Walking, Writing, Connecting

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Walking, Connecting and Creating Writing the Map has been exploring the dynamic relationship between place, walking and identity through a series of events and walkshops, focusing on the senses to inspire personal narratives. Unlike traditional pscyhogeography, our approach has used the senses to illuminate personal narratives to create new understandings and contexts with the landscape, merging old and new.

Intellectual or artistic? Solitary or connected? Performative or indiscernible? Neutral or gendered? This interactive event is an opportunity for walkers, artists, writers, community practitioners to hear work created by Walkshoppers, and discuss issues arising from our walks: How do we connect with the landscape? How does our changing relationship to place shape our personal narratives? How do we capture our walks? What role does technology play? Friday December 8th, 10am-12.30pm at The Pound Arts Centre, Corsham. For more info or to book a free place, contact: Christina at createlearnconnect@gmail.com or book via Facebook #writingthemap. https://writethemap.wordpress.com/ 1

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Walking Forwards & Backwards

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by Rosamund Cran

What does it mean to document a walk and what can arise from this process?

To make a record, to record, to remember, to hold onto the experience, to do something with the experience. In any way –   a map, a painting, a verse, some notes, some music, a list.

Does this make a stronger recall, memory of the walk?

Yes I think it does.  I can recall that rainy walk with quite a lot of details.  The details are the things I noticed or heard.  The things I noted down.  I think it took me into the experience more than if I had not written notes. Both at the time and afterwards. And it can bring back earlier memories, link with past experiences.  This can be helpful and pleasing but also disturbing.

What is it like to recall this new memory? 

There is a feeling of being pleased, yes.  I remember and almost smile, a kind of inside pleasure, a warm feeling of going through all the things I noticed.  The sheep standing and staring at me, as still as stone.  The apples in messy lines along the path.  The garage door fronted with wrought iron gates.  The cyclists walking by in neon yellow.  The red berries strung on barbed wire.  The rain dropping onto my hood.  Also, the connections to my earlier memory of rolling down Devil’s Dyke as a child and the bumping fear.  The whole memory both past and present, feels like something given to me, a present, a good present, something that is mine, that I made from that wet morning walk. The new memory and the old memory became a new part of me.  I made them be there.  By stopping and looking and seeing.  I became a see-er, a seer.

New memory/old memory

The memory of rolling down Devil’s Dyke and being unable to stop, being out of control, as a child of about 9 or 10 years old, was surprisingly clear and strong.  I remembered it in my body; I remembered my father, with whom I had a difficult relationship, sitting next to me when I had come to a stop, and being a comfort.  I decided to make a film based on this.

Accompanied by a friend I went to Alexandra Park in Hastings, where I live, with a piece of greengrocer’s fake grass.  After a warming cup of tea in the café we selected a slight slope and headed over to it.  I gave my phone to my friend and told her how I would like her to video me.  Wrapped in the grass I lay down and rolled myself down the slope.  I checked the footage, and we adjusted my starting position.  Again, I rolled down the slope.  And a third time.  I felt dizzy.  That seemed right enough.  But the feeling was strong and was not subsiding.  I felt sick too and hot.  In fact, I was rather distressed.  Was this the physical effect of rolling around on the grass at my great age?  Or was the bodily movement and the memory of the childhood upset bringing old feelings to the surface?   I went home feeling nauseous and lay on the bed for a good hour before the feelings subsided.  An interesting experience.  Body, memory, feelings, from different times – all mixed up.  All stirred by a walk in the rain.

See the film at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hAIwYpCthw

 

Devil’s Dyke Walk

Apples, felled by the wind, line the pavement.

Piles of silage sacks bulge.

A pair of wrought iron gates stand directly in front

of a garage with a pull-down door.

In neon yellow a cyclist

pushes up the lane,

while birds start their chat,

leaves sway on branches,

and the rain falls.

 

A thin branch lies prone on the grass,

blades bend and twist,

nettle tops shake,

and the rain continues.

 

I spy one small orange flower,

waiting, quiet in the rain.

 

Sheep turn slowly away

and lean on the concrete wall.

Stone still they stand,

as we stare at the berries

strung on stalks,

dripping from the barbed wire fence.

I read the sign: “Dead end path”.

Roz Cran

September 2017

Devil’s Dyke – Saddlescombe Farm

 

Over and over

Sick, I am rolling

over and over.

Dizzy I stop on

my front on the grass.

Hot I discard my

coat and my scarf.

Steady I wait for

the feelings to pass.

 

I stare at the turf,

petals of daisies,

trefoil and clover.

I finger the leaves,

and search for the luck

that I lost in his

garden, aged ten and

a half at the end

of a day.  I rolled

over again and

over and over

down Devil’s deep Dyke.

 Roz Cran 2017

www.rozcran.co.uk    rosamund.cran@network.rca.ac.uk.

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Walking Explorations (natural and unnatural)

 

‘Feelings are bound up in place, and in art, from time to time, place undoubtedly works upon genius.’  Eudora Welty

The two Walkshops in Brighton and Bristol explored ways of walking, connecting sensual responses with the landscape and personal narratives. Different approaches included: walking the rim of a glass, walking with a question, mindful walking, following the map and walking instinctively – not as easy at it sounds, with our tendency to overthink decisions, rather than using our intuition. ‘Where do my feet want to go?’ was a genius question one participant asked, which got me thinking about our relationship to our feet. Increasingly, we hear research on how we ‘think’ with our hands. What could our feet tell us, if we paid attention?

Practically everyone who walked using a map, found it interrupted their rhythm; it became a series of stops and starts preventing reflection or the free association of thoughts. Instead of focusing on the process, it framed walking within a goal, a destination to be reached. For some, the reality of the OS map didn’t correspond with internalised maps of place. Reading it felt ‘unnatural’, impossible to summon land from the lines, in the same way, I imagine, it’s difficult for most of us to summon a Bach Cantata from a score of notes, sharps and accidentals.

 

DSC_0384Walking the rim of the glass raised awareness of the numerous barriers we encounter on our explorations:  keep out, private land, no access permittedland is parcelled and privatised, forcing us to detour or retrace our steps. Then, there are our own barriers; fears in the shape of cattle, vacant lots, and empty river banks, making us instinctively uncomfortable.

Overwhelmingly, the landscape is full of memory; palimpsests of other places, people and times,  transporting us back to to our pasts; the images as real in our mind as the earth beneath our feet, prompting suggestions from walkers, that we rarely ever walk in the present, but between layers of time, drifting backwards and forward, connecting memories and associations with our present surroundings.

There was a temptation to play, most resisted. Perhaps it was the rain. Walkers surveyed the land, entering it slowly, hesitantly, hand in hand with the ghosts of childhood;  an urge  to slide down rocks and climb trees, roll in the grass and trespass.  A reminder of how children approach landscape with their bodies, whilst as adult we approach it with their minds.

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To walk mindfully, to pay attention, means slowing down, being conscious of each muscle moving, each sound, the tones and textures arising from the land. For those who could slow themselves to near stillness, another world emerged from the familiar:  ochre lichen rough against skin, rain dripping from beech leafs, oily black skinned rivers.  But, it was hard. It felt awkward, unnatural to go so slow when our norm is to hasten efficiently and purposefully onwards.

The journey now is to use the explorations and reflections on the experience to create individual narrative maps, linking internal and external journeys, developing and deepening connections to place. Spoken Word Events in Brighton and Bristol will take place this autumn.

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Protocol 6 – Instinct, False Starts and Vacancies

When does instinct kick in? The moment you head out of the door, impulsive, intuitively ready for the drift, or before that, lying in bed, considering places and possibilities? To walk ‘instinctively’ is not as easy as it sounds. Decisions have to be made: to walk from the door or to drive? To take money, water, raincoat or just go like Herzog, without looking back?

A blue choke of cars lines Sackville Road. Buses screech, Skip-lorries grind metal on metal, spew dust and grit. I’ve walked from my front door to open country many times, ferreting out green arteries leading through suburbia to  the edge of the Downs, but doing so today would be utilitarian not instinctive; a quick way out. Instinct requires time. Time equals speed over distance. I go back for the car (oh irony), drive west along Portland Road, towards Foredown Tower,

A path opens through ripe wheat, steps down to tarmac, a seventies housing estate, satellite dishes, squished bags of dog shit, begonias, neat and pink, arranged symmetrically in tubs – their tidiness somehow more depressing than the dog shit and satellite dishes. Drives are empty, streets deserted. PACA rises in the distance, crowded by roofs, labyrinthine streets with dormers and paved front gardens.

At a picket fence, bordering a white pebble-dashed semi, a narrow path winds behind garden fences, opening to scrubland, thistles, fag butts, flattened cans and feathery scraps of plastic bags snagged on brambles.  Shoulderland or Bastard Countryside, as Victor Hugo called it – half scrub and scree, overgrown and careless, its wild selvedge makes me uneasy;  aware I am a woman walking alone. I find myself looking back, over my shoulder, often.

Thistles snag my jeans. Long grasses gone to seed, looping purple walls of Rose Bay Herb I used to call Rainbow Willow until Jayne put me right, walking the straight fire tracks of the Forest of Dean, while the children raced ahead,  lobbing pine code grenades at unknown enemies hiding in the thickets.  Now, Jayne has moved to the Limousin, to a glinty flat lake, bordered with pines, the house at night, big square rooms creaking in the dark; five dogs barking at the wind.

The vacancy of the land quickens my step; I feel it more as absence than presence, a rattling on my chest. Psychologists refer to these spaces as liminal, sites of chaos, , transitions, ambiguity, a hiatus between endings and beginnings. Geographically,  a liminal place serves no inherent function. They are places to be got through to get somewhere else.  We cross them quickly, paying scant attention to details; what  thrives or grows wild, or hides deep in its neglect. The temptation always, is to hasten on, towards a lovelier, more orthodox vision of countryside.

At the bottom of the valley, the path drops to a concrete tunnel running under the A27 – horses have left sweet tails of dung.  Mad graffiti covers the walls: I love Izzy…. brown beer……pease pudding now. Sunlight flares. I turn,  follow the path along the edges of a wheat field. Poppies wave in the breeze. A  sleek black crows rises from the fence post; the hallmarks of country ‘proper’.  My footsteps slow,  a sense of ease, spaciousness returns as I climb the path  to a high ridged chalk track. Below, Brighton sprawls in  white boxes, a blue haze of sea bleeds to sky.

Outside Foredown Tower, I sit in my car, staring through the windscreen at the stone wall in front of me, struck unexpectedly by its beauty; the weathered grey brick is studded with milky white and blue flints, spotted with silver lichen.  Auerbach or was it Bacon, painted the view from his studio, the same Camden roofs for years, like Cezanne painting  Mont Victoire, studying it in all lights and seasons, trying to capture its zeitgeist, the mercurial effect of landscape on the soul. That night, I write in my diary: ‘some days walking makes me feel strong, confident, mastering the world… some days I feel tired and insubstantial, as if my feet are barely touching the ground. I’m not making any impact.’

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Protocol 5 – The View from the Map

 

 

Baudrillard famously said ‘hence, the map precedes the territory,’ suggesting maps can conceptualise terrains and construct solid topologies, without needing to set a foot on the soil. Maps are representations, organisations, memorised directions reduced to icons, signifiers, scaled to two dimensions and arbitrary orientations. I have followed them for miles, I have been lost and delivered by them, tyrannised and seduced. I have struck up a bad boyfriend relationship with several: arguing, insecure, distrustful, angry and bargaining in turn.

A map changes a walk. It shifts the playful to the purposeful –  even if conceived for leisure – a destination plotted across grids creates expedient or scenic ways to achieve an end; there is a challenge, an outcome, a temptation to rush to the end, to the final result, a sense of competitiveness creeps in.

Maps contain many paradoxes – in order to find yourself, you have to know where you are: to read it, you have to be simultaneously outside it and within it. They provide freedom to explore while constraining your adventures; demanding you pay minute attention to the details of landscape – the trig points, footpaths, buildings, contours, sunken copses. Concentration requires energy; no time to stop and stare, or to loosen oneself from the demands of logic or ego.

As Baudrillard suggested, maps bestow assumptions. Following the broken green lines of a footpath circling a U shaped coombe on an OS map, it’s easy to imagine a bordered path, which in reality is a vague grass trodden track through a field.  Or to search for a bridle path to one’s left, only to be confronted by a narrow gully bearing dog leg fashion between hedgerows. When Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492, he thought he was discovering part of mainland Asia. He refused to believe the indigenous people when they told him he was on an island. The information conflicted with the naval charts drawn up by The Admirality. They had to be mistaken.

When walking, the view from the map is vertical: a slow goose shake of the head, up and down, down and up, finger tracing bridle paths, losing and finding your place as you estimate distances, your footprints a pedestrian camel train on the track, your rhythm interrupted by stops and starts. No time for introspection or to follow loose and lovely chains of associations. The map leads you blindly, concentrating your attention to the middle, the monocular, urging obedience. You can argue with its despotism, despise its democracy (all codings hold true, whatever the reality of the path), the neutrality of space described, and ache for something more from the flapping pages and folds worn to hole. You may even glance across lovely hills, coppery with chestnuts on the turn, and feel overwhelmed with an urge to deface it.

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Protocol 4 Mindful Walking

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How to pay attention to the walk, to one’s feet, one’s breath, the swish of a jacket against skin, the smell of diesel or elderflower blossom; if not, what is the point of walking? The paradox being that one walks to lose oneself, and in doing so finds oneself. When the first psychogeographers wandered the streets of Paris, they did so with two different aims in mind: either to focus on their feelings; their subjective reaction to the buildings and squares around them, or to let their feet beat a rhythm, the mind drift freely into a meditative state.

Often when I walk, I have a problem staying present.  I can walk from Hove Street to St James’ Street, across main roads, along the seafront, into the narrow roads of the north laine, and suddenly realise I haven’t registered a thing. If someone were to ask what colour was the sea?  Was the tide out? Were the shops open? Were people waiting at bus-stops? I wouldn’t know. My mind roams, often in circles, cartwheeling over problems – both real and imaginary. The same thing happens in the countryside – mile after mile can flow pass, when suddenly I look up to see a flint path, edged by shoulder high cow parsley, or arrive at a silvered wooden stile, and realise I have  no idea where I am. Have I walked too far or not far enough?

Over the years, in a bid to stay present, to be in the walk, I have developed a method of mindful walking. It is a combination of Buddhist mindful techniques and a writing activity taken from Nicki Jackowska’s book ‘Write For Life’ (the chapter on geography offers precise and inspiring directions for writers to capture objective and subjective perceptions invoked by walking).

The secret to good writing, as George Orwell suggested, is to write about objects not abstractions. So, it is with walking. Sensory information – what reaches our eyes, ears, nose and skin, the lights and colours, sounds, smells and textures – builds a solid frame on which our personal narratives can soundly hang.  And, if writing isn’t your thing, the act of fixing the mind to specifics opens up a little space, a distance from one’s usual preoccupations, and if nothing else, provides a little  perspective.

Below, I offer two options, one short and simple, for the shortest of strolls,  the other an extended version for when there is time to go deeper.

OPTION ONE

While walking take in five things around you (immediately or on the horizons) you

  • See
  • Smell
  • Hear
  • Physically feel/touch/experience

As soon as you have run through the list, start again, as you will have walked on, and sounds, sights and smells will have changed.

OPTION TWO

Do the above, but this time add:

  • Which makes me feel……
  • Which makes me think of….

The rote of ‘fives’ came about after experimenting with ‘threes, fours and sixes’. Five just worked best for me, but you may find differently.

When you return from your walk, capture your thoughts spontaneously, free-writing without critiquing/editing. Review at a later date, highlight interesting words, thoughts, sensations, insights.

*Write For Life, Nicki Jackowska, Bloomsbury Publishing

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Protocol 3: DRIFT App (a tool for getting lost in familiar places)

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A phone app created for the 21st century deriver – requiring no imagination or forethought, all you have to do is show up with your phone, calibrate your compass and off you go. I drove to Saddlescombe ten miles or so outside Brighton, abandoned the car on a slipper of gravel opposite the old farm buildings and hopped over a gate.

Instruction 1 –  Take note of the sounds immediately around you.

North takes me back to the road, so I head south. Traffic is all I can hear.

Instruction 2 Walk north until you can no longer hear those sound and take a picture of the nearest tree bark.  

This is fun I thought, here I can canter around the countryside, looking lost as Ophelia, but holding my phone like a tray of canopes, I have a purpose. I snap a shot of bark.

Instruction 3 – walk away from the last thing you took a picture of for one block then take a picture looking back.

What is a block, half a mile, a mile?  I walked until I come to a fence, gazing back into thickets of sycamore and hawthorn.

Instruction 4 – Walk east and look for a piece of public infrastructure that seems newer than the things around it, take a picture.

I found a telegraph pole, marooned and lovelier in a photograph than looming over fields of cattle and sheep heft hills.

Instruction 5 – Walk west for two blocks and make a sound document.

Wind whistles through the valley, trees rustle, a bird sings, the drone of traffic drowns it out like tinnitus in my ear.

Instruction 5 – Walk north until you find an example of ‘anarchy at work’ and take a picture of it.

Ah, a deviation. I’ve walked this valley for years, but missed the narrow  path running parallel to the one I usually take. It meandered through a wooded copse, chalky grassland buzzing with insects, leading after half a mile to a steep bank of wild marjoram; back to the road. I took a snap of a man, dozing inside his Transit van, dozing over the wheel, head resting on his arms.

Instruction 6 – Walk east a couple of blocks and find something that reminds you of home and take a picture of it.

No. I thought, I don’t want to do that, and dropped down to a shady track leading downhill, through young saplings, and damp red earth, secluded and shady.  There is nothing like being given instructions to make one rebel. The lane narrowed to muddy puddles. There was a house, builders working on the roof on the outskirts of Fulking village, but what was the point of a picture?

Instruction 7 – Walk north until you see something interrupting something else and take a picture of it. 

North would take me back in a circle, to the magnetic pull of the road, so I went south again, feeling increasingly resentful. I thought of something Ivan said about how ‘the derive controls you.’ This is not a liberating or enlightening way to walk.

Instruction 8 –  Walk south and look for something out of the ordinary and take a picture.

The banks were high with grasses, brambles, blackberries, ripe little jewels, crickets buzzing, loose chalk stones underfoot. This instruction could be an invitation to unearth the ordinary buried beneath the unconscious half vision of everyday looking, but casting around for something to snap felt increasingly like that child’s game where you have to find a hidden object, directed by shouts of getting  hotter or colder, irritated to the point of screaming when told you were so hot, you were practically on fire, and you still couldn’t find the secreted object.

Instruction 9 and 10 – More north, east, south, more pictures….blah blah blah.

I gave up. I was still only ten minutes from the car-park. Perhaps, if I started from deeper within the countryside, discoveries and revelations may have opened up; but even so, the act of obeying arbitrary commands, searching not for what sparked my curiosity, but an impersonal algorithm, became boring and uniform.  Whoever followed the instructions, would take the same monocular recordings.  I thought of that quote from Baudrillard about a photograph acting out a way of grasping the world, without ever giving it meaning.  It seemed an apt summary of the experience. The drift didn’t draw the mind inwards, but skimmed a dull surface, focusing attention externally. There was no discovery, no peeling back of layers, memories or associations, no room for personal narrative.  Where was the point in that?

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