PONDERING UPON WANDERING, REDUX

Lady Liminal Future Ghosts, Landscape, Memory, Mental Health, Remember, Technology, Wanderings 46 Comments

These past twenty months have been difficult, for everyone. Periods of intense highs and crushing lows, peaks, and troughs far more intense than any rollercoaster. I am currently struggling, badly. My mental health has plummeted to such an extent that thoughts I hoped I’d never experience again, have re-emerged over the past few days. Storm Barra is bearing down outside, so walking abroad within the world isn’t possible for me today. Instead, I’ve decided to wander within my favourite place, my safe space, the Liminal Worlds. In this Pondering I will combine some tracts from three previous pieces, all of which are available in their original form on the website: Walking As Release, Losing Yourself To Find The Way, And Introspection Enabling Connection, with new words and thoughts intertwined, in the hope that I can convince myself and, hopefully others who are struggling too, that we are making headway…

As many of you know, I like to wander, wander, and ponder. Uplands, downlands, forests, seas of peat, oceans of concrete; all captivate me. I lose myself when looking upon the ground just as much as when I gaze up at the firmament. Even artistic depictions of landscape leave me transfixed. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent staring deeply into Nash’s megaliths, Constable’s clouds, Munro’s circles, and Nevinson’s fractured futurescapes. Relinquishing fully my corporeal form, surrendering myself entirely to the vistas that they depicted. When I am out wandering within the world, I cannot think, I can only feel. I must give myself up entirely to the landscape, to the beauteous sublime, in which I’m walking, let it permeate through to the very bones of me. Whether it’s a positive or negative experience, I can’t hold back. I must persist, to experience. For me, the temporal ceases to have any control once I’m unleashed upon the world(s).

For myself, it is no coincidence that motion is entwined within ‘Emotion’. The very process of moving is incredibly emotive. Whether it’s through the physical: walking, wheeling, or running through a terrestrial landscape, sailing upon, or swimming within, a seascape. Metaphysical: channelling our inner energies to transmit ourselves out beyond the corporeal. To wander celestial pathways, to surge down the wires, become part of the machinery… Or indeed, through technology, exploring virtual vistas, seeking out digital Brigadoons, without having to set one foot outside.

Movement enables transition. Wandering, whether within the physical, the virtual, or the abstract, can facilitate bodily and psychological release. It can help us confront, and resolve traumas, both past and present. Wandering can ignite our imaginations, enabling us to travel around the omniverse in a millisecond, or to explore deserts, mountains, islands, the betwixt and between, without ever having to leave the comfort of our favourite chair. Technology is opening further avenues of exploration, bringing us ever closer to tantalising thresholds.

People approach landscapes differently. Some prefer to stay within urban vistas, others find the lure of the forests, beaches, or uplands, more enticing, but always make sure to remain within fairly populated areas, the ‘safety in numbers’ approach. Others are content to head a wee bit off the beaten track, but are conscious never to stray too far from the path, or the car park…

Day or night; in sunshine, rain, howling wind, or driving snow, I like to wander. I find solace through walking; I’ve always enjoyed roaming. From an early age I used to traverse the council estate where I spent the first part of my childhood, dog in tow. We moved to the Isle of Wight when I was a young teenager. To live less than a minute’s walk from the beach was unreal and having the Downs only a short distance away opened up my world exponentially. I would drift for hours amidst the liminal place between sea and land, imagining upon the sirens’ call to the sailors off of the coast. Up on the Downs I would meander with the Bronze Age forebears, resting in their barrows out at Compton. Whilst further west I would often stroam in the steps of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, his poems ringing in my ears…

During the early 90s, having returned to the mainland following a close family bereavement, I struggled to find my foothold within society. Even the motion of putting one foot in front of the other within the city, to put distance between myself and the palpable guilt I felt at my father’s passing, was only a masquerade. A half-hearted attempt at reintegration into a world where I felt I neither belonged, nor deserved to exist. By 1996 I was working at the National Flower Market in Aalsmeer, Netherlands. I spent 6 months there before moving on to tend the bar in a brothel in Hamburg, for another 6. With plenty of funds stowed, I headed back to the northern Netherlandish coast and set out on a walk which would last the next 18 months. I walked the coasts of the Netherlands and Belgium, down to Caen, in France, before picking up the GR36 (national walking route), also known as the 1000 KM trail. I followed this down to just NE of Bordeaux, upon which I switched on to the Alps-Atlantic trail, which took me to the Côte d’Azur. From there I headed into Italy, turning around at Rome to head back into France. I eventually picked up the Vosges-Pyrenees trail and wandered towards the Spanish border. Then followed a gloriously slow mooch throughout Spain, taking in some of Portugal too, before heading back to Bordeaux and the TGV to Paris.

I was completely alone during those 18 months, walking through some truly stunning landscapes. Some days I’d walk 20 miles, on others 5 or 6. If I liked a place I would stay for a few days, sometimes longer. I’d bivvy at night in fields, woods, car parks. Once a week I’d get the tent out and book into a campsite to attend to laundry, and other logistical matters. I always found these stops very stressful. Being around people broke the equilibrium.

Those months alone, walking, enabled me to think clearly for probably the first time in my life. It didn’t cure all the psychological ills that I was still struggling with, but it brought calm, and, perhaps most importantly, a level of personal control and agency into my life. Something that I’d never really had up until that point in time, and something that would, once again, be stolen from me upon my return to Britain. An agency that I wouldn’t regain for another 10 years…

By 2008 I was back in London, as a temporary in-patient at a psychiatric hospital. At first, I wasn’t well enough to face the outside world. In fact, I refused to leave my flat for the first 6 months. However, as time passed, and the meds and therapy began to take effect, I began to take tentative steps out into the world again. As my confidence grew, so did my ventures. I began walking the streets and alleys of the financial district deep into the night, finding recuperation, and rejuvenation, through pounding the streets, often becoming so engrossed with pushing on further into the darkness that I wouldn’t return home until dawn. I found the lack of people as exhilarating as it was soothing. As I prowled around Spitalfields, Carter Lane, West Smithfield, and beyond, deeper into the night, I found that I wasn’t frightened, as by then I feared daylight, and those who prefer its solar luminosity, far more than the dark, and the spirits that move within it. I think that this is still the case to this day, over a decade later. Many people feel fearful for me when I head out on my nocturnal perambulations, so much so that I now no longer tell most that I’m heading out into the inky tenebrosity. Sadly, as a woman, no time of the day, or night, is particularly safe for me to be abroad within the world. I’ve learned how to make myself invisible to others once night descends with her purple legions. Have mastered how to muffle my footfall so that, to the uninitiated, my steps resemble nothing more than rodents scurrying through trash. I am left in peace to wander my solitary path.

When I’m outside I cannot think, I can only feel. I must give myself up entirely to the landscape with which I’m engaging. I must fully immerse myself, enmesh my flesh, my psyche, within the concrete, wood, water, soil, stone, Hum. To let these collective elements, permeate through to the very bones of me, to the actual DNA itself. The landscape calls to me like a siren. At times it feels as if these differing terrains are manifesting as a giant magnet, focused solely upon me. Sometimes this pull induces very real physical pain. Whether it’s a positive or negative experience, I can’t hold back. I must persist, and experience; to feel, not think. Pondering can take place once I’m back home…

Even when I’m outside I negotiate space in ways that may seem strange to others. I carry my phone with me, unaware of whether I’m taking photos, recording soundscapes, or ruminating aloud… Sometimes I’ll stand upon a single spot, oblivious to the passing hours, the changing light. Often, whether within the urban, the arboreal, or exposed, undulating uplands and downlands, I’ll lie upon the ground and look to the sky, the stars. Being alone and enveloped by a celestial blanket is one of the most glorious things. I see the energy emanating from the cosmic ley. It is so powerful a sensation. It literally feels like my heart is going to burst through my ribcage, like a cannonball, and pierce the sky, the stars, The Hum itself. It’s only at that exact point when ‘reasoning deserts me’ and I relinquish control, submitting fully to sensations, experience, the Sturm und Drang, that “at last I am part of the machinery”, The Hum, the cosmos. It’s on those nights that I feel truly connected with everything, time has evaporated. I am young me, lying in my bed, pondering upon my electric hopes and dreams. I am bereaved me, chasing after my dad, desperately trying to reconnect with him through chemical interventions. I am current me, finally finding my place within the universe. Entangled together, but constantly changing, evolving? There’s no place for stasis within The Hum. Even five minutes from now I will not be the same person who has just spoken this sentence. We must be prepared to lose ourselves to find the way…

Above, I mentioned how technology is opening new pathways towards the liminal. Through my iPhone camera I am exposed to photographic portals that send me hurtling into InterZones, enabling me to transcend the terrestrial, and engage with the infinite. Often, I am physically alone during my sorties into these thin places, but through technology, and my imagination, I’m able to connect with people, with places, who were, who are, and who will be, and I’m not the only one capable of this. Metal detectors, which are cherished so deeply by their owners, sing the song of time. A song that detectorists hear through the melodic signals seeping from the metal-based objects secreted within the landscapes that they traverse. Their headphones enable these wanderers to connect with the terrain in such a way that time, once again, becomes, temporarily, meaningless. There is no past, nor future, there is just the experiential experience. Feeling, not thinking; true connection through a perceived social isolation. The headphones of the metal detector may drown out one layer of personal interaction, but they open up vast historical vistas to those who know how to read the signals.

I truly believe that archaeology will come to rely more and more upon technology, especially the virtual, as a means to explore peoples, and places, both from the past, the present, and the future. Sieving screens will be replaced by the computer screen, trowels by advanced search engines. Archaeologists will wander within digital stratigraphies, excavating middens constructed out of data. They will connect with those passed, through their online material culture. Modern Mediums: the desktop computer, the archaeologists’ Ouija board, the computer mouse, their planchette. Yet, although technology can open doors upon the past, the present, the future, and those spaces outside of time, more is required if a person is to step over the threshold, and truly emerge within the liminal. Without imagination, nor the willingness to submit oneself entirely, whether it be a physical or virtual world within which one is wandering, there can never be complete release. There will always be a tether, holding you back from unfettered connection. Connection can be achieved through introspection, through solitary meanderings and wanderings. Engagement with those who have passed, whether it be metaphysically, or materially, through objects, architecture, other, shouldn’t be considered lesser than our interactions with the living. Connection widening experience. Personal and professional progression through regression.

For myself, being able to walk within the world, often alone, reaching out for those who have long since passed beyond living memory, led me to archaeology. My studies, and subsequent research practices, have broadened my professional and social horizons exponentially. I’m still not the most socially confident of people, the strange girl, who grew into an even stranger woman, but my love for the land, for the past, and for the objects that survive, within the ground, within the rivers, the ponds, and seas, has made it possible for me to engage with family, friends, and the public, in a far more meaningful and comfortable way.

Through my lone wanderings, I have forged a deep connection with the land, and the peoples who have previously walked it. An understanding which remains dormant in most others. A learning that can’t be ‘taught’. It is nurtured through placing foot on land and in water, hand in soil, permitting the breeze to envelop you, to whisper its stories in your ear. Although technology opens doorways upon the past, it is the Romantic within us, the Landscape Punk, that enables us to pass over the threshold and immerse ourselves completely. When I walk within the landscape, I not only see the past peoples who have also traversed it, I truly connect with them

This Romantic mindset, Landscape Punk outlook, call it what you will, has enabled me to wander, and wonder, within some truly phantastical and awesome surroundings; subterranean, digital, paranoiac, pulsating. Movement within all four of these realms, no matter how unsettling, enables transition. It is only by being willing to shed the somatic, to step away from the rational, to take the leap and go deep, that we can fully connect. Channelling childhood dreams and imaginings, alongside adolescent trauma, and adult fears, has unlocked realms that my young self would never have thought possible. It’s not always easy, at times it can be terrifying, bordering on the preternatural, but it is always truly Empyrean…

My life has changed significantly since I returned from my European wanders back in 1998, in both positive and negative ways, but walking has always helped me to negotiate the good, and the bad. I currently live a short distance from the psychiatric hospital where I was treated 13 years ago. Because of past events, I still must contend with PTSD, which means that sometimes things, both positive and negative, can become incredibly overwhelming. The imposter syndrome is always with me, although there are days when it screams far louder than I can bear. When this happens, I take a walk up to the hospital and I look upon the wards where I stayed, I can even see the room I inhabited. This may sound weird and morbid to some, but it helps me to reboot. Whenever I feel that I’m not good enough, that I should step away from my research, from public engagement, from the world, I look at those wards and remind myself how far I’ve come; how much I’ve achieved, and what I can still accomplish.

In a way, we are all on a pilgrimage, at times experienced alongside others, but often alone. From our first verbal cry as a newborn, to our final breaths, and beyond, we are continuously wandering a path. Sometimes it is steep, narrow, and perilous, but it can also, often, be broad, and gentle underfoot. Even though it can, at times, feel as if we are going nowhere, constantly taking one step forward and two back, we are always moving forward. Sometimes we need to regress in order to progress. Whenever, and wherever, I walk, be it physically, metaphysically, or virtually, I’m not only stepping further away from bad experiences and individuals; I’m moving closer towards good things, good people, good and positive times. Movement enabling transition.

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