Tag Archives: mental breakdown

Path

28 Apr
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In 2010, the Artist, Andy Goldsworthy made this lovely meandering path called ‘Wood Line’ from the huge stems of invasive Eucalyptus trees in the Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco. The path is over a quarter of a mile long and my Dad and I wandered down it together in 2013.
It makes me think about the paths we take as we meander through our lives.
This famous poem by Robert Frost encapsulates the dilemma we all face when we are forced to chose between one direction or another at significant moments of our lives.
The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[1]

 

At this time of year young people all over the land are studying hard for their school and University exams: GCSE, A’Level, Degrees are the prize they seek. The better the grade/degree the greater the choice of direction. Many of them studying for high academic qualifications will have a good idea of the career path they want to take. Engineering (not enough sadly), Science (again not enough), Medicine and Law (too many), Nursing, Teaching and so on – vocational careers. Very few will decide to follow the path of an Artist. In my school, this was considered ‘failure’ with a capital ‘F’. Art was my best subject, followed by Biology.

At 16 I hadn’t a clue what path to take until I met a Zoologist in 1974 at Lee Green Field Centre in Derbyshire. Teenagers from schools all over the county were given the opportunity to spend a week in the Field studying Ecology with an expert. I was completely entranced by transects, mark and recapture methods, butterfly nets and earthworm population numbers and the mind blowing diversity of planktonic life in a pond as seen under a microscope.

As Baloo the Bear declared to Mowgli in Disney’s The Jungle Book, when he heard the Primo Levi track ‘I’m the King of the Swingers’, I was gone man, solid gone…!

I spent the rest of my sixth form focussed on getting sufficient grades to get in to University to study Zoology. At a parent’s evening my Head Master asked me “What use is  Zoology Littlewood?” my mother, quick as a flash said “So he can develop a new strain of deadly mosquitos and called them Aedes littlewoodi” – with her on your side everyone else was Royally screwed. She was like Boudicca on acid.

Path chosen for about about 15 years. I made a good living studying centipede behaviour, termite piss (I kid you not) and then a long time trying to figure our how locusts brains work whilst supporting my little family in Newcastle upon Tyne. A graduate parent and visitor to my lab once asked me “Why do you do that?” ‘Because I can’, was my answer.

History repeatedly tells us that this is a bad reason.

Research Zoology satisfied a number of cravings – a vast variety of living forms to discover, an esoteric discipline, fresh air and knowledge for an insatiable appetite. It also encouraged my ability to draw, describe and write. Comparative morphology and anatomy were a delight for me. The shape of a claw, a bone, the feeding appendage of a Bryozoan – you name it, I was allowed to stare at it, examine it, draw it and marvel at it how it came to be.

Unfortunately it was not easy to find a permanent job. I quit in 1989 and trained to teach science so I could continue to support daughter and first wife.

New path. Bloody good holidays wherein I could watch my daughter grow up, entertainment dreaming up ways to make basic science concepts understandable for young people and a reasonable income. Downside? Yes – huge stress, mostly emotional.

The path came to a dead end in 2001 after a mental breakdown.

By Great Good Fortune I met someone who shone a light and led me slowly back to the Little Wood. It was a very long a scary journey, but she was by my side the whole way. She took me for long walks and made me read Harry Potter. I began to take myself and less seriously. I learned to listen and she taught me how to love myself. How to find the path back to myself.

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I have had the odd wobble on this path, but, by and large I have rediscovered who I am:

A very curious boy, who like to draw and make and write, preferably alone, who loves to be entertained by funny, lively people. A good example would be my niece, Hazel Littlewood, who lives near not far from Goldsworthy’s sculpture and is busy finding her own path.

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Hazel

Just think, I would not have been around to meet her, had I not been led from the dark path.

These days I have re-adopted my youthful dog-like strategy of checking out every path, before committing to the long route, this way I can locate chose the ‘road least taken’.

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Here is one I followed today – it made all the difference.

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The path of Earthly Delights, where fresh badger diggings, bluebells and (un) coppiced Hazel can be found by and in the Littlewood.

May you find your path, and, more importantly the means of finding it.

 

For Geoff Smith, Art Teacher, Ernest Bailey Grammar School, Matlock (1970’s). Who taught me that only I was the judge of the true quality of my work. A great teacher.