Category Archives: mindfulness

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

Tales from my Weekend

Capture the moment.

Capture the moment.

Dear friends,

I’m sorry you didn’t get a post from me yesterday.   I was doing my elder-care weekend.  Once a month, or sometimes twice a month, depending on circumstances, we trek across the country to care for Husband’s mother and aunt (who live together). This time I made a few notes in my writers notebook, thinking they might be useful starters for writing exercises:

  • A weekend of fabulous sunsets and endlessly varied cloudscapes.
  • A red kite swooped down into the garden to scavenge the chicken bones left over from Sunday dinner, as I perched on the back step a few feet away, reading the newspaper.
  • Learning to manoevre a wheelchair –  its a lot more difficult than you think, especially inside supposedly  ‘disabled’ toilets.  And garden centres.  Note to self – the aisles are always narrower than you think.  Especially round the orchids.  Perhaps they just want to capture you there, so you’ll spend more money, I don’t know.
  • I lost my mother-in-law in Sainsburys.  She walked off.  She has dementia.  Now I can imagine  just how terrifying it is to lose a child in a supermarket. (We found her again in the end.)  Note to self: find a way to attach mother-in-law to aunt-in-law’s wheelchair at all times.
  • A wheelchair is a heavy thing:  discuss.
  • A kind lady came up to us and said hello.  Just because.  People can be friendly just for the sake of it.  The world is not such a scary place as we think.
  • Old ladies want to feel pretty too.  Aunt-in-law asked me to spray her with scent from an old bottle of Guy LaRoche that she had tucked away, so she would feel confident when she saw the doctor.
  • A friend’s dog escaped and she snapped her achilles tendon whilst chasing after it.  Just before her impending annual holiday and her daughter’s graduation.
  • My niece’s husband teaches Wittgenstein to his year 12 students.  I think he is brave.
  • Coming home, the sky was full of a just-past-full moon, an orange disc slashed with shards of inky night cloud.
  • Bacon.  No, you don’t need to know anymore.  Bacon is all you need to think about.
  • Hugs.  Hugs make everything better.  Even if you’ve heard the story about the man walking into the plate glass window 18 times in the last ten minutes, hugs always help.

My thanks to Phoebe and Sam Grassby, Mike and Debbie Bracken, Betsy, Maria, Dr Finnegan and the unknown lady who came up to us in Sainsburys, Kidlington, for making the world a better place.

Happy creating,

EF

Take a Break

It probably sounds like a ridiculous thing to say on a blog about writing and creativity. You probably came here wanting to read about how to kick-start your novel or fanfic, not to be told to

HAVE A BREAK

Sometimes, though, it is just what you need.

Let me be clear here. I am not talking about those Creative Seasons we all have, ‘a time to write and a time not to write’, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes. I am talking about when you are in the midst of a huge creative streak, you are going at it hammer-and-tongs, lost in your story world, your painting series, or the new symphony you are composing.

These are dangerous times. These are the times when it is very easy to burn out.

Sometimes it is healthy for your Muse and you to have a break from one another. Just twenty-four hours or so. Nothing big. We aren’t talking rupture here. Just time to stand back. Take Stock. Take a breath.

Because we all need to take a breath.

(And if you have ever realised that you are so absorbed in a painting or a story that you have been holding your breath, you’ll know what I mean.)

The risk of burning out is a good reason for doing this. You might call it a ‘creativity detox fast’ or something like that. A short spell of time when you can recharge your batteries and see your work from a different perspective. Take a rest. Make sure you look after yourself. Breath. Eat. Move. See your friends. Remember you have a life.

Yes, you have a life outside your creative endeavour. You remember that?   The place where the emails have to be written, the laundry done, the cooking, the dusting, mowing the lawn. Remember that place? The one where you have to wash and brush your teeth, and sleep?

It is easy to forget real life when you are caught up in your creative surges. There lies the path to madness. Or at the very least, gingivitis.

This happened to me on Sunday (not gingivitis, I hasten to add!).

I had been writing pretty much non-stop for over a week. I had thought of nothing else. And then on Sunday morning, I woke up sick of myself. Sick of my own thoughts. Sick of the pile of dirty clothes I had to step over to get to my laptop. Sick of existing on gluten free fish fingers from the freezer (Tesco do reasonably good ones, if you are interested…)

There comes a time in every writer’s life when she has to tear herself away from her Word document and do the necessary.

I did the washing and the ironing, and went to the supermarket for fresh veggies. I did all those horrid, niggly jobs that had been floating about in the back of my skull all week, the things I had been putting off because I didn’t want to do them, and this time I had an excellent excuse (I was writing!!!!). I didn’t power up my laptop till late in the day, and even then, I kept my activity very limited. I didn’t think about my story world, forced myself to not think about it, policed not thinking about it very sternly. (Of course, the fact that I was sick of thinking about it helped.) I watched the film version of Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’, which was delicious, and read a lovely book.

And for the first time in days, I felt relaxed.

Today, I have resumed writing again, relieved by the knowledge that the bailiffs won’t turn up at the door, as I have now put the cheque for the heating oil in the post. And I feel so refreshed. My writing is better for it too, I think.

Riding your wild donkey to finish your novel is all very well and good, but not if it comes at the expense of your health or your comfort. So be mindful when you are on a creative binge. Yes, ride the wave and enjoy it, but be aware that sometimes you can ride it even longer if you just stop to enjoy the scenery along the way, and do a little housekeeping while you are at it.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Inspiration Monday: Mad Thoughts!

Do you ever have one of those moments when you wonder WTF is going on inside your head?

I try to keep mindful of the thoughts that go through my head, partly as a defense mechanism against depression and overdoing things, but also to a degree out of sheer amusement because some of the stuff I think can be deeply bizarre.  For instance, here is yesterday’s offering:

“I don’t want her to think we’re the kind of people who don’t clean our bathroom mirrors.”

?????????????????

This raises so many questions about my sanity that I daren’t even go there.

BUT

What about using this as a creative writing prompt?

Who is the ‘her’ the speaker is so paranoid about?  A demanding mother-in-law, for example, the boss who might have a promotion available, or a rich friend, perhaps.  What sort of people don’t clean their bathroom mirrors anyway?  What kind of people are the ‘we’ mentioned?  Detach this sentence from me and my interiors paranoia for a minute, and think of all the possible short stories you could write using this moment of madness as a starting point.

There are so many little moments in life that could be writing prompts.  That is why you keep your writing notebook with you, so that you can write down the moment your mother-in-law steps over your threshold and into your new home for the first time, and the first thing she does is look at the floor and say ‘I see you haven’t hoovered today’ (you moved in two days ago.)  Just imagine all the thoughts that would come into your head then!  Or when the hostess of a dinner party you attend dispells a painfully embarassing moment by announcing, without any preamble:  ‘I like cheese.’  (What was going in inside her head?)  Or when you catch yourself wondering what it would be like to eat daffodils (answer: don’t – they are poisonous.  I looked it up.)  Or even wondering what alpacas think about.  What do alpacas think about anyway?

Your mind is a garden of unbridled surreality and whimsy.  Don’t ever think you are short of prompts.  Its all inside your head.  All you have to do is watch what is going on.

Happy Creating,

EF

Choosing the Right Words: Emotion and Character

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series, 'Sherlock'

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series, ‘Sherlock’

So, in this little series, we’ve talk about using verbs and the extra information you can communicate when you choose them mindfully.

(To read the first post, click here.  To read the second post, click here.)

Today I want to talk about how you can use verbs to convey character and emotion.  Consider the following sentence:

Sherlock left the room.

This sentence tells us nothing about the character or how he feels.  All it gives us is a bit of rudimentary choreography.  Now lets play with some variations:

Sherlock swept out of the room. ‘Swept’ gives the suggestion not only of Sherlock’s imperious, and rather vain, nature but also of what he is wearing, that long overcoat swirling around his heels.  A person has to have the attention of everyone present in order to sweep out, particularly that of the narrator (and as usual with these characters, we can assume its John’s point of view).  Using this verb tells us something about John too, therefore.  It shows the amount of attention he pays to Sherlock, and his feelings about how Sherlock moves when he leaves – admiration and perhaps exasperation are implied.

Sherlock stormed out.  Sherlock wouldn’t stomp anywhere.  He’s too much of a drama queen for that.  Life with Sherlock is like being at the heart of a hurricane, so this verb implies his power and presence.

John stormed out.  John is also capable of storming out.  He’s a little bulldog of a man with anger issues and BAMF tendencies, so we can hear in this verb his impressive presence.  However, John is also capable of stomping in a way Sherlock isn’t.  There is something more down-to-earth about stomping that doesn’t fit with Sherlock’s persona.

Sherlock flounced out.  Sherlock, with all those curls, the flowing coat, the self-absorption and vanity, would definitely flounce.  This verb tells us so much about his character and attention-seeking – which of course, John feeds.  By using this verb within John’s point of view, we can actually see him feeding it!   Flounce also implies a certain degree of sulking, so we get the emotion involved in his movement.

Sherlock exited the room.  No one exits a room except in the instructions for a fire drill!  This verb tells us absolutely nothing about his character, movement or dress, or about the emotional circumstances in which he leaves.  What it does tell us  is that the writer is unimaginative and stiff.  If you are ever tempted to use the word exited, either:

  • think of something better, or
  • skip the action altogether because it is probably something so mundane that you can let the reader assume it has happened, e.g. After Sherlock had swept out, John sat back in his chair…

I hope that this little rumination on choosing words has opened a window on the methods of writing for you in a practical way, and enabled you to think about how you choose your words more mindfully.  Your writing will definitely benefit from it if you do.

In the meantime, if you are interested in thinking more about this subject, you can’t do better than reading Chapter 2 of Francine Prose’s marvellous book, ‘Reading like a Writer: A Guide for people who love books, and for those who want to write them’.  In fact, read the whole book anyway.  Its brilliant, and Prose explains things far better than I ever could.

Happy Writing,

EF

Why I don’t set Goals anymore

I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

 Following on from my previous post about celebrating our creative achievements, I’d like to talk a bit about goals.

There is a lot of talk about setting goals and resolutions for the New Year around in the blogosphere at the moment.  I’m a sucker for all kinds of productivity systems, believe me.  I’ve got a cupboard full of Filofaxes, and I’ve read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’ more time than I can possibly count.  (I still don’t really understand it, though.  But that’s another story.)  Anything that requires a list, a planner, a diary, a system, I love it.

Except.

The thing about goals is that they are just another tyranny of the Scarcity culture, the trend in society that persuades us that we are not enough.

Meet your goals and you will be enough, they say.

Except.

What if they are not the right goals?  What if they are someone else’s goals that you are just pursuing because you feel you have to in order to please them?  What if life gets in the way and simply prevents you from completing them?

And.

Once you have achieved your goal, there is always, always another one.  One goal is never enough.  Because you are never enough.

What if you were enough?

What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

More importantly, what would you do if it didn’t matter if you failed?

The Catch-22 is this:  Our success-oriented culture tells us that we must have goals in order to be successful.  (For a very narrowly defined value of success, that is.)  If you don’t achieve your goals, you are a failure.  If you do achieve your goals, then you have to have more goals.  We are on a twenty-first century hamster wheel.

Let me illustrate:

Your goal is to write a novel.  How do you measure that goal?  Is it to write 50,000 words, as NaNoWriMo would have it?  Is it to complete a first draft?  Is it to get to a drafting stage where an agent accepts your work?  Is it to get it to the drafting stage where an editor is satisfied?  Or to publication?

And when you get there, what next?  Write another novel?  Does this one only count if it wins the Man Booker Prize?  Or if it tops the Amazon bestseller lists?  Or if you make your first million from it?

You see what I am getting at?  When do you say ‘when’?  When is it ‘enough’?  When does the goal, the To Do list, end?

Yes, goals motivate us.  They help us to get things done.  They help us build businesses and careers.  They help us expand our expertise, our creativity, our skills and range.  As creative people, goals help us to plot a course of where we want to go with our talents, what we want to explore.  And that is all good.

Except when it isn’t.

Intentions

The Douglas Adams quote at the top of this post says everything I feel about goals.  For me they are stressful, and because of my health, I need to eliminate all the stress from my life that I can.  That’s why I set intentions.

Intentions are gentler.  Intentions allow room to grow and explore.  They don’t stop me from achieving things.  They allow me to achieve far more, in fact, because they allow me space to find out more about my creativity than a narrow, specific goal might.  They also take account of the times when my health does not allow me to pursue timed objectives.  Intentions are better for my kind of creativity and my own personal challenges than goals.  And they take account of who I am as a whole being.  They allow me and my creativity to grow at a slower and more mindful pace.

If you are wondering what an intention might be, how about this illustration:  This year I decided on the Intention to make our home a calmer place filled with light and peaceful colours.  Now, I could make a whole To Do list based on this intention:

  • Paint bathroom white
  • Buy new living room rug
  • Sew new curtains and cushions
  • Declutter every room

And so on.  These might be classified as goals.  They might even be timed, with one goal set for every month of the year.

Instead, this Intention can evolve over the coming months.  Each of these items may indeed be included in the things I do to fulfil my Intention, but they are part of a wider, more fluid way of living that allows for evolution and expansion.  Intentions don’t stay still.  They move and change shape.  They allow me to go at my own pace, a pace that I can afford, both in terms of personal stress, time and finance.  If I decide an action doesn’t fit with my Intention, then I am at liberty not to do it.  And I know I am not going to wake up the morning after I have put up the new curtains and realise they are completely horrendous in the light at this time of year!

Perhaps the two things I like most about Intentions are that they are:

Not static

Slow.

Perhaps you might feel that Intentions are a luxury that you cannot afford in your time-pressured, stressful existence.  If you feel that way, I invite you to consider seriously how you are living.  If you are all rush-rush-rush, how are you ever going to have time to notice and experience your life as it passes?

Journal Exercise:

In the next few posts I am going to talk about the process of setting (particularly creative) intentions.  And it is a process, something that evolves and takes time.

In the meantime, take some time out with your journal to think about what goals mean for you.  Are you one of those people who always fails with their New Year resolutions?  Do you have goals, and if you do, do you achieve what you set out to do?  Do you consistently set them so high you can’t but fail to achieve them, or so low that you don’t value them because they take no effort to achieve?  How do you use goals to beat yourself up, to tell yourself that you are not good enough?  Where do you fail, fizzle out, fall off the waggon, and do you know why?

Alternatively, how do goals motivate you?  What have they helped you to achieve?  How do you feel when you complete a goal –are you proud of what you have done, excited about the next step, satisfied that you did what you set out to do, or disappointed because you don’t feel as if the result is quite what you expected or wanted?  Was it the right goal for you in the first place? (Indeed, whose goal was it?)

While doing this exercise, be kind to yourself.  Don’t judge.  Be gentle.  Treat yourself as if you were a dear friend whom you want to support to the utmost.  Be patient.  Don’t rush.  You are not seeking to punish yourself.  The goals have done that effectively enough already.  You are on the journey to find a new way of being.  A new way of sparking your creativity and enriching your life.

Happy Journaling,

EF

 

Reflecting on our Creative Achievements

2010-12-25 13.48.32

My mother-in-law’s mad Christmas tree. Apologies that the carpet is all ruckled up!

Christmas is coming.  We are all rushing around panicking about what to buy Great Auntie Flossie, trying to get trees up and mince pies made.  And once all the kerfuffle dies down, we’ll be trying to formulate New Year’s Resolutions while our heads are still spinning from the tinselly onslaught.

The blogs I follow are already jam-packed with ideas for resolutions and how to plan your goals for next year.

Aren’t we exhausted enough?

Let’s just take some time to stop and reflect.  To consider what we have achieved this year, before we start pushing ourselves about next.

I don’t think we take enough time to recognise and celebrate what we achieve. We are constantly encouraged to move on to the next thing, the next goal, always more, more, more!

Because we are never enough.

Yesterday I came across Dr Brene Brown’s book, ‘Daring Greatly’, in the library.  I have read and benefitted greatly from her earlier works, but I had avoided this one because for some reason I had got it into my head that it was about parenting, which isn’t exactly relevant to me.  I was wrong.  The first chapter, on Scarcity, had my head spinning!  I highly recommend you read it.

As writers, scarcity is a constant problem.  After all, in such a subjective realm, how can you measure enough?  I wrote recently about the problem of owning yourself as creative.  This is intimately linked to the problem of enough.  How can you know when you have done enough, produced enough, published enough?

I think one way to tackle this sense of dearth is to recognise and celebrate what we have done.

This year I have started this website, something I really didn’t think I had the guts to do.  This is my 86th post.  That’s a whole lot of words.  A big achievement?  You’d better believe it!  I have published over 40 fanfics too.  I have put myself out there.

This is not blowing my own trumpet.  This is stating the facts.

I am proud of what I have made this year.  It may not tally with the list of goals I made in January, but I’m okay with that – I’ll tell you why in the next post.  I’ve been telling myself I didn’t achieve a lot this year, but actually when I sit down and reflect on what I’ve done, I’ve moved mountains!

Journal Exercise:

Before you get too lost in the melee of Christmas, set aside some time to take stock.  Sit down with your journal, and a glass of wine if you like.  Perhaps light a candle, and put on some gentle music.

Think about what you have done this year.  Don’t look at your list of goals and resolutions.  Don’t think about all the things you planned to do, and didn’t.  Think about all the things that did get done, and the unexpected achievements too, things that came out of nowhere, the gifts the Universe has given you.

Count everything, from getting to see your favourite actor in a play, to passing that exam, from painting your biggest picture yet, to being in the village Christmas Panto.  Maybe you had a poetry collection or a novel published, exhibited your art, won a competition, or maybe you read out your first poem in public, or tried painting or drawing for the first time.  No matter how big all small, list everything.  Think about all the creative things you did, the cakes you made, the dances you went to, the pumpkin you carved, the costume you made for your kid’s school play.

Be proud of yourself, of where you are now.  Do it for yourself.  Savour it.

Because you are enough.

Happy Reflecting,

EF