making a safe space for them to be with me in, I am also safe within that space.   This was crucial for me, I realized.

Also, in my third meeting with A, when I came with the idea and intention of equality, I experienced a particular connection between us: she saw me and I saw her clearly. It’s a connection like the best friendship – non-judgemental, supportive, fully present. And celebratory – we laughed often.   This brought a new, deeper quality to our exchange that I hadn’t experienced before. A real gift for me.

Meeting B for the first time, with the idea of the safe space and of equality, really surprised me. Despite a clumsy start, we soon entered a space of connection. Afterwards, I realised that although I had thought of me entering his consciousness, I hadn’t thought about him entering mine. I felt changed and enriched by our meeting.   Though B didn’t have many words that I could understand, I clearly understood the emotions behind his words. That was more than enough.

In this work, we enter this relationship being open and non-judgemental, as well as very robust. We make and keep the space safe for this encounter – when someone is that open, with no barriers, it’s important that I meet them openly, with no barriers, but with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

I’m not sure if this makes sense, the way I’ve told it. I am beginning to see that language is not necessary for communication… at least, not language as I defined it before.

Shazea Quraishi

Looking Back

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Jung

If I am lucky enough to continue this work I have a feeling that each person I spend time with will stay with me. That each encounter will be vivid and will move me, transforming me.   It is such an honour to be able to meet people in this way.

I spend most of my days brushing past people. Having cautious flirtations with how much or how little to reveal to the strangers I meet in this big city. Feeling the deadly awkward grip of the things not said lurking behind our banter. Even with the people I’m closest to sometimes I don’t manage a total honesty of presence.

When I have really connected to someone it becomes embedded in me. All those unusual encounters, however big or small, in which me and that other person were really there. That stranger you met years ago in the youth hostel, the day to day intimacies with with your partner, that conversation with an old friend, I bet you have a similar gallery of these meetings.

Living Words requires that we offer this level of presence and intimacy. That we consciously put ourselves into a state in which we are truly available. In this state we are moved. The space between me and the person I’m working with is smaller. This space is fluid and honest. Someone asked me what the greatest thing I had learnt from training with Living Words and I said “to be bold and soft, strong and gentle.” I think what I meant was you have to be a kind of foolish heart warrior to offer this space. It’s not easy but it is worth it. My life is richer the more of these ‘reactions’, as Jung puts it, are a part of it. It’s just “Love, I suppose” as G put it after our sharing of everyone’s words at the care home. He hit the nail on the head.

Pippa Wildwood

Carers

I look forward to every day I spend in Westmead with C. and J., and I’m beyond exhausted every time I leave. By the time I get home I usually need an hour to not talk, not think, not do anything. The focus and patience invested suck out most of my energy.

I visit C. and J. twice per week, working on a two-month project that is about to end.

Carers, they are there every single day. A care home is a 24/7 operation. There are early morning and late night shifts; no Bank holidays. Carers are the ones doing all the hard but precarious work. Only some of it is physical: there’s personal care and meals, cleaning up and lifting. They know every single resident they work with inside out – what they like and how they talk, their habits and irks. They are the ones who notice every little change, signal or warning sign. Day in and day out, they handle every surprise dementia delivers. I can’t really imagine the levels of stress – constant, unrelenting stress – this job involves. I can’t really imagine the emotional and physical demands of being a full time carer.

Carers work on a different speed to everyone else. They have to move faster, because there is too much to do and not enough time. In an ideal world, maybe there would be twice as many carers in every care home. But we’re stuck in this world, and they zoom around the home.

When we finally get to spend some time with carers – over the course of two workshops – I realise it’s probably the first time I’ve seen them sitting for longer than two minutes. It’s a silly thing to focus on. I don’t for a second presume to know what it’s like to be a carer, but as they let us in on their day-to-day I’m thankful. That they are taking the time to meet us, hear us, and get to know the books, time that is scarce and precious; that they trusted us and helped us out; that they care for J. and C. and everyone else at Westmead; that they have the focus, energy and patience I can’t fathom; that they’ll somehow find a gap in their timetables to read the books back when we’re gone.

Google dementia and you’ll notice politicians are worried about how much it’s costing everyone, as life expectancy continues to rise; as a result the conversation is getting louder, the research funding is growing, and progress is being made. I can’t help but notice however that carers seldom get a mention; I can’t help but think the public care for carers is one of the things that needs changing too.

Bojana Jankovic

Almost goodbye

Our time at the care home is coming to an end.

I introduced myself to A as always: ‘Lovely to see you A, I’m Shazea and we’ve been working together – I’ve been writing your words down and putting them in a book.’  When I took out the book to show her, with the photo she’d asked me to take for her cover, she was already pulling the book to her.  ‘Can I have it?’ she asked.  ‘Yes, it’s yours, and you can share it with other people if you want.’   She liked the cover. ‘That looks like me’.  Together we opened the book to the first page and I was about to read when she began to read her words out loud.  It was a piece where she introduced herself to me, the first words of hers I’d written down.  I remember she was lying down in her bed at the time – not sleepy, just comfortable.  In her space.   She would often take me to her room when I came with my notebook, and she would lie down and dictate to me.  I once tried suggesting we both sit in chairs in her room but she preferred to lie down.  At some point she would yawn and tell me she was going to sleep.  Sometimes I would stay sitting with her for awhile in silence.  ‘You can stay, by all means’, she would say.

A’s book has a lot of pages and I was concerned it was too long, that it might be daunting for her or anyone who might read it with her.  But she went through it quickly, eager to read the next page.  At one point I asked her how it felt, hearing her words and seeing them on the page.  ‘Beautiful’, she said.

G welcomed me as he welcomes anyone, eager for a chat.  When I took it out, he began leaning forward in his chair towards it, the way a plant leans in to light.   He’d asked me to take a photo of him for the cover, and he’d liked the photo when I showed it to him.   Now, when he saw the cover, and I said ‘this is your book, and that’s the photo of you I took’ – he looked and looked at it.  ‘Is that me?’ he asked?  ‘I look ancient, there’.  I wondered, who does he see in his mind’s eye?  I understand how sometimes you don’t recognise yourself in a photo – I have that sometimes.  Perhaps in his case that lack of recognition is heightened.   G liked hearing me read from his book.  ‘These are your words, G’ I would say now and then, and ask him how it felt to hear them and see them in the book.  ‘It’s alright’, he’d say, or ‘that’s true’.  Some of the memories he spoke about in the book, I could tell were refreshing him somehow – like seeing someone far away you can’t quite make out, and then when you get close, you recognise them.   There was sadness in the book as well as memories, when he spoke of his loneliness and wanting someone to talk to.   When I read this, he responded as someone who feels understood.  ‘Yes’.

We have a last chance now to edit the books before we give them, which is useful.  There were a few pieces I noticed were not as well-received as others, either because they produced confusion, or because there was too much of something.   We need to think of the reaction it produces in the person whose words they are, and in the visitor/carer who is reading them.   It’s not possible to know how much of the book will be read in one sitting – most people can’t read the books themselves, and whoever reads it with them may not have time for more than a page or two.

I appreciate the way Susanna has guided us through this process with so much emotional and practical support, and such a light hand.  Without her support it would have been very difficult, emotionally.  I like that way she didn’t tell us what to do or how, but kept asking what feels right.  ‘It’s a process of enquiry’, she said over and over.  Enquiry has become one of my favourite words.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this work has changed my life.   My life is richer for it and clarity it brings.   I feel I am a kinder person for it.   Some of this comes from the practise of mindfulness which goes hand in hand with this process, and much of it is the people we meet in the care home.  Their spirit and strength in this challenging chapter of their lives.  Beautiful.

Shazea Quraishi

 

Tuning In

Putting the books together is a new challenge. I wrap the person around me, the rhythm, tone and meaning of their words eddy round me as I edit. I feel like a composer as I pick out the stories I have been told.

P’s humour, M’s silences, B’s droplets of wisdom. I’m trying to get to an essence. This is nerve-wracking. Am I choosing the right words? Is that what P meant? Would B like to hear that back? Will this one engage M’s family or carers in a different kind of interaction?

I’m wondering how much to take out and how much to leave. Is it best to try to get to the bone of it? If I take too much of the flesh away will I miss someting? Will the person recognise themselves in this? I’m painting a portrait. My pallette is full of colours chosen by my subject. This is a portrait painted through me. I’m trying to let the subject paint themselves using my hand. I’ve never done that before. This is a wonderful and extraordinary collaboration! I am learning so much about these people by getting out the way as much as I can so I can make space to really see them.

Listening back I also feel the grip of responsibility again. This book is what I will be leaving. I want to make it a true representation. I want to leave a tool that has the potential to spark conversation, be something that the person likes to hear or read and that creates a feeling of validation and connection to the greatest degree.

When the books are complete I feel proud. It’s also quite a beautiful thing to be near the process coming round full circle. To have an object to hold onto. Something tangible. A gift from that person to me and then back to them. A materialised form of our time spent together. I have been trying my best to make that elusive delicate space between us land on paper. I just hope they like it…. I’ll soon find out…

Pippa Wildwood

30 minutes

Books have been printed. They arrive to the room in Westmead where we start our day, via Susanna’s suitcase, neatly packaged into a big, white box.

I clutch C.’s book on my way to find her. There’s only half an hour before dinner – half an hour to share it; I worry our meeting will be rushed. I also worry about whether the words, read back, will be validating, reinforcing or render the conversation mute. C is quiet, reserved, not a big talker. When she’s done she says ‘I think I’ll have a rest now’ – I still haven’t found a way back from that point.

On the cover of the book is a photo of a drawing hanging in C.’s room, made for her by her family. I also worry I led her to choose it for her book, that the choice was not entirely her own.

I take a deep breath before I go in. I slowly introduce the book, obsessing over the fingerprints I left on the cover.

C. takes one look at it and her face turns into the biggest smile she’s let me see yet. She knows that drawing. She trusts it, and because it’s on the cover of the book, she trusts the book too.

Suddenly, 30 minutes are not enough for everything C. wants to tell me. I hear stories about her entire family, the country where she is from, the singer whose picture is also on the wall, the card on her chest of drawers. She brags about her child and grandchild; she shows me a cassette with the music she loves; she asks me to explain how I managed to get the drawing onto another piece of paper. The book has opened a door somewhere, and it’s all pouring out. When I read the words back she nods, stops me half way to offer more words; when I leave I also leave the book behind, on her bedside.

The naturally suspicious me goes awol when I go to Westmead. I figured I would have to work on that, but it came naturally; I’ve always had inherent trust in the process. Every time I held on to it for dear life things were ok; every time I crumbled under pressures I lost my bearings. And so there we were: C., the book and me – and the process, still working away.

It’s always one day at the time – no, it’s one hour, one conversation at the time. I’ll take this half an hour though – but I promise not to run away with it.

Bojana Jankovic

The Books

A week spent creating the books that will belong to the wonderful people we have been working with at the care home.

I’ve just finished my third book – such an intense experience. I’ve come at the project very much as a writer, gathering material to shape into art. There is an ambiguity in this – the books I produce have multiple states of being. They are art. They are advocacy. But above both of those things they are an ethical engagement with another human being. As such they are a portrait, and carry a moral weight that is different to creating a work of fiction.

And yet… As with fiction, the material creates its own aesthetics. All good writers know that the mother lode is the moment that a piece of work starts talking to itself. This is, after all, why we create, to deal in a medium that is not simply an expression of quotidian thought. As I say to students, the fiction you create, if it is art, will be wiser than the writer, funnier, deeper, more intelligent, and will investigate problems that are not present at its conception.

With each of the books I have experienced this moment. D is an anecdotalist, he carries a world of knowledge and expands his stories outwards, changing them, working as a shaman to adjust bare facts to present concerns, and so his book speaks in prose and accepts loquacity, repetition, nuance. A speaks in short sentences, speaks with limpid resignation, drops jokes in at a slant to the conversation, and wants to remember, to get her bearings. She is a poet to me, and her book becomes poetry.

And DC, the singer, bursting into song, bursting into laughter, speaks in short verses, and gives me of his wisdom with a shrug. Many of his poems end with ‘thank you’. Thank you for listening. Because he knows there is no gift like conversation.

This week has been hard, not talking to my friends. I have missed them terribly. I hope I have done them justice.

Peter Salmon

.

 

The Process

When I first met C. she was quite, defensive, and not necessarily trustworthy of me. Fair enough, I thought.

In three short weeks I somehow learned a lot: from Susanna’s direct and concrete feedback (I now know why  ‘just’ is a shoddy word and how to act fierce even when I’m not), Shazea’s sensitive observations (we often lurk around, watching each other in action), from C. – who is very open about what she likes and dislikes, and from experience. I listen to my first conversation with C, then the second…then the last, as I’m putting her words in her book, and it’s only when I’m exposed to our entire relationship that I realise how much our conversations have changed. When we started out C kept returning to a single phrase; last time we talked she explained in detail what it feels like to lose your bearings.

I’m not giving myself credit here – it all goes to the process; its elements and the focus it takes over results. Knowing that spending time with C. and J. and writing their words down takes pole position over the object delivered at the end is what allows for many of the frustrations to disperse, for tensions to relax, for words to be shared. (A sidenote. Now that the books are almost ready to go I see it clearly laid out: the phrase C repeated so many times is just as relevant to how she feels as the details of our last conversation.)

I haven’t been reminded of the value of the process in a while. Like most other artists I know, I spend way too much time administrating my practice, so much so that by the time I get to practicing the practice I sometimes find myself too annoyed by emails, twitter accounts and forms to engage in anything remotely creative. It’s been particularly admin-heavy as of late; in the world of ‘creative industries’ this includes proving the value of your results over and over and over again. I may have temporarily lost the joy of making, of the process.

Then I took my time going over C.’s and J.’s words, I listened to the tapes, entangled things I missed in the moment; I saw how much was built up in three short weeks, because the process was allowed priority and I remembered how much I looked forward to going to see them every week, because I enjoyed the process.

Then I logged out of my emails in an act of silent rebellion.

(and I made plans to do more for my process.)

Bojana Jankovic

You see?

It’s when he shows me the photographs that it hits me.

D has been playing the mandolin for me – he plays for everyone, some love it, some bark back, D meets any reaction with a smile or a laugh. He is, I think, Chinese, and he used to play and sing in Singapore, in Sicily. His English is limited, stuttering, but he recites the dates with precision, 1954, 1956, 1974. Times he moved places, times he sang.

He knows the start of the tunes, can play them in different keys, but doesn’t know all of the ends. ‘Forgotten’, he laughs. ‘Forgotten!’

He motions me to his bottom drawer, it is full of opera DVDs, La Traviata, Don Giovanni. He sings some of Carmen to me. ‘Could sing high’, he says. ‘Not now. Forgotten!’ He laughs again.

And then he brings out the photographs. In this one he is forty, this one fifty two, this one sixty, and this one is from ten years ago. In all of them he is laughing, smiling, singing. He has a microphone, and is always surrounded by people. They are laughing too, clapping. He is bringing them joy.

D sits on his bed, with the mandolin on his lap. ‘You see?’ he says. ‘You see?’ And he is laughing. ‘I am lucky’.

I finish taking down his words, and tell Susanna I need to go outside. I find myself crying, needing the people I love. I thought I had dealt with the idea that the people I am seeing had lives, were young not long ago. But it had only been the idea I had dealt with. To see the reality in D’s photographs hit me hard.

I go back, and talk with my colleagues. They hug me, and we talk about it over lunch. It is a special bond we are building, a circle of love and trust.

In the afternoon I go and see A. She hasn’t remembered me other times, and is always on the move, trying to find her home, Rotterdam. Today she greets me with joy, sits with me for two hours, and talks. We laugh together, she tells me sly jokes and winks. I hug her goodbye, and walk back past D’s room. He is playing the mandolin, but stops to give me a wave. He laughs. ‘You see?’

Peter Salmon

Sausage and Mash

M and I are walking down the corridor together side by side. We don’t look at one another or speak. She walks slowly and I match her speed. She is taking me somewhere. I feel honoured to be walking with her like this. There is a trust between us and a feeling of familiarity. She leads me towards the service that is taking place in the home.

Suddenly I realise that I can’t go any further. I can’t interrupt and I can’t sit in the service with M. That’s not why I’m here. I’m going to have to find a way to tell M all this, in a way that is not rejecting, that she might understand. I’ll also have to say it quietly because we are now quite close to the Vicars sermon. This is not easy as M’s hearing is not so good. I find myself saying “I can’t go in here M, I’m very sorry.” “Eh?” says M. Again louder and gesticulating more than is necessary “I’m really sorry M, but I can’t come with you in here.” “Come on!” says M and continues to walk. I stop for a moment wondering what to do. She stops and looks back at me “Where are you?” “I can’t go in there M, I’m sorry.” She is quick to make her decision. She turns “I’ve been here already, let’s go.” I’m entirely taken aback. She walks back to me and we continue slowly, side by side back down the corridor. “Let’s sit somewhere” she says.

When I first met M our conversations were always brief. She repeated a few phrases. She would often tell me “I like sausage and mash.” We would go round in circles and at one point I felt very concerned that the time I was spending with her would not be beneficial for her or her environment. She was often suspicious and would try to end the interaction. Her trust was hard won.

The change in her astonishes me. This simple action, these phrases seem to be a bolt from the blue. I didn’t know that she had these words. With her I realise again that I have assumed that this kind of relationship was not possible. In the last session she had asked “did you come before?” She had remembered my name. Which had blown me away. I am learning to assume less!

She sits down on her bed. “Sit here” she says. I obey. We just sit in silence for a bit, breathing together. Then we have a chat. At one point she asks me my name “Pippa” I say. “Pippa?” “yes Pippa” “that’s a dogs name.” I think this may be the only time in my life where I am completely thrilled to hear those words.

“What would you like on the front of your book” I ask, “what?” asks M. “What do you like to look at?” I have to admit I have my bets out here… I am expecting the reply “sausage and mash.” In fact before now I wasn’t even certain that she would understand the question. She thinks for a moment and then- “my mummy”… “and my daddy”… “And my sisters”

I ask her if it’s alright if I read her a poem I have edited from her words. She agrees with her usual accommodating “yeh.” I read it slowly and loudly, wondering what kind of reaction it might receive. Her usually expressionless face breaks into a grin and she says “yeah, that’s what I like”

I realise how much I’m going to miss this. How much I’m going to miss her when our time together is over.

Pippa Wildwood