We’re not good about talking about intimacy, certainly in the UK. Up until now most of my writing energies have been focused on the mostly joyless last of writing funding bids, trying to secrete passion in between the lines of recycled text. Taking this sabbatical has been a delight. Suddenly whole new packages of words and ideas become available. Understandably funders need certainty. Most times the truth is that we don’t know what we are going to do. We only know where we are standing; (I love the mathematical precision of New York –writing this near the junction of 42nd and Fifth Avenue) we know who are travelling companions are; we have a strong sense of the direction of travel; we have questions. But that’s where the certainty ends. It is, as Shakespeare said, the way it works:
“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name”
Against the UK backdrop of Criminal Records Checks and safeguarding procedures it is often difficult to talk about intimacy and love within the context of public work. Iris Murdoch spoke of love as: “the extremely difficult realization that somebody other than oneself is real” That in essence is what so many of the artists and groups that I have been visiting over the last eight weeks have been engaging with: connecting and re-connecting; creating new contexts for close, familiar and often affectionate relationships between strangers, between families.
In San Francisco Jeff Chaplin director of the Centre for Elders and Youth in the Arts spoke of moments where in conversations he found connections between people who had been living in the same residential homes for years, people who saw each other every day, but had no idea of similarities and connections in their life stories. It just takes a moment and a spark. In Denver, Joan Ippen spoke of the painting making a connection between a mother with Alzheimer’s and her daughter: “When I look into the eyes of the owl it is like I am looking into my mum’s eyes. She is painting outward from her soul. This has been a ray of sunshine for our family.”
Finally, from Washington DC, one of the stories from this journey that I will carry for a very long time. The musician Anthony Hyatt tells of a moment from his work as a violinist in a hospital:
“I was in the hospital in Georgetown and there was this girl that was there. She was maybe about two and a half, three years old and I learnt that she enjoyed music and I would usually go and visit her. I was visiting her one day and I left to go and see some other patients when a nurse asked if I could go back because her grandparents were there. The little girl had been put in a bouncy seat. The grandparents, in particular the grandfather were uncomfortable, not knowing what to do in these situations. Just sort of standing back.
I started playing my violin and the little girl started bouncing. And I started playing fast fiddle and they came over and they started dancing. For half an hour it was the most joyful room. We laughed and we talked. They were religious people and I played hymn tunes. They are singing to the little girl. They are all happy.
I got an email the next day. The little girl had died in the middle of the night. The memory of their granddaughter is completely changed by having had that experience.”