The Eildon Tree Issue 34

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The Eildon Tree Spring 2021

ET#34

New writing from the Scottish Borders and beyond

www.liveborders.org.uk

Registration No SC243577 | Regist ered Chari ty No SCO342 27


Contents 2 The Eildon Tree Editorial Short Story 1 3 Mental Illness and the Modern Art Establishment Poetry Submissions 5 As Lockdown Approaches, 14 March 2020 5 The Plantation Above Manor Sware 5 In Search of Sweet Violets in South Park Wood 6 Lucy Speaks 6 Waiting at a London Train Station 6 How to See Bats Short Story 2 7 Gold Creative Writing for Wellbeing Project 9 Hello and Welcome 10 My Personal Experience 10 Why Writing? 10 Then Write 11 Objects Around Me 11 Normality? 11 Based on Us Being Aware of Our Breathing 12 Present Breath Rhythm 12 Inner Worlds Short Story 3 13 The Piper and the Selkie

New writing from the Scottish Borders and beyond

The Eildon Tree ET#34 Well, it’s been a long strange year for everybody, but Spring heralds growth, and we have put this exclusively digital edition of The Eildon Tree together to welcome the new shoots that were nurtured during the dark, insular, interminable days of lockdown. Unusual times call for unique responses, unique remedies and positive approaches to challenging circumstances, and as such we are sorry to say that circumstances dictate that this will be the final edition of The Eildon Tree, but rest assured, Live Borders will continue to support the vast creative communities here in the Borders with a brand new publication already in the works, so keep your eyes peeled for exciting new announcements in the future. As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, positive actions to safeguard mental health as well as physical health have been at the forefront of society’s thinking. Writing, like visual arts, dancing, drama, music or sport, forms a vital part of so many people’s lives. Personal expression and creative exploration are often the conduit by which individuals and groups can respond to or rationalise their circumstances. Writing is an amazing tool to inspire and challenge. It can afford us a better sense of the nature of day-to-day existence and in many instances give comfort and, occasionally, transformation through enriching outlets that help us cope with family, individual and communal experiences. The lockdowns saw an explosion of people taking to writing to support their mental wellbeing. With support from our NHS partners, we have been glad, in this edition, to be able to focus on outcomes from writing for well-being and showcase a range of literary responses and reflections. It is worth mentioning that May is mental health awareness month. The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is coming on stream too and engaging through film and other media with notions around the concept of ‘Normality?’. For more details and inspiration check out the festival site at www.mhfestival.com/ and Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival - Home (mhfestival.com) In selecting the stories, essays and poems for this edition, the editors have prioritised personal literary expressions ranging from first time writers to those who are wellestablished in their discipline. Above all, we are confident this selection showcases writing produced during the pandemic which demonstrates character, resilience, curiosity, insight and food for thought. Credit to all the writers who found inspiration or solace to hone their craft with courage and imagination in order to submit work for this final edition, and we would like to thank all our contributors, past and present, for their excellent contributions to the magazine over the years. You have made the Borders that bit brighter. To new beginnings!

The Eildon Tree editors Julian Colton, Iona McGregor and Sara Clark 2

Spring 2021


Short Story // 1

SHORT STORIES 1

Mental Illness and the Modern Art Establishment – By Meriem Yahiaoui

All is conventional in art. Nothing is absolute in painting. What was truth for the painters of yesterday is but a falsehood today. As Boccioni states above, there are no solidly permanent tenets to painting in the modern world. In his Technical Futurist Manifesto, he argues that like science which has disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our time; art too should disown its past, and in doing so will be able to serve the intellectual needs which are within all of us. Modern art manifestos abound with such messages, spurning the modern artist to do away with the past and forge ahead with originality as their sole weapon. Although I am an admirer of the old masters, many modernist artists and critics view their works as stagnant. This is one adjective that cannot be used on artworks produced by those suffering mental illness. But is art produced by those suffering from mental illness still ‘real’ art? I believe that art produced in a state of mental illness should be defended and regarded with pride and honour. Previously, according to Ricciotto Canudo, artists kept ready-made feelings to hand, which everyone could understand. Myths and religion ruled. But in our age of excessive individualism, every artist has to create his interior world and his exterior representation. He/she has an obligation to give concrete expression to his or her particular vision of life and the right to express it. Canudo wanted a nobler art, one which does not only touch the heart but moves the brain, which makes the viewer think. I believe that art produced in a state of ill health meets all these principles. It is argued by Takamura Kotaro that art should come naturally, with little obvious effort. He compares it to a fish having a watery touch. Something like that is not gained by effort but comes with the thing itself. When you try to obtain something like that through effort,

The Eildon Tree #issue 34

the degradation of art begins, he argues. Building further on this point, the purpose of modern art, as argued by Guillaume Apollinaire in On the Subject in Modern Painting, if the aim of painting has remained what it always was- namely to give pleasure to the eye- the works of modern painters require the viewer to find in them a different kind of pleasure from the one he can just easily find in the spectacle of nature. Often, art creators suffering from mental illness express a kind of exaltation that drives one beyond oneself because it requires the creator to work on instinct, drawing on the deepest recessives of the mind. In doing so, it destroys weakness and urges the artist to exert their energies and renew as well as heal themselves through art. From a painterly perspective, we should value intensity of feeling and its great sense of uplifting. Umberto Boccioni’s Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, 1910 resonates with the creation of art through mental illness, for he calls to his comrades that ‘now that the triumphant progress of science makes profound changes in humanity inevitable, changes which are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of past tradition and us free moderns, who are confident in the radiant splendour of our future’. These inspiring words remind me that before my arguments concerning artworks of those suffering from mental ill health, there were manifestos making similar arguments regarding breaking with traditions of painting and draughtsmanship. ‘We are sickened by the foul laziness of artists, who, ever since the sixteenth century, have endlessly exploited the glories of the ancient Romans.... In the land where traditional aesthetics reigned supreme, new flights of artistic inspiration are emerging and dazzling the world with their brilliance,’ suggests Boccioni. In reality, however, the celebrated art of today is most strongly associated with the shock factor. But writing as far back as 1944, George Orwell in Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali, explains how Dali and his artworks were symptomatic of their time during the ‘corrupt world of the nineteen twenties’, where if you ‘threw dead donkeys at people they threw money back’. He concludes that Dali’s works are diseased and one should not take a morally neutral view of them. They are ‘disgusting and any investigation should start out from that point’. Orwell’s investigation began by taking account of Dali’s skills. He notes that the two qualities that Dali unquestionably possesses are a gift for drawing and an atrocious egoism. And further argues that suppose you have nothing in you except your egoism and a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow: suppose that your real gift is for detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real metier Spring 3


Short Story // 1 to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks...there is always one way to escape: into wickedness. Always do the thing that will shock and wound people. But Orwell’s warning words and advice have failed to guide the modern day art establishment in Britain; art value still to this day rests on shocking audiences and gaining column inches. I find little cerebral stimulation in these works, but similarly, it can be argued that when one is ill, one exercises less intellectual capacity producing art than when healthy. Conceptual art, however, does offer a gateway for art produced by those suffering from mental illness to be valued as real art. This is due to the belief in conceptual art that the idea or concept of a work of art is considered more important than the actual finished piece of artwork. Accordingly, the fact that when a sufferer is in a psychotic or depressive state, for example, and cannot concentrate long enough to paint as they wish, their art should not be considered less valuable due to this disability. Threatening this argument, however, is the manifesto presented by the Stuckists, an international art movement founded in 1999 by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative painting as opposed to the proliferation of conceptual art, exemplified with the Turner Prize competition and the Tate Gallery. For the Stuckists, standing in direct opposition to the Young British Artists (YBAs) and their patron Charles Saatchi, and against the Turner Prize and its patron Nicholas Serota, represented a return to old artistic values, where the finished piece of artwork was valued on its merits. In order to rise above these intellectual squabbles, however, one must ask the question: What is the purpose of art? For Alain de Botton to answer the question in Status Anxiety, he turned to the writings of Matthew Arnold in his Culture and Anarchy. For Arnold, art was a medium that could offer solutions to life’s deepest tensions and anxieties. Art was capable of presenting us with nothing less than an interpretation of and solution to the deficiencies of existence. As de Botton further argues, for Arnold, the work of any great artist is led by the desire to remove human error, clear human confusion, and diminish human misery. All great artists want to leave the world better and happier than they find it. Paintings, poems and novels, argues de Botton, ultimately function as vehicles to explain our condition to us. They may act as guides to a truer, more judicious, more intelligent understanding of the world. Within these works there will almost always be a protest against the state of things, and so they attempt to educate us to perceive beauty, to help us understand pain or to reignite our sensitivities, to nurture our capacity for empathy or to rebalance our moral perspective through sadness or laughter. In this respect, art produced in a state of mental ill health succeeds in building empathy, highlighting 4

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suffering and building a communication channel with those interested in and dedicated in curing the disease. Many who suffer from mental illness find it mentally debilitating. They cannot concentrate for long enough to paint or even undertake detailed drawings, and their stress and anxiety levels are so acute that that they cannot physically pursue any thorough artistic undertakings. Significantly, mental illness, and in particular psychosis, provides one with a freedom from artistic conventions. In a psychotic state, the maker is no longer enslaved to ideals but their hand movements are direct expressions of their inner most thoughts, from the deepest recesses of their imagination. By not seeking beauty for other’s enjoyment, these artworks to some may have appeared utterly incomprehensible abstract creations. These works were rushed as the maker’s hand could not keep up with their mind and were mostly produced in a state of anger and anxiety. But is it art or merely a folly? Ruskin categorises art as high and low, based on the person’s employment of their mental faculties. With depression, anxiety and psychosis, to name a few mental illnesses, the sufferer qualifies at times to be unfit for working environments. So is their art less valuable when they are ill? As art is a direct expression of feelings, does it entail that their feelings are less important and valued too? No, I can answer with certainly. So art therefore is no less important when one is mentally ill. Furthermore, as the well-being of man lies in building good, healthy ties and unions with his and her fellow men and woman, is not the production of expressions of illness beneficial to other members of society. It opens a dialogue between the sick and the healthy and is also by impulse a cry out for help. A study and appreciation of the works of the sick allows one to enter into their turbulent mind and builds empathy. Art demands tremendous labour sacrifices, and as Tolstoy argues art is not only a thing that is not clearly and firmly defined, but understood in such contradictory ways that it is difficult to say what is meant by art, and especially what is good, useful art. Understanding mental illness through art is another useful approach for those dedicating their life to the scientific study and research of mental illness. It creates a union between sufferers who identify with mental illness and it builds empathy with those lucky enough to be healthy. Art in all its forms, from paintings to scribbles is of the utmost importance.


Poetry

POETRY SUBMISSIONS ET#34

1 As Lockdown Approaches, 14 March 2020

The Eildon Tree #issue 34

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The Plantation Above Manor Sware

– By Catherina Middleton

Drystone whinstone walls are elevated above a precipice. Serried rows of Scots pines grow at an angle As the ground dips towards infinity. A view of the valley far below is framed Almost Alpine in its vertical embrace Of upland air and agricultural endeavour, Against elevation and the elements. The air is thinner here And the solitude provides a kind of rapture. A special place, A secret place of trees and air Just minutes from my door.

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In Search of Sweet Violets in South Park Wood

– By Catherina Middleton

– By Catherina Middleton

As lockdown approaches Early spring suddenly takes on An added poignancy. Nature is oblivious To pandemic To virus To isolation To shutdown.

The wild wood was planted and husbanded by man. Now left by neglect to its own. Primrose and wood anemone shiver in the cool. Fronds of bracken unfurl As the wood moves from winter towards spring. Four deer gather in the long grass of the park. A hare leaps over a boundary wall. Abandoned sluice gates rust beside the tunnel mouth, A cold tomb breath issues from the belly of the earth. Once man worked, tended and travelled through this wood. His marks are everywhere. But he is long gone and nature has free rein.

As the certainties of modern life Are stripped away How much more will we need The gorge And the river And the woods And the quiet paths to the hills? How much more will we need Larch bud Sweet violet Leaves unfurling In the greening wood? As the days lengthen And the earth and the air Warms? The consolation of landscape Will never be needed more.

I went in search of violets but found none. Perhaps I misremembered the spot Or it is too early in the year. Instead on the wall above the wood, I found larch bud and gorse flower together. Green and brown and yellow And the always surprising scent of coconut. Looking for one kind of beauty, I found another. Hours later, On my return, Nestling in a crevice of the wall, I came upon violets. My reward.

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Poetry Submissions

Lucy Speaks – By Jen Hughes

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I am more than what met your male gaze. I am more than my affair with what’s-his-name, walking handsome cliché. I am more than the violets and moss on my unmarked grave. I am more than a symbolic name, That you never bothered to spell right. I am more than a subject in your poems Trapped in amber Consumed by anger As you look though my diary Curate and collect my things I left behind I am more than my tragic suicide. I am more than my evaporated smile. As you see my school photo on the news, Know that I am more than a point to prove. I am more than your dead muse. I am more than the bit of ass you never had. I am more than what’s written about me in your book In your film, in your poems So how dare you Talk about me like you knew me. Talk about me like we were meant to be But never were. You mourn me when you never knew me But don’t pretend you mourn the real me You are mourning your ideal A golden idol A Maid of whom there was none to praise And easy to take advantage of. Your boyhood sexual fantasies turned to ashes in your mouth. Whether I was plain or beautiful in life Is irrelevant. My private thoughts are not for your speculation. My photos are not for your delectation. Show some respect for the dead And stop fetishising me! I burn in my grave, filled with scorn and hatred. I was so much more than the plainness you could see Or some hidden star “only you” could perceived. I am more than an object of the poems you read. I just wished that I knew that while I was still alive.

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Waiting at a London Train Station – By Jen Hughes

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There are galaxies on these flower petals But to us they’re just dots You don’t look around a lot When you commute The flowers are just flowers Who cares about the dots? But see it from their perspective They don’t know what’s outside their universe They don’t know the sounds of the trains Without quantum calculations Let alone understand Why the billboards change Why the people who are God-like in proportion Will never look exactly alike. They cannot know that soon their reality Will wither and die And one by one, the many sections of their world Will fall into a waste paper basket or on the floor. Some take trips to nature to get perspective But I’ve found that it’s much closer than you think.

How to See Bats – By Craig Aitchison

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Accept the trace will be lost, then when you think it gone, appear again. Find a place on the edge: a stile between field and woods, to rest while waiting for the time that is right, just after shafts of evening light turn insects gold, and clouds turn pink, orange, ochre. Look up. Don’t blink or stare. You might catch a flicker of its electron flight. Quicker than light it will disappear, so when the shape returns, you won’t know for sure. Is it the same, or is this black glimpse in the corner of your eye another? Delight in its purposeful, darting flight. Go alone, or holding the hand of your son, feeling the clinch and crouching to his level. Your cheeks just touching, together seek


Short Story // 2

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Gold

– By Robert Smith

The tank had been lying in a corner of the garage since Olivia had left. I’d emptied it of course, except for the gravel, which had dried out. The glass was streaked with brown stains. I cleaned it in the kitchen and carried it up to Olivia’s bedroom, which was just as she’d left it; we’d always hoped she would come back one day; would get in touch, would tell us she was alive at least. Her posters of aggressive rock bands were still on the walls, along with her certificate for winning the school poetry prize and a print of Salvador Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus; the exploratory journey of the teenager. Siobhan cleaned the room every week; she would open drawers and touch the few clothes that Olivia hadn’t taken away. And every week she asked me if I thought Olivia was still alive. ‘Of course,’ I’d say. But we’d both lie awake at night. And I would have to whisper, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right,’ stroking her arm when Siobhan had nightmares. It had been two years. We thought about her every stretching day; every aching hour. Our brains were numb, like when a foot goes to sleep after you have sat with your legs crossed for too long. But maybe that was better than the needles and pins that can follow. I moved to and from the bathroom with buckets of water to fill the fish-tank which I’d put on the little table where it used to stand. I connected the electric water filter and put the lid on, Siobhan watching from the door. The water began swirling, murky from the dusty gravel, lit up by the little strip light in the lid. Siobhan said she was amazed it all worked, but I knew it would. I knew everything was going to be all right now. I buried the plant roots in the gravel and put the fish into the tank, still floating in their plastic bags. I’d bought three little goldfish and some plants from the out of town shopping store on my way home from work. Siobhan fetched a cloth from the bathroom and dabbed at the spotted trail of water I’d left. ‘I can’t believe she’s coming home,’ she said. I won’t believe it till she’s really here.’ She began crying and I gave her a hug. ‘Tomorrow,’ I said. ‘She’ll be here tomorrow night.’ Later we had our tea on our knees in front of the TV, though neither of us took much in. Afterwards I went up to check on the tank. The water was beginning to clear. I scraped the inside of the glass with an old plastic loyalty card and turned the fish loose. I half expected them to turn belly-up immediately, but they seemed fine. ‘Why?’ Asked Siobhan. ‘Why the fish?’ She was beside me, bending over to look at them. ‘I don’t know. I can’t explain it,’ I said. ‘I just had to do it. Stupid.’ ‘No, it’s a lovely thing to do,’ said Siobhan. ‘A special welcome home present.’ When we went to bed I read the notes I’d been given with the fish. They gave advice about letting the water stand for several days before adding plants, and then leaving the tank to get established

The Eildon Tree #issue 34 before introducing any fish. At around three in the morning I went through to have a look at them and switched on the aquarium light. They seemed happy enough and the water was becoming less cloudy. The fish-tank had originally been a birthday gift to Olivia a few years back. It had felt even then like she was slipping away from us. She’d changed from the little girl who’d worn flouncy dresses and performed party pieces on her violin, to someone who seemed to hate everything we said and did. She came home with love bites on her neck and the odour of cigarettes clinging to her leather jacket. She accentuated her anger with dark eye make-up, and, when she was home at all she stayed in her room. She stopped trying at school; she skived off during the day. Such a waste, the teachers said. They expected us to sort her out. It had been a stupid present. ‘What would you like for your birthday?’ I’d asked, as brightly as I could. She’d always liked presents, and even then had smiled at the thought of a gift. ‘Give me a surprise,’ she’d challenged. Something to care for, I’d thought. Something to bring her out of herself. Siobhan knew better. ‘We’ll get her an Ipad as well,’ she’d said. I’d wrapped the aquarium up in girly birthday paper; it had taken three sheets. I thought she’d find it funny. But she was so disappointed. She didn’t even take the aquarium out of its box. But she liked the Ipad. I’d tried to explain. Told her she’d always liked animals and I reminded her of a trip to the Sea Life Centre some time back. ‘Do you remember how lovely you thought the fish were?’ But she didn’t want to remember. The fish-tank had remained in its box for weeks. Then I suggested setting it up in her bedroom. She agreed, but just to keep me quiet. ‘How about coming with me to choose some plants?’ I’d suggested. We’d gone into town and called at one of those old fashioned pet shops. There was just a glimmer of enthusiasm. She chose a couple of rocks and a “No fishing” sign to be lodged in the gravel in amongst the plants. But she didn’t come home with me and we’d sat up till 2 a.m. waiting for her key in the door. Over the next few weeks I had populated the tank with a few guppies, a couple of zebra fish and a few black mollies; back in those days the fish-tank was heated. She pretended not to be interested, but a couple of time I caught her watching them intently, and once I found her talking to them, though I couldn’t hear what she said. After she reached sixteen she came home less and less often. We had arguments. We told her she was breaking our hearts. We said we loved her. We asked what her grandparents would have thought, trying to reach a sense of guilt that might pull her back. We pleaded. We wept. We locked her in her room, but she climbed out of the window. I don’t know how she didn’t break her neck. We confronted her about drugs and drink. She lied to us all the time. Eventually we accepted defeat; we couldn’t go on like this. She moved out. I shifted some of her things for her and Siobhan bought her sets of sheets and towels. She didn’t know Spring 2021 7


Short Story // 2

whether to get single sheets or doubles – it was comical looking back. In the end she got doubles – she could always fold them over. It was a dingy flat in town, with dirty washing-up in the sink, grime everywhere and a filthy carpet. I gave the filthy washbasin a quick clean when I went to the bathroom to relieve myself. When I came out she was in the arms of a lad who had no shirt on. They separated when I coughed in the doorway. ‘I’ll be off then, love,’ I’d said after a few moments. ‘Now, is there anything you need?’ Olivia had followed me to the door. ‘No, Dad, I’ll be fine. It’s what I want. I’ve got to have some space.’ She was like a caricature; a character in a soap. ‘Give me a phone. Anytime. Do you hear?’ I’d bent over and kissed her cold cheek. ‘Is he your boyfriend?’ I’d whispered. ‘Oh, Dad, you are funny,’ she’d said. After that she occasionally came home at the weekends. She said she’d got a job in a shop, but we still gave her money. Siobhan used to try and fill her up with decent food, but she’d become very picky; suspicious almost of anything that we thought might be good for her. She told us nothing. We tried so hard not to fall out, but you just can’t watch and say nothing, can you? ‘You will tell us if there’s anything wrong, won’t you?’ ‘I’m fine. Stop worrying.’ One time she’d bent over to look at the fish. ‘One of the guppies has died,’ she’d said, seeing me in the doorway. It had sunk to the bottom and its eyes had turned white. A loach was pecking away at its torn flank. Later I’d hooked it out with the little green mesh net and chucked it towards the flowerbed; the final restingplace of all the fish that had died. Then one day she came and the tank was empty. The last fish had died, so I’d switched off the pump and the plants too had slowly died. It had gone out of my mind. She tapped the glass, but nothing stirred. She stood there for ages, just looking at the still, dead water through the green, slimecovered glass. It was then that I took it to the shed. That was the last time we saw her. I went round to her flat but she’d moved. We occasionally got a text; she’d reply to about one in ten. They said very little, but Siobhan would read them over and over. ‘I’m fine. Wrking n another shop now. C u sum time.’ It was reassuring to hear something of her. We always put lots of X’s on our texts, but she never did on hers. Then it all stopped. Her phone didn’t seem to be working. I tried her old friends but not one of them could tell me anything. I’d go into town and drive around the streets as night. Nothing. We kept putting money into her bank 8

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account, but didn’t know if she got it. We contacted the police but they weren’t interested. Happens all the time, they said. We advertised in the Big Issue. Not a sign. We got angry. How could she leave us worrying like this? We got frantic. Someone’s taken her. She must be dead. It was a living nightmare. And friends and family had to know. How do you explain it? Their look seemed to say it was our fault; we must have done something. Our little Olivia who used to play her violin for them all as a party piece. Who’d won the school poetry prize. Weeks, months, a year… Then out of the blue, she phoned. ‘Hi Dad. I need to come home for a while. I’ll see you the day after tomorrow.’ ‘Olivia! Olivia! God, it’s so good to hear your voice. We’ve been frantic. Siobhan, it’s Olivia. Are you okay? Do you want me to come and get you?’ ‘No, it’s fine. Archie will bring me.’ ‘Who?’ ‘It doesn’t’ matter. I’ll see you soon, okay?’ I took the day off work. ‘Thank God, she’s coming home,’ I said. Siobhan cleaned the house from top to bottom and I weeded the garden. Siobhan cooked a chicken curry; always one of Olivia’s favourites. We paced about; waiting, wondering. Time passed, so slowly. Maybe she wouldn’t come home after all. Maybe she’d changed her mind. Siobhan plumped up the cushions and moved the photos on the mantelpiece by a fraction: a family portrait; Olivia’s first day at school; Olivia on a pony. She walked in as if she’d never been away. She still had a key and we went into the hall when we heard it in the door. She’d come by taxi. So much for Archie, whoever he was. There was a pile of stuff on the doorstep; suitcases, bin liners bulging with things, and a baby’s buggy... And there she was, at last, in the hall, home. ‘Hi Dad. Mum.’ This is Zack.’ The baby was in a sling around her neck; his head resting against her, his eyes tightly closed, his head wrapped in a little woolly hat. She took him out carefully and gently handed him to Siobhan, who cradled him in her arms, smiling down into his little turning face, everything kaleidoscopic through her tears. I bent over and stroked the baby’s cheek with my finger. He grasped my pinkie. He couldn’t be more than a few days old. ‘He looks just like you,’ I said. ‘When you were a baby.’ Later, we all went upstairs and set up the Moses basket in Olivia’s room. ‘It’s good to be home,’ she said, looking round. She took off her leather jacket and slung it over the back of a chair. Then she noticed the aquarium. The waters had cleared and the goldfish shone under the lights through the crystal clear glass. ‘But they’re so beautiful,’ said Olivia. She bent down to look more closely. The fish rose, expecting to be fed, and she scattered some flakes of fishfood on the surface. She held Zak up to have a look. ‘Look, Zak, look at the little fishes; little creatures of pure gold, just for you.’ She held him next to her cheek and we all bent down to watch the fish.


Creative Writing for Wellbeing Project

The Eildon Tree #issue 34

Hello and Welcome to the Creative Writing for Wellbeing Project. Debbie McGill, Assistant Librarian, Live Borders

The Creative Writing for Wellbeing Project is based in the Scottish Borders and is funded by Creative Scotland, NHS Borders and Live Borders. This project is about celebrating the positive health impacts and benefits that writing can give individuals, many of whom are facing challenges in their lives. Our aim is to work with people who are experiencing issues with their mental health before these issues become critical or acute.

appropriate and high quality approach was a priority with this project.

The project commenced late in 2020, and it was originally planned to run workshops in library buildings, however due to COVID-19 and new social distancing measures, it was decided that it would be facilitated online. Helen Boden, project faciitator, embraced the challenge, and, using the Zoom platform, began the project with an introductory webinar taster session. Since the COVID-19 lockdown, people have become isolated, lost jobs, suffered ill health and bereavements, and as such, Helen wanted to ensure that a sensitive,

The final aim of this project is to sustain creative writing groups, giving people the opportunity to continue on their own personal creative writing journeys and develop their writing in a group setting. With all signs looking good so far, it is our hope that part of the project budget can be used to train staff from Live Borders in order to run more sessions so that as many people as possible can benefit from exploring their feelings about their own mental health in a safe, creative and encouraging environment.

The Creative Writing for Wellbeing Project is enabling and supporting at least 30 people to attend creative writing sessions, encouraging them to feel better about themselves, with increased confidence, resilience and self-esteem, and leaving them safe in the knowledge that further potential mental health issues and crises have been averted.

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Creative Writing for Wellbeing Project

My Personal Experience - By Martina Cook

The year 2020 has been one we will hardly forget. For most of us, it has been a year of isolation, rethinking of the meaning of life and finding new ways to adapt to its challenges. To me, it also meant losing my father, after already losing my mother in 2016. I felt the need to somehow convey the pain, before it either made me bitter or killed me. When I saw the post about this course, I thought this was going to be the perfect time to dedicate to myself and the process of grieving through a format I love, writing. It also meant I had a structure and someone external with whom I could share my emotions without fearing judgment. It’s been only two sessions so far, but the benefits have been enormous. Having ninety minutes I can cut out once a week where all I do is writing means I finally have a space, after a year of home schooling and caring for my family, where I can “breath”, and simply do something I like. Somehow, the fact that I met new people helped my subconscious to “let go” of the fear of being judged. I could share many stories, mostly my family ones, helping me gain perspective on my life. I started to realise it’s now time to grow and let go of the past. I always struggled to understand how you do it, and this course has made me realise that my way is writing it out. It’s incredible the weight you feel lifting from your stomach once you read the words on the page. It’s like the paper absorbs your pain. And as you read them out, somehow they fly away, and dissolve peacefully, like the rainbow after the rain. Our mentor, Helen, is very good at involving everyone in this experience and selecting interesting material we can work on. And the writing itself. It’s such an amazing opportunity to have someone helping you express yourself through writing. But also sharing it, reminding us that we are all in the same boat. That despite being different, we are really all the same.

Why Writing?

Then Write.

It is a chance to escape; to explore possibilities that you may have never conceived. To fantasise and delve into possibilities unexplored, to find worlds that are different; of wonder or conflict. Anything can happen; be it happy or sad, intense or gentle. Everything will be experienced in one way or another; the good and the bad, the dark or the light. All of these events and more, sitting safely within a chair.

Sitting down within a garden as the world goes by; the pots filled with effort and hard work, but the payoff is beautiful and sweet. The beds are more chaotic; the order in disarray by wild growth of weed, grass or vine. To look upon it you would wonder if there is meaning within the randomness of it all. - By H Crawford

10 Spring 2021


Submissions

The Eildon Tree #issue 34

Objects around me I have a large hat on my head which is weighing me down. To my right is a living plant which is reaching out towards the window: It’s been going all winter, and I don’t know how. It reaches for the light to stay alive as it is in a very small pot. The hat shades me: if the sun were very hot today it would be an ideal hat, but the weather is cold, dark and snowy. On the floor is a tunnel for the cat. It’s all dark inside so he can hide there. It would be nice to go inside there and hide and be safe. I wish we had something like that to hide in till all this virus stuff is over. But viruses are never over. They are more alive than my plant there, striving to reach the light. The light is what we need in order to get past this virus. Roll on Spring! Meanwhile I’ll hide under my duvet in the dark and warmth. Remind me to go out in the sun, if we get some. We move between the light and the dark, whether we choose to or not.

Normality? Normality is what you are used to, but it isn’t boring. You can look forward to events and they happen – they don’t get locked down suddenly, like our Christmas and our holidays. It’s meeting people naturally, and letting things flow freely. There isn’t a BUT or IF in there. I remember trying to teach the Future Perfect to international students, for example: ‘By May we shall have been to (fill in the blank), we shall have had (fill in the blank), we shall be feeling (fill in the blank)’. This has all been unpredictable, unprecedented. I want to be able to predict again, with some reliability. I want to go and visit people without feeling I’m a threat to their health. I want to feel free. - By Liz Nobbs

Based on Us Being Aware of Our Breathing I breathe and I am glad that I am breathing. How lucky I am to be breathing normally and not relying on a ventilator. It is strange how the rhythm of your breathing reflects a lot about how you feel. A smooth gentle breathing and your feeling relaxed…. My breathing has an even rhythm to it. I breathe therefore I am alive. Breathing we take for granted – a mistake. I breathe therefore I am alive. We are lucky to be alive so we must count our blessings. I should be dead, but not to be, luckily. I am breathing therefore I am alive. Lucky or bloody-minded. I tend to fight against things that I don’t agree with and I unconsciously didn’t agree with dying, so I breathe still, therefore I am alive. It happens without thinking, but when you have to think that could be a problem. I breathe therefore I am still alive. I am glad. The beautiful countryside that we usually see has vanished under a mantle of monochrome – a beautiful white. The winter landscape, though lovely in its own way, can be a bit drab at times, with what seems such a long time until spring bursts through. The snow does in actual fact brighten the otherwise dull winter. - By Peter Gray

Spring 2021 11


Creative Writing for Wellbeing Submissions My tearful eyes drip droplets of water.
 Like the petals floating down from the flowers in the vase. The overwhelm in my head as I look at the stack of books waiting to be read.
 Yet my heart acknowledges the flame in the candle holder. Its vulnerable flickering mimics the fluttering in my belly. Though the warm light soothes and comforts
 as I wrap my body securely in my blanket.

Present

Pushed, pulled.
 This way and that.
 Perceptions, expectations. Thrown, tossed, tugged and torn. Breath in,
 Breath out,
 Quiet the storm.
 Breath in,
 Breath out.
 I root and ground.
 In nature my own.

Breath

I breathe,
 I smile,
 I breathe and feel.
 Yet I do not see.
 Oh! Invisible life, You’re a feeling thing. Soft, gentle, constantly flowing. Ever present.
 Like the wind.
 I cannot see. But I feel.
 Oh! this life,
 You’re a feeling thing.

Rhythm

Baboom, Baboom
 The heart does beat.
 Crunch, chrunch, the snow underfeet.
 Swish and sway The arms do swing.
 Haaaa........Whoooo
 The breath joins in.
 Scape sheew, scape sheew The snow is cleared.
 Baboom, runch, swish and sway, Haaaa, whoooo, scape, sheew. - By Angela

12 Spring 2021

Inner Worlds

Places of beauty, such as these Where I grew up: keeping the peace, Playing my part to keep the grace, The face, the pace….to its core That does not snore, or offer more Than what it should, By rules set out and given out From a place of beauty such as this. I breathe in hope I breathe out despair. My landscapes bear A different air That open and widen and sink The despair. I breathe in hope I breathe out questions That circle like birds and hesitations. Longings and keepings and losings and goings. All bets are off – In the internal world of me. (Anonymised)


Short Story // 3

3

The Piper and the Selkie – By Racheal Hunter

There was once a famous piper and if you had lived in these parts many years ago you would know who I meant. He was known throughout Scotland, his home country, the British Isles and further afield. This man was a roving, restless chap who loved to explore new territories and meet new people. He also loved to share his gift of music with anyone who cared to listen. Far and wide he travelled, and everywhere he went he played his pipes. It brought him happiness to see the smiles on folks’ faces. The interesting thing about this man was on each cheek coursed a deep crevice, that over the years deepened. People thought this was strange, but they accounted for it by the fact that he would play beautiful pieces and was often moved to tears, creating these two tracks. What no one knew, or even guessed at was that the man hid in plain sight a sadness that he had never known his heart’s desire. And he couldn’t really explain what it was. Words were inadequate to form the shapes to describe that deep longing within him. Only the sweet music of his bagpipes could come close to explaining. As he moved from town to town, country to country he played for everyone. He played in small taverns, he played in castles, he played on the streets and country houses. It was while visiting the Scottish Borders that he was to get the chance to find out what all this longing might be for. He did not make much money from his music, but it would have been enough to get by on if he wasn’t liable to wasting it. And unfortunately, he had ended up in a considerable amount of debt. The time was coming when he would have to figure out a way to pay it off, but he couldn’t think of a way that didn’t entail leaving his troubadour ways behind. He was not from the area but knew it well. He was in the town of Eyemouth where a music festival was happening. He had several engagements for playing throughout the day, but by evening, which was still bright daylight as it was summertime, he was free to enjoy the atmosphere at his leisure. There was a ceilidh held in the town hall so most of the festival goers were there. This meant the pubs were a little less crowded for now. He found himself in with a group of acquaintances, some fellow musicians and hangers on. They had just feasted on fish and chips by the sea front and were looking for a pub. They passed an old woman carrying a bundle. She looked so comical – old and ugly, with frizzy hair wound in a bun and skewered with a knitting needle. Her dress was old and misshapen. She had a humped back and walked with a limp aided by a gnarled looking walking stick. Someone from his group giggled at the sight of her, a tinkling female voice already uneven with drink.

The Eildon Tree #issue 34 They found themselves in a small bar. Despite it being summer a fire burned low in the grate. The customers were locals. Although they spoke and nodded at one another, it was clear they came individually. The piper and his boisterous group raised a few eyebrows and caused several heads to shake slowly. Even the pub dog, a doleful looking boxer, gave them an unequivocal of ‘you’re not welcome.’ Local pubs tended to not like their peace shattered by strangers, even if they were in town for the festival. So, they repaired to a table that was free. There were six in total: two men he knew well from the music scene, a man and wife whom they’d picked up after it turned out they were ‘fans,’ and a young woman who had appeared from somewhere who was thirsty for the drink but seemed to have misplaced her own purse. Tonight, the liquor did not slake his thirst. The convivial atmosphere did not warm his heart. He felt more restless than ever, like a fly trapped in a jam jar. He tried to direct his energy to his friends, but he was edgy and couldn’t concentrate. There was a clattering as someone stumbled through the door. No one else seemed to notice but he and the dog as the old woman from the street wrestled her way through the door encumbered by her bundle and her walking stick, which fell to the floor. He leapt up from his seat and helped her inside. As he held her arm, which was bony under the layers of clothes, she looked up at him with pale, milky blue eyes that looked almost blind. She smiled and revealed a few brown teeth standing in a gummy jaw. She thanked him and made her way to the fireside. A signal to the barman from her caused him to take a glass and poured her a slug of whisky. She settled into her chair and the boxer dog lay down at her feet with a sigh. As the evening went on the bar got busier and people were standing cheek by jowl. The conversation rose and ebbed like a wave, from a murmur to a roar whenever a joke reached its denouement, or someone said something foolish. It was too noisy for music, but his cadre begged him to play another tune, which duly he did. With a few more whiskies in him he soon left his troubles behind as a daft notion and couldn’t even have conjured up those troubling, nagging thoughts if he tried. He was suddenly aware of the old woman. She seemed to be watching him, although her eyes looked so cloudy, she must surely be blind. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled and his eyes were drawn to meet hers. She smiled as she sat nursing her drink. The dog snoozed peacefully. He quickly turned away. The young woman who sat next to him asked if he was ok. She was a pretty wee thing if a bit tipsy. She sat closer than was necessary even in this confined space. Every so often her fingers would brush his thigh accidentally. Earlier he’d taken note of her potential as a companion with little doubt of her in agreement. But somehow her over eagerness, Spring 2021 13


Short Story // 3 the way she laughed a little too loud and long and tried to hold his gaze was off putting. She leaned in and whispered something inaudible in his ear. He felt her lips brush his ear. He shifted away from her and resumed his tune on the pipes. The evening drew to a close and his band were the last ones drinking as the barman rang for last orders. The old woman had fallen asleep by the fire. Her bundle fell open and revealed a bag of gold coins and jewels. He couldn’t believe his eyes. She lay lolling with the treasures freely available to anyone. No one else seemed to have noticed, his friends were heading for the door. He stared for a moment and thought how that one small bag of jewels could pay off his debt and keep him nicely for life. He felt ashamed of the thought. The old woman lying so vulnerable. Then the younger woman was at his side and she noticed too “What are you doing?” “Nothing! Let’s go.” “Why don’t you just take one or two. Then she’ll never noticed.” As soon as the young girl said this, he felt anger and knew what to do. He gently shook the old woman awake. “Excuse me, madam, but you might want to secure your valuables.” The old woman smiled sleepily and smacked her gums. “Oh yes, thank you.” “Do you need anything?” He asked. “Perhaps you could drive me to my cottage?” The piper felt it was his duty to help her after considering robbing the poor old woman. His companions were annoyed and in fact the young woman turned quite angry. “You would drive an old tramp home like her? She stinks of fish! You could be lying in my clean bed tonight with my lovely young body next to you.” He shrugged. That was that. So, he drove the old woman to her cottage. It was at the end of a long narrow road and he was a bit drunk, so it was an eerie experience for him. When he got out there was a tiny house. Even in the dark it was clear it was in a state of disrepair. “Thank you, my dear,” she said. “Now in order to say thank you, I will give you a gift.” He thought of the bag of diamonds and rubies and gold coins, a little guiltily. Instead, she brought out a silver chanter. “I see you are a musician,” she said. “My father was a piper, and this was his. Put this to your lips like this,” she put it to her own puckered lips, and he tried to avoid staring at the hairs growing out a large brown mole. “And play this exact tune.” She demonstrated the music and it was the most enthralling, ethereal music he had ever heard. It entranced him. Filled his head with the most beautiful pictures. He looked up at the moon and the stars and they seemed to shine brighter than ever. 14 Spring 2021

“Play that tune on midsummer’s eve down at the bay – I will give you the directions – and you will attract the thing that you desire the most.” The piper was intrigued. The old woman gave him one last piece of advice: “A selkie without her sealskin is a very vulnerable creature but remember do not think that because you can take something you should. You learned that tonight and I have rewarded you, because I see you have a kind heart. I am old and will die soon. I would like to think that the music will live on. My father told me before he died that I would know who the heir to this chanter was when I met him. I like to think I am a good judge of character.” On midsummer’s eve the piper followed the old woman’s instructions of how to get to the bay. There was a long walk along remote cliff tops, along the rocky headland until he spied a faint path that led down to a small cove, sheltered on either side by rocks. He stood on the sand and looked out towards the horizon. The sea was at high tide, but calm and smooth as a lake, the waves swept in gently, lapping at the shore, softly sucking on the sand. All was quiet except for the steady pulse of the tide and a lone sea gull crying overhead. He took his silver chanter out of the backpack he was carrying and put it to his lips. Softly at first, he let the sweet music flow from his fingertips and his breath. The beat of the waves coming in and out again set the pace and even as he was creating the tune, he could feel the enchantment. Soon there was a ripple on the surface of the calm seas, then a round head split the meniscus and a tawny face with large brown eyes, black speckles and whiskered nose appeared. The creature sniffed the air like a retriever sensing dinnertime. Then another emerged, and another and another. All slightly different in colour, lighter brown and dark grey, until there were seven frolicsome and frisky seals playing in the surf. Splashing and moving so fluid and fast, quick and playful as puppies. Seals, as you know, can be timid. Shy, reserved creatures, hard to get close to, but the music from the chanter had so bewitched them that they were free to let out this playful, joyful side. The piper gasped at the sight and let the music stop for a moment. The spell was broken and immediately the seals made as if to head back down into the deep forever. Hastily he resumed the tune he was playing, blowing the breath into the silver chanter for all he was worth. Hearing it himself he knew it was the sweetest music he had ever heard. It made tears run down the well-worn tracks on his face. The seals were drawn back in and swam into the bay with renewed confidence. Once on the sand they shuffled up the sand and made their way to a rocky outcrop to the far right. They ignored the piper, although the music had drawn them out. The first one clambered onto the rocks and let its skin slip off to reveal a female form more beautiful and luminescent than any woman he had seen before. Her skin seemed to shine and


The Eildon Tree #issue 34 glimmered with light brown speckles you see on salmon in the springtime. She was tall with graceful long fingers and feet. She had long dark hair that matched her eyes, small high breasts and the lithe form of a ballerina. The second was as tall, but broader of hip and thigh and with long pendulous breasts that suggested she’d raised a pup or two. She shimmied to the music with a fluid shake of her hips. The third was slightly shorter and more of a boyish figure, just as graceful, just as beautiful but pert and narrow with a rump like a schoolboy’s. The fourth had a tiny waist and bee stings for breasts, but the most voluptuous hips. The fifth was athletic and strong, toned arms and legs and a flat chest, the sixth was the shortest one so far: sweet and plump and round as a Christmas pudding with welcoming soft folds and her wet blonde hair falling into ringlets. The last to step onto the rock was the most winsome looking of all. Her honey-coloured skin fell away to reveal full round breasts, slim waist and ample hips. Her arms moved gracefully to the music and her step was light. She shook out her long caramel coloured hair and laughed a silvery clear laugh that sounded like water bubbling forth from a spring. She stroked her fingertips along her smooth arms, her breasts and belly, and thighs, and smiled with delight to be in this beautiful form on this summer’s eve with her sisters. As soon as she was ready, she began to sing her own selkie song. The others joined in and they created their own music. Music such as the piper had never heard. It sounded strange and eerie, yet he understood, and the music evoked the life deep below the waves where the fish swam. He stopped playing the silver chanter because it seemed now as if it was not necessary. He quietly settled himself behind another rock so as not to disturb them and watched. All seven danced so gracefully together. And they laughed and sang and admired each other. They were so happy and in the moment that time passed so quickly. Eventually as the sun made its journey towards the horizon a chill wind began to blow. It was getting dark and soon it would be time for the selkies to return to the sea. The tallest one, she who was the most exquisite dancer, reached for her skin, slipped it on and was away with the turning tide. One by one the beauties followed. The piper remembered the legend that the selkie could not return to the sea without her skin. Carefully and stealthily, he crawled from his hiding place and managed to grab the honey-coloured skin, which had slipped off the rocks onto the sand. The stars were coming out. A half-moon had risen in the sky and light clouds scudded across it. One selkie was left and she looked puzzled as she cast around for her skin. Then she started to panic. The piper emerged from his hiding place and she looked at him, frightened. It dawned on her now what had happened to her precious skin. She

knew tales of land men who stole selkie’s skins when they weren’t looking and tricked them into becoming housewives. Some had escaped and returned to caution the young selkies, and she hadn’t listened. She had been too enthralled with the music and the dancing. With having a good time. He held out his hand to her and she turned to run away, but he had her skin, so she was trapped. “Please,’ she said. She looked at his face, beseeching him with her green eyes. She saw the tracks on his face and empathy squeezed at her heart. She could tell he was a good man. The piper was mesmerized up close with the selkie. She was, as the old woman had predicted, exactly what his heart desired. Watching her and her sisters dance tonight had been the most enchanting experience of his life. But it felt wrong to just take her sealskin and demand she succumb. That was not what he wanted. He reached out and stroked her arm. She winced at first, but she was surprised to discover it was a pleasant, welcoming feeling and let him gently touch. The piper gazed at her standing there. He could see scars up and down her arms, more noticeable now she was up close. And the same on her legs. Shiny, tougher skin in streaks running up and down the lengths. She saw him looking. “Seal hunters,” she said. He nodded. “But they never catch me,” she said and smiled, her eyes sparkling mischievously. He smiled too. He was glad to have met her, but he knew he could not take what was not freely given. “Here,” he said. “Thank you.” Immediately she was slipping on her skin in order to make her return to the sea and he was sad. She paused and before she fully returned to her seal form she said. “You have the silver chanter. If you ever want to see me again, you may use it, but only sparingly. We selkies belong to the sea but can visit this world now and then. We like it here for a short while. But now I must return home.” And with that she ran in to the water and dived into a wave as it rolled out to sea. Over the years the Piper continued to play music wherever he travelled, but every midsummer he would come back to the secluded beach in the Scottish Borders and play his silver chanter for the lovely selkie and her sisters. And because he proved trustworthy with her sealskin, one day she bore him a son, but that is another story.

Spring 2021 15


The Eildon Tree

For further details please visit www.liveborders.org.uk/ theeildontreeandwritersgroup

 eildontree@liveborders1.org.uk  01750 726400

16 #issue 33 | Winter 2020


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