A couple of evenings ago I ended up, quite by chance – if there is such a thing, at the opening of an art exhibition and a music performance. It wasn’t planned. I’d been at an improvised music workshop during the afternoon and was planning to be at an improvised performance in the evening. It all got too loud and my ears couldn’t cope with the lack of anything you might traditionally recognise as music. But from the floor above I could hear more music. With melody and a touch of familiarity. So I went to see what was going on.
Everything in the exhibition had been created by members of the Young Artists Collective from Skimstone Arts, a pretty amazing organisation. The band, Reality Boots, is also made up from members of the collective. If you get a chance, the exhibition is open most days in B&D Studios, on Floor 3 of Commercial Union House, a building in central Newcastle filled with all kinds of good things, charities, community interest groups, art studios, theatre groups, and much that I have yet to discover. I heard of Skimstone several years ago when I was involved for a while in something that the founders of Skimstone are also involved with. But I hadn’t seen them for some time and I only recently found them at work in CU House. A pleasing surprise.
As one of the exhibits in the exhibition some of the members of the collective wrote gratitude letters to draw from ideas surrounding unity and union and interconnectedness. They are all impressive pieces of work. Members of the public were and are invited to write their own letters and place them in envelopes provided.
The following morning – yesterday – I returned and sat for a few minutes and wrote something without plan and without pause. Here’s what I wrote – with one change because on reading it back I find that one of the sentences didn’t make any kind of sense! I’ve left in the invented word, the odd word combinations, and the meandering flow.
The project at Broadacre House was a special one. Dozens of community groups and many more events ran there. So much of what I wanted to become involved with was centred on the building. It’s all but over now. Most of the groups have left – because the owner of the building had plans beyond letting the place forever to a collection of impoverished community interest groups, Buddhists, hippies, creative experimenters, and assorted liberals. Many of the groups have moved on to CU House, some have moved on elsewhere – the Triratna Buddhist order to a purpose made centre of their own. A few groups remain in Broadacre. I was there today for a songwriting workshop run through the Recovery College Collective, an excellent peer led creative and educational and support project for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Nearby a man was sculpting a giant dragon that I hope can be dismantled enough to fit in the lift!
I won’t visit Broadacre many more times but for the space of two years it was very important to me. Yesterday I wrote about one of the first things I participated in there. It was the time in 2015 when the country rose up in offering goods for the sake of refugees, a time before horrible people called en masse on the streets of London to throw the refugees and other “undesirables” out of the country and to not let any more in. Small collections across the country became donation centres that became almost too large for anyone involved to cope with. They were good days. I pushed my little autistic brain too hard of course and broke down from the work and reluctantly pulled away to recover. But the experience of being in Broadacre House at that time will stay with me forever.
In those days when we dreamed we were at an almost overwhelmingly magnificent chaos beginning, we smiled through our sweat.
A dozen bags, exponential avalanche, became thousands. Thousands more and we rejoiced that care-worn people cared still and could be moved to generosity by one more humanitarian crisis of starvation, excruciated poverty, and the loss of home and nation to radicals and extremists, power brandished on all sides.
We were black. White. Asian. Straight and queer. Christians, Muslims and militant atheists forgetting difference for the sake of humanity. Autistic. Neurotypical. All genders and creeds. We were our species, represented at our best to help those wounded by our worst.
And we worked our asses off, unprepared by the magnitude of the task. Ultimately, individuals were saved but the problem got worse. Still the refugees come. A blanket may warm a man. It won’t topple and injustice or cause the proud, the narrow, to recognise unity, union, or the beauty of the suffering man, or the next man or the next.
I saw the way unity is expressed and I thank each person who gathered in the disorder of Broadacre House in those weeks to do, each of us, what little we could.
More, I thank those weeks. They changed me. When you see what is possible you ask: How can I work and play with others to make possibility probability.
More, I thank those weeks for all they led to. For two years being changed again and again as I came to Broadacre more and more. Witnessing, sometimes experiencing the ways such varied people expressed unity, built community, brought light full spectrum to our world.
I thank those days. Without them I would not see the world quite as I do. I would not have met so many bearers of all-embracing justice and love.
It would have been better had those days not been needed. Days of sorting and filling boxes with clothes, tents, toiletries, and essentials of life in refugee camps that should not be part of a species that knows love. It would better if such days will never be needed again.
They will. And we will be there in response. We will love, serve, and sacrifice again.
Those days. For a time the universe smiled upon us. When we live in unity it smiles. When we promote peace it smiles.
I thank the universe. I see her smile in the colours I see written across the sky. Hallucinatory visions reflecting the moods of the cosmos.
I thank her.
She gave me life.
I thank her.
She taught me, in opposition to the beliefs I was given.
I thank her.
She taught me freedom. My dignity. My confused beauty.
She taught me that my life is worthwhile.
I thank her.
She shows me the confused beauty of others.
I love you universe.
You have taught me, and brought mortal teachers to me.
I love you.
You taught me to love me.