A New Session

Gabrielle Barnby, Orkney 2022, Culture Collective, Age Scotland Orkney, creative sessionsIt’s November, the nights have lengthened. I am just over halfway through my creative sessions with Age Scotland Orkney and I am hot on the heels of planning my next creative session with the group. The theme that I have been working on is ‘On Waking’.

It is the title of a wonderfully reflective and positive poem by John O’Donohue. It’s a good poem to use I think, short enough to hold attention, the language is clear, the images strong and I love the first two lines ‘I give thanks for arriving/Safely in a new dawn’. After the idea sat with me for some time (you could call this procrastination or processing time) I thought more about the experience of waking and how difficult it can be when the body and mind have no easy sense of wellness or anticipation for the day ahead. The thought sat with me and I reflected on the the difficulties that the day ahead might pose for someone who is older, or simply going through a challenging time mentally and physically at any age, whether it is mechanical actions like rising or trying to get somewhere on time that is difficult, or remembering what is going on and interacting with others, or dealing with the unexpected.

I began to think more about the afternoon and the waning of the day and how old age can be seen as a waning of a life that has been ‘lived’, and is cast as finished, where everything is old, the body, the mind, all worn out, all out of date. The grey-waiting room of the late afternoon came to me and I wondered about how it contrasted with my lively theme ‘On Waking’.

I had thought to concentrate on the excitement of newness, the satisfaction of achievement, of learning something new – even if it only retained for the briefest time and then forgotten, even if it is re-learning as forgotten skill the sensation is the same. But as I thought more about waking my thoughts were also directed to the afternoon – and to a dreamlike poem called Friday Afternoon by Alison Brackenbury. It conjures up the curled up, drowsy satisfaction of watching and listening as a child in a hidden space. A secret pleasure that is ironed out of adult existence.

This set me thinking a that perhaps my ‘On Waking’ session really needed to incorporate both a sense of newness and a sense of positive closure. I began to feel it needed the immediacy of being attentive to a particular moment and an acknowledgement of time passing. So, this new session has gradually come together. I have added Friday Afternoon, and I have found two other little gems of poems Hoosewirk by Barbara West in the fantastic gousters, glims and veerie-orums collection of poems for Orkney voices from the George Mackay Brown Fellowship and Motor Run to Birsay 1949 by Orkney poet Robert Rendall that also speak to me about that sense of filling the day and how attention to one bright moment can bring lasting satisfaction.

My notes are now decorated with pictures, the poems typed in large easy to read font, templates made for writing to be added, and everything is neatly hole-punched down the side ready to be added to my participants folders.

The memory of the session may be as fleeting as the Red Admiral butterfly in Brackenbury’s poem, but there will I believe be pleasure in it, a ripple that sends good will though the body and mind, perhaps similar to those awakenings of childhood.

Culture Collective, Creative Islands Network, Gabrielle Barnby, Pier Arts Centre

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Gabrielle Barnby