Category Archives: Creative Seasons

Reflections on a Weekend

The harbour and yacht marina at Warsash, on the Hamble River, Hampshire, near where I grew up.

The harbour and yacht marina at Warsash, on the Hamble River, Hampshire, near where I grew up.

I’m in a time of endings.

I spent the weekend with my mother.  She’s 84 years old, and not very well.   She’s always been so robust, ploughing through life like an entire panzer division, armoured and indestructable.  And now she’s frail and shaky on her feet.  Still going, don’t get me wrong, but undoubtedly fading.  The little child inside of me is frightened and confused, terrified at the prospect that the day is now not far off when Mummy won’t be there anymore.

The weekend was characterised by extreme weather, wild winds and a huge storm blowing in from the Atlantic on Friday night.  I lay in bed, listening to the gale roaring in the pines and the waves crashing on the beach up the road.  A tarpaulin was flapping mournfully on the house next door, which is being renovated.  Out in the Solent, a few miles away and easily seen from the shore, the massive Hoegh Osaka container ship was heeled over precariously on her side while tugs battled to keep her afloat overnight.

My writing life feels just as precariously balanced and embattled as that metal leviathon marooned in the major shipping lane.  The squalls that pulsed through during the weekend in close succession, and even my mother’s ill health, all feel symbolic of my life right now.  My writer’s group seems to be petering out after more than a decade, and the retreat we will go on together at the end of this month seems likely to be the last.

It is a time of endings.

Yet, in the terracotta tubs outside my mother’s front door, green shoots are appearing, the tops of bulbs – hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, even tulips.  Dotted through almost every garden in the street, spectacular orange-pink camelias are in full bloom.  The maritime climate suits them.  They show bright faces of gorgeous colour even in the depths of winter.  Fresh shoots of hope.

Without endings, we cannot have new beginnings.

Just as the dying off of exhausted foliage in autumn and the long winter months of dormancy and recuperation make way for the voluptuous gush of spring, so the phases of our lives must pass away, so that new joys, opprtunities and inspirations can take their place.

Today, I don’t know what I’m doing with my writing.  But I continue to write.  I feel hopeful.  And while I wait for the right story to pop its first green shoots through the earth, I will put what I have into this blog, into my diary, into notebooking, in preparation.  I will hope.  But I will also be ready when that green shoot comes.

Today I will honour the endings I know are coming.  Change is a part of life, and I will sit with the feelings of sadness that sometimes come with it.

But I will also plant up the amaryillis and paperwhite bulbs I bought the other day, and set them on the windowsill to remind me that out of compost, out of the remains of what is no longer living, comes indescribable beauty.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

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There’s Been a Paradigm Shift

Exploring my soul, with the help of Danielle LaPorte's 'The Desire Map'

Exploring my soul, with the help of Danielle LaPorte’s ‘The Desire Map’

It’s one of Husband’s ‘I’m an academic’ jokes:

I’m sorry, Nigel, but while you were out, there was a paradigm shift, and (insert surreal Pythonesque situation or ironic or satirical statement here, e.g. … and now people are actually being paid for all the extra work they do.)

A paradigm, in case you aren’t an academic, which I’m not, is a theoretical structure that helps scholars understand a particular set of data. A paradigm shift is when that structure changes.

I’m sorry, Nigel, but while you were out, there was a paradigm shift, and now the planet revolves around the Sun, and not you.

Yeah, its not really that funny if you aren’t an academic.

But there has been a paradigm shift, at least in this house.

I was originally going to call this post ‘Why I’ve Shelved Writing For A While’.

As I’ve been saying (probably ad nauseam) my word for 2015 is EASE. Part of EASE is caring for myself. Not putting pressure on myself. Letting go of all those SHOULDs and OUGHTs that I use to beat myself up because I’m so convinced I’m not enough. Not good enough. Not successful enough. Not ambitious enough. Not a good enough writer. Not a good enough housekeeper. Not a good enough person.

Over the holidays, I got to thinking about all the goals I’d set myself in the last few years. You know, all those deadlines that went whooshing by unheeded (Thank you, Douglas Adams, for that wonderful quote.)

They were all career goals.

Now let me add something important here. I reached puberty at a time when the women’s movement had reached its most rabid. Girls my age were expected to be able to ‘have it all’. We were given that expectation. We were reared to have dazzling careers. We still had the societal expectation that we must have a family too. We were on the rocket-ship to the top (no one had told us there would be a glass ceiling when we got there at this point, of course.) That is quite a lot of expectation to put on a kid when she’s 14 and doesn’t know what she wants to be today, let alone when she grows up. Plus I’d been told I would go to University from the age of 7. That’s even more weight to carry.

But because I’m a good girl, I set about fulfilling other people’s expectations.

I went to University and got a degree and then a Masters. I got a good job in academia. I talked about doing a PhD and had ambitions of being a professor one day. I met a lovely man and got married. I left my job and planned to go free-lance. When that didn’t happen, I took a job in the Not-For Profit sector, and decided that was going to be my big career: managing charities.

Then ME/CFS happened.

All around me, my peers were excelling, joining the professions, marrying gorgeous successful men, having families, building their own businesses and shining careers, earning lots of money and having lots of success.

Okay, I thought, I’ll be a writer. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do anyway, so I’ll be a success at that. Because I had to keep up. Because I’m a good girl. Because everyone expects me to excel.

Seventeen years later, the seven novels I have written have not been published by a conventional publisher, which means that by most of the population’s standards, I am not a real writer. I’ve published 54 stories online, many thousands of words, which have been well-received. But those don’t seem to count because they are fanfics, not proper fiction.

The paradigm of ‘have it all’ success is not working for me.

So I have decided to bin it, along with all those goal-setting handbooks that proliferate on the interweb at this time of year.

What would happen if I just concentrated on doing what made me feel happy?

(That sentence will put a lot of people’s backs up because for some reason we think you have to suffer to be happy/good/successful – thank you, organised religion.)

What would happen if I just concentrated on doing what made me feel well?

What would happen if I viewed myself as good enough?

So I am rethinking my writing. The way I write. What I write. I am trying to subtract what I perceive as other people’s expectations. I am asking myself:

What would I write if it was just for me and no one else?

Throwing out the expectations of others when they are the sole motivators for how you have lived your life and measured your ‘success’ for the last 47 years is not an easy or quick task. I have no idea of its even possible. But I certainly mean to try.

I’m in a time of deep contemplation. Exploration. Working out how I want to feel. What I want to be. What I want to do. What I want to stand up for. What I believe. What I love. What makes me happy. What I want to say. How I want to say it.

(Hang on, is this the adolescence/puberty thing I missed the first time around because I was being a good girl?)

Once I know, really know, I’m going to concentrate on those things. The things that make me happy. And if success by society’s definition happens, then so be it. If it doesn’t I’ll still be happy. Which sounds like success to me.

So watch this space. It will be interesting to see what new words and stories come out of it.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

 

 

Deep Breath

The view from my bedroom window.

The view from my bedroom window.

Samhain is past, and we are well into the Mourning Moon, a time of releasing the old, and accepting our own power. Here in rural South Norfolk, we’ve had soggy and unseasonably mild weather, which has lately meant long days of grey skies and continual downpours. The last of the trees to shed their leaves, the oaks, have begun their brown weeping. The landscape is smudged khaki and brown and yellow, the edges blurred by autumn mists.
A fortnight has passed since my last post, a space during which I have been trying to recover a little of my strength, and some of my thinking capacity. The first week was one of complete surrender. After it, I felt more rested than I had in a whole year, I think.
The second was more tense, punctuated by a day-long dash to Oxford and back, to take the elders to the doctors for important assessment and treatment. Seven hours in a car, split in half by four hours of pushing a wheelchair and repeating myself every ten minutes, was enough to exhaust almost all the good will my body and I had built up between us. Since then I have been lost in a hormonal, anxiety-ridden mist, feeling OUGHTS and SHOULDS mounting up like an impending avalanche over my head. Add to that the impending doom of the Christmas season, and life-changing news from several friends, and I’m not sure I’ve come out of this much recharged.
Let’s just say, this has been a time of reassessment and reflection.
While I have come a long way in my year of ‘DARE’, I’m not sure that I can face another action word year. After ‘REVOLUTIONARY’ (2013) and ‘DARE’ (2014), I’ve attracted way too much change into my life for comfort, and I think I need a rest, thank you, Mrs Universe. I’ve decided that next year, I need a gentler world to ease my way. ‘BALANCE’ or ‘NURTURE’, perhaps. Or even just ‘EASE’. A reminder to be kinder with myself, something that, like most women, I find difficult to allow myself to do.
Tectonic shifts are happening in my creative life too. The relief I felt at giving myself a rest from blogging caused a delicious upsurge in other creative outlets. I immediately went off and made the back door curtain I’d been meaning to sew for the last six years. I’ve been hand-quilting a Christmas stocking for my guide-daughter too, which is enormously satisfying. I hope I manage to get it finished in time. Being able to sew again feels fantastic, although I had a few scary moments trying to remember how to thread my sewing machine!
I’ve decided I need to be using my journaling practise in a much more systematic way, too. I want to try a lot more guided journaling, by which I mean journaling from prompts rather than the simple stream-of-consciousness method I have always used. I’m feeling the need for more deep self-exploration, and I want to use my creativity as an integral part of the work I do with my Gestalt counsellor on a weekly basis to effect this.
I haven’t stopped writing, in the meantime, even though I haven’t been blogging. I’ve got two big fanfics on the go at the moment, great sprawling things that seem to be growing every time I look at them. My head is full of scenes stored up to be written out. That’s not a brilliant way of writing, especially when my head is so blurry. The other day, I sat down to write a scene, only to realise that of the two emotional points I wanted the characters to thrash out, I could only remember one.
A bit not good.
The result was some serious re-evaluation of my notebooking habits, which I still haven’t resolved, but hope to share with you soon.
As well as putting some conscious intention into my reading habits, I’ve been contemplating a new original writing project too. In the wake of the In/Famous Engagement, and the storm that followed it, I came to the conclusion that I needed to get away from fanfiction. And yes, I know I’ve been saying this for ages, but sometimes it takes a big event to push us to make real changes. So much is shifting in my life right now, and I want to move on to something fresh. I don’t think I’m going to be able to give up writing fanfics, nor do I honestly want to, but there is an idea knocking at my door, scratching at the wood like the ghost of Cathy in ‘Wuthering Heights’, and it won’t go away. As I used to say to my school friends:

‘I think I’ve got a story coming on’.

And finally, I’ve got some ideas for non-fiction that I want to have a go at. I think the phrase is ‘watch this space’.
Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me through this break, and throughout this bumpy year. While I know it is only going to get bumpier for a while, I’m grateful that you are with me, listening to my ramblings. It is good to know I’m not shouting into the unresponsive darkness.
Happy creating,
EF

Be Open. Don’t Try So Hard.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

Lately, I keep coming back to the same thought:

Be present.  Turn Up.  Be still and open.  Don’t try so hard.

I was watching Jamie Ridler’s morning vlog, in which she talked about how people strive so hard to find their Life Purpose.  We make such a BIG DEAL out of it.

What if we just let it happen?

I’m not saying you can just expect your art to pop up out of nowhere.  You have to be present, make yourself ready.

You do your core practises.  Your morning pages.  Your writing exercises. Your artist dates.  Your scales or your practise sketches.  Your barre exercises.  You make sure that you are ready when the inspiration comes.

When I used to read about writers who sat down at their desks in the morning and stayed there for an alotted number of hours, regardless of whether the work came or not, I used to think they were mad.  It seems like working too hard. It seems like self-punishment.

Maybe you don’t just have to sit at your desk.

Maybe you can cultivate a mindset of being open.  Where ever you are, and whatever you are doing.

Maybe we are all trying too hard.

Forcing it just doesn’t work.  Every writer who has ever been blocked knows that.  But if you keep up the practises, the ideas come.  They come because your mind is constantly in a place where it is curious and open, and like a lamp in the darkness, it attracts the fluttering moths of inspiration.

So keep her steady as she goes.  Turn up for your daily creative habits.  Relax into them, and don’t panic.

The work will come.

Happy Creating,

EF

The Folly of Trying

My counsellor told me a story:

A man was asked at a conference to come up onto the stage, where the speaker had set a single chair in the centre.

‘Try to pick up the chair ,’ the speaker said.

The man picked up the chair.

‘No, you’re not getting it,’ the speaker said.  ‘Try to pick up the chair.’

The man picked up the chair again.

‘No, you’re still not getting it.  TRY to pick up the chair.’

The man put his hands on the chair and then, in a flash of inspiration, he understood.

Because TRYING to pick up the chair is not the same as picking up the chair.

If you TRY, you never actually achieve the action.  You just TRY.

Or, as the venerable Yoda said, in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’:

Try not.  Do.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

(I had that on my door at college.  I don’t think I understood it then.  Now I do, I really, really do.)

This wisdom has really been banging on my door today, as I struggle with a cold, coming on the back of a bad spell of IBS and ME/CFS.  I am busy TRYING.  Trying to get better.  Trying to feel well. Trying to cope with the housework. Trying to write.

Sometimes you have to recognise the wisdom of ‘Do or Do Not.’

Lately, I worry that this blog has become more about illness and less about creativity.  More about my TRYING experience.  But I think it really is an important lesson to learn for creative people.  We push ourselves and push ourselves, driven by expectations and perfectionism and Gods-know what demons we have inside us, deftly planted there, no doubt, by our loving parents. We dance the dance of the OUGHT-hogs.  The SHOULDS.  We are so busy forcing meaning into our lives as creatives, as Eric Maisel ill-advised (IMHO), that we pulverise our souls and our bodies into gibbering wrecks, terrorised by all the goals we fail to achieve and the standards we are incapable to meeting.  Books about how to write invariably advise the student that they have to write every day, no matter what.  I don’t think thats healthy or, frankly, practical.  Of course, it helps if you can.  A lot.  But seriously, who can write when their child has been up all night vomiting, or they have just received a redundancy notice?

Sometimes you have to treat yourself with loving kindness.  Sometimes you have to lower your expectations, and maybe even give in to the avalanche that Life has dumped on your head.  I have been talking to several friends who are all struggling with ill health this week, recovering from cancer treatment or at the end of a difficult pregnancy, or even in bereavement, and I truly believe that this is something all of us needed to hear.

Sometimes you are allowed to stop trying.

Sometimes its good to stop trying.

And then, when you have given yourself a break, a rest, a time of wound-licking, you can get up and go and do what it is you need to do.

MInd you, I have probably just proved myself wrong by writing this blog post, because I’ve spent the last six hours lying in bed groaning, absolutely convinced that I couldn’t write anything today.  So there you go.  Take from that what you will.  Just promise me something?

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Life – A Work in Progress

Saxlingham Summer Blues:  Partially finished, hand stitched quilt made by me.  Each square is 4x4cm.

Saxlingham Summer Blues: Partially finished, hand stitched quilt made by me. Each square is 4x4cm.

One weekend, I found myself doing some major revisiting.  Old issues, old passions.  Let me explain:

I was having a clear out, and I opened a box to find a large stash of fat quarters.  Patchwork and quilting enthusiasts amongst you will know what I’m talking about.  Fabric shops sell specialist, high quality cotton patchwork fabrics in small amounts, as well as by the metre – by the quarter yard or metre, in fact, or, in the trade, ‘fat quarters’. (Don’t ask me why ‘fat’ ones, I have no idea.)  They are much cheaper and allow you to build up a big selection of colours and designs for patchwork projects with a lower investment, because you usually need fairly small quantities for such projects.  Every quilter will have such a treasured stash.

I haven’t done any patchwork in quite a large number of years, and I don’t see myself doing any again for a while, if at all, so I decided to hand my stash on to someone who would use it.  Going through the wads of cloth reminded me of the time in my life when quilting was my main creative outlet, of the colours and patterns I was into then, of William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, of earthy reds and browns, and sage greens.

I’m a different person now.

I’m all grey and blue and white and Modernism these days.

It is not that these old perferences have dated.  Its just that I have moved on.

Later that same weekend, I found myself discussing an old trauma with dear friends, something that happened long ago, but that is an underlying influence on my life even now.  I have processed so much of the pain and damage of it that it has become part of the landscape of my life, as much as the tree outside my gate, and like that tree, I acknowledge its structuring presence, but I rather take it for granted, and essentially ignore it unless it specifically comes up.

And when it came up, it raised with it new issues.  I realised I would have to revisit my past, and look at old hurts with new eyes.  As I do so, I realise that I am a different person now, that I have come a long way.  On our journey through life, we bump up against some issues repeatedly, and its easy to get frustrated when this happens over and over again.

Life is not a circle

Bad, hand drawn graphic of how I’m trying to explain this…

Our lives are not circles in which we come up against the same old stuff every time.  Each time we encounter them, we are further along in our healing process.  Life is like a spiral.  Each time we encounter our pain, we can see it through a new perspective.  It re-emerges for a reason, because more healing is needed, more work must be done.

Another bad, hand drawn graphic to illustrate how we encounter triggers as a spiral on our life journey

Another bad, hand drawn graphic to illustrate how we encounter triggers as a spiral on our life journey

It took me a long time to understand that I was not a bad person because my tastes changed over time.  There is nothing wrong with leaving old interests behind and developing new ones.

Going back over old hurts doesn’t make me a bad person either.  When there are new things I need to explore about them, it is okay to do that.  Writing helps.  I am now able to engage with my old wounds through my writing.  Last time I did so, the result was one of my most popular stories, ‘The Case of the Cuddle’.  Now I find myself finally working with commitment on its long-anticipated sequel.

I wasn’t ready to do it before.  I did not have the impetus.  Now I need to speak the truth that its plot entails.  If I cannot do it in my own life, then I can do it through my story worlds.  I thought I had left the ‘CuddleVerse’ irrevocably behind.  I thought I was healed.  Now I understand, that healing, just like creativity, is a process.

I can’t tell you when the final installment will be ready to read.  I can’t even tell you if it is the final installment.  I may still have more healing to do.  Like the half-finished patchwork in the picture above, it has sat in a digital drawer for two years, waiting for me to be ready to handle it.

Some things we leave behind, and some things we need to come back to, time and again.

And that is part of Life – The Process.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Permission

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

You know what they say about what you should do if you fall into quicksand:

Don’t struggle.

I wrote the other day about my fear of writers block, and it definitely struck a chord.  It seems so many of us are struggling to keep going, as if we are still trying to run even though we have one foot nailed to the floor.  Trying, trying, trying.  We give ourselves such a hard time.  We beat ourselves up because we aren’t good enough.

My dear friend Michelle, who can always see what I need better than I can, said to me:  ‘I know you are frustrated because you aren’t getting better as fast as you want to, or expected to.  But maybe you aren’t better because you haven’t waited long enough.

In other words, give yourself a break!

The thing that keeps coming up for me when I think about this issue is:

COMPASSION

We need to have compassion for ourselves.  We need to give ourselves time.  One thing I know:  if you stop struggling, you stop sinking.  If you stop trying so hard, things come so much more easily.

Michelle gave me permission to stop trying to be well.  She sent me home to bed.  I slept better that afternoon than I had in months.  Just because I wasn’t trying to feel better.  I was simply letting my body have what it needed. No striving.  No struggling.

I think we get writers block because  we are so busy striving.  We don’t give ourselves compassion.  Or permission.

Permission to write crappy first drafts.

Or crappy sentences.

Or nothing at all.

Everything has to be perfect first time.  And it isn’t.  Because we are human.

Of course, what I said in my last post still stands.  Write anything, if its only a shopping list.  It will help.  But also, give yourself a break.  Be gentle and tender with your inner creative.  Release the stress, let go of the striving.  Remember you are doing this because you enjoy it.  And if you aren’t enjoying it, why are you doing it?

As if by magic, two blog posts I saw this morning chimed with what I have been thinking about this.

Jamie Ridler talks about bringing the tenderness and vulnerability of where you are to your creative work, and also about ways to help yourself fit creative activities in to your busy life.

Jennifer Louden, who is such a wise soul when it comes to compassion for oneself, talks to my soul and yours about letting go of perfection.

I hope that if you are struggling with a creative block of any kind, that you will be able to show yourself compassion.  Be kind.  You are doing the best you can.  And if you stop trying to write the greatest novel of the 21st century, and start writing a paragraph about your dog’s snoring, maybe it will come more easily.

Remember, baby steps.

Happy Creating,

EF