reflection Uncategorized

a letter about work

I’m still writing letters to myself first thing every morning, as part of my contribution the wonderful upcoming letters project. Here is another letter – one which I wrote to myself on the weekend, based on a conversation which I had with the artist Jen Smith about our creative practices, and about a bird and an oak tree.

I read a really wonderful book called ‘Emergent Strategy‘ by adrienne maree brown, which encourages readers to learn from systems and patterns in the natural world, and I think the discussion and my letter were based on that work.


Dear Sian

Yesterday you compared yourself to a jay burying acorns, and although you started with the feeling that to be a jay is a bad thing, and a random scattering of energy, you may have stumbled into something that is worthwhile, and that could be true.

A few months ago, your friend S. told you that almost every oak tree in every forest and hedge is planted by jays. This is how it works: the jay hides the seeds – all around. Of course, many of the acorns will be put in places where they cannot grow, but a few will be planted in a perfect place. The bird remembers well, and later returns to eat the seeds, digging them, pulling up the flesh. But in the meantime, the acorn has put down a deep tap root, and although it releases its flesh, it holds its place in the ground, and has retained enough of what it needs to keep growing. Like this, the germ of the tree is rooted and ready for the spring.

This is very hard to think about, and relates to what you think work is, and how you think it happens. And to the mistakes you have made about that. […] You have always had a job, you have never been without one – and so it seems that a job is not only a matter of money, but is also a psychological prop for you. Because you sell yourself very short, that is also clear.

So what is needed now (this year), is not a job but your own work, and a way of trusting that if you do the work, things will grow. And you have started to understand that there is a possibility of something that feels true, and of abundant growth, and that the constant self-pruning that you have been about is not your work.

To return to the jay and the acorns. Am I the jay, or the oak, or the acorns, or what am I? Can we see them separate? Well of course the jay is a bird, it flies away while the tree stays rooted. But the tree needs the bird, the bird needs the tree; they are a process, an encounter.

The work of the bird, the scattering and burying (planting) is its own reward. Providing that it can remember, then it can return to retrieve, and the reward is the eating.

To be seen, to be part of something, to be needed. These are what will never go away, and what work may hope to satisfy.

So for the jay, the work is the reward. And the strategy of the jay is interesting, because it is broad-based. The acorns are not all buried in one place, but widely. This makes sense. For the tree, the strategy is very simple, to offer from its own flesh, and with sufficient abundance. And where the opportunity is open, to take root deeply and in good time. The bird will come back for its reward, that much is given; the acorn is the token of an exchange.

To summarise. To narrow down on one thing only – this is not my strategy. To withhold the offering – this is not my strategy. To root shallowly – this is not my strategy. To follow the strategies of the jay and the oak, there must be faith in abundance, there must be patience and an offering, and there must be reciprocity.

Yours sincerely


drawing painting


drawing my pile of acorns today, before I plant them…

art light

looking up

On the coal spoil heap by the playing fields. Looking up.

art photography

two photographs

Ash, evening light and oak, morning light.

art video

oak tree

A short video that is influenced by talking with some amazing people in the ‘Akimbo’ creatives workshop, including artist Jamuna Barry – and some writing and images that she made, about the ways in which trees and fungi help one another, or otherwise. Silently, and underground.

Here is a link to Jamuna’s blog post about the ‘wood-wide-web’: