“None so blind as those who can’t see” (traditional saying)
Take a look at both pictures. What strikes you? what do you like about them? What do you think they mean? Both of these artworks are part of a project called Glossary in which I worked with adults with a disability to enable them to make artist’s books in response to well-known sayings about visual and hearing impairment: expressions that we use every day without even noticing how offensive they could be, such as in the second image, ‘seeing is believing’. I then responded by making my own art books, one per individual, book to book.
I learnt a huge amount from this collaboration, not least about many of the presumptions I carry with me about disability. The title Glossary references the history of the word. ‘Glossing’ is a term from Anglo Saxon translation of Latin bible texts written over the top of the original script, hence to ‘gloss over’, which has moved on in meaning over time from interpretation to ignorance. Perhaps this can be seen as an analogy for our attitudes to disability, and perhaps to difference in general. Perhaps tolerance is not enough. In the same way that a glossary is something which tells us about the book we are reading, perhaps those who we marginalize tell us about the society we create.
In October last year, we took on an allotment. Everyone thought we were mad as we were so busy already. But over the recent period it has been a godsend, a safe space we can get out to. Presently our energies are required more than ever, as everything is growing. And something we have learnt is that when it comes to gardening you can’t just do the fun stuff. Our raised beds may be full of produce, but our paths and edges are full of weeds, and if not attended to, those weeds soon dominate. But weeds are also extremely useful: for example, nettles make a fantastic plant food full of nitrogen. The edges are vital for the health and productivity of the whole.
Permaculture is a way of looking at how we grow to sustain ourselves but also to sustain the ecology. There are many aspects to this such as an emphasis on no-dig gardening, because deep digging turns the soil over and kills valuable microorganisms, or seed collecting so that we perpetuate our crops organically and with less consumption. One of the principles is that of attending to the edges. Permaculture talks about how important the edges are, they are where the exciting things can happen, where change is affected, and they are just as important as the larger more obvious main crops. What grows at the edges should be noticed and perhaps cultivated for the good of the whole.
Working in the margins is often where creativity happens, as I have experienced over my whole life. Many artists will tell you that we have the gift of ‘not fitting in’, which can be uncomfortable both for us and other people but allows us to use our gifts of questioning and wondering to the full. Some biblical characters like Ezekiel, who did such unusual things as shaving his hair and burning it to bring his message over, definitely didn’t fit in. Yet they were seen as prophets who had an important message to give to the whole nation.
It is a whole lot easier to ignore the voice of the crazy questioner, the person who shows us a different way of viewing our society, those whose experience may not be the mainstream, but actually have a vision we need to see. The disabled, the poor, those who end up in prison for reasons beyond their control. The artists, the opposition, the anarchist, the rebel. The weeds in our crop, also known as wildflowers, foragers food and companion plants. The guardians of our eco diversity. We ignore the edges at our peril; for those who have no voice are speaking to us and we need to listen.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What are the margins in your life and your community?
- How can you attend to them?
- Are you a crazy questioner?
- What are your questions?
You will need time, protective gloves and somewhere to go for a walk.
- Put on your gloves and take your time walking slowly and look at the edges of things. Maybe the pavement curb, a yellow line, or a wall, or a hedgerow.
- Try following the edge and see where it takes you
- What do you find?
- Bring home something to remind you of attending to the edges, such as a feather, a pebble, a small flower.