Category Archives: Diaries

The Friday Review No. 1

go away bag

Dear Reader,

As promised in my last post, my intention is to update you on my progress in resuscitating my creativity on a weekly basis, and Friday seems as good a time as any.  So here we go.

Friday Review No 1:

Well, the week got off to an excellent start with the aforementioned post and recovery plan, followed by a day of frenzied ideas for blog posts.  I’ve sketched out 12 in total so far, so you’ve got lots of exciting content to look forward to.

And then the wheels fell off the waggon.

I received news of a not-unexpected but nevertheless devastating medical diagnosis for someone close to me.  It was hard to cope with all the emotions that came up as a result.

Instead of forcing myself to take action, I simply sat with those emotions, and felt them.  And slowly, slowly, the pain began to lift.  I know this is only the beginning of a diffcult and life-changing process, but I also know that my creative practice is not only going to help me get through this new phase, it is also going to feed into my future work.

I was worried my plan for creative recovery would be completely derailed before it had even properly started, but thankfully, that hasn’t happened.  I have kept my appointments with myself this week to do my writing practice, thoroughly enjoyed then, and even (imho) done some good work.  I have discovered some new blogs about writing, which I hope to share with you in future posts.  I have continued with my reading adventure, though Umberto Eco’s habit of dropping into Latin in ‘The Name of the Rose’ has proved something of a labour to me, since I don’t understand Latin.  But I am keeping on keeping on.  And thats the point.

This is what I learned:

How to journal when you need to get stuff out, but you just can’t face explaining.

Let me introduce you to your friend in extremis, the list.

Yes, dear reader, the facts are too horrible to cope with, but you know getting them on paper will a) get some of the poison outside your body, and b) begin the process of helping you to see not only some context, but also how to navigate your way through the battlefield with your sanity (or at least most of it) intact. This is the moment when you each for your pen and make a list.

Write down a list of what happened:

This happened.

and then this.

(I used bullet points.)  And what you remember:

I remember the paper on the desk when he told me.

The phone showed the duration of the call so far.

The consultant will do x,y,z.

I said.

He said.

She said.

Then I did this.  And this.

Then this person rang.

Just getting the facts down on the paper relieves you from having to remember them, or to explain them in future to your diary.  You don’t need to give any detail.  Just bald facts. You don’t need to write them out at length.  Just make notes.  And then let them go.

Now is not the time to analyse.  Just be with the feelings.  You can go back to your usual journal practice of writing at length when you are ready.  But only when you are ready.

The important thing is not to neglect your journal during the crisis.  If you do, you will begin to feel that the mass of painful information you have to record is building up into a barrier that will stop you from using your writing to coach yourself through in the future.  Even if you just sketch down a couple of bullet points every day until you are ready to write more, you are keeping that mountain cut down to size.

This is what I have done this week, a completely new approach to life crises for me – before, when things have happened, I have written nothing, and then felt unequal to the task of resuming when so much has changed.  I’m so glad my creative muse rescued me this time with the idea of the list.  It eased the pain immeasurably, made me feel so much less overwhelmed by events.  I offer this technique to you, in the hope that it may help you in any challenges you may meet.

With love,

EF.

 

 

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Journal Friday: Bear Time

Rose Quartz for healing and a bear for intuition.  I keep this stone by my bed to remind me what energy I need in my life right now.

Rose Quartz for healing and a bear for intuition. I keep this stone by my bed to remind me what energy I need in my life right now.

Norfolk is hunkered down under leaden skies these days, waiting for the bitter northerly winds to blow in from Scandanavia.  They’re late this year, as everything is.  The weather is unseasonably mild.  We still haven’t had a proper frost.  As a result, nature is confused.  A delphinium is still flowering under my window.  The last of the trees to drop their leaves, the oaks, are finally strewing the garden with dulled copper, a month overdue because we haven’t have a gale to tug them from the boughs.   More than ever this year, it feels like the land is holding its breath.  Normally, it would be in anticipation of Spring, but right now, it feels like we are being held at the Gates of Darkness, keeping vigil.

We are entering Bear Time.

It is hard to feel creative when the weather is so dour.  If you, like me, are subject to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you will no doubt relate to the desire to snuggle up under the duvet until March.

Lots of people channel their creativity into the preparations for Christmas, decorating the house, planning parties, conjouring an endless stream of fancy food for their guests. I put up some twinkle lights in my bedroom the other day.  It was just a simple little thing, but it makes me feel snug and cosy when I settle down to bed at night, and often when I wake in the morning.

Midwinter has always been a festival of lights, and it is important to remind ourselves with candles and twinkle lights that the sun will come back.  As I settle down in my ‘bear cave’ for the winter, I find myself needing to remember that more than usual.  Its been a tough year, one way and another, but this is a time to go down deep and reflect on what I’ve learnt, a time recognise what I have achieved this year, and to think about what happens next.  While we are still submerged in caring for our elderly relatives, and will be for a long while yet, it is easy for everything else to be subsumed.  So I am taking this time to submerge myself in quiet time, put the annual shopping marathon on hold, and take care of my own needs.

I cannot look after others if I don’t look after myself.

This is true of all of us, not just those who, like me, have a chronic illness.  I find myself surrounded by people who are chronically stressed and harrassed, many of whom have gone through major life-changing events this year, and who are about to dive into the Christmas Rounds without taking a moment to stop and be still, to take care of themselves.  The result of this will no doubt be a round of really nasty illnesses on the other side of the festive season, when we all fall into the chasm of January!  I for one don’t want to go through the misery of the last two years again, when I lost two or three months at the beginning of each year, first to influenza, and then labyrinthitis!

You can use your diary to slow down and take stock.

Journal Exercise:

Plan yourself an evening alone.  Send Husband out to the pub, get the kids to bed, pour yourself a glass of wine, light a candle and sit down with your journal.  Some gentle music might help.  Take some time to reflect, enjoy the stillness, and then write what you need to get out of your system:

Where are you now?

What is going on inside your body right now?  Any aches or pains that need tending to?

Are any emotional issues niggling away that need to be talked over with the person concerned?  (Don’t leave it, because its bound to blow up during the Christmas season, making you and everybody else miserable.)  Can you write this person a letter in your diary, saying all the things you want them to know?  (This way, you can be brutally honest, knowing they will never see it.)

If you’ve been through a tough time lately, maybe you could take some time to write about the good things in your life, to focus on something positive instead of pain or loss.  Even if you feel so bereft that you can’t see anything good, maybe just writing down a simple list of basics – having a roof over your head, food in your belly, the freedom to write a list and say what you think, the chance to be able to learn to write at all – could help.

When writing out your feelings, express the first words that come into your head, because they are invariably the most authentic.  Even just making a list of words can help.

You could channel how you feel into a drawing, painting or collage.  This could be especially helpful if you feel that the emotions you currently have are ‘unacceptible’ or ‘bad’.  Perhaps you feel angry, jealous, hurt, self-pitying, and that these are not ‘allowed’.  The fact is, though, that:

Everything is allowed in your diary.  There is no need to judge yourself. 

Instead, express your feelings, even if those feelings feel hard and scary, and you will find that you move through them far more quickly.

The only way out is through.

Take the time to honour where you are right now, no matter how hard that feels for you.  It is important to experience our emotions rather than bottle them up, otherwise they always come back to bite us when we least want or expect them.  And you can take my word for this because I am an absolute PhD in it!

I hope that as we head towards the Christmas melee, you can find some time for yourself.  I hope that you are able to nurse your wounds and nurture yourself.  I hope that you can use your journal to practise self care.  Because self care and creativity go hand in hand.  And creativity is the beating heart of human existence.

Happy journalling,

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

Journal Friday: Returning to the Journal

VW desktop

This time of year (autumn) is always a time of new starts for me. Husband is a University lecturer, which establishes a certain kind of seasonality in our house – we live according to the academic year, just as we have since we were kids. And on top of the usual stationery-buying frenzy I get at this time of year, I find myself stopping to reassess where I am too.

In truth, its always good to stop off on the seasonal journey to think about where you are in your life, and where you want to go. Life coaches encourage us to do this on a quarterly basis, and to be quite frank, I think it’s a good wheeze. It is hard enough to find time in a busy life to stop and think, but like the prayer bell in the monastery that reminds the inmates to focus on God at regular intervals, the seasons are an automatic prompt to stop and take stock.

This year has been a time of huge shifts for me, changes in my role as wife, care-taker, aunt, friend and woman. I have felt new currents in my creative life starting up, the drive to take my photography more seriously, the sense of a new mission, a new message in my work. It is a time of change, of departures.

Pagan theology tells us that autumn is the time to reap the harvest of what we have sown during the productive seasons of the year – not only of Spring and Summer, the active months, but also of the deep, dark percolation of the Winter that preceded them, before we go down into the dark once more, into that time of thinking, rest and meditation. We need to think about what we have achieved, assess the fruits of our labours, celebrate them, and prepare to settle into a time of productive hibernation during which we can incubate our hopes and dreams for the future.

Well, hooray for the journal, then!

I have been taking time to settle back into my journal-keeping, and to use it in a more constructed way. I have never really used the technique of guided journaling before, by which I mean writing from prompts designed to explore the psyche.   I’ve always been more of a ‘stream of consciousness problem solver’ kind of diarist. In the midst of upheaval, especially during the summer months, I find it hard, therefore, to keep up such a regular journal commitment, because it often takes time to write and write until you’ve found the answer.

Recently, though, I have decided to be more conscious about what I am doing with my diary. I have set out to explore myself and different aspects of my life in a structured way, in the hope that it will guide me to new paths, and help anchor me through the current storms. I’m using visual means too. Nothing fancy. (I’m still pretty blocked about my drawing.) I’ve been collaging instead. Gala Darling’s ‘Radical Self-Love Bible’ Programme has been invaluable with this, a plethora of prompts and eye-candy to help you explore yourself on paper, through collage and writing. I’m not much good at discipline, of course, and though I am half way through the programme now, my ‘bible’ is pretty lightweight. I tend to fall back on my familiar old notebook on a day to day basis, but Gala’s approach is challenging me just enough to make me think about where I am going with my diary, and that’s enough right now.

Journal Exercise:

This weekend, I am planning to retreat to my journaling practise and do some conscious assessment. I’m going to take time to recognise the enormous changes I have gone through, and the achievements I have made so far this year. I am going to consider my intentions for the coming dark months, and work on an emotional strategy for handling Christmas, which is always a difficult time for me. I mean to use my journal to ground myself in who I am, and who I want to be. And to think about where I am going.

If it proves a productive, positive exercise, I ‘m going to repeat it on a seasonal basis.

Would you like to join me?

Why not take this weekend, or some time during it, to sit down in a quiet place with your journal, and think about where you are in your life, and where you want to go.

  • What have you achieved in the last nine months?
  • What ‘babies’ have you birthed, literal, creative, emotional or otherwise?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • How are you feeling right now, physically and emotionally?
  • How would you like to feel?
  • What small, achievable steps can you take to move towards these intentions?
  • What flashpoints can you identify in the coming three or four months? Can you explore why they affect you? What could you do to ease your path through them?
  • How can you celebrate yourself at this point in your life?
  • What creative voices are calling you right now?

If you find the idea of a more conscious journaling practise interesting, you might like to explore Tristine Rainer’s seminal book, The New Diary.

If you want more guidance about deciding where you want to go in life, take a look at Danielle LaPorte’s The Firestarter Sessions, and The Desire Map.

Kate Courageous’s wonderful website is full of rich wisdom and worth exploring.

Happy Journaling,

EF

 

Losing myself amongst the ‘Woolves’

Virginia Woolf as a young woman.  I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

Virginia Woolf as a young woman. I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

So I spent Monday in London, escorted by my wonderful fangrrrl niece Amelia, at the ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  And it was wonderful.

We saw innumerable portraits and photographs, but I think the personal papers were the most moving.  There were pages from her diary describing the bombing of Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Tavistock Square home in October 1940, the original manuscript of ‘A Room of One’s Own’, love letters from Leonard written before their marriage,  and most moving of all, the little note she left for him when she set out to drown herself in the River Ouse in 1941.

One of the things that particularly struck me was that Woolf bound all her own notebooks and manuscripts, having taken bookbinding lessons in her teenage years as some kind of therapy for her mental illness.  The result was that she could make the perfect notebook for her own needs – which is, for a stationery addict like me, absolute nirvana.  Her books are big, too, slightly larger than A4, leaving plenty of space for her to explore her ideas.

Another interesting detail for me was that the page from her diary about the bombing had no crossings out on it at all.  My diary is a veritable Somme of scribblings-out, but she wrote a stream of consciousness with a self-assurance that seems absolute.  She had no doubts about what she was trying to convey.

The original copies of her books, published by the Hogarth Press, which she ran with her husband, still with their book jackets designed by her sister Vanessa Bell, look crisp and radical even now.  Amelia (a bookseller) and I both commented on the fact that the many editions of the novels for sale in the gallery shop had an assortment of different covers, none of which were so attractive, expressive, and frankly Modern-looking, as the originals.

Woolf is my writing hero for so many reasons.  She battled mental and physical illness, misogyny, and childhood sexual abuse to become one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, reinventing the novel form in a way that would be emulated and built upon in succeeding decades.  She was self-educated, too, and could read Greek and Latin, despite the fact that her parents refused to send her to school as they did her brothers, a fact she railed against.

She is often criticised for being classist and racist, but I would argue that she was a product of her time, and it is to her credit that she did so much to counteract the snobbery and distrust of the working classes, which she inherited from her social millieu, through her political work.

Virginia Woolf was a great writer and feminist, a patron of the visual and applied arts, and a creative giant,  as well as a truly great human being who overcame enormous adversity to achieve what she did.  If you cannot get on with her novels, I wouldn’t judge you, but I urge you to dip into her enlightening and often witty diaries for inspiration on how to live a creative life despite so many difficulties.

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Smorgesbord

Diary Pile 2I’m feeling a bit rough at the moment, so I’ve been spending a lot of time surfing the internet.  Its a good thing to do when my brain is mushy like this.  I have trouble parsing long  blocks of text, so little blog posts and internet sites are just the thing to keep my mind occupied and spark new ideas.

So I thought I’d share some of my journalling current faves with you:

I just bought this book.  Its written for teenagers, but its a brilliant introduction, and I am really enjoying dipping into it.

Loving this artjournal site.  So much eyecandy!

I love Bronwen’s Artful Life blog, and I really fancy trying her method of creating an art journal from a vintage book.

Have you come across creativebug.com yet?

I recently came across the idea of the Bullet journal, which was new to me.   Its a kind of cross between a to do list, a project planner and a journal.  Might be a great solution if you are pushed for time and looking for a way of combining recording your life with planning it!

On a similar theme, you might be interested in the whole idea of sketchnoting.  Check out the website of the Sketchnote Army, a pretty breath-taking archive of how to record information graphically.  You could combine Sketchnotes and Bullet journals, and you don’t have to be able to draw…

Lorraine Bell’s planner is delicious!

My Pinterest pinboard on organisers is continually growing.

If you love Moleskines, their myMoleskine site will bend your mind!

I love Plannerisms!

Well, that should keep you going for a while!  Hope you have a happy and creative weekend,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journal Friday: Using Memories

Virginia Woolf as a young woman.  I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

Virginia Woolf as a young woman. I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

I’ve been reflecting on using memories in my journal lately. This is not something I tend to do readily. I don’t like remembering, mainly because I have a lot of painful memories that I don’t like to revisit. Some people had happy childhoods that they like to relive. I didn’t. I’m always put off when writers encourage their students to draw on their childhoods for material:

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just start getting it down.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p4.

That’s all very well, but what if you are not in a mental place where you can face your grim and horrible childhood? And yes, I know I am always ranting on about how creativity heals, but you need to be ready to make that leap, and I’m just not there yet.

What to do?

Well, I’ve been reading a brilliant biography of Virginia Woolf lately, (rereading actually) and its discussion of her reading methods prompted me to think about my own education. And remember.

Musing in my diary, I found memories I felt I could allow myself to revisit. I recalled how I set out to ‘spend three years reading’ – somewhat as Woolf intended to ‘read myself blue in the nose’ – when I embarked on my English and American Studies degree. I wanted the world of literature to open up to me. I wanted to bask in all its wondrous variety, from Spencer’s ‘Faerie Queen’, Alexander Pope’s satire, through the invention of the novel, to the Modernism of Woolf, Joyce and Eliot. I wanted to gulp down Byron and wallow in Shelly. I wanted to lose myself in Fitzgerald, Whitman, Hemingway, the Brontës and George Eliot. I wanted to read The Greats. In short, I wanted a ‘proper’ literary education.

What I got was an itinerary of a book per week for each course, three courses running over three eight week terms per year, for three years. And to about 70% of these books, a 50 minute seminar was allotted.

(Perhaps I was naive.  No, scratch that.  I was definitely naive!)

I remembered not the luxury of three years reading, when I looked back, nor even any real reflections on the books I actually read. It was on this course that I first read Woolf for example, her ground-breaking novel ‘The Waves’ in fact, but I don’t remember what I thought about it. I don’t remember if it moved me, or if I found it difficult. I remember no opinion of it from that time at all. I was too fixated on ploughing through every volume on the booklist, and how I could bluff my way through the seminar if I hadn’t managed to finish each.

I’m not a fast reader either. This scorching schedule of novel after novel, of play after poetry collection after essay collection, left me reeling. I could barely keep up, let alone reflect and absorb. Mainly my memories of this time comprise of the tyranny of the seminar programme, of grinding through every book, and hating the labour instead of loving the words and stories and imagery.

For me as a writer, this memory, or rather the understanding of an absence of memory, is an important one to explore. I was fortunate enough to have an education, but somehow, I kind of blinked and missed it. The lesson I drew as I wrote of my disappointment in my diary is that I will take the memory into the future with me, and use it to inform my future reading. I will never finish a book again without forming my own clear opinion of it – and writing it down. By finding my way back to a memory, I can change my reading practise in the future. And that change will inform my writing. Which is a good reason for reaching back to find this memory.

Using memories in your diary doesn’t have to be a process of self-flagellation. Or at least, not if you don’t want it to be.

You don’t have to write pages in your own blood. You can write down your happiest memories, or the most instructive ones, or you can choose not to use memories at all. Exploring the past can be a useful exercise. It can be a healing exercise, but tacking painful times should only be done when you are ready, and not before. Don’t force yourself.

Instead, write about memories as they occur to you, and explore why they have come up at that particular moment. Yes, record them as vividly as you can, if you can. Find instruction in them. And if the time is right, exorcise your ghosts. But not every entry has to be a process of emotional flaying.

Happy journaling,

EF