Onwards! Or What to do when the slipper doesn’t fit you


I didn’t get picked. 

No invite to the ball. 

Which means, I must take my own advice from last month. 

And pick myself. 


This is the reluctant sequel to last month’s blog. Of course, part of me wishes I’d got picked – certainly in the short term, being picked feels so much better than being passed over. 

To be precise, along with many others, I wasn’t picked for a DYCP grant by the Arts Council. I didn’t get funding for Lifeline Redux

Lifeline is an aerial solo I made when I was 25 – my first piece out of circus school- seven ages of woman, choreographed along the line of a rope, birth to death, in twenty minutes. Next year I will turn 50. I want to revisit this piece about life stages, from a different age – use it as a chance to synthesise and build on everything I have practised and learnt since 25. I don’t think Lifeline Redux will be a solo anymore. I suspect it will have words, as well as moves. I’ve no idea if I will make it off the ground, but I would like to try. There are many unknowns, but I know it is a project that I want to make happen. So, basically, not getting picked sucks.

Ya boo sucks. 

But I have been here before. 

I’ve even written about it before.


Actually, those two blogs are amongst the most popular I have put out.

First, from July ‘19 : ‘What to do when you don’t get your Arts Council Funding: The Unofficial Guide’

And then, from July ’22: Rejection, Failures and Fxck Ups – A New or a very Old Approach to Loss and Losing

Can I write a third piece? An unlucky hat-trick?

Evidently, I am going to try……

The thing I notice this time round is how physical it is, not getting picked, and how emotional. I feel the blow of it in the centre of my chest. I am brave all day, but at night I cry. I am wounded. Bruised. All the romantic cliches. I respond like a jilted lover, even though you could hardly get anything less intimate than the Arts Council. I didn’t fit the slender, beautiful but hard-edged and highly specifically-sized shoe, stipulated by the Prince of Investment Principles. I look down at my feet – wide, thick, cracked skin around my heels, large gaps between my toes, in part because I refused to wear any shoes until about the age of 7 – which make my feet good at climbing ropes, but rubbish at squeezing into glass stilettos. 

And for a moment I feel like an ugly sister. I even sympathise with them, those sisters – their urge, in some of the more gruesome versions of the tale, to slice off their offending bulbous toes, in order to squeeze into the prize shoe. Until the pigeons give them away: “She’s not true! There’s blood in the shoe!”. But I understand why they took to the knife- because it can make you feel desperate, not being picked. Wretched. 

Still, I want to keep my toes- they might be useful. And I want to stay true. Time, then, to take my own advice, from last month – time to summon up my fairy godmother. 

I keep doing this. When she was alive, I would have written an email, in secret, to my creative godmother, ‘Book Mama,’ mentor, Nicky Singer, seeking commiseration and support, but instead I keep writing to her, out loud, here. Cinderella goes to her mother’s grave, and talks to the ash tree, growing there, to ask for help. I don’t have a tree to visit, but I do have a hundred emails from Nicky to reread. 

Many of her emails to me ended with a single word – certainly any email in which I had written to her feeling down-hearted or dejected, was signed off with:


‘I suppose’, I used to think, when I read the word, although, in truth, I couldn’t entirely get on board with such a rallying cry. I heard it as an imperative to keep on, keeping on. I imagined it cried out, a fist raised, a feisty call for forward motion, come what may. A sightly macho command, not only to pick myself, but to pick myself up, socks up, chin up, marching on. 

Until, one day, after I had commented on it, Nicky revealed to me the origin of the word – the personal mythology behind it. Which was that it came from canal boat holidays when she and her friends were young. One of them was appointed as ‘The Captain’ of the ship and then:

“If we went along a canal for a week and needed to have the boat back where it started, there would of course, always be a moment when we had to turn the boat around and begin retracing our steps. None of us liked to do this – we all wanted to sail forward for ever and not have to be returning/ending. So the Captain used to send all other crew members below deck when he turned the boat and when it was facing precisely, the dreaded returning way he would shout ‘ONWARDS’, which was our cue to come back on deck and continue our fabulous forward facing journey.”

This, I love. This is a ship I can board, wholeheartedly. 

It cheers me to reread this now, because it reminds me of the practice of including everything. Of including the need to retrace my steps. The dread of doing so. The hiding below deck. And ultimately the acceptance that the way forward may, in fact, involve a 180 degree turn. It also includes a sense of humour- this is vital. 

It reminds me that, in a way, the party, the ball, is not a destination up ahead of me. Not somewhere I have got to reach, or from which I may be turned away. I am at the party, on the boat – the project is the party, and it is already underway simply because I have said I want to make it happen. It reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s proposition in Big Magic (that book is another fairy godmother to me), which is that creative ideas have a kind of independent existence and flit among us, in the ether, looking for the opportunity to be made manifest. In other words, in this paradigm, the artist is the one issuing the invite – she is the host, the idea is the guest, and when we get together, we have a ball. 

At the moment, we are the only ones here, at this ball – just me and my idea. Sometimes dancing, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. Sometimes feeling deeply dejected, in the cellar, in the hold – but having a ball, nonetheless.

 The cry of ‘Onwards!,’ now becomes, not an imperative to dismiss or overcome disappointment, failure, loss, but to include it. Because once you have set out on the way, everything becomes the way. Even a U turn is part of the onward journey. It’s the same as the Open Space principle that states ,’Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.’ It’s the same as the impro practice of saying ‘Yes and’ – Yes, this too. 

I didn’t get my funding. No immediate, readily available, fame or fortune, handed me on a golden plate. I do not have £12,000 – the sum for which I was applying. Nor do I have the affirmation of an authority – a princely stamp of approval. No satisfying slipper-fit. Instead, I have this feeling of loss. Of things not going to plan. That’s what’s on my plate. So, I say ‘yes’ to this. It is the resource at my disposal. 

And it’s a powerful resource. I know at least one show that has been fashioned from it: my husband’s Tao of Glass was made out of the broken pieces of another show that didn’t happen, because of a writer who died, and a glass coffee table that got smashed.  

As I reflect on it, I realise this sense of loss is entirely relevant to my current project. When I made Lifeline at 25, I choreographed a straight line of a life. Its simplicity was part of it – birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, old age, death. At nearly 50 I am keenly aware that life is very rarely straight. That it takes all manner of twists and turns. That it can be suddenly curtailed. I want to make a version of Lifeline that includes this, or at least gestures towards it. All the lives. All the losses. All the shoes. The shapes. The feet. Those that fit and those that don’t. I want to make a project that is a ball, to which you can come, whatever your life looks like, whatever frock you are wearing, in high heels or barefooted, to do whatever kind of dance you wish.  

Today then, when I summon up my fairy godmother, she tells me this:

Not that I can go to the ball. 

But to notice the ball I am already at – dressed in my sense of loss.

Don’t dismiss this design.

Sometimes grief is the most precious thing you have.

Go below deck. Sit in the cellar.

Hide down there for a time. 

Then, perhaps, turn around. Go back the way you came.


And my/ her questions for you? 

Here they are:

What is the invite you have issued? What is the ball you are already holding?

And if the way ‘onwards’ were to include everything, what resources would you have? What materials, with which to make an outfit, or a fitting pair of shoes? 

Artwork by Xavier Singer-Kingsmith


  1. Emily Rainbow Davis

    Oh my goodness. Onwards! What a beautiful story! Thank you for that. I love the image of everyone scurrying below deck and just all pretending together that they’re continuing on.
    And I’m so sorry the Arts Council made such a terrible mistake and didn’t fund you. I hope someone comes to their senses and hands over £12000 immediately.
    A few years ago, I had a big disappointment (maybe it was even a series of disappointments, now that I think about it) and I ended up thinking of it as a Hope Hangover. I wrote a blog about it and then it became a song. (It’s one of my patrons’ favorite podcast episode.) It’s rough! Like, the crash is so bone shaking. I hope you are back up and dancing at a ball again very soon.

  2. Berrie

    What a revelation, that ‘Onwards’ story. I will treasure it.
    Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, they say…Well, you know how much children love changing the words to those traditional rhymes. Funnily enough, my 4 year old daughter and I have changed the words for ‘row, row, row your boat gently (or roughly, or angrily, or madly…) up the stream’ recently and with the cardboard box that we’ve been using as our kitchen boat for years we’ve been exploring what going against the current feels like, doing it gently or with all the force that we can muster, how to negotiate the riptides ( my son does the (ACE) riptide)…We’ve also noticed how the landscape looks different after you’ve turned the boat. It’s definitely not the same journey.
    Well, no pressure but I really hope to see you perform as an aerialist again soon, partly because years ago I was in a show that involved 2 aerialists working with silk fabric and I was constantly mesmerized by them. I don’t remember what I was singing at all but I have very strong images of them in action, of their poetry. It was very special and I crave to see what the ages of life told on on/with/from…a rope could be like.


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