Category Archives: Journal Friday

The Friday Review No. 3: Processing

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It’s the last day of March, and I’m home after a fortnight of running around like a headless chicken, attending to family duties.  Its been one long, continuous To Do list.

Honestly, I’m knackered.  Even if I didn’t have ME/CFS, I’d be wrecked.

The problem is that there has been so much mental processing, so many emotions, that my mind feels full of fog.  I can’t think straight.  In fact, I can’t think at all.  I feel like I need to be still, wrapped in silence, on my own for at least a week, to get my head around what just happened.

Sometimes, life takes over, and then drops you like a stone, and it takes a while to get back into the groove of who you are and where you want to go.  I have come home to my life of writing and blogging and drawing and being me, and I feel like I have lost the connection with that life.  I feel like an alien to myself.  But all I need is time.

Often in the creative life, we try to force things.  Something monumental happens, the illness or death of a loved one, a new baby, our own ill health, moving house or job, anything that makes for a big upheaval.  And we try to pretend it hasn’t happened, that we can just carry on.

Sometimes, we can.  Sometimes keeping writing or drawing or making music is the thing that anchors us through the storm.

There are also times when we need to sit down and just be.  Times when it is important to assimilate what has just happened.  Times to lay down the pen or the plectrum and give ourselves time.  Time to let this new reality sink in.  And caring for your creativity, and yourself, depends on the skill of knowing which to do.  Today, my gut is telling me to rest and process.  And I am listening.

So I’m giving myself time, and not forcing it.

I had my session with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, yesterday, and it was great.  So much to think about.  I’ve kept up my writing practice sessions, twice a week, just as I promised myself, and Heidi, and you, dear reader, throughout my travels, which I’m very proud of.  And that felt good.  And I’ve been reading – I finished ‘The Name of the Rose’ while I was away, and thought a bit about that.  So progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I know I need to wait till my brain comes back to normal service before I launch into more writing.

I have learnt one important thing this fortnight, though.  It is one I always have to keep re-learning.  (Duh.)  And it is this:

I need to write in my journal.  Every day.  Otherwise I don’t know who I am.

I sat down with my journal last night for the first time in two weeks, and wrote, and somewhere amongst the pages and the scribbled blue shapes of the letters, I found myself again.  Over and over, I neglect to write through difficult times, and then when I come back to it, I realise how much it would have helped me to cope, if only I’d made a priority of it, if only I’d made time.  That can be hard to do when you are at the beck and call of another, especially if its a family member who is sick and needs you, and as a result does not recognise any boundaries and expects you to be on call 24 hours a day.  Its very hard, especially if you are a woman, to set aside half an hour come what may, to be alone with your diary every day.  But if that is the only way to keep your sanity, then it must be done.

And that has been this week’s important lesson for me, I think.  That journaling is the key to my creative practice.  And my sanity.  And probably my identity too.  And it must be sacrosanct.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, must get in the way of my journaling time.  And that includes me!

With that, dear readers, I will leave you, and go and have a soak in the bath with my paralysed, fog-filled brain, and hope it comes back to life soon.

In the meantime, happy creating,

EF

 

 

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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.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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: Solitude

Shadow Selfie

Shadow Selfie

I’ve been making huge leaps this week, but one of the results has been a deep gloom opening up inside me.  The exact opposite of the feeling of exhilaration I SHOULD been feeling when I make massive learning gains with my creativity.

(Did you notice the Bingo! word there – give yourself a pat on the back if you picked out the poisonous SHOULD in that sentence!)

Instead of bouncing around like Tigger on a coke spree, I feel like a sodden blanket.

Why?

Because writing is a solitary art.  And human beings are social animals.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to admit that I need to be on my own a lot.  I like my own company.  But there are also limits.  If I get left on my own for long periods, I get mournful, bad-tempered, sick of myself, sick of everybody else.  I start feeling like I want to stab myself in the forearms with a compass point.  This is obviously not a good place to be.

Husband has been out pretty much every night this week, playing sports and meeting up with business colleagues.  He has commitments that sometimes pan out like this, and I’m fine with that.  But occasionally it means I get a week like this one.   I’ve been on my own from eight in the morning till eleven at night for four days on the trot.  Thats enough time on my own for me to go slightly round the twist, to over-react to everything, and end up in a grumpy hole.  From whence no writing, or anything positive, emerges.

I’ve spent a lot of time struggling to get out of my grumpy hole.  “I ought to be able to get over this, I SHOULD have worked out strategies by now to combat this,”  I told myself.  (There are two Bingo! words in that sentence, can you spot them?.

But then I thought maybe the thing to do was to allow myself to feel the feeling of misery, and then perhaps it would leave.  In other words, not to fight against it, but to be with it, and see where it took me.  Because lets face it, after 44 years of living with depression, I can safely say that a) the odd blue day is a doddle compared with the major depressions I’ve experienced, and b)  I know I get this when I’ve been on my own too much, so maybe I can work out what its trying to tell me.

It turns out that its trying to tell me that I need to get out more.

I get exhausted.  That is part of my ongoing health problems, and I need to take account of that, but I also need to accept that one of the basic needs I have is for a change of scene, and seeing people.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be conscious socialising.  It can be just getting out into town, seeing other human beings in the street in their infinite variety.  Maybe two days a week would be good maintenance treatment for me.  To get out, to see the world, interract with it.  And rest at home the remainer of the time.

(I should probably point out that I live in the middle of nowhere, literally, and I can go days without seeing anybody, which can be very isolating.  We are two miles from the nearest village, not a distance I can walk, so it is not like I can just pop out to the corner shop for a natter and some social contact.  Given that we can only afford one car, and that Husband’s access to work has to take priority, getting about has to be carefully planned.)

I need to take this awareness of my own needs forward.  I’m enjoying my writing so much, but I need to take care of myself too.  And that means going in to work maybe a day or two a week with Husband, settling down at the library or the cafe, and writing there instead of at home.  So that I see people.  So that I have the stimualtion I need.

Journal Exercise:

You may not have the same ‘shut-in’ issues that I have, but I invite you today to examine the ordinary activities and lifestyle factors that help you to be creative in a regular way.  Do you need to drink more water, take regular walks, get a new chair because the one you have gives you back ache, and makes you reticient to sit in it to draw or write?  Does eating dairy give you sinus headaches so that you feel all fuzzy, and you can’t think straight?  Do you need a holiday, a long bath, a place to work where next door’s dog isn’t barking?  Maybe your partner could look after the baby an hour a week so you can have time on your own, or perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier so you can be peaceful with yourself before the rest of the family rises.

Spend some time exploring in your journal the basic things you need to operate at your best: good food, 8 glasses of water a day, cuddles, exercise, Whatever your core requirements are.

Now write about the little things that you could do for yourself that would help you to function above just the basic level of proficiency that you explored above.  Think about the times when you have been really crackling creatively.  What made those times special?  Are there factors you could replicate, to recapture that sense of being in the flow?  What really makes your motor run?  It could be listening to rock music while you work, hanging out at the cafe, carrot cake, more cuddles, or anything else.

A note of caution:  The whole myth about artists having to be self-destructive is exactly that –  a myth.  Try copying F Scott Fitzgerald or Jack Kerouac, and drinking to promote creativity, and I can guarantee what you will end up with is not increased creativity.  You will just end up being dead.

All the actions you take should be self-caring and self-nurturing.

I hope that you can uncover some new ways to nurture your creative flow, or maybe just work out how you sabotage yourself with having too much of one thing, and not enough of another, as I do.  Writing is a solitary act, but you don’t have to be on your own to do it, as I have been reminded this week.

Take care of yourselves, and happy creating,

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