Facing Dragons

I love walking in mud with no shoes. Because shoes weren’t really made for mud, were they? They get dirty so easily, and don’t really cling (unless they’ve got special soles). Toes were certainly made for gripping, holding us firm, telling us what’s underfoot and if it’s safe to proceed.

But we don’t walk barefoot in mud, do we. Pause now, think of all the reasons you’ve been told. You’ll get your feet dirty. Who knows what you’ll step in? It’s cold. It’s wet. Just the feeling of wet, dirty, squishy mud, full of horrors… urrrgh…

Have you ever tried? How about sand? Or grass? The worst surface to walk on barefoot, for me, is gravel or concrete. Hard, cold, with no grip. The natural earth is full of sensation, feeling, and it actually feels so much better. More natural, indeed.

Oh, and soap exists. We can wash our feet afterwards. It’s easy.

This thoughts came to me as I was navigating a tricky path this afternoon, walking the dogs. Yes, there was mud. Fields where cows had been. Slippery wooden stiles to climb over. Brambles.

Every step of the way, my shoes slipped and skidded, my coat caught in things… the very clothes I wore to keep myself warm and dry were actually impeding my progress. It was both funny and frustrating.

Yes, we do things a certain way for practical concerns. Of course we do. But it’s so easy to trap ourselves in the prison of what we ‘must’ do. Not because we decide, but because someone else has, and we obey unthinkingly.

It’s interesting to consider our own personal boundaries. Which ones have we put up, and why? Which ones did someone else build around us, which we might actually be curious to take down?

Not everyone likes bare skin on mud. But you could do it easily if you wanted to – that’s the example that came to my mind today.

I’ve also spun, arms thrown out wide, in a thunderstorm… on a busy high street, full of people scuttling past to find shelter. I’ve skipped down a London street with a friend, through falling snow, as people got out of our way. I’ve stood naked in a field in Oxfordshire, screaming at the sky.

For each of these, I either was (or would be) stared at. None are illegal. All are rather societally frowned upon. Not British, perhaps, or not done by ‘civilized’ people.

But oh, how freeing they were. To feel that urge within me and to follow through with it. To feel the fear-walls fall away: less like tumbling bricks, more like smoke, that faded as I pushed it, challenged it. Overcame it.

I think of close friends, and things they’ve done, which are marvellous to me. Walking alone through busy city streets on the far side of the world. Leaping from a plane, falling back to earth at the end of a thin rigging of cloth and rope. ‘Coming out’ – as a particular sexuality, gender or faith – in an unfriendly environment.

My little mischiefs seem trivial in comparison.

When I wrote my last post, I did worry. How many people would respond accusing me of ‘privilege’, of not knowing ‘how lucky I am’, of how I should ‘be grateful’. I was only talking about having photos taken, for goodness sake…

Words like that were the bars of my inner fear-cell as a child. Always being aware of how I appeared to others, and how I had to act. I always wondered why, how this sort of thing was known. I felt as if I’d been left out when the instructions on such things were being given out. My biggest mistake was often being honest. When I was, I usually got mocked, laughed at and ridiculed. I learned to stay quiet.

But the response that I actually got to my writing was wonderful. People thanking me for my honesty. For being so brave as to talk about such things. For putting into words what is so difficult to even feel, let alone express.

Whenever I let the words come. When I feel so full of emotion that I have to let it out, to express it in some way… people thank me. This confuses me – because as I said, that used to be precisely the wrong thing to do! But now I’m allowed to say it, somehow. Or rather, society has turned enough that we have learned to listen, both to the words being said and to the intention behind them.

I still see words being censored. I’ve had bosses tell me to ‘use different language’, that certain phrases are ‘too negative’. That’s because the situation is negative, perhaps? I see journalists fight in America to express bigger truths that need to be heard. I see everyone figuring out how to tell their own individual tale.

We can only share the stories as we live them. If this means identifying privilege as part of it, then so be it. I’m a white, cis-female, living in a wealthy country – of course my view is going to be limited to that. But this isn’t a prison either; it’s just a perspective. My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s, and by sharing, we can open the doors to each other’s experiences too.

I may be using hard language here. I’ve often felt ‘imprisoned’ by societal demands, by the expectations of others, of that strange ‘map of life’ that I’ve somehow stumbled away from (you know the one: birth, school, job, marriage, kids, death). I’ve often said that I left that behind a while ago. I’m in the back pages of the atlas now, drawing in the blank space. As the medieval maps would say, Here Be Dragons.

I’d rather the dragons of my own experience and exploration than those snapping at my heels. The adventures and stories give me the power to fight them… or fly.

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3 Comments »

  1. Anthony Thompson said

    It’s incredible the amount we deny ourselves because we worry what others may think or change what think of us..I’m guilty of this.

  2. I’ve been on a bit of a journey this year around my relationship with other people’s opinions of me. I recognise so much of what you’re saying. What is wonderful is finding the spaces where your authentic self is welcomed and valued and you don’t have to self edit, or compromise, or appease…

  3. rhys said

    I so love reading your truth-prints. I love barefoot in mud, rain, grass, ocean, sand. I love standing and dancing and singing at the lightning and ocean surf. I love having the freedom and perhaps privilege to do these things. My family judges my natural crazy; my best friends embrace me. My culture and religion of birth would commit me, but I don’t listen now and I play outside the lines and discard the rules of the game. Be you. Do you. Dare you. Love you.

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