Category Archives: Creative Seasons

The Friday Review No. 3: Processing

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It’s the last day of March, and I’m home after a fortnight of running around like a headless chicken, attending to family duties.  Its been one long, continuous To Do list.

Honestly, I’m knackered.  Even if I didn’t have ME/CFS, I’d be wrecked.

The problem is that there has been so much mental processing, so many emotions, that my mind feels full of fog.  I can’t think straight.  In fact, I can’t think at all.  I feel like I need to be still, wrapped in silence, on my own for at least a week, to get my head around what just happened.

Sometimes, life takes over, and then drops you like a stone, and it takes a while to get back into the groove of who you are and where you want to go.  I have come home to my life of writing and blogging and drawing and being me, and I feel like I have lost the connection with that life.  I feel like an alien to myself.  But all I need is time.

Often in the creative life, we try to force things.  Something monumental happens, the illness or death of a loved one, a new baby, our own ill health, moving house or job, anything that makes for a big upheaval.  And we try to pretend it hasn’t happened, that we can just carry on.

Sometimes, we can.  Sometimes keeping writing or drawing or making music is the thing that anchors us through the storm.

There are also times when we need to sit down and just be.  Times when it is important to assimilate what has just happened.  Times to lay down the pen or the plectrum and give ourselves time.  Time to let this new reality sink in.  And caring for your creativity, and yourself, depends on the skill of knowing which to do.  Today, my gut is telling me to rest and process.  And I am listening.

So I’m giving myself time, and not forcing it.

I had my session with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, yesterday, and it was great.  So much to think about.  I’ve kept up my writing practice sessions, twice a week, just as I promised myself, and Heidi, and you, dear reader, throughout my travels, which I’m very proud of.  And that felt good.  And I’ve been reading – I finished ‘The Name of the Rose’ while I was away, and thought a bit about that.  So progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I know I need to wait till my brain comes back to normal service before I launch into more writing.

I have learnt one important thing this fortnight, though.  It is one I always have to keep re-learning.  (Duh.)  And it is this:

I need to write in my journal.  Every day.  Otherwise I don’t know who I am.

I sat down with my journal last night for the first time in two weeks, and wrote, and somewhere amongst the pages and the scribbled blue shapes of the letters, I found myself again.  Over and over, I neglect to write through difficult times, and then when I come back to it, I realise how much it would have helped me to cope, if only I’d made a priority of it, if only I’d made time.  That can be hard to do when you are at the beck and call of another, especially if its a family member who is sick and needs you, and as a result does not recognise any boundaries and expects you to be on call 24 hours a day.  Its very hard, especially if you are a woman, to set aside half an hour come what may, to be alone with your diary every day.  But if that is the only way to keep your sanity, then it must be done.

And that has been this week’s important lesson for me, I think.  That journaling is the key to my creative practice.  And my sanity.  And probably my identity too.  And it must be sacrosanct.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, must get in the way of my journaling time.  And that includes me!

With that, dear readers, I will leave you, and go and have a soak in the bath with my paralysed, fog-filled brain, and hope it comes back to life soon.

In the meantime, happy creating,

EF

 

 

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Witness my Journey

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A New Adventure

This is my plan to begin again.

Two years of creative drought are over, and though there are still challenges in my personal life which could prove equally difficult, I have decided I can’t allow myself to be so completely crushed next time around.

So I’m on a journey.

One step at a time, baby steps. Reminding myself.  Beginning again.

Its actually quite hard when you have been effectively out of the creative loop for so long, and there is no expecting to pick up exactly where you left off.  My typing fingers are rusty, my imagnation has stalled, my physical strength is unreliable, and I am far too likely to lapse into ranting at the mirror in the bathroom in the mornings, and then being in such a bad mood that I fail to find any corner for creativity the rest of the day.

Its time to inch into new habits, little actions that mount up, tiny movements that ease me into a new frame of mind.

I’m on a journey, and I’d like to invite you along with me.

I don’t know how its going to turn out, and if I’m going to get anywhere, or if I’ll end up back at square one, but I hope that you and I can both learn from the experience.  So I’d like to set out for you the little steps I am taking to ease myself back into writing again.

Firstly, I’ve made a vow to read more.  Yeah, I know, this from the woman who can’t walk past a bookskshop or a library.  This from a woman who has permanent damage to her shoulder from lugging around a handbag full of books, just in case she finds herself in a queue without some way to entertain herself.

I did a bit of analysis after Christmas, and realised that the majority of books I read last year were non-fiction.  That, or Terry Pratchett books I’d read before that I knew would comfort and distract me through admitedly difficult times.  I remembered the days when I was taking my Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, days when I consumed really good writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Helen Dunmore and others.  I realised I couldn’t remember when I’d last read a new work of fiction.

So my new New Year’s intention was to read.  Widely.  Novels, yes.  A bit of History and, obviously, non-fiction.  To remind myself what good writing is.  And so far I am doing quite well, helped by the fact that we’ve been clearing out my late mother-in-law’s sustantial book stash, from which I have benefitted greatly.  I had quite a haul of books for Christmas too, which I’m looking forward to devouring.  The important thing to note is that I am excited about the idea of reading fiction again, which I haven’t been for a long time.  Which is a good sign.

Secondly, I’m pursuing a writing practice.

I read Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful book, ‘The True Secret of Writing’ at the end of last year and I was blown away by it.  I started doing timed writing practices in the manner she suggests.  Pen to paper. Write whatever comes.  Its heaven.

Thirdly, coaching.  Yes, you heard me right.  My dear friend, the poet, Heidi Williamson, is also a writing coach, and kindly agreed to take me on as a client.  Our first session was mind-expanding.  I’ll write more about this experience in future, but let me tell you, I’m sold.

I’d been wrestling with getting out of my own way to do writing practice, and Heidi suggested I make a deal with myself to do two sessions a week, on the days best suited to my schedule, which for me is Monday and Thursday.  So far, I have yet to default.  Which is unheard-of for me. I do it on other days too, which feels like earning huge brownie points.  Its only a little thing, twenty minutes at most, but it feels like a monumental change.  And I’m keeping a promise to myself, which is adding to my confidence.

Fourthly, not pushing.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but Goldberg suggests that you need to do writing practice for at least a year before you have even begun to accumulate enough material to track what it is you would like to write about in a sustained way, such as a novel.  So I don’t really have a particular project.  I’m just writing.  I’m being gentle with myself, because goals tend to freak me out and stop me writing.  There is plenty of time for them later on, when I’m ready anyway.

The whole point of not pushing is to enjoy myself.  I’m not going to write if it isn’t fun.  So why make it hard.  I want to enjoy it.

No doubt I will add to this routine in future, but this is my core plan to gentle myself back into creating.  I read somewhere recently that ‘Creativity is the expression of the Soul.’  My soul has taken quite a battering in the last two years, so I need to nurse it gently back to health with love and sploshy paints, and definitely no strict rules.

Finally, I mean to document my journey here on this blog, which has been sadly neglected of late. I want to tell you how I get on.  A bit of accountability, yes, but also a project to get me blogging again.

So I hope you will join me on my trip to Creativity,

with love,

EF

Pivot Points

Let me tell you about the Marie Antoinette watch.

Its said to be the greatest watch ever made.

One day in 1783, an admirer of the French queen arrived at the workshop of Adam-Louis Breguet, the greatest watchmaker in Paris.  He wanted the perfect watch for the perfect woman.  His commission was to be without bounds.  Breguet was to pour everything he knew into making the most complex, and most beautiful timepiece possible.  Money was no object.

The watch became Breguet’s obsession.  Even after the French monarchy fell, Marie Antoinette was executed, and the lucrative business he had built from the commissions of the aristrocracy was in ruins, Breguet continued to craft his masterpiece.  Ultimately, it took forty years to complete, and had to be finished by Breguet’s son, four years after the master himself died.

Known officially as the Breguet No. 160 Grand Complication, the watch contained every function known at that time – Breguet even invented a few new ones.  It was crafted in precious metals and gems.  Breguet used sapphire for all the mechanical pivot points in the clockwork, in order reduce friction.

And its these sapphire pivot points that fascinate me.

Because I’m at a pivot point right now.

You will have noticed in recent months that this blog has become fairly, if not completely, dormant.  Life has, as it were, taken over.  There was no space to write.  No space in my life.  No space in my head.

Then, in September, on my birthday ironically, my mother-in-law died.  Her dementia had been filling up all the space in my brain and in my life.  Since she has been gone, I’ve begun to recollect not only who I am, but also all the activities that had been shelved and forgotten in order to look after her.  So many things I wanted in my life had fallen away, out of necessity.  And so many things now seemed irrelevant.

In the last few months, I know that I have changed not only profoundly but also irrevocably.  So much more has been happening than simply looking after my ailing elderly relative – things which are someone else’s story to tell.  And yet they, too, have had a hand in my transformation.  My life has been like a pack of cards, being shuffled by the Hand of (insert your favourite deity/scientific motivator here).

The day my mother-in-law died was a beautiful day.  The sun shone.  The sky was a perfect sapphire blue.  I stood outside the hospital foyer with a soft, warm wind on my face, and knew that I had reached one of Breguet’s pivots.  Wasn’t the sky exactly the right blue, after all?  And does not sapphire reduce friction?

The friction of life with Alzheimers is gone.  The cards that were thrown up into the air have fallen back down in a new order.  The things that seemed important then are irrelevant now, and vice versa.

Now the funeral is over, now the first shock of grief has passed, I find all I want to do is write.  I want to write something profound.  I want to write because I have changed.  I want to write something real.  Something hard.  Something pivotal.  My own sapphire pivot point.  So I am writing.  By hand in my journal.  In notebooks, longhand.  Using Natalie Goldberg’s wisdom as my map, I am steadily shuffling my way towards the light.

I hope I am making my own ‘Grand Complication’, out of the precious metals and gems of my own life.  I hope you will join me on my journey.  And I hope it won’t take me the forty years it took Breguet!

Happy Creating,

EF

The Creative Void

sussex churchWhen she said those words, I actually felt the psychological shrug inside.

Oh yeah, I know this part, this is where we talk about the bit in between creative projects, the creative drought, the bit where I am waiting for the next idea to grab me. 

(And yes, I definitely am in that place.)

But that was not what she was talking about.

She was talking about the Creative Void.  The place where new things begin.  The space that is needed for seeds to root and grow.

She was talking about the fact that, in giving myself this year of EASE, this space to get myself well and let go of my OUGHTs and SHOULDs, I have created a void.

My job is to sit here and hold this space.

My job is to allow the Universe to fill it.

Ooo, I’m not very good at that.  I’m no good at the whole sitting thing.  The whole ‘Let go and let God’ stuff.  I don’t think, as human beings, we are.  We are scared so we need to control the world, our lives, the shapes on the page.

However, we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS, as the old cliche goes.  The clue is in the second word.

I’ve learnt over the years how to be in the space between creative projects.  I know how to do the Creative Void in the creative, work, sense.

Now I need to learn how to do it in the emotional, physical sense.

Two sorts of creativity.  Who knew?  (Or are they really?)

If you are in the Creative Void, or the Space Between, or anything that resembles it, you might find this post from Jennifer Louden comforting.  I did.

Happy creating,

EF

Post Number 200!

Flow at Ardnave, Islay.I can’t quite believe I have written two hundred blog posts for this site since I started it on 18th April 2013!  Thats quite a lot of information to write down, and I’m fairly proud of myself for managing it.  And I am grateful to everyone who has read, supported, commented and subscribed.  Thank you so much!

That said, you will have noticed that posts have been a bit scarce lately.  Please don’t think I have forgotten you. Nor have I run out of enthusiasm for blogging.  I am determined this isn’t going to be one of those blogs that just stops, mid-conversation, and hangs there, never to be continued.  I don’t want that.  Besides, the work of creativity never ends, and neither does learning about it.

Nevertheless, Post Number 200 feels like a turning point.

I dont really know where I am going with this blog, any more than I know where I am going with my life.  I’m always talking about seismic shifts going on in the background, I know.  That’s the kind of life I like to live – one in which I am constantly in a process of of Becoming.  But right now, well, I feel as if I am changing right down to my very DNA.

Let me explain.

At the start of the year, I decided to take part in Sas Petherick and Meghan Genge’s Heart and Hearth Circle, and just after that, something extraordinary happened.  I decided to sit down and do a Goddess Card reading, as I often do.

The card I pulled that day was Kali.

(Cue meltdown.)

Kali is described by Juni Parkhurst in the book which accompanies the pack as follows:

“Kali is black, full-breasted and bloodthirsty, and dances on the bodies of her enemies.  She is alive with power.  She is creator and destroyer.  She is not a goddess to mess with.”

No, indeed.  Kali frankly terrifies me. Parkhurst goes on:

“Drawing this card puts you on notice that major changes are taking place.  Structures around you may crumble and fall, leaving you temporarily lost.  Remember, however, that destruction must sometimes come before creation.  The old, tired, redundant parts of your life must fall away in order to create space for the new and vibrant life that is coming…”

No shit, Sherlock!  Since Kali appeared on my desk that day, its been one darn thing after another.  My mother was taken very ill in January, and I travelled across the country to look after her and help coordinate her treatment (she’s lots better now, thank goodness!).  Shortly after that, Husband was diagnosed suddenly with diabetes, which necessitated a stay in hospital, and a major shift in lifestyle and mindset for us both.  Then I had a bout of profound anxiety and depression, followed by a heart problem (luckily that seems benign!).  And for the last three weeks I have been prostrate with some kind of virus that has affected my throat and reignited my ME symptoms, leaving me utterly exhausted, and unable to mentally process.  Throw in elders with dementia to care for, and constant travelling, and its been a very tough five months.

All this has resulted in some very profound soul-searching, and a readjustment of everything I previously deemed important. In the face of the (admittedly distant) spectre of losing my dear other half, so much that seemed crucial to existence now appears totally and laughably irrelevant.  While he continues to respond well to treatment, I am all too aware that he is a similar age to that at which my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a sobering thought.

All this is a lot to process, and when one’s brain power is reduced by illness, there isn’t a lot of juice left over for anything else.  The result has been what I would describe as something of a story drought.  Not writer’s block.  I’m perfectly capable of writing.  But I’m finding that no new ideas are being delivered in the usual way.  I’m a person who is used to fresh stories popping into my head on a daily basis.  I’m never short of new ideas.  Except now I am.  So this is something of a surprise.  I am determined not to be phased by it.  After all, its understandable given what I’ve been in the midst of during the last few months.  I’m in subsistence mode.  Life is just sucking up all my neurons at the moment in order to arrange basic survival.  There’s nothing left for cave paintings at this point!

I suppose I must have invited Cosmic Intervention into my life on a grand scale by opting for the Heart and Hearth Circle, and signalling that I was ready to get ‘spiritually naked’ as it were.  I’m not sure I realised what I was signing up for, but do we ever?  Life has changed beyond belief in the last five months, and so have I.  And I don’t know what is going to come out of it.

But it will be something really, really good.

So as we move into the next 200 posts together, I hope that you will stick with me through all these upheavals, this drought, and whatever comes out of it.  My brain is currently toying with new sewing, quilting and illustrating ideas.  I am keeping afloat by journalling and pursuing a version of Natalie Goldberg‘s writing practice.  And I will keep you posted as to what emerges, though my missives may be a little less regular than they have been for a while.  I know you understand, and I shall look forward to sharing this new life adventure with you in the coming months.

(And incidentally, I really, really recommend the Heart and Hearth Circle.  I’ve learnt so much, and Sas and Meghan are wise and wonderful.  And I’ve met such lovely kindred spirits too!)

Happy Creating, EF

Wonder Weeks

Bungay from the banks of the River Waveney

Bungay from the banks of the River Waveney, the perfect place to contemplate my own personal Wonder Week experience!

You see, I haven’t forgotten you!

Taking a bit of a blog break has been less of a necessity and more of ‘I only have so much energy and something has to fall off my todo list in order for me to survive’ thing.

Its not that my life has been event-free; more that it has been so event-packed that there has been no room to breathe.  Recent weeks have been so full of stuff – appointments, health problems, elder care, visitors, travelling, and aggravation – that there has been almost no space to remember who I am, let alone what I want to create.

One thing struck me this weekend, though, as I talked with my song-writer friend.  There are times in life when we have these emotional growth spurts, when life is difficult and challenging, and when all our energy has to go into dealing with whatever mountain we have to climb.  These are the times when we learn and grow.  They are not necessarily when we are in the right place to create the Great English Novel! (Or poem, or song lyric!)

I am reminded of friends who have become parents talking about their baby’s ‘wonder weeks’, those stages in development when an infant’s brain grows to allow it to gain new capacities to interract with its world.  These are often times when a child is grouchy, sleeping badly, and crying for no reason.  Get to the other end of a wonder week, and your baby has learnt to sit up unaided, or vocalise in a new way, and it was worth all the pain and sleepless nights.

As adults, I think we have wonder weeks too.  Its just sometimes we go for months or years without development, and then a dozen wonder weeks come along all at once, leaving us feeling like we have been hit by a steam roller.

If, like me, you are caught in a chain of adult wonder weeks, it’s worth noting that while your brain is preoccupied with making new neural pathways, and driving a bulldozer through old ones, it is unlikely to have any energy, space or interest in anything else.  Time to be kind to yourself.

I’ve had to accept that this is not a time in my life during which I am going to have the ability to concentrate on complicated activities.  I’ve given up trying to read fiction, watch drama or write anything complex.  I seem to be only able to cope with reading books about history (which feels strangely comforting), or wellbeing (which are directly relevant to my situation), or to watch TV documentaries.  I can’t even read blogs at the moment.  I just can’t take them in.

But that’s okay.

My brain is doing other stuff.  So I’m not trying to force it back onto the straight and narrow.  I’m trusting that it knows what its doing, and that eventually I will come out the other end with my pockets stuffed full of psychological doubloons from this unplanned diversion.  It may be an adventure I didn’t sign up for, but that’s how life sometimes is.

Don’t pile yourself up with SHOULDS.  The blogosphere is full of exortations to fulfil your Life Purpose, organise your house, build your dream business, learn Mandarin in a week – but if that week happens to be a grown-up wonder week for you, believe me, trying to learn Mandarin at that point in your life will be the emotional equivalent of trying to run a marathon when you are lashed to the Rack.  And just as pointless.

Give yourself a break.  Don’t live in SHOULDland.

Unfortunately, adult wonder weeks don’t arrive in calendar-friendly order like those for babies.  We never know when the Universe is going to clock us round the chops with the Frying-pan of Enlightenment, or fell us with what feels like a very back-handed ‘opportunity’ for growth.  But that is what they are – opportunities.  No matter how wretched they might feel.

Give yourself a break.  Be where you are.  Accept where you are. 

Stop fighting it.

Rather than try to soldier on when brain and body are apparently no longer willing to cooperate, it is far better to let them do their thing and hang up the whip for a while.  Preferably permanently.

Give yourself a Break.  Choose a new way. 

Choose kindness towards yourself.

In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted as to when I surface from my wonder weeks!

Happy Creating,

EF

Creative Recuperation

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

We just got back from a demanding time in Oxford, and after the difficult fortnight we have had, I find myself feeling emotionally as well as physically exhausted.  So when I found this post from Jamie Ridler this morning, I realised I had to make a concerted effort to have some healing time.

One of the hardest things to accept about our creativity is that it often comes and goes.  There are times of bounty, when the Muse is flowing and there are so many ideas coming into your head and out of your pen that you feel like you could get hysterical just trying to keep pace.

And there are the droughts.  The times when nothing new has come for months, and you feel like you may never paint or write or dance again.

One of the things that my ME/CFS has taught me, and continues to teach me, is to go with that flow.  There are times of the year when our bodies need downtime, and times when our tails are up and we are full of energy.  Any woman knows this from her menstrual cycle.

The trouble is that we live in a 24/7 culture that requires us to be ‘on’ seven days a week, twelve months a year, and our biology just hasn’t evolved sufficiently to keep up with that. (We’ve only had the lightbulb for a hundred years or so, remember?)  We simply can’t be  in action continually.  We aren’t machines.  We have to stop and rest.

Resisting that PUSHPUSHPUSH productivity mindset is a constant practise, but if you are intent on living a truly creative life, you need to take account of not only your own biorhythms, but also your creative rhythms.

It is time to be gentle with ourselves.

Because if we don’t make time to be gentle with ourselves, our bodies will remind us that we must in no uncertain terms – often with the red traffic light of major illness.

So this week, I am resolved not to make any particular demands on myself. I will be journalling, and watching some old films, eating nurturing food, and taking lots of naps.  Maybe I’ll even paint my toenails, which always cheers me up!  I am going to take it one day at a time and listen to what my body needs.  By doing that, I know my mojo will come back eventually.   I just need to give it some space.

Happy creating – or resting, whichever you need to do right now,

EF