Category Archives: Writing Seasons

Pivot Points

Let me tell you about the Marie Antoinette watch.

Its said to be the greatest watch ever made.

One day in 1783, an admirer of the French queen arrived at the workshop of Adam-Louis Breguet, the greatest watchmaker in Paris.  He wanted the perfect watch for the perfect woman.  His commission was to be without bounds.  Breguet was to pour everything he knew into making the most complex, and most beautiful timepiece possible.  Money was no object.

The watch became Breguet’s obsession.  Even after the French monarchy fell, Marie Antoinette was executed, and the lucrative business he had built from the commissions of the aristrocracy was in ruins, Breguet continued to craft his masterpiece.  Ultimately, it took forty years to complete, and had to be finished by Breguet’s son, four years after the master himself died.

Known officially as the Breguet No. 160 Grand Complication, the watch contained every function known at that time – Breguet even invented a few new ones.  It was crafted in precious metals and gems.  Breguet used sapphire for all the mechanical pivot points in the clockwork, in order reduce friction.

And its these sapphire pivot points that fascinate me.

Because I’m at a pivot point right now.

You will have noticed in recent months that this blog has become fairly, if not completely, dormant.  Life has, as it were, taken over.  There was no space to write.  No space in my life.  No space in my head.

Then, in September, on my birthday ironically, my mother-in-law died.  Her dementia had been filling up all the space in my brain and in my life.  Since she has been gone, I’ve begun to recollect not only who I am, but also all the activities that had been shelved and forgotten in order to look after her.  So many things I wanted in my life had fallen away, out of necessity.  And so many things now seemed irrelevant.

In the last few months, I know that I have changed not only profoundly but also irrevocably.  So much more has been happening than simply looking after my ailing elderly relative – things which are someone else’s story to tell.  And yet they, too, have had a hand in my transformation.  My life has been like a pack of cards, being shuffled by the Hand of (insert your favourite deity/scientific motivator here).

The day my mother-in-law died was a beautiful day.  The sun shone.  The sky was a perfect sapphire blue.  I stood outside the hospital foyer with a soft, warm wind on my face, and knew that I had reached one of Breguet’s pivots.  Wasn’t the sky exactly the right blue, after all?  And does not sapphire reduce friction?

The friction of life with Alzheimers is gone.  The cards that were thrown up into the air have fallen back down in a new order.  The things that seemed important then are irrelevant now, and vice versa.

Now the funeral is over, now the first shock of grief has passed, I find all I want to do is write.  I want to write something profound.  I want to write because I have changed.  I want to write something real.  Something hard.  Something pivotal.  My own sapphire pivot point.  So I am writing.  By hand in my journal.  In notebooks, longhand.  Using Natalie Goldberg’s wisdom as my map, I am steadily shuffling my way towards the light.

I hope I am making my own ‘Grand Complication’, out of the precious metals and gems of my own life.  I hope you will join me on my journey.  And I hope it won’t take me the forty years it took Breguet!

Happy Creating,

EF

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Post Number 200!

Flow at Ardnave, Islay.I can’t quite believe I have written two hundred blog posts for this site since I started it on 18th April 2013!  Thats quite a lot of information to write down, and I’m fairly proud of myself for managing it.  And I am grateful to everyone who has read, supported, commented and subscribed.  Thank you so much!

That said, you will have noticed that posts have been a bit scarce lately.  Please don’t think I have forgotten you. Nor have I run out of enthusiasm for blogging.  I am determined this isn’t going to be one of those blogs that just stops, mid-conversation, and hangs there, never to be continued.  I don’t want that.  Besides, the work of creativity never ends, and neither does learning about it.

Nevertheless, Post Number 200 feels like a turning point.

I dont really know where I am going with this blog, any more than I know where I am going with my life.  I’m always talking about seismic shifts going on in the background, I know.  That’s the kind of life I like to live – one in which I am constantly in a process of of Becoming.  But right now, well, I feel as if I am changing right down to my very DNA.

Let me explain.

At the start of the year, I decided to take part in Sas Petherick and Meghan Genge’s Heart and Hearth Circle, and just after that, something extraordinary happened.  I decided to sit down and do a Goddess Card reading, as I often do.

The card I pulled that day was Kali.

(Cue meltdown.)

Kali is described by Juni Parkhurst in the book which accompanies the pack as follows:

“Kali is black, full-breasted and bloodthirsty, and dances on the bodies of her enemies.  She is alive with power.  She is creator and destroyer.  She is not a goddess to mess with.”

No, indeed.  Kali frankly terrifies me. Parkhurst goes on:

“Drawing this card puts you on notice that major changes are taking place.  Structures around you may crumble and fall, leaving you temporarily lost.  Remember, however, that destruction must sometimes come before creation.  The old, tired, redundant parts of your life must fall away in order to create space for the new and vibrant life that is coming…”

No shit, Sherlock!  Since Kali appeared on my desk that day, its been one darn thing after another.  My mother was taken very ill in January, and I travelled across the country to look after her and help coordinate her treatment (she’s lots better now, thank goodness!).  Shortly after that, Husband was diagnosed suddenly with diabetes, which necessitated a stay in hospital, and a major shift in lifestyle and mindset for us both.  Then I had a bout of profound anxiety and depression, followed by a heart problem (luckily that seems benign!).  And for the last three weeks I have been prostrate with some kind of virus that has affected my throat and reignited my ME symptoms, leaving me utterly exhausted, and unable to mentally process.  Throw in elders with dementia to care for, and constant travelling, and its been a very tough five months.

All this has resulted in some very profound soul-searching, and a readjustment of everything I previously deemed important. In the face of the (admittedly distant) spectre of losing my dear other half, so much that seemed crucial to existence now appears totally and laughably irrelevant.  While he continues to respond well to treatment, I am all too aware that he is a similar age to that at which my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a sobering thought.

All this is a lot to process, and when one’s brain power is reduced by illness, there isn’t a lot of juice left over for anything else.  The result has been what I would describe as something of a story drought.  Not writer’s block.  I’m perfectly capable of writing.  But I’m finding that no new ideas are being delivered in the usual way.  I’m a person who is used to fresh stories popping into my head on a daily basis.  I’m never short of new ideas.  Except now I am.  So this is something of a surprise.  I am determined not to be phased by it.  After all, its understandable given what I’ve been in the midst of during the last few months.  I’m in subsistence mode.  Life is just sucking up all my neurons at the moment in order to arrange basic survival.  There’s nothing left for cave paintings at this point!

I suppose I must have invited Cosmic Intervention into my life on a grand scale by opting for the Heart and Hearth Circle, and signalling that I was ready to get ‘spiritually naked’ as it were.  I’m not sure I realised what I was signing up for, but do we ever?  Life has changed beyond belief in the last five months, and so have I.  And I don’t know what is going to come out of it.

But it will be something really, really good.

So as we move into the next 200 posts together, I hope that you will stick with me through all these upheavals, this drought, and whatever comes out of it.  My brain is currently toying with new sewing, quilting and illustrating ideas.  I am keeping afloat by journalling and pursuing a version of Natalie Goldberg‘s writing practice.  And I will keep you posted as to what emerges, though my missives may be a little less regular than they have been for a while.  I know you understand, and I shall look forward to sharing this new life adventure with you in the coming months.

(And incidentally, I really, really recommend the Heart and Hearth Circle.  I’ve learnt so much, and Sas and Meghan are wise and wonderful.  And I’ve met such lovely kindred spirits too!)

Happy Creating, EF

Creative Recuperation

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

We just got back from a demanding time in Oxford, and after the difficult fortnight we have had, I find myself feeling emotionally as well as physically exhausted.  So when I found this post from Jamie Ridler this morning, I realised I had to make a concerted effort to have some healing time.

One of the hardest things to accept about our creativity is that it often comes and goes.  There are times of bounty, when the Muse is flowing and there are so many ideas coming into your head and out of your pen that you feel like you could get hysterical just trying to keep pace.

And there are the droughts.  The times when nothing new has come for months, and you feel like you may never paint or write or dance again.

One of the things that my ME/CFS has taught me, and continues to teach me, is to go with that flow.  There are times of the year when our bodies need downtime, and times when our tails are up and we are full of energy.  Any woman knows this from her menstrual cycle.

The trouble is that we live in a 24/7 culture that requires us to be ‘on’ seven days a week, twelve months a year, and our biology just hasn’t evolved sufficiently to keep up with that. (We’ve only had the lightbulb for a hundred years or so, remember?)  We simply can’t be  in action continually.  We aren’t machines.  We have to stop and rest.

Resisting that PUSHPUSHPUSH productivity mindset is a constant practise, but if you are intent on living a truly creative life, you need to take account of not only your own biorhythms, but also your creative rhythms.

It is time to be gentle with ourselves.

Because if we don’t make time to be gentle with ourselves, our bodies will remind us that we must in no uncertain terms – often with the red traffic light of major illness.

So this week, I am resolved not to make any particular demands on myself. I will be journalling, and watching some old films, eating nurturing food, and taking lots of naps.  Maybe I’ll even paint my toenails, which always cheers me up!  I am going to take it one day at a time and listen to what my body needs.  By doing that, I know my mojo will come back eventually.   I just need to give it some space.

Happy creating – or resting, whichever you need to do right now,

EF

 

Reflections on a Weekend

The harbour and yacht marina at Warsash, on the Hamble River, Hampshire, near where I grew up.

The harbour and yacht marina at Warsash, on the Hamble River, Hampshire, near where I grew up.

I’m in a time of endings.

I spent the weekend with my mother.  She’s 84 years old, and not very well.   She’s always been so robust, ploughing through life like an entire panzer division, armoured and indestructable.  And now she’s frail and shaky on her feet.  Still going, don’t get me wrong, but undoubtedly fading.  The little child inside of me is frightened and confused, terrified at the prospect that the day is now not far off when Mummy won’t be there anymore.

The weekend was characterised by extreme weather, wild winds and a huge storm blowing in from the Atlantic on Friday night.  I lay in bed, listening to the gale roaring in the pines and the waves crashing on the beach up the road.  A tarpaulin was flapping mournfully on the house next door, which is being renovated.  Out in the Solent, a few miles away and easily seen from the shore, the massive Hoegh Osaka container ship was heeled over precariously on her side while tugs battled to keep her afloat overnight.

My writing life feels just as precariously balanced and embattled as that metal leviathon marooned in the major shipping lane.  The squalls that pulsed through during the weekend in close succession, and even my mother’s ill health, all feel symbolic of my life right now.  My writer’s group seems to be petering out after more than a decade, and the retreat we will go on together at the end of this month seems likely to be the last.

It is a time of endings.

Yet, in the terracotta tubs outside my mother’s front door, green shoots are appearing, the tops of bulbs – hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, even tulips.  Dotted through almost every garden in the street, spectacular orange-pink camelias are in full bloom.  The maritime climate suits them.  They show bright faces of gorgeous colour even in the depths of winter.  Fresh shoots of hope.

Without endings, we cannot have new beginnings.

Just as the dying off of exhausted foliage in autumn and the long winter months of dormancy and recuperation make way for the voluptuous gush of spring, so the phases of our lives must pass away, so that new joys, opprtunities and inspirations can take their place.

Today, I don’t know what I’m doing with my writing.  But I continue to write.  I feel hopeful.  And while I wait for the right story to pop its first green shoots through the earth, I will put what I have into this blog, into my diary, into notebooking, in preparation.  I will hope.  But I will also be ready when that green shoot comes.

Today I will honour the endings I know are coming.  Change is a part of life, and I will sit with the feelings of sadness that sometimes come with it.

But I will also plant up the amaryillis and paperwhite bulbs I bought the other day, and set them on the windowsill to remind me that out of compost, out of the remains of what is no longer living, comes indescribable beauty.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

Back to ‘Normal Life’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beach where I grew up.

The beach where I grew up.

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

You know the thing, the:

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

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

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

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

Happy reintegration,

EF

Inspiration Monday: In Utero

(And just in case you are wondering, I am not pregnant.)

“I’ve got a story coming on.”

This is what I generally say when Husband asks me why I’m being so grumpy and uncommunicative.  Its the time when I am lost in ideas, fermenting, cogitating, incubating.

This is sometimes not an easy time for the person or people who share your life.  They may feel like you are being deliberately distant.  Its always worth explaining that you still love them and want to be with them.  If you have to go away inside your head, it is because your Muse is kidnapping your brain.  Reassure those you love that you will be back with them soon, and its nothing personal.

This is also a time to be compassionate towards yourself.  If you are absorbed in your new project, you may have new ideas flooding your skull every which way.  It can be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting.  Remember to take a breather if you can.  It will help the details to accumulate in your head in the meantime.

If you are suffering from the ideas overload that sometimes comes with a new project, when you are overwhelmed with all the brilliant concepts for other things you could be doing as well, write them down.  Write everything down.  You can always come back to them, but at least you will have a record of them when the deluge ends and the drought sets in.

You might be so excited by your new idea that you want to get started right away, like, yesterday.  Well, maybe.  But don’t jump the gun.  Give yourself some time to think things through.  Make lots of notes – this is what your writing notebook (or journal or sketchbook) is for.

Be thorough.  Take notes verbatim from  your Muse.  Don’t rest on your laurels at 3am and convince yourself that you are going to remember that brilliant flash of inspiration, because chances are, come breakfast time, the little sucker will have sneaked off into infinity, and you will spend the next week banging your head against the wall, trying to remember exactly what it was that was so bloody good that you thought you’d undoubtedly remember it.  (This is especially important as you get older, believe me, so its a good habit to start NOW.)

It can be worth exploring around your idea too, digging around in the associated issues, examining messages linked to what your story or painting will say.  But don’t get side-tracked by research at this stage.  This is a pit with spikes at the bottom, and I for one always seem to end up falling into it.  The problem with the pit of spikes (research) is that:

a) You can lose touch with the original idea and its uniqueness to you.  I was once on a writing course with a man who was fascinated by the concept of how ‘shell shock’ was dealt with in the First World War.  He had done so much research into it that there wasn’t a thing he didn’t know.  The trouble was that all the research had led him to the conclusion that the novel he had to write was pretty much a re-run of Pat Barker’s peerless ‘Restoration’, and why rewrite a novel that has already been written far better than you ever could?

b) You can get side-tracked BIG TIME.  I got so lost in researching my first novel, which was set in the Iron Age, that it took me seven years to write the first draft.  By the end, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t face editing it, so I gave up, and it now sits in a folder on the shelf, seven years of work gathering dust.

Allow your idea to emerge without influence, or at least without any influence that isn’t already within you.

One final tip I would add is: don’t share yet.  Not even with your Significant Other.  Give yourself time to polish the corners off and get things into some semblance of order.  Honour yourself and your project with private time, in utero, so to speak.  No one else can share the link between a mother and her baby while it is in the womb, no matter how much tummy rubbing and singing to the bump takes place.  You are feeding your project baby through an umbilical cord that runs solely between you and it.  Take as much time as you need to nourish and birth it.   You will know when is the right time to bring your baby out into the light.

Happy Creating,

EF

Welcome to 2014!

Writer Friend asked me yesterday what my creative plans for the coming year were. (He means to finish the last draft of his novel to his agent’s satisfaction.  Good luck to him, I say.)

Me?  Well, I just stared at him with my lower jaw on my chest.

Plans?  Creativity?  Ideas?  Hell, even original thought?  I beg your pardon?

Let me explain:  Mother-in-law (henceforward referred to as Mother) lives with Aunt-in-law (henceforward referred to as Aunt).  Mother has dementia.  Aunt is profoundly disabled by arthritis.  Aunt is Mother’s carer.  Just before Christmas, Aunt fell on the stairs and was rushed to hospital with suspected broken neck. Cue care crisis.  Luckily, neck was not broken. Result, however, was several days in hospital for Aunt, meaning Mother had no carer.  Husband and I, and rest of family, rushed the three and a half hour drive to take over care.  Aunt comes out of hospital, still needing 24-hour care.

Its a mess.

The upshot of all this is that we spent Christmas nursing, so effectively Christmas didn’t happen.  For ten days, my brain was occupied thusly: 90% firefighting care/nursing issues, 10% ‘ohmygodhowarewegoingtogetthroughthis???????’

We made it home in time to spend an exhausted New Year’s Eve with dear friends, and to stare blankly at the telly for the Sherlock Series Three Episode One premier last night. (Don’t ask me for an opinion, I haven’t got one yet.  I’ll tell you when I get my brain back.)

I haven’t had an original thought to spare for myself for nearly a fortnight.

So the plans I had for writing a jolly, upbeat, ‘these are my creative plans for 2014’ post for you today are wrecked.  I don’t have any plans because I haven’t had time to think about them.  Of course, I will write one, eventually, when my brain is less bombed, and when I have recovered from the bone-deep exhaustion that only an ME sufferer faced with such an emergency can experience.

Why am I telling you all this?  (Apart from to apologise for not writing something you didn’t even know I was going to write?)

Because this is a real-life demonstration of the philosophy this blog was established to promote.

In a minute, I will put away my laptop and excavate my desk from under the heaps of clutter that accumulated there in the chaos before Christmas.  And then I will open my journal, and pick up my pen, and press the nib to the paper.

And then I will find my way back to myself.

Somewhere, buried under the rubble of the last two weeks, is my soul.  My mind.  My creativity.  And my pen will make a line, a track that will lead me back to my soul, my mind, my creativity.

This is why writing is important.  Whether we write a journal or a story, a play or a poem, that line of ink leads us home to ourselves, over and over again.  And if we follow that inky trail, we will never be lost, no matter how difficult and hopeless things seem.

Happy New Year,

With Best Wishes,

EF