Bursting our Bubbles.
Updated: Jan 30, 2022
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody’s around - nobody big , I mean - except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff- I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”
- The Catcher in the Rye, J.D.Salinger.
I’ve been thinking a lot about island life recently, these thoughts vary from asking what would my desert island disks be? What I would do if I inhabited an untouched imaginary island (piece of land) to larger questions like what is England? What is our connection to the land under our feet? And what are we doing to the whole earth as an island? When considering all of these questions I meet both a sense of belonging and of complete alienation… which is then soothed somewhat by remembering that the meaning of life is the number 42.
Often in stories a character will leave an island searching for adventure, change, discovery. And often they will then come home, bringing back their tale in which they have accomplished some kind of change, lesson, peace resolution etc. But they usually always come home. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am always coming home. And its pretty exhausting, because to be continuously coming home, one then also feels continuously displaced.
What I’m starting to think though, is that this is pretty normal. As all life is made up of these life:death cycles, continuously leaving, gathering, returning and tending. Trouble is that we seem so focused on the exploring the leaving part that it dominates our narratives, and by the end we are so exhausted from consuming such star studded heroism that we forget to do the tending - heading straight back out again for another go at it before the first loop has closed. We are then left with lots of crescents, lots of stuff, lots of information, littering our lives that it becomes so easy to lose sight of why we are even doing it all. Coming home or being an island has come to be either an escape or a trap in society which we encourage; a get away to a tropical island, a few days locked up at home. So then what is all of the stuff in between? What if everything we do is actually an opportunity to come home? And that coming home doesn’t mean shutting ourselves away in our bed, in our room, in our house, on our street, in our town, on our island etc. So what does it mean?
It’s hard to place, coming home. Yes, I do feel it when I get into bed at the end of a long day or when I get back to my house after a trip away. I get it when I visit my grandma’s house, when I see myself in my mum and my dad, or when I visit the woodland I played in when I was young. But I also feel it when I find a special stick on a walk, when I put the fruit I sun-dried into a jar for storing and now, sharing it out in January. Or when a robin lands next to me and looks me right in the eye, just when I need it most. Do you know what’s more? When I let myself, I get it when I sit on a tree stump and watch the tree’s leafy-hairs bristle in the wind, when I sit by a stream and watch its veins flow through the canals of earth, when the tiny sprout of a seedling pops its head through the soil (beans are especially good at this), or when a huge oak tree drops a dead limb, and I don’t think for a moment that I am anything other than alive for experiencing this.
I got ‘it’ before Christmas when a volunteer, Ash, held a climate change workshop (https://climatefresk.org/) for us at Tinkers Bubble. Every time the facts about what we are doing to our space island hit 'home' it is heartbreaking, overwhelming and disorientating. But through the perspective of the workshop, the life of our interconnected, dynamic and beautifully sensitive planet, which I will call home without inverted commas, felt tangible and filled me with such a sense of love and homecoming. For we are part of that wonderful life force weather we like it or not…probably currently much like lice on its skin.
So coming home then functions on a multitude of levels but I fear that when it gets too caught up in our personal identity, in our ‘hero journey’, we start to think in islands. Like I have been.
No Man is an Island
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne, 1624.
We, Tinkers Bubble, hosted the regional Land Workers Alliance AGM at the start of December. It was a beautiful day made up of ceremony, connection, sharing and building with almost 60 land-workers attending from across the region. But the following day for me, a grief hit and I wonder now how collective this experience is for many of us during these isolating times. Tinkers Bubble can be a catalyst, a springboard, an eyeopener, a life changer but it can also feel like an island. I’ll go as far to say a fantasy island because I think that our concept of an island is more fantastical than realistic. A lot of people come here to escape society, to live differently and rightly so I reckon. The reality of how out of sorts many feel in the modern western world only becomes clearer the further away we get from ‘the mainstream’ and part of my grief on that Monday was having my bubble burst. Although connecting to community in a wider sense has always been a motivation for my being here, I started to come to terms with my own escapism. I very clearly saw a responsibility for us all to be out there in the thick of the knotty mess, with all of the other people and not to be an island. And so for a while I felt angry about my own island mentality and mulled over it for a while, stewing.
But then it switched again. Heading home for Christmas I embarked on a voyage back to the midlands and had to face up to the fact that most of the country doesn’t live like I do, or want to for that matter. Suddenly living on an island sounds pretty good, take me back I say! But this isn’t about me, and it isn’t about people all thinking the same way, what it is fundamentally about is our accountability for our island. The stark reality of how our culture is riddled with crescents, unseen structures which separate us from the cycles of living, and how we consume chunks of these loops with no idea of what lies behind the bites we are offered on a platter. But of course most of us know this, we know about the deforestation and land devastation, the unfair trade, the disregard of human and animal wellbeing, the chemical poisoning of the land, the sea, the creatures…
It’s a lot. It mounts up and the more one looks at it the more hopeless we can feel, the more insular we can become. ‘Let me just stay on my island’, we might say,’ I don’t want to look at the mess.’ We can convince ourselves that it isn’t ours. But it is. This is something I learn continuously at Tinkers Bubble; it is my home, my bread and butter, my everything and it is also not mine, it is ‘my’ nothing. And when I feel resentment/avoidance of mishaps that occur which my sense of self does not feel identified with, or I feel territorial over the contrary it raises the same question- How can we propagate collective accountability? What if the shit that we are all wading through can transform from a cess-pit into fertile compost in which to grow? An invitation for us to come home, to know home. This doesn’t mean that we have to know the answer, for me it is about moving away from fix culture and allowing ourselves the space to tend to the grief which calls for a desert island.
The reality is that living at Tinkers Bubble is not an escape because we bring all of it with us. What it’s role is, among may things, is an attempt to breakdown our idea in the western world that human life is intrinsically bad for the planet. The Bubble is an ongoing exploration into how human settlement could be good for the land. It does this by introducing transparency to the cycles we perpetuate, an exposure of what our physical, social and spiritual impact is and in turn continues to invite us to be accountable for our being on this land.
The pull of heroic adventure as a resolution to crisis has loosened its hold on me, as the more compatible I become with the cycles I live from, the more intimate each stage is and the more I value their entirety. This makes me feel more human, more at home, as each go around a cycle makes space for new learning. I do not want my life to uphold cycles that dominate, stress and oppress the world, for these take us away from our home. Our home in its true sense, is not a trap or an escape. Our home is the freedom to be in life fully.
“What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not a gift, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward toward the light but a laden traveler may never reach the end of it."
- U.K. Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan.