I didn’t realise until I did the final proof read of Beyond the Map, just how much a companion piece this is to Druidry and the Ancestors. Partly because the writing and research for the non-fic happened in the same time frame, partly because the real life experiences shaping one, also shaped the other. I moved back to Gloucestershire, land of my ancestors, had the pleasure of introducing my child to a vast array of history, story, connection and people. Landing in Slimbridge we lived for a while in a cottage that had been in my family for a good eight generations, and found distant relations amongst the locals, ancestors in the graveyard, and stories. It was quite a journey.
Ideas about family, ancestry, progress and connection lace through Beyond the Map. It was also written during a time when my relationship with my son was at a heightened level of intensity. That process of radical life change and upheaval created a degree of mutual dependence and greater closeness as we dealt with all manner of challenges. What it means to be a parent, what it means to be a future ancestor, were all very much on my mind.
It was also fascinating watching my son developing and changing relationships with his own ancestors. The sense of engagement and connection he experienced, living in that cottage, and meeting people, were really important to him. In the same time frame he also gained access to his paternal family in a way that hadn’t been available to him before, and seeing him find his place there and other feelings of belonging was also powerful.
There’s so much in normal, modern life that encourages us to cut away our own roots. The pressure to move, for work and study, the financial issues around rural living that make it impossible for many people to stay in the villages they were born in, the age divides we’re encouraged to accept… so many things unroot us. I think in the last few years I’ve become more conscious of just how much our cultures have changed around age. The tribe meant everyone. Smaller communities, historically, included people of all ages. The rise of the car and the television combine to reduce our contact with our neighbours, making us less aware of the people around us who don’t engage in our much more restricted social circles. We divide more readily by age, affluence, level of education and leisure preferences than ever before, and its easy to go through life only engaging with other people who resemble us, missing so much of the diversity.
Walking makes a lot of difference. I’ve actively sought spaces where I could engage more diversely. Steampunk, folk and Druidry are notably communities where people of all ages can mingle. That way you get communities with elders in them, shared ancestors of community become relevant and available. Ancestors of tradition are much more present in life.
Beyond the Map is the emotional journey that went with Druidry and the Ancestors. It’s full of comparable ideas and concerns, explored in different ways. I think they go rather well together, which is a happy accident – I certainly didn’t plan it that way, and didn’t even realise what I’d done until this week! The poetry isn’t in order of writing though, there is no narrative chronology – at least, no intentional story being told across the book.