Tag Archives: inspiration

The power of connection

Recently, my trips to London have been more about connection than ever before. I mean, they always are in a way – catching up with family or friends, seeing the people I miss since we made the move down to Devon.

But the last couple of visits – as with many of my recent encounters with friends – have meant more than that.

The conversations I have shared have been on a different level. Driven at first by growing incredulity about 2016 as its carnage unfolded, and now by hope that 2017 might just be a time for change, we have discussed our fears about the world and revealed our plans to combat them in whatever small way we can.

Sometimes this has meant continuing conversations started online, or dusting off shared values that have lain dormant for years. And sometimes tentative comments about the state of things have led to entirely new connections being revealed, the realisation that people with whom I became friends mainly through circumstance in fact have way more in common with me than I ever dreamed.

Yesterday began with the donning of pussyhats with one of my bestest buddies. We made our way to Grosvenor Square to join the women (and men, and children) marching in protest at Trump’s inauguration, marching to say that we do not agree with the values that he represents and in fact find them reprehensible, marching to say that we will not stay silent in a world where those values are being normalised through his rise to power, and the rise of right wing divisiveness all over the world.

IMG_1826.jpg

Ours was a quiet and familiar connection in the midst of the crowd, a togetherness that we used to enjoy on a daily basis and now happens way too infrequently, a standing side by side with the values we know we share without even having to talk about them. The words we did exchange spoke of trying desperately to overcome the sense of helplessness that simmered beneath our convictions – thoughts of what on earth we and all of the people we stood shoulder to shoulder with were supposed to actually do to make a difference once the march was over.

I’m still mulling that, but what came next strengthened my resolution afresh to make sure it was something, and something good.

Even before the march was scheduled I had planned to be in London yesterday. We had to duck out of it early, not having anticipated quite how well supported it was going to be, in order to arrive almost on time for a memorial service.

The person we were remembering would not have minded that we were a little late. In fact were she still around she would undoubtedly have been marching by our side.

We were celebrating the life of a mentor, colleague and friend we lost far too early at the end of last summer: the indomitable Morlette Lindsay, a force of nature unsurpassed by anyone I have met before or since, the woman who not only taught me how to follow my heart and be the teacher I wanted to be but taught me to stand up for what I believed in and knew was right even if (especially if) it felt like the whole world was telling me I was wrong. Sitting in St Bride’s church yesterday afternoon, and afterwards at the pub, it was clear that she had touched the souls of every single person there in similar ways.

I hope she had some inkling of how important she was to me. I’m not sure I ever came out and told her, and I regret that – but I can make sure that her spirit lives on in my refusal to stand by and watch whilst our humanity gets twisted out of shape, and in the playing out of my determination to find a way to make things better.

I could have happily stayed in that pub, remembering Morlette and reconnecting with friends and colleagues who I have lost touch with over the years, for the rest of the evening, but my day was not done yet.

From there it was on to the West End, to meet old drama school buddies. These were friends who I got very drunk with the week before the EU referendum last June and realised that we were all fighting the slide towards a society driven by fear and hate in our own ways.

Yesterday we were headed to see one of our number perform in The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre. It was exciting to see him on such a significant stage, wonderful to see this story I had loved in book and film form brought to life through theatre – and humbling to be reminded how the narrative we are in the middle of right now has played out in so many different places and times before, and never with positive consequences.

Again the conversation turned to what we are supposed to do to stop this permutation of that narrative in its tracks, and the realisation hit that the things we can do will be different for all of us – and in fact all of us are working out our path to a better future even as we worry that it doesn’t exist.

From the actor bringing Khaled Hosseini’s powerful story to new audiences, to the translator embodying internationalism and connectedness with every new commission, to the sports journalist planning a move to current affairs in order to influence the way people engage with what’s going on in the world.

And the writer, trying to find a way to make my words mean something beyond the spilling onto the page of the thoughts inside my brain.

There is more we can all do – more we will do – but it is heartening to remember that in many ways the revolution has already begun.

In search of clarity

I have never been a huge fan of the January detox.

The thought of depriving myself of the treats that make the longer winter nights easier to bear has just never really appealed, and I have been far more often found curled up on the sofa with iPlayer and a glass of wine than sipping herbal tea and counting steps as the festive season fades.

This year, however, is different.

IMG_1817.jpg

There are lots of reasons why. As 2016 hurtled along, each day bringing new disaster on a global or personal scale, I found it hard at times to catch my breath. Even though my little corner of the world remained relatively unscathed the noise in my head escalated until it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I found some space on this blog to give voice to the flashes of inspiration that fought their way through the mire, but I never had the clarity to follow them through.

I found temporary respite in a newly kindled love of cold water swimming – I just kept getting in the sea as summer turned to autumn and have yet to stop – but aside from those rushes of endorphins I spent way more time than I should have done wallowing in despair at the state of society, and fearing that my own small efforts were doomed to be forever futile.

Christmas and New Year were a real escape from all that – even with the hecticness of a fourth birthday in between it all it was a wonderful couple of weeks of hanging out with family and friends, the physical reinforcement of the wonderful online community that kept me going last year.

January, though, has brought me down with a bump.

My head is fuzzy through weeks of too much booze and too little sleep, my body feels ungainly and sluggish, my heart aches for something that I am finding it impossible to put into words.

This New Year angst is making me want to raze everything to the ground and start again – to shelve my blog, to resign from the council, to scrap the plans I began to articulate as 2016 drew to a close. It all seems like pointless clutter – although, writing and Arthur aside, I have no idea what else I want to be doing with my time!

It is that, really, that’s giving me pause, and making me realise that I need to take control. I need to get my mind back in proper working order, and I know that the state of my mind is intrinsically linked to the state of my body.

So: detox.

A resetting of my physical state driven by clean eating (and clean drinking). A renewed effort to build on the physical and mental boost that sea swimming has given me with more of the same, reinforced by finding as many other opportunities as I can to get outdoors and get active. I want to build in regular yoga again, too – and to steal a few minutes each day to meditate. And to sleep, properly and deeply, to recharge and rejuvenate my soul.

I’m not setting myself strict rules or targets (I’m still too much of a rebel to respond well to those), but I do have a couple of tools that I’m hoping will help. For Christmas I was given a Bellabeat Leaf, a health monitor that in the couple of days I’ve been using it has already had a hugely positive impact on my motivation. I have sought out a goal-orientated diary, too – the Inspire Now journal, which I can see has lots of potential to help me bring about the clarity I crave.

And I might discover, as this month unfolds, that the detox will extend to other parts of my life too – that I will need to make some difficult decisions about how I use my time, to become more focused and more selfish.

2016 was a challenging year, but I fear 2017 will not be any easier – the seeds that have been sown point to things getting a whole lot more difficult before they begin to turn a corner. I want the resilience to deal with that, and hopefully in my own small way to make things better.

And that’s not going to happen unless I am physically and mentally strong.

The wisdom of a child

I have been working on two pieces of writing this week. My December resolution seems to have done the job, and whilst I haven’t written every day I have relished that blissful state of being immersed in creative writing – though interestingly both pieces have their roots in fact.

One more solidly so: each year at around this time since Arthur was almost one I have written a book about the previous twelve months – lots of photos, and words that attempt to capture the essence of his adventures and how he has grown.

IMG_1771.jpg

The first was a chunky board book made by a company in the states. I couldn’t actually find anyone who would create a custom one off in the UK (business opportunity anyone?), so that was pretty expensive… The next two I made myself using blank board book templates. Totally achievable, especially with some sticky-backed printer paper, but more than a little time-consuming.

This year I really couldn’t face the logistics of actually putting the book together, and now that Arthur is old enough that chewing books isn’t generally in his repertoire I figured a standard paperback would be fine. So I went to Blurb, and used their very excellent software to put this year’s book together. It would have been almost entirely painless had I not left it until the last day for ordering to get it delivered in time…

I can’t wait to see it, and to read it with him. It’s interesting for me seeing how these books are developing year on year: there’s a lot of rhyme, and more so this year just because there’s more text in general. There’s also definitely more imagination creeping in, reflecting Arthur’s cognitive growth and understanding. I think as he gets older the foray into metaphors might be quite fun – and there will still be the base pleasure for him of a story that is based on his own experiences.

The second piece I’ve been writing this week is too, in a way. It was inspired by something Arthur said to me a little while ago – actually woke me up with, as in crept into my room and whispered it into my ear whilst I was still half-asleep. He said “I dreamt this house was the Millennium Falcon, and outside was the entire galaxy”.

Recalling that now I guess I could have taken the story it inspired into a whole intergalactic sci-fi direction, but in fact the world it brought to mind (particularly in the context of those sleepy mornings) was one where a mother and son were trapped, facing seemingly unsurmountable challenges together.

It has an aura of Room about it, but it’s actually closer to 28 Days Later – without the zombies. I really enjoyed the process of writing from a very intimate, domestic starting point and through my characters (who are not exactly me and Arthur) discovering a whole other backdrop to their existence that I had no clue about when I began.

I took the time to plan once I started to realise what was going on, though, so I think I know where things are headed now. One, or maybe two, more sessions and I should have a first draft done – and I’m quite excited about crafting this piece into something submittable.

It’s all been a wonderful reminder of how utterly inspiring hanging out with a little person all day really is. There is no doubt that it’s hard work, and sometimes I find myself wishing that I had more hours in the day that were not filled up with the mundanity of family life.

But it took having a child to finally empower me to realise my dream of becoming a writer: and when I take a moment to stop and reflect on just how magical that child is it is not hard to understand why.

Writing Bubble

47/52

IMG_1754.jpg

“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

We went to the Advent Fair at South Devon Steiner School at the weekend. It was a lovely event, and a real reminder of how different education can be.

There are still several things about the Steiner approach that make me doubt whether we could embrace it entirely, but Arthur was most definitely inspired. Whenever we’ve talked about school before he has been adamant that he doesn’t want to go, but when I explained to him that this place was a school too his eyes widened: “It’s just like a big boy’s forest school”, he exclaimed. Needless to say, he LOVES forest school.

The highlight of his day came towards the end. I’d got distracted by the stalls, and emerged to find Leigh and Arthur peering through the gate of the forge whilst the school’s blacksmith crafted something in the flames. It turned out that Arthur had got chatting to him and asked for a sword, and the blacksmith cheerfully agreed.

So Arthur watched, fascinated, as the metal was heated and twisted and sculpted into shape, and when it was cool he held it in his hands.

We’ve had some serious chats about the responsibility that comes with such a gift – its end is blunted, but it’s still a solid lump of metal. Arthur chose a hook for it in the kitchen, and we’ve agreed that he will only handle it when we’re there – that he can use it as a prop in his imaginings, but it is not for play fighting.

So far he’s risen to the challenge, and handles his very own sword with the utmost care. It is wonderful to see what these little people are capable of when we trust them.

Perfect pumpkins

The unschooling diaries: week forty-one

This is not a reflection on my amazing pumpkin-carving skills, but rather just a realisation of how the humble pumpkin makes a perfect vehicle for learning.

Our pumpkin journey began back in May, with three tiny plants from Rocket Gardens. Arthur helped me plant them, and over the weeks that followed we watered them and watched them grow.

IMG_1526

And grow.

IMG_1520

And grow!

IMG_1521

To be honest I had probably been a little ambitious with the amount of plants we tried to squeeze in to our raised beds, but the pumpkins soon made a break for freedom and found the space they needed by crawling across the deck.

IMG_1723.jpg

Arthur has been asking since August whether it is Halloween yet – he has been desperate to bring the pumpkins inside and carve them into lanterns. And this weekend we finally did.

IMG_1715.jpg

He was bursting with excitement as we cut the pumpkins open and scooped out the seeds and flesh from inside

IMG_1716.jpg

He had very clear ideas about what he wanted to create from his pumpkins: a ghost, a spooky dog, and an astronaut (we had to pilfer a squash from our veg box for the third one).

We looked online for images that fitted his vision, and then he guided me as I drew the outlines on the orange skin. We worked together to carve the shapes out, using Arthur’s ‘ghost knife’ that we’d picked up this time last year and a handy little saw.

IMG_1717.jpg

IMG_1718.jpg

As soon as the lanterns took shape Arthur sought out candles to illuminate them, insisting that we took them somewhere dark immediately for a better view and staring full of wonder when night began to fall and he could watch the flames flicker at the kitchen table before we finally dragged him off to bed.

IMG_1900.jpg

This was only the start for the pumpkins, though.

Whilst Arthur and I had been carving their shells for Halloween lanterns, Leigh had been busy making pumpkin pie for Sunday lunch.

IMG_1721.jpg

And once the carving was done, we dried and roasted the pumpkin seeds for snacking on – a real treat in my nut-allergic world where every packet of commercially available seeds warns of possible cross contamination!

IMG_1720.jpg

There is even a portion of pumpkin puree left in the fridge, waiting to be cooked up into Halloween cupcakes this afternoon.

Honestly, who would have thought a simple vegetable could bring so much joy – and so much learning? I think we’ll all be sad to see the pumpkins go once this week is out. I’d best get thinking about what we can grow next…

A rambling mind…

After endless procrastination I finally submitted my second novel to a competition this week, meaning that all three have a (temporary) home. I am not holding out much hope that the two ‘finished’ ones will shine in what I’m sure are hugely competitive fields, but still it gives them something to do whilst I patiently await feedback on novel number three.

I seem to have a particular knack at handing over a significant project to my agent just at the point that the franticness of Frankfurt Book Fair hits, but now that’s over it shouldn’t be too long before I know where things stand with that one and can focus back on the bigger picture of finding all three a more permanent home.

In the meantime I have been finding seeds of inspiration all over the place, scribbling them down in my notebook and mulling over their potential to germinate into stories.

IMG_8220.jpg

I’ve been doing some free writing, snatching moments of calm to just pick up a pen and see what flows. What I liked about that was that when I was starting with the words themselves rather than an idea the sounds of those words and the way they interplay as collections of letters on a page became my focus. Definitely something to remember when plots and characters start to get in the way.

I’ve been taking quotes too – things Arthur has said, mostly – and using them as first lines to develop a stream of consciousness.

Then there was a moment when we were in Barcelona that really got me thinking… My friend’s daughter asked Leigh to tell her the story of King Arthur, and he sat down and did, in great detail. Reflecting on it afterwards he said he was struck by the misogyny and abuse at the heart of the story as he began to see it through the eyes of a nine year old girl. Which made us both think about how the story could be reshaped through that lens, the male and female characters recast… It’s not a new conceit, to bring a female character to the foreground in the retelling of an ancient myth, but it is something I would like to explore.

Something else that’s got me thinking is the TV series Black Mirror. We only discovered it in the last couple of weeks, and I love its near-future dystopias and reflections on the impact of technology on society. It’s reminded me of some old ideas I had, and made me keen to go back and look at them again.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to try to mould any of these thoughts into something more concrete yet, but I might give it a go over the next few days – just to see what happens. Though I’m still enjoying this process of rambling around in my head for the time being too.

The main challenge has been to keep my rambles on topic. As well as ideas for writing, my brain has started to consider again where I’m going with this blog. I’ve finally got round to setting up a Facebook page, mainly because I want to be able to share my posts with people through that medium but don’t want to clog up my personal feed. That’s got me thinking again though about what my focus is in my little corner of the internet. It’s always been fairly diverse, but actually recently it’s starting to settle into two distinct channels, writing and unschooling, with other posts hanging their themes off those.

I suspect that, a little further down the line, I might look to split those channels into two separate blogs. Possibly even explore the unschooling one as a potentially ‘commercial’ enterprise (firmly in inverted commas because it’s a territory I’m not sure about at all…)

We shall see.

In the meantime, though, I need to keep reminding myself that all of that is sterling distraction work for the writing I should be focusing on. And I certainly don’t need any more distractions just yet…

Writing Bubble

Seeking inspiration

Having successfully got a lot of my antsiness out of my system last week, I have found myself since embracing the space left in my days by not currently having any writing or editing to work on. I still have milling around in the back of my brain the intention to write some short stories, but before I do I am going to enjoy gathering some inspiration.

I’d forgotten, actually, how pleasant this phase in the whole writing cycle can be.

Instead of focusing inwards on the worlds laying down roots inside my head it is a time to reach out, into the ‘real’ world and the imaginations of others, and build up my bank of ideas. It is a time to listen, and to breathe; to watch, and to consider. It is a time to learn, consciously and hungrily.

Autumn feels a particularly apt time to be doing this. It is as if I am gathering food for the winter ahead, squirrelling away supplies in my den whilst the ground is still soft enough to break through. I am looking forward, too, to the moment when I can light the fire and curl up in the darkness to nourish my creativity with the embers of my explorations, but I have no fixed intentions yet.

Lots of this preparation has involved reading. I’ve read two whole novels this week – more than I’ve managed in the past couple of months, embarrassingly!

The first is one I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months, Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith. It didn’t disappoint: I loved the dystopian premise that was woven through it, found the characters flawed to just the right degree and relished the startlingly accurate depictions of motherhood (even if the context itself was highly unconventional!) It is inspiring on so many levels to read a novel written by one of my blogging friends and to love it as much as I did, and it has made me curious to read more from Mother’s Milk Books, the independent publishers who put it out into the world.

The second novel was one I picked up at the airport in Boston in January and had never found the time to read. How to Start a Fire tells the story of three friends as they grow from college students into middle aged women, weaving a complex web of misdemeanours and mistakes along the way. I think I was initially drawn to it because of the promise of strong female characters: they were brilliantly drawn, and the fractured narrative was compelling. I appreciated too the sensitive exploration of mental health issues, something which I am discovering is a recurrent theme in my own writing.

There is also a non-fiction book that I’ve been dipping into, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which through its particular philosophies is giving me a new lens through which to look at life and the ways we make it mean something.

IMG_1671.jpg

Outside of books, I have found myself watching the world intently.

Generally I have been tuning into other peoples’ conversations far more than I probably should, guiltily seeking treasure like a magpie that I can take back and hide away in my nest.

I was moved almost to tears by a family I observed on a bus the other day, and found myself scribbling down their narrative – what I’d seen and what I imagined was behind it – at the earliest opportunity.

The experience reminded me of a blog post that has been ringing in my ears since I read it, a scathing analysis of modern Britain by the brilliant Cash Carraway. I have often found myself paralysed by anxiety in recent months fuelled by a complete disbelief at the mess our society seems to be descending into, but this post reminded me that I could use that anxiety, and the anger that inevitably follows.

I’m still not sure how yet, or in fact where any of this will take me. But for now I am savouring the time I have until, from the spoils of all my scavenging, inspiration strikes.

 

Writing Bubble