Tag Archives: journal

The Friday Review No 7: I’m running away

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Mouldings on the roof of the Radcliffe Camera reading rooms, Oxford.

In the last week, my husband and I have both been pining for Scotland.  Usually at this time of year we are making preparations for a holiday to the Western Isles (if we can afford it).  We happily run away to the Islay Whisky Festival, and it’s wonderful.  We were there at the end of May last year, and it was one of the best holidays of my life.

And I haven’t had a proper break since.

No Christmas, no Easter, no weekends off.  I’ve been away repeatedly, yes, but to my late mother-in-law’s house in Oxford, or to my mother’s in Hampshire.  Not for holidays, but for Doing.  In the past, my mother’s home would have been a haven to holiday, but now she has dementia, and so it has become a place of caring and problem-solving.  Not restful.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a meltdown.  I’d had enough.  No breaks, and all the emotional wreckage of the last six months had taken its toll.  My husband had just come home from his annual walking holiday in France with his pals, but I don’t have the money to do that kind of thing, nor the energy, of course.  (In fairness to him, he feels bad that he’s had a break and I haven’t.  And I certainly didn’t resent him for a much-needed and healing respite.)

Anyway, I decided enough was definitely enough.

So I’m running away.

I don’t have money to pay for a hotel or self-catering bolt-hole, so I’m going for second-best. I’m going back to Oxford for a week on my own.  My mother-in-law’s house is waiting to go on the market, so I can settle in without cost.  I shall pay for my keep by juggling estate agents and various visiting tradesmen – it is amazing the little jobs that have to be done, and someone has to be there to let people in to do them.

I intend to rest.  And read.  And journal.  And write.  And perhaps even draw.  I shall laze in the lovely secluded garden – I’m hoping for good weather.  And then there is the City to revisit.  I spent a great deal of time there in my younger days, not simply when my husband and I were first dating, but long before then, when it became a sanctuary from the emotional upheavals of my life.  I want to reclaim the city I knew then, reclaim it from the sad memories of recent years, when it was tainted by the demands of elder care, dementia and death.  I want to walk the streets and soak up the golden light reflected off the Cotswold stone.  I want to look up and see the curlicues of the college windows, the gargoyles and Classical statues, the wisteria and the laburnum.  I want to walk in Christchurch Fields, rummage in the Covered Market, and eat lunch at the Nosebag café.  I want to walk up the Cowley Road and feel the vibrancy of the various ethnic communities that have settled there.  I want to glide through the Ashmolean Museum, letting the beauty of the ages sink into my very pores.

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

I want to please myself.

I want a week-long artist date.

I want to find myself again.

I want to eat salted caramel brownies at the Barefoot Café.  (Which pretty much amounts to the same thing!)

It will be a celebration of no wireless connections, with only my minimal phone data tariff to support me.  I hope I shall have enough on my slate to be able to document a few of my adventures on Instagram.  Rest assured I shall be taking lots of pictures.  But it will be something of a relief to be somewhat incommunicado for a while.

I have a journal project that I intend to undertake.  I have been planning it meticulously for a while.  I don’t know whether I shall be able to pull it off, but I promise to report at length when I get back.  And share my strategy so that you can have a go too, if you like.  But I’ve got to test it out, first.

I have a mountain of books to take with me too.  Research for my current writing project, though I might give myself a week off that.  A couple of novels.  Books about creativity and writing.  And no doubt, being Oxford, with Blackwells, and the Oxfam bookshop, I shan’t escape the week without buying a few mores.

And a pile of notebooks are going with me too. With lots of different pens, and a glue stick for ephemera. I plan to soak up the LOT!

It’s going to be quite an adventure.  Wish me luck!

Happy Creating,

EF

Gimme Dat Ole Circadian Rhythm…

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Sunset over Cambridge

Mornings.

I’m not a Morning Person.

Trust me, me and Mornings put together are BAD news.  A Bit Not Good, as they say in the Sherlock fandom.  This seems to be an ineradicable facet of my character.  I’ve tried, Gods know, I’ve tried.  But the other day, something I read got me thinking about this ‘trying’ to get up business a little more critically:

Terry Pratchett, in his essay on his friend, Neil Gaiman, in ‘A Slip of the Keyboard‘, states:

“He takes the view that mornings happen to other people.  I think I once saw him at breakfast, though possibly it was just someone who looked a bit like him who was lying with their head in a plate of baked beans.”

You see, Society has this idea about ‘larks’ and ‘owls’.  A dichotomy, if you like.  You know, like ‘black/white’ and ‘male/female’ and ‘good/bad’.  (Spoiler:  Its usually pretty safe to assume there’ll be trouble when there are only two alternatives.)

There is this idea what there are people who can get up in the morning, who are at their best in the morning, who get their best work done while the rest of the world is still in bed.  They make the most of the day, packing more into every hour than most other human beings.  They are virtuous people, the kind of people who set their alarms for 4am so they can get an hour of meditation in on top of their hour at the gym.  These are successful people.  Healthy, industrious, productive, wholesome, and probably outdoorsy people.  They hike at weekends, and get up to enjoy the sunrise.  They are the kind of people who have time planners on their smart phones.  And use them.

I have a friend who shouts ‘Good Afternoon!’ at me when I come down to breakfast at 10am.  This person is very proud of the fact that he is a Morning Person, and thinks that he is wonderful because of it, and it is the only way to be.  You know.  Self righteous.

Morning People are ‘good’ people.

Then there are the ‘owls’, the Night People.

Night People are at best pale, unhealthy, and very probably lazy because they won’t get out of bed at a respectable hour.  They wear black, which is always a sign of being a bad lot, and suggestive of not being, well, quite clean, if you know what I mean.  They are un-productive good-for-nothings who waste the best of the day, the kind of people who leech off others more productive than themselves.  They are more likely to fall into drink and drugs, or even prostitution, because lets face it, those are the kinds of things that go on in the dark, aren’t they.  They are likely to be unreliable, promiscuous, even downright criminal.

(Can you hear the Calvinist shouting in the cultural background to this post?)

By now you will have realised what fascist, socially-controlling bollocks this all is. Neil Gaiman, for instance, is clearly not a Morning Person, yet has produced a vast body of work, including journalism, award-winning novels, screenplays and childrens books.  He has single-handedly revolutionised the comic/graphic novel artform with his Sandman books.

And he wrote ‘Good Omens‘ with Pratchett, which for my money is one of the best works of literature the human race has ever produced.  And I’m not kidding.  If you haven’t read it, do. Otherwise we can never be friends.

What he is not is a lazy, good-for-nothing parasite in a black leather jacket because he doesn’t get up before lunch.

I don’t do mornings either.  But I’ve written 7 novels and 107 published short stories and novellas.  And I don’t wear much black.

Almost every book about writing that I’ve ever read says you have to get up in the morning and write before you do anything else.  This is supposedly because you can access your immediately post-dream consciousness, which is where your imagination supposedly lives.  Supposedly.

I think its just because the Puritans said you had to get up early and work hard so you could go to Heaven when you die.

As I said, I can’t do Mornings, though I admit this is partly to do with my ME/CFS symptoms which are at their worst first thing.  It takes a couple of hours for the pain to wear out so I can crawl out of bed and get washed and dressed for the day.  It certainly is not the time when I am most connected to my imagination.

Since I was a kid, I’ve lain in bed at night, in the dark, and told myself stories.  To begin with it was about fear of the dark.  And I had nightmares, which didn’t help.  My mother got me a radio to play softly by my bed at night.  My stories acquired a soundtrack based on BBC Radio Two’s evening schedule: country music, folk, big band and musicals. By the age of five I had quite an education in jazz.  I also had the capacity to lie in the dark and tell myself ornate bedtime stories.

This is where the heart of my writing now lives.

I lie in the dark and listen to my husband fall asleep beside me.  And then I begin.  Great landscapes unroll before me.  Lewis is seduced by Hathaway.  Sherlock and John fight and make up.  Vikings battle for control of freezing fjords.  Medieval kings entice foreign princesses into loveless marriages made for political ends.  A policeman encounters a vampire on his nightly beat.  An angel pursues a demon in a car chase.  A woman stands on a cliff, looking out to sea, watching a flight of Wellington bombers fly overhead, on their way to bomb the Nazis into submission.

If I hit a good scene, I tell it to myself over and over again, sometimes night after night, until I am word perfect.  And then I write it down.

And that is where my ideas come from.  This is my writing rhythm. And I can’t deny it any longer.  I don’t fit into the cultural dichotomy of owls/larks.  For a long time I have fought to be something other than I am.  What I thought I SHOULD be.

These days I don’t care what Stephen King says about writing in the mornings.  It obviously works for him.  It just makes me ill.

Our creative life is embedded in our physical wellbeing.  Find out how your body works best, and go with that.  Slide writing into place within that routine.  And yes, if getting up at 6am to write before the kids wake, as Toni Morrison had to in order to write ‘Beloved’, works for you, then fine.  If you are a Morning Person, then fine.  Go with that.  Rejoice in it.  Write your fifteen chapters per day to the sound of the morning chorus.

Meanwhile, there are those of us whose Muse comes out to play at twilight.  Whose imagination only really kicks in when the darkness veils reality and allows us to overlay it with a new tapestry of being. Whose creativity slides into dreams, not out of them.  And thats okay.

I am proud to be one such.  Finally.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

The Friday Review No. 3: Processing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, happy creating,

EF

 

 

The Friday Review No. 1

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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.

 

 

The Annual Samhain Post

This year's haul of jack o' lanterns, carved by the Husband

This year’s haul of jack o’ lanterns, carved by the Husband, with lanterns and baby pumpkins decorated by Lottie and Michelle.

Dear Friends,

On my old blog, I used to celebrate Samhain every year with an annual post, looking back over the previous year and looking forward to the coming one.  A kind of taking stock.  Most people do that at the turn of the calendar year, but we Pagans tend to do it at Samhain – or Halloween – as well.  And it struck me today, in the wake of a serious pumpkin-carving and trick-or-treating with my little god-daughter last night, that such a tradition might still have some value.

In Review then:

My ongoing absence from this space lately should tell you all you need to know.  We continue to struggle with elder care, and the stress it involves.  Just when you think things are settled for a while, another crisis arises.  My poor Husband is skating perilously close to the limits.  I try to support him.  Between us, we attempt to do our best in a situation in which there is no answer, no magic wand, no way to be right, or to even be appreciated for our efforts.  The best we can hope for is that in years to come, we will will at least be able to sleep at night, in the knowledge that we did everything we could.

As an antidote to all this, I have set to work on remaking a novel from an idea I came up with years ago, in the hope that it will give me something productive to focus on for myself, something outside the ‘wrinkly situation’.  After an enlightening session with a great Life Coach, I’m trying new approaches, new ways of thinking, new ways of working.

And honestly?  Its fantastic!

No matter what is happening, this delicious landscape is chuntering away in the back of my skull, building up details, accumulating momentum, reminding me constantly of who I am apart from my situation.  I am doing something for myself.  I am doing something that gives me enormous pleasure.  And it feels great.  (More to come on that project in future posts!)

So much has changed for me in the last 10 months.  My choice of the annual word ‘Ease’ turned out to be laughable – I haven’t had any!  Oh, but I am so much more easeful in myself in countless ways.

Giving myself time off, allowing myself space to grow, has enabled exactly that.  I can see my writing, my creativity, and my very self in so many new ways.  I truly have grown.

And now for something completely different?

No, not really.  More of the growing, changing, evolving, I hope.

Less of the stress in future, I hope, now that professional care is in place for the elders.  Things aren’t going to get any better, but I hope that I can give up fighting reality, wishing things were different.  Accepting where we are seems to be the only way forward at this point.  Giving up struggling against the situation means having more energy to put into what can really be helped and changed.  And into looking after myself and my man, so that we come out of this with at least something of our sanity intact.

More investing in myself.  More self respect.  Stronger boundaries.  Taking less shit (ie “don’t fucking ask me how I’m going to make money out of this damned novel when I haven’t even finished writing it yet!  Can’t you see that its the PROCESS thats important, not the bloody money that may or may not come at the end?”)

And more journalling.  Lots and LOTS more journalling.  Because it is an outlet for all the feelings.  And in this situation, there are LOTS of feelings.

In the meantime, I am in the process of remembering how to write again.  I’m rusty.  My fingers are stiff.  The words are clunky, the metaphors are tired.  I need to practice, strengthen the muscles, write every day, do a little bit, often.

And reading.  Lots of reading.  Because as writers, we learn so much from our peers.

I’m changing.  I am different even to the person who wrote the last blog post here.  Next time, I think I will be different again.  But if we do not evolve, we die.

And as for Samhain:

Dear friends, I wish you a peaceful, happy Samhain.  May your ancestors gather around you in love and support.  May you step out on the path of peace and creativity in the coming year.  May you know yourself, and find peace therein. May you find healing.  And may your path be strewn with joy.

with love,

EF

A Bit of a Staycation

We had this plan to go on a proper summer holiday this year.  You know, beach parasols, bikinis, sun tan lotion etc.

And then Life Happened.  Primarily in the form of unexpected expense: me needing new spectacles (£650) and Husband needing a new crown on a tooth (£220).  Ouch!

So having assessed just how depleted our holiday fund became, we figured a staycation might be an idea. The nice thing about a staycation is that you don’t have to worry about luggage allowances.   So this is what I am taking on my staycation this year:

My staycation goodies

My staycation goodies

I’ve given myself permission to read EXACTLY what I want, not what I think I OUGHT to read, or anything along the lines of my usual reading list.  So I went to my favourite second-hand bookshop and picked out a book that just sounded really, really interesting.

‘Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil’ by Ron Rosenbaum.  Its not so much about Hitler, in the biographical sense, as about the way we talk about Hitler, about what we talk about when we talk about him.  It is about our ideas about the nature of evil, something I have been interested in for a long time, and spans everything from first hand witness accounts of his life, through philosophy and history, to theology and cultural studies.  It will be a demanding read, bit I can’t wait to get stuck into it!

‘What are you looking at? 150 years of Modern Art in the blink of an eye’ by Will Gompertz, was lent to me by a friend who knows I love modern art.  I read Norbert Lynton’s seminal book on the subject when I was doing my art ‘A’ level exams as a teenager, and recently I’ve been looking for a book as accessible that would explain and update my knowledge.  My pal suggested this one, and though I don’t particularly like Will Gompertz as a BBC correspondent, I think its mainly because I can’t bear to look at him.  Well, he can’t help looking weird and smug.  I guess he was born like that, so I shouldn’t hold it against him.  And my friend says his book is the business, so I’m looking forward to diving into that one while lounging in the garden with a chilled elderflower pressé too.

A couple of DVDs.  I don’t know why, but around this time of year, my system starts preparing me for autumn, and I get the urge to watch ‘Practical Magic’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.  We had both of these films on video for years, but when we got rid of all our videos some months back, my copies went to the charity shop along with the rest.  The other day, I decided I would treat myself to new copies, and I’m looking forward to spending some of my break snuggled up on the sofa watching these much beloved, familiar movies.

My journal.  I just listened to Susannah Conway talking about journaling on this podcast, and its brilliant.  I’ve been contemplating my journaling practice for a while, and this seems like a good time to expand my skills.

A few nice girlie things too:  Divine Oil by Caudalie, which smells as good as it sounds, and makes my skin feel wonderful, and Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure nail varnish in ‘So Much Fawn’, which is just neutral enough, and just pink enough too.  I usually wear the loudest red on my toenails that I can find, so this is a bit of a departure into the realms of subtle for me, but I like it.

So I’m off on my staycation to chill out, read, write, paint my toenails and hatch a few plans for the coming months.  If you are off on holidays too, I hope you have a wonderful time, where ever you choose to go, or not go!

Happy Creating,

EF

The Confundus Charm

sussex churchHusband arrived home today after his annual walking holiday on the First World War battlefields with his mates.  And I breathed a sigh of relief.

Not because he managed to come home without stepping on unexploded ordnance, though of course there was that.

Its just that since before Easter, there has been a continual series of appointments on the calendar, friends visiting (which I love, btw, don’t get me wrong), elder care visits to make (emotionally as well as physically exhausting) and illness.  And I’m not very good at times like that.

When the diary fills up, or like this week, is forcibly emptied by the need to lie in bed and groan, I sort of go AWOL on myself.  Do you know what I mean?

Today I read this article by Meghan Genge, and thought:

Yes.  That is where I am too.

I’ve forgotten who I am.  I’ve forgotten me.  I’ve forgotten what I do to be me. The core practices.  The core feelings.

When I’m busy, when I am rushing around from appointment to appointment, or looking after others, its not just the little things that get forgotten, like shaving my legs and flossing my teeth – no time, no time!

I forget where I put my soul.

So now His Lordship is home, I have a small window of a few weeks between elder care visits to remember.  I’ve finished the hurdling for a while.  As I’m recovering from a nasty virus which has knocked me flat for the last week, I plan to take things gently.  But I’m going to pick up my journal first, because whenever I need a compass to find myself and my creativity, thats what I find in my hand.  Pen and paper.  And it never fails.

Happy Creating,

EF