Category Archives: Intentions

Word of the Year 2015

sussex churchI am quietly resting tonight in the post New Year’s Eve Exhaustion space. You know the one. Everything hurts, you’ve had very little sleep, you’ve eaten far too much rich food, your jeans are cutting you in half (didn’t they fit just right this time last week?), and tomorrow you will fall into that Chasm of the Unknown which is 2nd January when there are no more excuses, the holidays are over, and you have to get back on the bike of normality.

Yeah, you know what I’m saying.

(I wouldn’t mind so much, either, but I don’t even drink! Husband did all the booze last night, and I woke up with his hangover. It’s just unfair, especially when he is all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and bouncing around the house with our god daughter, teaching her how to be Gandalf stopping the balrog in the mines of Moria – at 10am? I mean, puh-leeeeeze!)

This is that annoying time of year when all the bloggers on the interweb seem to trot out their reviews of 2014, with accompanying pictures of their glamorous lives, glamorous friends, glamorous spouses, glamorous homes etc etc.

I can’t remember much about what happened in 2014 because I am still recovering from it.

It was a tough one. Christmas especially. It has been dominated by the stress of caring for two very elderly, very frail parents-in-law, one of whom has stage two dementia, and at a distance. There have been the falls, the hospital visits, the fights over carers, the distressed phone calls. We’ve been learning new nursing skills, dealing with social workers, pharmacists, medical practitioners, and a national health service that seems weirdly incapable of taking account of the needs of those with dementia, even though the elderly are their primary client group. All this, trying to keep our own lives running, expanding the Husband’s business, and managing my own ill health.

The last two years have been periods of extreme growth. My word for 2013 was REVOLUTIONARY. My word for 2014 was DARE. Both pretty heavy-duty action words. I felt like I needed to step up to the plate, to make big changes. But after all those revolutions and fear-facings, I am just utterly exhausted and drained. I need something gentle this year.

So my word for 2015 is EASE.

I want to be at EASE with myself. I want to get to know myself better, to feel authentically me, to feel more settled and confident in myself instead of constantly pushing at the edges, as I have been.

I want to be at EASE in my creativity, not to be forcing it, but rejoicing in the work I make, whether it is a new story or novel, or a piece of needlepoint, or a favourite recipe. I want my work to be rich, jewelled with the unusual, and deeply infused with peace and contentment.

I want to EASE into my life more, to spend more time nurturing myself, working out what I need to get through what will undoubtedly be another tough year. I need to be gentle and compassionate with myself.

I want to have more EASE in my life – less pain, more comfort, and a more comfortable environment. There will be nesting, creating, new healthy eating recipes, yoga and pilates (gently) and lots of mindfulness. And, hopefully, a holiday.

Most of all, I want to be at EASE with and in the present. I want to accept where I am right now, at this turning-point.

This year, Husband will turn 50, I will continue my journey towards menopause, and we will likely be saying goodbye to those we care for in some form, whether it is completely through death, or mentally, as a beloved parent passes into the mist where she will no longer recognise us in any meaningful way. I want to be able to support Husband as he midwifes his mother through this endtime. I want to help us move into this second half of our lives with optimism, health and peace of mind. I want us to EASE into this new phase with hope and positivity. I want us to have something beautiful and vibrant left after this time of caring is over, not simply wreckage and exhaustion.

I can’t say I relish the prospect of 2015, as elder care eats more and more into our lives. But I intend to do what I can to see that it is as much an enriching process as it can be in the circumstances. I look forward to exploring myself, my spirituality and my creativity in the face of these ongoing demands. I don’t know what will come out of it, but I know that it will be something deep and wise.

I wish you a happy, creative and fulfilling 2015,

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

Are You Enjoying The Journey?

Are you enjoying the journey?

Are you enjoying the journey?

My niece has just got into drama school. After a long spell when she was not acting, she turned up at the audition feeling rusty and nervous. Afterwards she told me that doing the audition reminded her of just how much she enjoys acting.

She always laughs about how she will buy me a car ‘when she is rich and famous’, and its true, she does want to be famous, but only because it will allow her to get better roles. Her heroines are not the Hollywood starlets who are famous for being pretty (not that she isn’t pretty), but actresses who are famous for excellence – Emma Thompson, Harriet Walter, Fiona Shaw.

This made me think about the chapter in Ann Lammott’s seminal book about writing, ‘Bird by Bird’, in which she talks about those students in her writing classes who are only interested in learning how to get published. Getting published is only a minute fraction of a writer’s life. If you are only interested in that, why go through the long, hard slog of writing a novel in the first place?

You have to like writing. You have to like the process.

There is no point in setting out to be a great painter if you hate getting your hands mucky with paint.

There is no point in applying to drama school because you want to get famous, not because you want to act.

If you do either, you are surely going to spend a great deal of time being very miserable indeed.

When you decide to dedicate yourself to an art form, – or any activity, for that matter – be sure why you are doing it. There are a damn site easier and more reliable ways of getting rich and famous than writing a novel. You’d be much better off buying a lottery ticket or robbing a bank (not that I would condone the latter of course!).

Be creative through a medium that you love, because you love doing it.

Fame and riches may or may not follow, but one thing you can be sure of is that you won’t be miserable while you are waiting for it. You’ll be having a nice life. And lots of fun. Which is really the whole point, isn’t it?

Happy Creating,

EF

Back to ‘Normal Life’?

Andrew Gormley sculpture on top of Blackwells Art shop in Broad Street, Oxford.

Andrew Gormley sculpture on top of Blackwells Art shop in Broad Street, Oxford.

I woke this morning to a blustery wind and the last dregs of ex- Hurricane Bertha outside the window. The sun has begun its long journey down towards the horizon, and the shadows around the hems of the trees are getting darker and longer. There is a dampness in the air that speaks of autumn on its way, that last frantic dash towards the end of summer before the urge to buy pencils and sign up for new courses presses in on us.

I’m back from a week-long trek around the country, visiting parents and doing family duty, and this morning, Jennifer Louden’s blog post about ‘Re-Entry’ popped up on my dash. It could not have been more perfectly timed.

We’ve been away, but it was not what one might call a ‘holiday’. I feel weird and disjointed now we are back, and I’ve realised I need not only to take time to recover from the business of travelling, but also to carefully consider my ‘Re-Entry’ into normal life.

Right now, I’m not even sure what ‘Normal Life’ looks like anymore.

There is a lot of emotional stuff to process from our time away, and plenty of new ideas and inspirations too.

We’ve reached the second half of the year now, and I am feeling the need to reassess my plans and intentions, to consider where I want life to take me in the coming months. Where am I going? What should my priorities be? Can I even remember the working systems I had set up before I left?

The beach where I grew up.

The beach where I grew up.

So I am giving myself time to go through the process of resuming my life, and allowing myself to visualise what this life can be. I’m trying to ignore all the headlong manias for starting new regimes.

You know the thing, the:

‘Now I’m back, I can start that new “diet/exercise regime/ meditation practise/ decluttering/ redecorating/ making my life look like other people’s I see in magazines because I’m not good enough as I am”’

Time to sit down with my journal and write through to what I really want. To decide what the next achievable step is. To remember how my creativity works.

And I am kind of at peace with that. I’m okay with needing time to gently settle back into my world. I know that the words I haven’t had time to write in the last week, the stories that I haven’t been able to visualise while I’ve been away, immersed in caring for others, will return, if I give them the chance. I will settle. I just have to have faith. And I’m happy to wait, and rest, until they condense into a cloud of meaning under my ribs.

If you are just back from your holiday, and struggling to reintegrate into your life, or just about to leave, and concerned about having the Post- Holiday Blues when you get back, grant yourself compassionate ‘Re-Entry’ time. Don’t push yourself too hard to resume. Allow yourself the chance to process the experience you have had, to allow the images and experiences to percolate through your mind. These transitional times are sometimes uncomfortable. Don’t fight it. Give yourself a break.

Happy reintegration,

EF

Books about Writing

 

Bookshelf

My shelves of books about writing.

I’ve made a big decision.

No, not that one.

I’ve decided not to buy any more books about how to write for two months.

Now you may not think that’s such a hard task, but I am the sort of person who likes to buy a book about a subject in lieu of actually doing it. I’m a big one for research. If I’m going to take up some activity, say, crochet for instance, then I am the one who will chug down to the library and take out all known books on crochet, in order to find out everything I need to know about the subject. For two days I read avidly and become an armchair expert, without even touching a ball of wool. And then I lose interest and the books gather dust on the coffee table until they have to be taken back to the library before I get fined, no crochet having ever been done.

I’m the same with books about writing.

Once every three or four months, or so, I resolve ‘to take my work more seriously’. This usually involves going in to work with my husband, who is a University lecturer, and settling down in the campus library to tap away on laptop undisturbed. (Never mind the fact that I really struggle to visualise and write in that library, but there you are!)

To get to the library, I have to walk past a bookshop.

(If you love books, you just know where this is going to end, don’t you?)

Add to this the fact that this University runs one of the first, and still best, courses in Creative Writing in the world, whose alumni include the likes of Dame Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. You can imagine how good the bookshop’s section of writing is.

Let me tell you, it is hell to walk past.

This is the reason why the bookshelf beside my desk is so crammed with ‘How to Write’ books. I buy a book every time I decide to ‘get serious’, because of course, buying a book is a prerequisite of ‘getting serious’. I’ll read a few chapters. And then I get bored/move on/get ill/realise its shortcomings/decide I want to take up crochet instead etc. So now I have a bookshelf full of books about writing and how to write, many of which are very, very good, dozens of which come highly recommended by friends and in other books about writing, and almost none of which I have ever read cover to cover.

Just call me a butterfly.

Today is another of those ‘I’m going to get serious’ days. Today I am not going to buy a book.

This is partly because I am completely broke, and saving up for a new pair of spectacles because the ones I have got are close to useless and I’m fed up of having to take my glasses off in order to read.

But mostly because its because I need not to read about writing and how to write, but to actually DO it.

You can’t be a writer unless you actually write. And when you write, you learn far more about writing than you ever could from a book.

Books about writing are great. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a lot out of them. But there comes a time when you have to leave them alone and learn by doing.

I’ll let you know whether I stick to my guns or not, though I have to say I don’t think my groaning bookcase can survive even one more purchase!

Happy Creating,

EF

Outflow: KBO

Footprints Ardnave 1Today I forgot to post.

I forgot to even think about posting.

It has only just occurred to me, at 9.40pm, and the thought followed hard on the heels of this realisation that this is what my life has been for the last three months.

I’m in survival mode.

I’m just keeping my head above water, just managing to stay afloat.

Sometimes that is how life is, and to be honest, maybe I needed this time of stillness and reflection.  Not that I do much reflection when I am that ill because my ability to think is severely compromised.  It is hard to think about creative plans, or plot bunnies, or even what the next meal is going to be, when you are so tired that you can’t read, write, watch telly or organise a series of logical actions because your brain can’t process.

I’m not saying this to engage your pity.  I’m saying it to be honest, and because being honest is good.  With myself and with you.

This is what the Creative Life looks like.

It is messy and inconsistent and spasmodic.  Sometimes it is filled with elation, and at other times, disappointment.  But it is what it is, and that is why we keep doing it.

I started this year with the word DARE.  So far, as I think I have said before, DARE has become DAREing to keep going, stay alive, and do things I’ve never done before, like basic nursing activities.  Nursing doesn’t usually come within the scope of my definition of creativity, but its definitely under the DARE heading!  So I have extended my skillset, been creative in finding practical adjustments that help, and learnt a lot more about my limits.

Now I have to learn a bit of patience, which is not my greatest virtue.

I’m losing two weeks out of four from my creative cycle because of the time it takes to organise, undertake and recover from our caring visits to Husband’s elderly parents.  I need to find a way to handle the gash this necessary commitment is cutting into my creative time, as well as how it affects me health-wise.  I need to either find a way to drop in and out of my creative mindset more quickly and easily, or to accept that the ease of adjustment I crave simply is not going to happen, and be at peace with that.  Whichever happens, I need to make the most of the time that I do have.  Otherwise I am going to be very miserable, and be unable to meet the intentions I am hoping for this year.

Sometimes creativity means being realistic. It means learning to do different, in order to take account of how things really are.  Because:

“Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”

(John Lennon)

Living a creative life is not always easy, but it is hugely rewarding.

I refuse to give up hope that I am going to achieve what I want to, that I am going to make some wonderful things and have some wonderful experiences.  Life gets in the way.  Shit happens.  The only thing to do is to find a way to keep going.  Or as Winston Churchill often put it, KBO (“Keep Buggering On”).

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

Clear the Decks

If you listen to the elderly, you always find wisdom.  One of the things I learnt this weekend was from my husband’s aunt, who was in her day a deeply respected midwife.  (She delivered Roald Dahl’s children, as well as tennis player Tim Henman.)  She is a very tidy person, and when I asked her about this, she told me that part of her nursing training emphasised the importance of starting with a clear surface at all times, whatever you were doing.  So she tidies up after herself obsessively, even now, when she is so disabled that she can barely move.

I took this idea away with me.  It occurred to me that one of the things I love most about going on a writers’ retreat is arriving in a room with an empty desk, uncluttered, a space to work.  It inspires me hugely.  Obviously, Auntie’s edict on clearing the decks is an excellent one.  It’s not rocket science, either, to make space for your creativity.

But.

And this is a big but.

I went into my study this morning and this is what I saw.

The shelves as you come into the room.  Total dump.

The shelves as you come into the room. Total dump.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

A bit not good, as Sherlock and John would say.

What does this space say about how I prioritise myself and my creativity?  I think it shows how little I value myself and what I do.  How can I do my best work in this mess?

I long for a clear space in which to work, but this is what I’ve got.  No one but me is responsible for this chaos.  Okay, yes, Husband tends to keep his study clear by dumping stuff in mine, but I let him do that.  I allow these heaps of junk to build up, blocking the energy, my energy.  And after all, who would want to work in this mess?

So I think it is time for another push on making my study work.  I’ve done this before, as you know.  But really, how much have I invested in that process?  I always find an excuse.  I’m always too tired to make it a priority, or too busy.  I can always work downstairs on the sofa, and I usually do.  But then I have to go running up and down to get what I need.  Meanwhile, Husband has a lovely study that is a dedicated space for his business, which is tidy and organised, and which he loves.

If he can have it, so can I.

Its time to clear the decks.

Happy Creating,

EF