Category Archives: Self Expression

The Friday Review No 8: Exploring the Shadows

toddler sulk

I don’t want to write today.

I feel angry, resentful, depressed, bitter.  I want to sit with my back to the world like a toddler, arms crossed, refusing to cooperate.

But I’m not a toddler, I’m an adult, and I can’t bury my head in the sand.

Neither can I stop being me.

So I sit down at the desk, because that’s where I feel safest, and I pour the toddler’s complaints onto the page.  Whining, sulking, complaining. Resentful, spiteful, selfish.  I let the toddler have her say.

And when I sit back and look at what I’ve done, I find I have page after page of scribble, malformed letters sliding together in a hurry to get away from their meaning.  Angry, it says.  Voiceless, it says.  Unheard, it says.  But today I have listened.

I’m a great believer in writing as healing. 

To me it is a refuge, even when I don’t want a refuge, even when I don’t want healing.  When I want to wallow.  It allows me to wallow, and then move on.  Sometimes we all need to hold a pity party for ourselves.

In the last month, I’ve had something of a ‘slap upside the head with the Frying Pan of Enlightenment’, as they say.  It’s been about acceptance.  Accepting my shadows.  The things I don’t like about myself.  The things I hide, even from myself.  The anger, spite, pride, pettiness.  All the things that were dirty words in the house where I grew up, the worse qualities you could display – lazy, selfish, greedy.  As a child, I would have done anything to avoid being labelled with those words.  As an adult, I’m pathologically terrified that people might think those things of me.

But honestly, we’re all lazy, selfish, greedy, sometimes.  It is part of being human.  It doesn’t stop us from being transcendently kind, loving, self-sacrificing, compassionate, gentle, patient, all of which we can also be.  Sometimes.

Accepting that human beings can all display every human characteristic, good and bad, is one thing a writer needs to be able to do in order to paint vivid characters.

Accepting that, as individuals, we can all be those things is something we all need to do.

And as a writer, I can use my experiences of feeling those things, of wanting those emotions, those behaviours, of indulging them, as insights into my characters.  I can use them as rocket fuel for my writing.

But only if I can accept that I have them.

(It’s a bloody hard job, this self-knowledge stuff, but I’m having a go.)

So here I am, sitting in the shadows, gnashing my toddler teeth, sulking fit to burst, and at the same time, observing myself, knowing that all this is going to make a great scene in my novel.

And you know what?  I feel so much better now.  I might even crawl off my naughty step and go and find myself something nice to eat as a reward for exploring my shadows.

Happy Creating,

EF

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.

 

 

Bun

bun“You know I love you, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but-“

(That’s always the point when you just know you are about to be gently insulted…)

“-wearing your hair in a bun like that puts ten years on you. You’re a beautiful woman and you don’t make the best of yourself. I only want to see you looking as pretty as I know you can, but that hairdo just makes you look old, and you’re not.”

Oooooo-kay.

Wearing my hair in a bun just became a political act.

She’s my best friend, and I love her. And yes, you sometimes need a best friend to tell you that that shade of pink really does nothing for you. Who else can tell you stuff like that?

But why did she have to pick my hair?

Let me explain – because there is so much back story to this one that I hardly know where to start.

I stopped colouring my hair about two years ago. I live on benefits so I can’t afford to get it coloured at the hairdresser, but it was more than that. Dyeing at home is messy, time consuming and frankly exhausting, especially when you have a chronic illness which makes holding your hands above your head pretty near impossible. And exposure to the chemicals really is ‘a bit not good’.

So I am going grey. That in itself is an act of defiance.

We went to a 60th birthday party recently, with guests who were generally aged 45 or over. Mostly well over. Of around 30 women there, I was one of only two who did not have coloured hair. The other was nearly eighty. That synthetically-hued head-count shocked me more than I can say.

When did hair colour become the new norm? (Probably about the same sick moment that pubic hair for women became impossible, but I think I’m glad I missed that, and besides, the infantilisation of women for men’s sexual purposes is a whole ‘nother blog post.)

I have to tell you that I don’t particularly rejoice in being grey – at least not the shade of it that I am at the moment. It will be better when it finally goes ice white, the way my mother and grandmother went. At the moment what I have looks a bit like an accident in a pepper factory. But it is what I am, and if the alternative is wrestling with harmful chemicals in my bathroom, then I’m more than okay with it. It feels right. Sometimes I feel old, and miss my brown locks, but it’s only a temporary feeling. Mostly, I don’t even think about it.   After all, I’m only forty-seven.

The bun thing is an extension of the grey thing.

I hate hairdressers. Going into a hairdressers is to me the equivalent of walking into a room filled with all the trendy girls at school who bullied me and made me feel small because I didn’t have the right clothes or make-up, or a boyfriend. If you asked me what hell looked like, I’d tell you its eternity in a chic hairdressing joint.

Which is one reason why I don’t get my hair cut particularly often. These days, I go to a place where I can just walk in and have a cheap cut, no questions asked, not have to make any small talk, or get to know anybody, or feel inadequate, and walk out again. I go regularly to get my fringe trimmed and to keep split ends at bay. My hair is in pretty good condition as a result. I look after it. I just don’t go overboard.

I had to have a lot cut off a few years back, when it got into bad shape. I went for a bob. I really felt I looked old then. Middle-aged. Like a fat woman who had given up. It was horrible. I hated it. I cried when I got home and looked into the mirror, and swore to regrow it immediately. I’m a long hair person anyway. Short hair just isn’t me.

However, I hate having my hair in the way, so I wear it up. When I was younger, it was thicker, and I could wear it in a French plait. Now it’s so thin, it looks like a rat’s tail hanging at the nape of my neck. No more plaiting for me.

I can put my hair up in a bun, though. A small bun, but a bun nevertheless. I twirl it round my fingers and stick two pins in, and away I go. No need to spend an hour blow-drying, which I couldn’t do anyway – the holding my arms up thing again. I just fix my fringe, pin the rest up, and go.

To me, its simple, elegant, and neat; kept out of the way with the minimum of fuss. And nobody else I know wears their hair like that, so I think its pretty original. An act of defiance. A Post-Modernist statement about self-definition for women in their middle years.

But apparently, it is not.

According to BFF and Husband, I just look like Mrs Pepperpot after a week-long whisky binge.

But you know what?

I don’t care.

Neither of them have come up with a viable, easy, chic alternative.

And actually, I don’t want them to. I like my hair as it is.

I’ve finally reached that much fabled time in my life where I’m happy with my body, and pretty happy in my skin. I actually like my hair like this, and I choose to wear it in a bun because I’m a bun kind of person. It feels as much a trademark as my BFF’s blonde locks or a slash of blood red lipstick.

I was reading an excerpt from India Knight’s new book about how to be a middle aged woman in the Sunday Times the other day, and my BFF’s words echoed what I felt when I read Knight’s bitchy remarks about ‘Hampstead Woman’. I.e.: Who the Hell are you to judge?

This is who I am. I am a woman of 47 who chooses to wear her (greying) hair in a bun.

I could get my hair dyed, but I choose not to. Just because I could, it doesn’t mean I should. I wouldn’t be staying true to my authentic self if I did.   And the whole point of my life right now is about being authentic. Authentically myself for the first time in my life.

And that is the core of the issue for me. I want people to love me for who I am. And this is who I am.

So actually my BFF did me a favour, because the most wonderful thing happened when she gave me her opinion.

I thought, bugger that! I like the way I am!

That, dear reader, was a first.

I have never, not once, in my entire existence, ever rejected somebody’s criticism of my appearance with such concrete assurance and self-confidence. (I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been able to reject someone’s criticism of my appearance at all!)

I can’t tell you how good that feels.

So I love my friend for telling me she doesn’t like my hair this way.

Because she has reminded me that I do.

And I know this post isn’t about writing, or creativity, but it is about being a woman. And as a middle-aged woman, I hate the way society makes me feel I must be a certain way in order to be acceptable. There are no role models for women like me that aren’t painted, surgically enhanced Barbie dollies in suited pseudo-armour.

The best role model I have at my current life stage is the celebrated artist and outspoken transsexual, Grayson Perry. And if that doesn’t say everything about the way our society treats women, I don’t know what does.

Happy coiffing,

EF

 

I want to talk about Truth

sussex churchI was having a conversation with a friend who is a songwriter.  A lovely, talented man.  He has left his old pattern of working, writing what he described as ‘pop songs’ in pursuit of his own, original voice.  He wants to be true to himself.  He says he has yet to find his own voice, but I am sure he’ll know it when he does, and it will be a truly special and deeply needed contribution to the world.

For me, this summer’s events have echoed continually his struggle.  I have time and again come up against issues surrounding truth-telling, authenticity, and being heard.

We all need to feel heard.  We all need to feel that our message has got through, that we are understood.

We each have a unique voice, too.  Maybe we don’t need another historical novel, or a pop song, but we need the original perspective of the person making that piece of art, because everyone has one.

Everyone has a unique experience of the world.  No one, not even a twin, can have exactly the same perspective as you, because no one has the same thoughts and reactions, or the same past, to bring to an event.

YOUR TRUTH NEEDS TO BE TOLD

I can’t count the number of times I have looked at what I have written or drawn and thought: ‘Gods, this is shit!  I’ve got nothing new to say.  Its all just copying.’

(Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with copying as a practise to learn an art form.  Its been used in art schools for centuries, and if you go into any great gallery, you will find students sitting on little fold chairs in front of paintings, copying away.  Presenting someone else’s work as your own is quite another thing, however, and its nothing short of stealing.)

Eventually, I will find my own, unique voice.  Perhaps I already have, I’m not entirely sure.  But I have my own opinions, my own truths to tell, things that no one else can share with the world.  No, the world may not need yet another historical romance novel, but it may just need mine.

After forty-odd years of being in this world, this is what I know:

We are all unique.

We all have a story or truth to tell.

We all have a right to tell that story or truth in whatever way makes sense to us.

We all have the right to be heard.

We all have the right to develop and acknowledge our own voice.

If there is one thing I want to say to you this weekend, it is this:

TELL YOUR TRUTH

You might find the following links useful:

This, from Liz Lamoreaux, about truth-telling.

This, from Andrea Sher, about the gift of allowing others to help and comfort you.

And this, which is one of my most popular stories, but which was probably the most difficult thing I have ever written, because it comes from a place of deep truth for me.

I can’t sign off by saying ‘Happy Creating’ today.  I just want to ask you to somehow, in whatever way you can, to tell your truth,

With love and thanks for your support,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Whats Inspiring Me Right Now

VW desktopFor today’s post, I thought I would bring you a little window into my creative mind.  Here are some of the things that are really getting my brain going at the moment.

This post from Kate Courageous really is causing a revolution inside my skull.  Imagine – learning to accept Nigel instead of kicking him?

Not practising enough?  Susan Piver has some interesting things to say about beating yourself up that are relevant whether you are talking about your meditation or your creative practise.

Found this lovely old post by Holly Becker on Decor8 about visual journals.  I really like this one about creating a lookbook too.

The New York Times on why handwriting matters.  Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

The Handmade Home geniuses have their new 2015 planner out!  And yes, I am a total planner geek.  See also the fact that I have just discovered how Pinterest can feed my addiction!

I love Brainpickings.

I love iHanna’s blog, but I especially like this post – ‘Glue book where I collect happiness.’  Isn’t that a brilliant idea?  Collecting happiness between the pages of a journal.  Count me in.

This book.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have read this biography of Virginia Woolf, but right now, every time I pick it up, I am filled with a new rush of ideas, inspiration, and fixes for my novel.

I’m loving this book as well.

Well, that should keep us all going for a while.  Hope you have an inspired and creative week,

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

Journal Friday: Handwriting

Handwriting in my writers notebook

Handwriting in my writers notebook

I’ve probably banged on about this before, but nevertheless, I’m going to do it again.

Write your diary by hand.

I’m serious about this.  No, really.  There are many reasons.

Yes, you hate writing.  Besides, you’ve got your computer and you can write so much more easily and quickly using a keyboard.  And hell, a laptop or an iPad are so much more portable and….

Wait.  What’s more portable than a little notebook and a pen?

There are reasons why using your hand to make marks on a page in the age-old way are important.

Firstly, writing with your hand will benefit you directly in a psychological way.  You may not agree with my position on Gestalt, but I truly believe that the unconscious or subconscious is locked up in the tissues of your body and needs to speak.  Allow it to, and it will say all the things you can’t bring yourself to acknowledge.  I have personal experience of the incredible efficacy of this, so you’ll just have to trust me.

Using your hand may seem slower, but it will unlock parts of your mind that you have no conscious access to, and allow you to release emotions in a healthy way.  Using your hand to write will heal you in ways you can’t imagine yet.

Using your hand slows things down enough to allow for reflection.  Not everything that is fast is better.  Sometimes you need to stop and think between sentences.  Allowing your eyes to follow the flow of your nib on the page allows your mind the breathing space it needs to move on to the next emotion, memory, image.

Going slower is good.

Another reason to hand write your diary is for beauty’s sake.  Yuck, you may think – Have you seen my handwriting????

Your handwriting may look like crap, but that’s because you don’t use it.

Practise is the key to making anything beautiful, and if you practise your writing, carefully and consciously, you will not only find yourself writing faster, but also more legibly and beautifully.

Again, this is something I know about.  I’ve been keeping a diary since I was seven years old, and looking back through the volumes gives me the chance to see how my own handwriting has evolved.  I have to say that I went through many phases of adopting the styles of others.  Yes, I copied the handwriting of my best friends in order to be more like them.  I’m sure many girls do.  And as a teenager, I adopted some of those silly squiggles and loops that are so common – like drawing a circle instead of a dot on the top of a small case ‘i’, and so on.  Yuck.  Thankfully, I grew out of that one too.  I even learnt to hold my pen in different ways in order to affect particular styles.

Now my handwriting has settled into a more mature, consistent style, although it does vary from day to day depending on my mood.  I have worked on it, crafted it, to make it more attractive, more pleasing to the eye.

I also have two styles for practical purposes, my usual style, and the one I use for writing very quickly, which enables me to take verbatim notes in meetings and such like without having to know shorthand.  Using either, I find that practise makes them more attractive and easier to read.  The more I write, the better I get.  Literally.

Writing is an art form in itself.

The other thing about handwriting is that, like map reading, it is becoming a lost art, and one we will sorely miss when it is gone.  I am a rabid advocate of reading maps, and I object strongly to anyone assuming that I have a satnav I can just plug into.  Satnavs are a disaster because they aren’t intelligent enough to handle the complexities of actual landscapes, and the number of times I’ve got stuck on a country road behind a vast articulated lorry whose driver has blindly followed his satnav’s instructions and then found he can’t escape are countless.

Similarly, handwriting takes account of the subtle nuances of the emotional landscape.  Because my handwriting changes with my mood, it actually speaks as much as the words I record about how I am feeling, in a way that static typefaces never can.

But more than that, if we lose the capacity to write by hand, what would happen if we were suddenly without electricity or technology?  How could we communicate?  If you were stuck in a desert, how could you write on a rock to leave a message for someone trying to find you?  If there were a natural disaster, Gods forbid, how could you leave a last message for your loved ones before you died?  Or more simply, how could you make a quick note of your shopping needs if you lost your phone?

It may seem laborious and a bore, but please use your handwriting, at the very least in your journal.  Not only will you be making a work of art to pass on to posterity, but you will find the simple act of allowing your brain to communicate directly through your arm will unleash creativity and healing undreamt of.

Right now, as I type this, I am actually yearning to pick up a pen and write.  I don’t know what I’ll write.  Anything, probably.  Just a bit of rubbish.  But the act of moving my hand across the page is seductive and addictive in a way that nothing else is, and I long for it.

You can feel this bliss too.  It isn’t hard.  You learnt how to do it at school.

Simply take up your pen and write.

Happy Journalling,

EF