Category Archives: Life

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

Processing

Snowy sky from my living room window today.

Snowy sky from my living room window today.

Well, I am finally coming down from my time away – six days caring for my mother, and then my annual weekend writing retreat.  There is so much to deal with, so many emotions to process.  Its been a very intense time, with not much time for myself or my creativity.  The only thing I have really been able to do is to keep taking photographs.  I’m so glad I did, though.  It gave me such pleasure to be able to capture a few moments, which I’d like to share with you:

john hallettDuring my time at my mother’s home, her hairdresser visited.  John Hallett has been cutting my mum’s hair for a mind-boggling 41 years.  He used to cut mine when I was little.  It was wonderful to see him again, and a privilege to watch him work.

We managed to get a couple of walks on the beach nearby when my mother was feeling better.  Even in the bitter wind, it did us both good.

Sunbeams over the Isle of Wight

Sunbeams over the Isle of Wight

You see trees like this on every coastline.  This one is on Stokes Bay, near Portsmouth.

You see trees like this on every coastline. This one is on Stokes Bay, near Portsmouth.

The view from the train station at Portsmouth on the way home was pretty impressive too:

HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first iron-clad warship, seen from Portsmouth Harbour train station.

HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy’s first iron-clad warship, seen from Portsmouth Harbour train station.

I managed to settle to a bit of writing on my retreat, in spite of all the emotional upheaval.  This is a shot of my desk during the weekend:

My desk at our 2015 writers retreat.

My desk at our 2015 writers retreat.

And this was the sky outside our house yesterday morning.  Freezing cold, but sunny and beautiful.  I’m so grateful to live where I do.

Freezing cold, but great weather!

Freezing cold, but great weather!

Hope you’ve enjoyed my little photo interlude.  On Friday, I’ll have a new Quickfic for you, crafted on my writing retreat!  Yay!  I got something done!

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

 

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

The Benefits of Giving Up

The Cumberbatch

Gratuitous Cumberbatch photo. Just because I felt like it!

Dear Reader,

I want to tell you about why its sometimes a really good idea to give up.

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

In my last post, I wrote about the folly of trying.  Of pushing ourselves beyond endurance, and as a result, being unable to achieve the things we want.

That post was an example of me writing my own permission slip.  That day, I took my own advice.  I gave up trying.  I spent a lot of time just lying around.  I felt terrible, so why do anything else? I simply surrendered to what my body was trying to tell me.  Which was, in essence, ‘STOP’.

So far, so good.

The next day, I woke up at 8.30am, earlier than I am normally able to do, and in addition, woke with a clear head.

I grabbed my laptop and opened it up.

And I wrote.

I wrote all day.

In between spells of writing, I stripped the bed, put clean sheets on, did three loads of washing, tidied the kitchen, ironed some fresh pillowcases, made some long overdue phonecalls, and cooked a lovely supper for Husband and myself. I got so much done!

By close of play, i.e.11pm, I had written (get this) 6470 words.  Thats 27 pages.

The most I have ever written in one day.

(Round of applause, please.)

And all because I had given myself some much-needed space.

This is why you must learn to stop.  Yes, it is important to write every day.  Little and often is imperative.  Regular practise for any art form is necessary.

And there will be days when you sit down at your desk or in your studio and think:  ‘I really don’t want to do this today.’  And when you start, the brush strokes will be ugly or the words will come out like lumps of lead.  And then you will get going and things will flow and it will be alright.  (In fact it will be better than alright.  Because all the pain and depression you may have been struggling with will fly away, and creating will heal you.)  That is the point of any practise.

I am not saying you should only write when you feel like it.

What I am saying is that you must recognise that there are some days when your body is leeched to a husk, when your brain is too full or too empty to do anything but be.  Those are the days when you need to be gentle with yourself.  To put away the expectations.  And you will know those days.  The days of crisis.  The days when Life just steps in and pulls the carpet from under you.

If, like me, you live with chronic illness, working out which those days are becomes a little harder.  After 17 years, I am getting better at it, but I’m still not great.

The important thing to remember is that when you release the pressure on yourself, the result is often magic.

Its very Zen to say: let go of perfectionism, let go of expectations, but its easier said than done.  We all carry expectations from society, our upbringing, our peers and ourselves.  Letting them go is a daily practise in itself.  I am reminded however of an old saying I once heard:

“Let go, and Let God.”

Once we stop trying, once we stop tensing up and forcing things, the creativity flows through us freely onto the page or the canvas or the keyboard.  When we are free to make crap art, we learn.  And invariably, in my experience at least, when we give ourselves permission to make crap, what comes out is pure gold.

So here I am, in the aftermath of this great day of writing, assessing what I have learnt, what I can take with me from this experience.  I don’t know if what I wrote yesterday was gold or dross.  Chances are it will be about 50/50.  I don’t really care.  To be frank, it was fun.  It was an enormous relief just to spread my wings and fly without judging myself at all.

And I’m looking forward to doing it again just as soon as I can.

Happy creating,

EF

 

The Folly of Trying

My counsellor told me a story:

A man was asked at a conference to come up onto the stage, where the speaker had set a single chair in the centre.

‘Try to pick up the chair ,’ the speaker said.

The man picked up the chair.

‘No, you’re not getting it,’ the speaker said.  ‘Try to pick up the chair.’

The man picked up the chair again.

‘No, you’re still not getting it.  TRY to pick up the chair.’

The man put his hands on the chair and then, in a flash of inspiration, he understood.

Because TRYING to pick up the chair is not the same as picking up the chair.

If you TRY, you never actually achieve the action.  You just TRY.

Or, as the venerable Yoda said, in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’:

Try not.  Do.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

(I had that on my door at college.  I don’t think I understood it then.  Now I do, I really, really do.)

This wisdom has really been banging on my door today, as I struggle with a cold, coming on the back of a bad spell of IBS and ME/CFS.  I am busy TRYING.  Trying to get better.  Trying to feel well. Trying to cope with the housework. Trying to write.

Sometimes you have to recognise the wisdom of ‘Do or Do Not.’

Lately, I worry that this blog has become more about illness and less about creativity.  More about my TRYING experience.  But I think it really is an important lesson to learn for creative people.  We push ourselves and push ourselves, driven by expectations and perfectionism and Gods-know what demons we have inside us, deftly planted there, no doubt, by our loving parents. We dance the dance of the OUGHT-hogs.  The SHOULDS.  We are so busy forcing meaning into our lives as creatives, as Eric Maisel ill-advised (IMHO), that we pulverise our souls and our bodies into gibbering wrecks, terrorised by all the goals we fail to achieve and the standards we are incapable to meeting.  Books about how to write invariably advise the student that they have to write every day, no matter what.  I don’t think thats healthy or, frankly, practical.  Of course, it helps if you can.  A lot.  But seriously, who can write when their child has been up all night vomiting, or they have just received a redundancy notice?

Sometimes you have to treat yourself with loving kindness.  Sometimes you have to lower your expectations, and maybe even give in to the avalanche that Life has dumped on your head.  I have been talking to several friends who are all struggling with ill health this week, recovering from cancer treatment or at the end of a difficult pregnancy, or even in bereavement, and I truly believe that this is something all of us needed to hear.

Sometimes you are allowed to stop trying.

Sometimes its good to stop trying.

And then, when you have given yourself a break, a rest, a time of wound-licking, you can get up and go and do what it is you need to do.

MInd you, I have probably just proved myself wrong by writing this blog post, because I’ve spent the last six hours lying in bed groaning, absolutely convinced that I couldn’t write anything today.  So there you go.  Take from that what you will.  Just promise me something?

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Life – A Work in Progress

Saxlingham Summer Blues:  Partially finished, hand stitched quilt made by me.  Each square is 4x4cm.

Saxlingham Summer Blues: Partially finished, hand stitched quilt made by me. Each square is 4x4cm.

One weekend, I found myself doing some major revisiting.  Old issues, old passions.  Let me explain:

I was having a clear out, and I opened a box to find a large stash of fat quarters.  Patchwork and quilting enthusiasts amongst you will know what I’m talking about.  Fabric shops sell specialist, high quality cotton patchwork fabrics in small amounts, as well as by the metre – by the quarter yard or metre, in fact, or, in the trade, ‘fat quarters’. (Don’t ask me why ‘fat’ ones, I have no idea.)  They are much cheaper and allow you to build up a big selection of colours and designs for patchwork projects with a lower investment, because you usually need fairly small quantities for such projects.  Every quilter will have such a treasured stash.

I haven’t done any patchwork in quite a large number of years, and I don’t see myself doing any again for a while, if at all, so I decided to hand my stash on to someone who would use it.  Going through the wads of cloth reminded me of the time in my life when quilting was my main creative outlet, of the colours and patterns I was into then, of William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, of earthy reds and browns, and sage greens.

I’m a different person now.

I’m all grey and blue and white and Modernism these days.

It is not that these old perferences have dated.  Its just that I have moved on.

Later that same weekend, I found myself discussing an old trauma with dear friends, something that happened long ago, but that is an underlying influence on my life even now.  I have processed so much of the pain and damage of it that it has become part of the landscape of my life, as much as the tree outside my gate, and like that tree, I acknowledge its structuring presence, but I rather take it for granted, and essentially ignore it unless it specifically comes up.

And when it came up, it raised with it new issues.  I realised I would have to revisit my past, and look at old hurts with new eyes.  As I do so, I realise that I am a different person now, that I have come a long way.  On our journey through life, we bump up against some issues repeatedly, and its easy to get frustrated when this happens over and over again.

Life is not a circle

Bad, hand drawn graphic of how I’m trying to explain this…

Our lives are not circles in which we come up against the same old stuff every time.  Each time we encounter them, we are further along in our healing process.  Life is like a spiral.  Each time we encounter our pain, we can see it through a new perspective.  It re-emerges for a reason, because more healing is needed, more work must be done.

Another bad, hand drawn graphic to illustrate how we encounter triggers as a spiral on our life journey

Another bad, hand drawn graphic to illustrate how we encounter triggers as a spiral on our life journey

It took me a long time to understand that I was not a bad person because my tastes changed over time.  There is nothing wrong with leaving old interests behind and developing new ones.

Going back over old hurts doesn’t make me a bad person either.  When there are new things I need to explore about them, it is okay to do that.  Writing helps.  I am now able to engage with my old wounds through my writing.  Last time I did so, the result was one of my most popular stories, ‘The Case of the Cuddle’.  Now I find myself finally working with commitment on its long-anticipated sequel.

I wasn’t ready to do it before.  I did not have the impetus.  Now I need to speak the truth that its plot entails.  If I cannot do it in my own life, then I can do it through my story worlds.  I thought I had left the ‘CuddleVerse’ irrevocably behind.  I thought I was healed.  Now I understand, that healing, just like creativity, is a process.

I can’t tell you when the final installment will be ready to read.  I can’t even tell you if it is the final installment.  I may still have more healing to do.  Like the half-finished patchwork in the picture above, it has sat in a digital drawer for two years, waiting for me to be ready to handle it.

Some things we leave behind, and some things we need to come back to, time and again.

And that is part of Life – The Process.

Happy Creating,

EF