Category Archives: EASE

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

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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

 

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