Category Archives: Freedom to be yourself

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

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Twelfth Night

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Taking down the decorations

This is the part of Christmas I hate.  The clearing up.

Today is the day for taking the decorations down.  If you leave them up any longer, its supposed to be bad luck.  And since I don’t want any more bad stuff in my life for a good while, I’m diligently stripping the tree, just to be on the safe side.

Once all the cards and baubles are gone, the place looks rather sad and naked.  Empty.  You can see where all the dust and cobwebs have built up.  (I’m leaving the hoovering and dusting till tomorrow, so I don’t use up all my strength in one day.)  It looks especially empty this year because we made such an effort to bring that Christmas magic back into the house.  The first annual holiday without a loved one (in this case, my mother-in-law) is always a tough one, and especially so for my Husband this year, because his mother was such an enthusiast for the season, such an integral part of the family’s celebrations.  We had to make a particular effort to reclaim it not only from grief, but from the difficult memories of the last few Christmases spent in the shadow of her Alzheimers disease.

I think we managed it (mostly).  At least, I’m pretty sure it could have been a lot worse.  And when I came downstairs one evening and found him lying on his back on the sofa, gazing at the twinkling lights on the tree and listening to the soft music of Vaughn Williams, relaxed for the first time in months, I decided we’d found a reasonably happy medium.

Now the Yuletide festical is over, and we have to face the stark reality of a future year, the uncertainties of Brexit and Trump, as well as clearing out and selling the home of a loved one.  However, I don’t feel as desolate as I thought I would.

I always said I was a ‘glass half full’ kind of person.  You know the old adage, the one about looking at a glass with some water in it, and choosing to be optimistic about there still being something left to drink, or being pessimistic about the fact that its half gone.  The joke I heard recently about, ‘well, there’s plenty of space for more vodka’ seems to chime with how I feel today.

The house may feel bald and empty, but now there is space to fill it with new things.  Good things.  Things we can choose together, not the baggage of caring for someone with dementia, of watching her suffering, and of our own powerlessness to help.  There is new opportunity in the space that is left, both by the decorations and the lifting of the burden of caring.  And we get to choose what we fill it with.

Which is quite exciting when you think about it.

(Think of all the writing and painting I’m going to get done!)

So don’t look at your dusty, de-Christmassed home in dismay today.  Look for the gaps in between, the space for possibility.  Don’t mourn the loss of Christmas.  Think to yourself, in your best Mary Poppins tone, ‘well, what shall I do today?’

Happy Creating,

EF

Writing is not a Performance Art

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Sometimes, we write what we most need to hear.  And this is one of those moments.  So pull up a chair and a cup of coffee, because I have something I want to tell you that I need to hear:

A friend was publishing a new story in a new fandom. The fact that she was not getting the readership and the number of comments she wanted was causing her great distress. Her predicament got me thinking.

So often as artists, we base our self-esteem, our value of our own work, on what other people think. The family who surround me, for example, do not view me as a ‘proper’ writer because my work does not come neatly packaged between two cardboard rectangles with the name of a reputable publisher stamped on the back. I do not make money from my work. Therefore I do not ‘work’, and I am not a ‘proper’ writer. I am not a stranger to the humiliation of being told at a family dinner to move over because: ‘There’s a writer at the table’, when another relative, a talented journalist (whose work I greatly admire and whose success I happily delight in, I should point out) arrives to sit down.

At our recent writing retreat, my fellow writers and I had a long and animated discussion about the ever-present problem of how other people react when we tell them what we do. One friend told the horrible anecdote of an acquaintance’s response to the news that she was a writer – ‘Never mind, I’m sure you can get a job at Tesco!’

(I know, right?)

I suspect that writers are second only to actors in the low opinion the public has of our earning power. Either you’re Benedict Cumberbatch or you’re unemployed. This completely ignores the thousands of jobbing actors who make a reasonable, if somewhat precarious, living doing low profile but necessary jobs in voice-overs, radio, small TV parts and rep. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch has spent a substantial proportion of his career doing exactly that. (If you watch and listen carefully, you’ll see and hear him pop up all over the place!)

The point I am trying to make is that creative people don’t do it for the money. And if you think that, you have missed the whole point.

Modern society, where success in any endeavour is measured in filthy lucre and TV appearances, clearly has failed to read the memo.

Another friend, who has been a visual artist as well as a writer all her working life, which I suspect helps, responds to the dreaded question about earnings thus: “I don’t do it for the money. I do it because it keeps me sane.”

And that is the point.

Writing is not a performance art.

At least, fiction is not. (Journalism obviously is, and I’m still on the fence about poetry!)

Writing is not about the number of comments or reviews you get.  Its not about the number of ‘shares’ on Tumblr.  Its not about the number of hits you get in a day.  Its not about being published by Harper and Collins, or getting an agent from a top agency, or being on an arts programme on BBC4, or giving author readings, or getting your picture in the paper,  or winning the Booker Prize, or making the bestseller lists on Amazon or the Sunday Times, or getting a three book deal, or selling your script to Warners and getting a theme park made out of your book, or making £100k a year.

Writing is not about how many people like you.  Its not about applause.

Writing is about making stories.

We do it because we have to. Because we have a compulsion to tell our stories.

I am delighted to tell you that my fanfiction friend soldiered on against the tide with writing and publishing her new fanwork. Over time she accumulated a substantial following, but more importantly has rejoiced in an explosion of creativity, producing more works and excelling in other art forms as a result.  And I’m thrilled for her.  She is going through a renaissance of creativity because she refused to give up.

“How people receive your gifts is none of your business. You were given a unique set of gifts, life experiences, and passions. Your only job is to share them.”

Rebecca Campbell, ‘Light is the New Black’

When it comes down to it, it does not matter whether family notice that I get over 100 readers a day, a tally that most conventionally published writers could only dream of. (I’m the only person who is hung up about that, after all!)  It does not matter whether they read my work. (Actually, I’m quite glad they don’t!) It does not matter whether they like it. It does not matter whether they think I am an idiot not to charge for it. It does not matter how much I earn or don’t earn, or what other people think of that sum. It really doesn’t matter what people I meet at dinner parties think when I tell them what I do.

And really, it doesn’t matter what my audience thinks either.

The point is to make the art.

And to keep making the art.

To keep on speaking my truth.

Because the people who need to hear that truth will find me. And the rest don’t matter.

Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it so beautifully:

“If people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to GO MAKE THEIR OWN FUCKING ART!”

Happy creating,

EF

The Muse with the Limp

Walking with my Muse

Walking with my Muse

My Muse is limping.

I’ve only just noticed. I think she has probably been hobbled her whole life. Or at least since my teens. Perhaps even since my childhood.

Since the moment when what other people thought became more important than what I thought.

I didn’t know until I looked at her. I didn’t know until I began to think seriously about her, about where we are going together, about what we want. I think most of all she wants to be set free of expectations.

Other people’s expectations.

Or rather, the way I constrain her by caring what other people think.

All the ‘how tos’ and ‘SHOULDs’ and ‘OUGHTs’. All the maxims and formulas. The schemata and diagrams and plot arcs and exhortations about what ‘The Market’ is looking for next.

Most of all, the Rules. You know the ones. About what is valuable. What is Serious. What is High Art. What is Literary.

I’m ashamed of the art I make. I’m ashamed of the fact that I write fanfiction. I’m ashamed that I write about sex. And about romance. Because romance is tacky and pink and very definitely NOT Literature.

(Never mind ‘Pride and Prejudice’ being a romance. Never mind ‘Jane Eyre’ being a romance. Never mind pretty much every great novel there has ever been having a love story at the centre of it, because this is what we do as human beings – we fall in love. Barbara Cartland made it cheap. Barbara Cartland has a lot to answer for. Or perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Just the fault of the patriarchal publishing industry which packages ‘women’s fiction in pink, tacky covers and gives it all the seriousness of maribou feathers, in order to keep us girls in our place. But I digress….)

One day I was walking along, enjoying the chilly afternoon sun, head in the clouds, and a revolutionary thought came to me:

I can do what I want.

I don’t have to listen to anybody else.

I don’t have to care what anybody else thinks.

I can do what I want.

I cannot tell you how extraordinary that thought was, coming to me not long after I had offered a story to a friend for feedback, only to have it be ripped apart (in a loving way, of course) and then to be told how to rewrite it – as she would have done. I should have known better, of course. The story wasn’t cooked yet. It was still in that wobbly, puddingy state when it hasn’t yet set. Not ready to be seen by anyone else, in other words.   And because I respect her opinion, because she is a SERIOUS writer, a Literary writer, I listened.

And my Muse has needed a wheelchair ever since.

(I note the use of the word SHOULD in that sentence earlier by the way. You see, I’m getting quite good at spotting them these days!)

But what would happen if I decided to disregard what THEY think. All those people out there whose opinion I value above my own?

What if I listened to my gut?

Medical scientists have discovered recently that there are more neurons, using more serotonin, in the human gut, than in the brain. That’s where the majority of your serotonin goes, in fact. That’s why we have what we call ‘gut feelings’.

Maybe I should listen to my gut. And give my poor, battered Muse a bit of physiotherapy. Perhaps I can set her free from all the OUGHTS and find out what she wants to do. Maybe we could have a bit of fun together, the first unrestrained fun we’ve had since I was writing Blakes 7 fanfics when I was about 8!

I’m not expecting to write the Great Novel that way. But perhaps I could just write MY novel.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to throw out all of my ‘How to Write’ books, so I can discover how I write.

Happy creating,

EF

It’s OK to be Different

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Bowie as Ziggy

I guarantee this is not the post you are expecting.

In fact, I suspect its probably going to be the most contraversial post I have ever written.  But I’m going to write it anyway.

David Bowie died today.

Amidst the media hysteria and blanket coverage, amidst the tidal wave of mourning on social media, I ask you to spare a thought for those of us who are different.  For those of us who, while recognising that he was a cultural game-changer whose contribution to altering the way society views androgyny and the transgender community was incalculable, just never really liked the music.

(Cue cat calls and howls of disgust.)

I was not one of those teenagers who lay on their bed in the dark, listening to his music and wanting to be him.  He did not appeal to the need to be different in me, mainly because I didn’t have one.  I was too repressed. I didn’t like his voice and I found the majority of his songs rather boring.  I still feel that way.

OK, I like ‘Let’s Dance’.  But Major Tom left me cold, and lets not even go into the whole gnome thing, however satirical.  When ‘Ashes to Ashes’ came out, I remember the misery and boredom of it being at the top of the charts for week after week after week.

On the other hand, I do have an important Bowie memory, one that in many ways affected my life.  It happened in 1986.

Before I go on, I want to explain a little bit about my life before that time.  It was only four years after the Falklands War.  I lived in a Naval town, and most people I knew at school had fathers in the Services.  All my parents friends were in Naval jobs of some sort.  I knew people whose fathers were killed in the sinkng of HMS Sheffield.  I knew boys, whom I had grown up with, boys from my street, who came back from that war irrevocably changed.  While other British kids were struggling with the issues of poverty and unemployment created by the Thatcher government, I was worried about war.  We lived  between two major installations which we had always known would be prime targets in the event of nuclear war.  That sharpens the senses of a sensitive child no end, let me tell you.

One day in 1986, I was in the art studio at my college.   I was working towards my art A level.  The radio was on.  We heard news of the US air attacks on Gaddafi’s Libya.  The air went still.  You could feel the fear.

The lad whose cassette radio it was switched the radio off.  He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a tape.  He put it on.  It was David Bowie’s greatest hits.  And yes, it even included the gnome song.  We played that tape all day, only breaking off to listen at the top of the hour to the news.  We worked quietly at our paintings, and we listened to Bowie over and over again.

That experience taught me two things.

One was how music can transcend fear, can bind a group of people together and rescue them from their worst worries about the future.  Because yes, we really were afraid that Armageddon was about to begin. (Remember, this was a time before America was habitually involved in wars in the Middle East.)

The other thing it taught me that Bowie, however trendy it was to like him, however much I was told I SHOULD like him, sounded a bit boring to me, and I didn’t much like his music.

This latter fact I have hidden, along with not liking Kate Bush, throughout my life, for fear of relentless torment by the trendy and the snobs.

But now as I reflect on his life, I suspect that Bowie would have championed my difference.  After all, he stood for those who stand up to society, for those who are unashamed of diverging from Society’s norms.  He was truly a great cultural icon.

I just didn’t really like his music, that’s all.

 

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