Mirror Mirror – Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , , , , ,

 

 

Each week, I share one of the writing prompts used the previous Friday in my weekly workshop, along with an example of what was written in response. Today’s prompt (allow about 5 mins in total) is…Read the following poem by Hafiz. Allow yourself a moment to feel into your own response, and then write whatever comes for about three minutes.

Perfect Equanimity by Hafiz

Look how a mirror
will reflect with perfect equanimity
all actions
before
it.

There is no act in this world
that will ever cause the mirror to look away.

There is no act in this world that will
ever make the mirror
say ‘no.’

The mirror, like perfect love, will just keep giving
of itself to all
before
it.

How did the mirror ever get like that, so polite,
so grand, so compassionate?

It watched God.

Yes, the mirror remembers the Beloved
looking into itself as the Beloved shaped existence’s heart
and the mirror’s
soul.

My eye has the nature of God.

Hafiz looks upon all with perfect equanimity,
as do my words,
dear.

My poems will never tell you no,
because the Mirror is
not like
that,

and if God ever hits you with a don’t –

He has His fingers crossed,

He is just fibbing
for your own
good.

http://www.poetseers.org/the-poetseers/hafiz/hafiz-poems-the-gift/hlove/2-2/index.html

From ‘Love Poems From God’ by Daniel Ladinsky. This is my most treasured book of poems, given to me by a friend for my 30th birthday. This was my three minute response last Friday, but I would no doubt write something quite different if I did the same thing today.

 

So a mirror is like freedom. At once inviting, but also frightening, because with such clear and loving truth, comes responsibility. We ask for truth, celebrate it, but how willing are we, what amount of courage does it take to receive it, see it? And the mirror, like truth, is unmoving. It does not ripple or wave, like a pond or the ocean. It is still, clear, solid in its way, and untouchable, slowing down everything that approaches for to see what is so still, we must be still too.

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

War on Walls

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

28 years ago

we took down a wall

that had stood for 28 years

and now the world wants

to build more walls

 

but all walls have cracks

inviting prayer notes

laced with tears

where colours grow

for no wall is impenetrable

if you find the weak spot

tiny tender roots can reach

 

28 years ago

we took down a wall

that had stood for 28 years

and now the worst walls are inside

but joy and hope still thrive

despite the hate and scorn poured on

love finds the fault lines and flaunts

the beauty and boldness

that heralds the strength of softness

crumbling rigid stone that refuses

to give and so breaks

 

28 years ago

we took down a wall

that had stood for 28 years

so now we need

a war on walls

to stop them being built

before the next generation

is left fighting

to take them down again

 

Can I help you? – Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , ,

Each week, I share one of the writing prompts used recently in one of my workshops, along with an example of what was written in response. Today’s prompt (allow 10 mins) is…“Excuse me, can I help you?”

Just write a story beginning with that line of dialogue, and take it in any direction you choose!

I am delighted to have the opportunity to share, with her permission, a story written by one of my regular participants. This is exactly as written, no editing or changes, created spontaneously in the 10 minutes allowed. Enjoy:-)

“Excuse me, can I help you?”
“No!”
The bitter, dirty back of the old woman turned away from the young man.
“You look like you’ve lost something”.
“Go away, you young varmint! I got nothing worth yer nicking!”
Her face was lined like a contoured map, the hills and valleys, challenges and
sadnesses of a life lived, so it seemed, without much in the way of comfort.
“Go on, bugger off!”
But the young man didn’t bugger off.
“Let me help you look”, he said, turning over the rubbish in the bin just as
she was. “What are we looking for?” he asked after a bit, when she didn’t
beat him about the head.
“Mind your own business”.
“Well whatever it is, it’s thirsty work”, he said. “Let’s have a cuppa, shall
we?” and he pulled a flask and two cups out of his bag.
The old woman’s greedy face searched his.
“It won’t have enough sugar in it”, she said but she took the tea he handed
her anyway.
“I lost something a while back”, the young man said. “I’ve searched for it
everywhere but I can’t find it”.
She looked at him with some interest and turned away. There was a long
silence.
“Well I lost my baby, so there!” she said, hurling it like a cannon ball of pain.
He reached out his hand and touched her’s, then held it. And then into the
space which held only the two of them and her lost baby, she wept and wept
her grief. Finally the torrent abated.
“What did you lose then?” she sniffed.
“My self respect”, the young man answered, quietly. “You just helped me
find it.”

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

Art that inspires – Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , ,

Each week, I share one of the writing prompts used the previous Friday in my weekly workshop, along with an example of what was written in response. Today’s prompt (allow just 5 mins in total) is…Find a memory of a piece of art/performance, in any form (music, dance, theatre, painting etc etc) that really inspired and moved you. Immerse yourself deeply in that memory for a minute or two. Then write for three minutes.

As often happens, I was surprised by the memory that came to mind, a gumboots dance performance by a youth drama group ‘Ikamva le Afrika’ I worked with in South Africa. This is what I wrote:

IMG_2060 (2)

I was watching you from the crowd, a large audience the likes of which you had never performed in front of before, but you were totally unfazed. Your immaculate timing, your collective joy and commitment, pride in what you were doing – wow – I get goosebumps all over again remembering it. And then – the after glow. I was there, basking in the joy of your excited, exuberant faces when an older white lady approached a small group of you boys, you girls stood behind though you’d danced too – a feat in itself – and the woman said, “You, your performance, you’ve changed my life.”

I watched you take that on, grow several inches and find a new place in the world, still standing exactly where you were.

 

A little explanation:

The group performed an incredible 15 minute set of gumboots dancing, which they’d choreographed themselves, at an evening celebrating youth, as part of the 1999 Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town. The photos are from a rehearsal – sorry they’re so poor, my camera was giving out by then…

https://parliamentofreligions.org/parliament/1999-cape-town/cape-town-1999

Why that memory? I’ve seen/experienced a lot of great ‘art’ in many forms since then, some of it perhaps objectively more accomplished and impressive but this performance remains one of the bravest I’ve ever seen. Why? Because in that moment they really took their place in the world, and people noticed. Good art moves; the creator and the audience both, and good art changes the world by changing one heart, one soul, at a time, just like that lady from the audience said. And it stays with you…just like this memory has, so much so that it still genuinely gives me goosebumps. even after 18 years…

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

The five senses – Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Each week, I share one of the writing prompts used the previous Friday in my weekly workshop, along with an example of what was written in response. Today’s prompt (allow about 10/15 mins in total) is…Start with the senses.

You need three things to give you a frame; a time of day, a time of year, a place (generic). We were three, so we each had a piece of paper and wrote one thing, passed it on, added another, passed it on, added the last and then passed it back to the originator. I got:

5.30 am, autumn, a harbour

You can now write anything, using those three things as to guide to inspire, frame what you write. The only rule…you must refer to all five senses; sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. This is what I wrote:

loutro-2

image credit: http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-west/Loutro.html

The air is crisp but not uncomfortably cold. It’s sill very much dawn, and the palette of the sky is changing by the second; grays, blues, purples and the remains of silver from a moon whose work is almost done.

There’s a silence, or rather a hush over everything that’s magical, secretive, like I shouldn’t really be here yet. I’m a special guest who’s arrived early, while the rest of the world sleeps on, dreams on.

I close my eyes to savour the smells; salt, fish, gasoline and I hear the sea, lapping at the quayside while the lazy chains of the anchored boats knock knock against the wooden hulls. I sit and dangle my feet in the water, watching in the gradually lifting darkness – is that – no! A boat coming in? And I thought I was early! But then again…wow, already 7 o’clock. The first ferry of the day, and the magic is lifting, disappearing, running scared from a day whose busy-ness is about to arrive and chase it away.

I shiver a little. The sun still hasn’t reached this spot, and my feet in the water have cooled my whole body. I stand and walk back towards the apartment, slowly, lingering, and as people crowd around the ferry to unload the deliveries I can almost taste the fresh bread and the sweet oranges being wheelbarrowed bumpily away over the pebbled beach to the hotels and tavernas, to be turned into breakfast.

I carry my sandals still, feeling my feet mould to the stones beneath them with each careful step. I look out towards the horizon where the sun is no longer hiding any of itself, a bright full circle though still low, and wonder what this day will bring.

Yes, I know I pushed the ‘autumn’ part a bit, but really, September/October in Crete is gorgeous!

*********

And, as I didn’t offer a ‘writers’ well’ post last week, here’s a second prompt! Firstly, complete this phrase with you own ideas, at least 5 times;

A good friend is…

And now this one, also at least five times…

Community is…

Using the creative emotional juices now flowing from making those lists, write a poem entitled An Antidote to Loneliness. Here’s my version:

Antidote to loneliness

 

A friend is after all

Only a stranger

You haven’t met yet

Community begins after all

With the man next door

Who’s just finished mowing

his front lawn

And stands by the pavement

To catch your eye

As you pass by

Wanting to chat

For he doesn’t know

You have somewhere to be

But take each opportunity

To build from the material

Surrounding you

Though they may yet disguise

What they can become

Should you dare

To get your hands dirty

And bring them together

Heart thirsty

But it takes more

To meet that need

That turning on a tap

So put on your hat

Coat too if it’s cold

And be bold

There’s a whole workd

Beyond those four walls

That will share songs

If you’ll open your ears

To listen

And food

If you’ll bring what you can

To the table

To share

And dance

If you’ll offer your hands

And let the circle hold

You move you

Growth doesn’t happen

Inside the packet

Dreaming of becoming

The beautiful picture

With the fancy name

so open the door

the whole world is your home

and you don’t need keys

to be let in

but you might want to check you have

your house keys on your way out

in case you want

to get in again.

 

If you enjoyed these prompts, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

Kindness Challenge Reflection Post: Self-Love

Tags

, , , , ,

 

When I saw that the first week of The Kindness Challenge was self-love, I smiled. Joke was on me. Aww man – here we go again! Can’t I, like, you know, skip a step?

There’s a wonderful meditation practice known as ‘metta’ or ‘loving kindness’ which I have practiced regularly for several years, with varying levels of commitment. When I first began exploring it more deeply, I found myself very resistant to starting with myself, as is traditional. I shared this with my teacher, who told me to try starting elsewhere in the process for a while, and see if that helped. It did. I needed permission to take the focus away from my greatest block for a while.

What I learned from that process, and what this week has again highlighted for me, is that loving kindness to ourselves and being kind and loving towards others are inextricably linked. One cannot exist without the other. When the sun shines, it doesn’t choose which fields to land on. It shines on all, unconditionally. Night works the same way. When I am unkind to myself, it doesn’t only affect me. If I want, as I wholeheartedly do, to be kind to others, it has to include self-love. These are fundamentals, basics, and as so often with fundamentals and basics, they sound simple, and are hard to get right in practice. I believe this is a direct result of their simplicity, which leaves no place to hide.

This week we were asked to come up with a mantra, an affirmation, something that could be repeated, lent into, called upon when we needed a kindness reminder. One of the things I’ve been noticing since starting this challenge, is how the root of my lack of kindness towards myself so often lay in comparison. I constantly compare myself to others, or to my own expectations or previous achievements, and find myself wanting. Ugly, judgmental thoughts arise with nonchalance, so accustomed am I to them. So, I chose an affirmation, a mantra, that struck at this root.

‘You are loving and loved,’ does NOT work for me in the moments when I most need it, because it’s in those moments that I am least able to believe it. That statement is not one I yet accept as a lasting, incontrovertible truth. So I chose something else.

“You are unique,

as is everyone you meet.”

That feels wholly and always true, and that means it’s a powerful thought tool, however much of a mess I’m in. It stops the judgement immediately, because it whips the carpet from under it by questioning the assumption that life is a pair of weighing scales; good/bad, right/wrong etc. It affirms that each unique individual, and each unique situation stands alone, and we are invited to get curious and appreciative, over and over again.

This week has also reminded me that kindness is the master unraveller. That means that, for me at least, there are times when self-love is a little scary. Why? Because I’m not sure what I’ll find in the middle when I unravel. I’m not sure I’ll be able to put myself together again if I fall apart. It’s like those moments when you’re on the verge of tears, and someone looks at you kindly, or says something really sweet and you’re like – ‘No! No! Don’t be nice, please! I’m just about holding it together!’

Self-love is a journey, an adventure. It’s not linear, and it’s never over; and sometimes it can be a little counter-intuitive. I remember, as I write this, another time when I was struggling. I’d behaved badly and said things I regretted. That, I decided, was not the moment to sit and tell myself how great I am. Rather, it was a time to pick myself up and act – give myself a reason to feel more self-love. That is not to deny the truth that, ultimately, we never need to earn or justify love; it was simply about using awareness to find what, in that moment, would best support me in returning to a place where that felt true. I found the person, apologised, and made an inner commitment to learn from that experience, and, as much as possible, avoid actions that would give me another stick with which to beat myself.

I’m very lucky. I am surrounded by some very kind people, courageous people, creative people. I have met several people whose kindness appears to be so natural, so effortless. I have also been lucky enough to discover that, like most things in life, kindness and self-love can be cultivated, grown, strengthened – and there are tools out there. The ones that have worked for me?

Loving kindness meditation 

Gratitude journaling

and…my new affirmation!

“You are unique,

as is everyone you meet.”

 

Blessings on your week friends, and may self-love grow and overflow, in and through you.

For more about The Kindness Challenge, and more reflection posts, go to:

https://therichnessofasimplelife.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/week-1-self-love/

For information on loving kindness meditation, check out:

https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-on-lovingkindness/

On Being Human – Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Each week, I share one of the writing prompts used the previous Friday in my weekly workshop, along with an example of what was written in response. Today’s prompt (allow about 15/20 mins total) is…A Poem ‘On Being Human’

Begin by completing the following half sentence about 10 times, with whatever ideas come into your head; A robot could never…. If you’re doing it in a group, you can pass your list round to the right after each item and add to each others so you get some creative cross pollination of imaginative ideas. Then, turn over your piece of paper and complete the following, again 10 times; I know I’m human because…

Now using the ideas you’ve gathered as inspiration, write a poem entitled ‘On Being Human’. You could also watch this TED talk for some input…

This is what I wrote:

Would I give up being human

to take Trump

out of the White House

and end all the wars?

Would I give up being human

if I could erase

that painful conversation

forever?

Would I rather be programmed

to know my future

and have choices

made for me by code

so they were always ‘right’?

Now I know

why we have free will

because I’d use mine

to keep all my mistakes

and cry anyway

say those words

and learn how to build bridges

that I could cross

to take them back

Because each time life

breaks my heart

I have to mend it

and it becomes bigger

And if I’d known the pain

those choices were going to create

I’d never have made them

but then

I wouldn’t be me

Who would I be

if all I am

was decided by someone

or something else?

Expansion is human

the game of evolution

never knowing what

life holds next

means we risk disasters

but also have access

to the best life

has to offer

even if we don’t

recognise the best

in the moment it arrives

For we’re only human after all

but life still trusts us enough

to create with it

that the result may always be

a surprise

 

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

Wednesday Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

img_1608

“The aspiring poet is constantly lowering a bucket only half way down a well. coming up time and again with nothing but empty air. The frustration is immense. But you must keep doing it anyway. After many years of practice, the chain draws unexpectedly tight, and you have dipped into the waters that will continue to entice you back. You’ll have broken the skin on the pool of yourself.”

 – SEAMUS HEANEY

Welcome back after a brief break, to this regular slot each Wednesday, which I call Writers’ Well because: it’s intended to be a source of nourishment and inspiration for the writer in you, it expresses my belief that creative writing can benefit our well being on many levels, and…I love the above quote from Seamus Heaney. It gives me goosebumps every time. It also resonates with my own intention when leading writing workshops. It’s not about producing good writing, it’s about brave, real writing. Writing that goes down deep within to draw up something unexpected.

Writing Prompt:

My recent trip to Scotland included several visits to my mother, who still has a couple of shelves of my ‘ unthrowable away stuff,’ some of which will eventually become ‘throwawayable’, when I have time to sort through it. Among all this I found some personal treasure – a collection of writing prompts and some responses from the very first creative writing sessions I held, five years ago, filed in a folder I’d made immediately after that first session, driven by the buzz of joy and playfulness I’d been left brimming with. I made it from a gift bag left over from my birthday.

This week I’d like to share a very simple prompt, which was part of that very first writing workshop I held – when I had just one participant. It’s super simple and has never failed to bring lots of playful laughter, and some rather random stories. I’ve used it several times since, especially when I’m writing with just one other person.

Each person writes the first sentence of a story, anything at all, and then passes it to the other person who then writes the second sentence and passes it back etc etc writing just one sentence at a time. The speed helps the imagination as does the cross pollination with someone else’s style and ideas. If you want to try this on your own…I guess you could write two stories at a time, alternating between them, and adding just one sentence at a time to each.

This is one of the stories my first ‘student’ and I co-wrote, five years ago. I think I originally set the task at 10 minutes, but we couldn’t stop so I think it ran longer! This particular story ended up in a style for children…I don’t know why, just because. If you look at the photo closely you can see the different styles of handwriting, and the blue VS black ink marking our different contributions. Completely spontaneous and unedited, written in about 10/15 minutes. Enjoy 🙂

IMG_1972 (2)

Once upon a time there was a wizard living at the bottom of our garden. This wizard really wanted to build a fish pond so he could observe the fish swimming. Of course, with magic, it doesn’t take long, and with a wand he built the pond, filling it with beautiful fish. But then he thought of something else the pond needed, was it a bridge or a swing? He closed his eyes and asked the fish what they wanted, to make their pond even more beautiful and grand.

The fish were not aesthetic experts, but they knew an architect just down the road. The architect was a toad who went by the name of Mr Knowit. Mr Knowit was delighted to come over – he loved giving advice, especially to lowly fish. In his superior way he made his own slow hopping round of the pond and declared, ‘I know exactly what this pond needs!’

They all clamoured to hear this pronouncement, but first he said it needed a brass band as an introduction to his speech. Well, where would they find a brass band at such short notice they wondered, and asked Mr Knowit, ‘Would a chorus of birds do?’ 

Yes they would do, but only if they first had a practice. Could they sing God Save The Queen for example? Well of course, that was one of their favourites the head fish assured Mr Knowit, and with a loud splash he called the birds to the nearest tree.

But Mr Knowit suddenly had a moment of shyness; perhaps he didn’t really know what was best for the fish! There was a loud intake of breath – Mr Knowit DIDN’T know it, so NOW what were they going to do!? Perhaps they could have an attunement, but alas they had no hands to hold, only tails. So they all faced out and, like the most skilled synchronized divers, touched their tails together in the centre and closed their eyes.

A strange silence came over the group and the wizard appeared and said, ‘What did you get?’

There must be a bridge woven from reeds that all may come to seek the wisdom of the fish!

Mr Knowit knew some other toads and a neighbourly beaver who, when called upon, were more that happy to lend their skills to building the bridge.

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

 

 

Is your bookshelf healthy?

Tags

, ,

In honour of world book night…

I was woken by the thud of my father’s footsteps, heavy with fear, leaping up the stairs. I was about seven or eight. I looked at Dad through sleepy eyes. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked. Seeing that I was, his gaze dropped to the floor, and he started to laugh. At his feet was the heavy anthology of Fairy Tales I’d been reading in bed. I must’ve nodded off while reading, and had knocked the book out of bed while I fidgeted in my sleep. The noise had made my father think I’d fallen out of bed.

Books are no longer my match in weight. In fact, they get lighter and more portable by the year, as we further digitize and virtualize them, reading on everything from PCs and mobile phones, to tablets and purpose built e readers. They remain, however, a weighty presence in my life.

When I’m in a library or bookshop, with a mind far bigger than my left over life, a truth hits me. However voracious my literary appetite I will never scratch the surface of the pile of books I’d love to read. Not if I had ten lifetimes would I even finish the first room full. When I look out at the ocean I feel small, in a good way. The sheer hugeness is simply beautiful, and I feel a profound sense of space, aliveness, freedom. So too when I consider the number of books I want to read, there’s a sense of infinity, limitless potential for pleasure that thrills me.

Reflecting on this has made me a wildly irreverent reader, when it comes to my choices. When the should is stronger than the desire, I put it down. I have little enough reading time to spare. I refuse to spend any of it on something that does not excite me. That said, what excites me has evolved and widened, and it occurred to me that a healthy literary diet might be something worth cultivating.

Much as we are encouraged to eat our five a day of fresh fruit and vegetables, mightn’t it be of benefit to read from a variety of literary forms? Naturally, a daily intake would be difficult, but I have identified five literary categories, from which I try to read at least one book a month per month; non-fiction, autobiography/biography, children’s fiction, poetry and general fiction.

The amount of non-fiction I read has increased until the point where it is now what I read most of. Recent personal favourites have included: The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, which explores the wide ranging negative consequences of increasingly inequality; Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, a deeply researched and no holds barred warning regarding climate change; and The Tree Of Meaning, an enchanting collection of essays enthusing the roots of poetry being deep in the landscape of the earth. I also have several personal ‘bibles’ that I continue to re-read, such as The Gift by Lewis Hyde, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and Writing To Change The World by Mary Pipher.

I read to learn, to better understand this world I live in and the people I ¬¬¬¬share it with, because I am deeply invested in helping to co-create a viable future for both. I believe the knowledge and consequent humility that I acquire by reading such books makes me more useful, even happier, as I make my peace with the world around me and seek to serve the well-being of the whole.

A good autobiography, or biography, is an opportunity to ‘meet’ people who inspire me but whom I’m unlikely ever to share tea and cake (or wine and tapas) with, while putting the world to rights. I like to follow the journey people have taken to get to where they are, and am often encouraged by the surprises and mistakes they met on the way. These lives have all proved rich in evidence for what I already know to be true but try hard to deny; it is the pain, the challenges, the fears faced and the hatred transformed that seeds greatness. Satish Kumar (Earth Pilgrim), Nelson Mandela (Long Walk To Freedom), Leonardo Da Vinci (Leonardo Da Vinci: The Flights Of The Mind), Maya Angelou (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings) and Karen Armstrong (The Spiral Staircase) are just some of the people whose lives have touched me, not just through their remarkable achievements, but through the humble human journey of their lives.

Some might call Children’s Fiction a guilty pleasure, after all they released ‘adult versions’ of the Harry Potter series with more sedate covers to hide behind, but I feel no shame in reading it. I treasure the letter I received from David Almond in response to a gushing fan mail I sent him after reading a collection of his short stories (though of course it was Skellig that initially got me hooked). I sat front and centre when attending a talk by Michelle Paver, author of the Wolf Brother series, and am still planning a pilgrimage to the Roald Dahl museum. Children’s fiction keeps my imagination alive and my heart brave, my soul still connected to a place beyond cynicism. It’s medicine, and it’s marvelous.

Poetry is like dessert, rich and delicious but difficult to digest in large quantities. It remains my greatest love, and because I write it myself, when I read it I often find myself inwardly bowing, or shouting silently inside my thumping chest, ‘I want to do that!’

I spent an afternoon in the Scottish Poetry Library not long ago, and it felt like visiting a temple, or some other sacred space where we go to worship. When I left I was light footed, light headed and threatening to grow wings. I’d taken notes, laughed out loud and carefully protected precious volumes from falling tears. I shared space with old friends; Mary Oliver, John O Donohue, Ted Hughes, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling; and met new (to me) masters; Kei Miller, Yehuda Anicha, Alice Oswald.
Perfect lines are felt viscerally by every cell in my body, rippling right down into my being and changing my perspective forever. The stick inside my mind to block old pathways by repeating themselves when I need a reminder, ‘And yet don’t look to good/nor talk too wise’. Any writing is capable of this of course, but for me it’s poetry that does it best. In these times of ever shortening attention spans, and overwhelmed diaries, a literary form that gives it brief and deep is to be appreciated.

And so to General Fiction, to books that soothe and sate, enrage and excite, to worlds and characters that accompany me on long indulgent journeys; it’s true that I prefer coach travel to planes because it lessens my carbon footprint, but really, how often otherwise do I get to luxuriate in reading a book form start to finish at a single sitting. I did this recently, on a journey from the Scottish Highlands down to South Devon, my able companion being Jamie Ford’s Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet.

My experience has been that it is novels that I feel myself building community around. Gifting or recommending someone a book is an intimate exchange. Three years ago I read When God Was A Rabbit, a book my father recommended to me and wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed it. In his emailed reply (he now spends the majority of the year in Bali) he shared that he was, ‘really pleased you like the book as it confirms for me that we are still on the same wavelength!’

I remember reading the first page of The Color Purple during my ‘A’ Levels. I couldn’t stop my tears and was furious at being made to read something so painful. I had a wonderful teacher, who encouraged and valued my emotional responses to what we read in class and we have remained friends since I left twenty years ago. Perhaps that too, is how novels create community. They soften us, make us more open and vulnerable, and therefore more capable and open to connection with those around us.

It was late, around 11pm and a school night. I should have been long asleep. Instead I was sobbing, loudly, unaware of anything but the world I was immersed in and the characters I was watching. Once again I was interrupted by my father who had heard my tears. ‘What’s the matter love?’ Unable to speak through my sobs, I held up the book I was reading. It was Goodnight Mr Tom and I was twelve. My father simply nodded, gave me a quick hug, and left me to it.

goodnight mr tom

Wednesday Writers’ Well

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

img_1608

“The aspiring poet is constantly lowering a bucket only half way down a well. coming up time and again with nothing but empty air. The frustration is immense. But you must keep doing it anyway. After many years of practice, the chain draws unexpectedly tight, and you have dipped into the waters that will continue to entice you back. You’ll have broken the skin on the pool of yourself.”

 – SEAMUS HEANEY

Welcome to this regular slot each Wednesday, which I call Writers’ Well because: it’s intended to be a source of nourishment and inspiration for the writer in you, it expresses my belief that creative writing can benefit our well being on many levels, and…I love the above quote from Seamus Heaney. It gives me goosebumps every time. It also resonates with my own intention when leading writing workshops. It’s not about producing good writing, it’s about brave, real writing. Writing that goes down deep within to draw up something unexpected.

Writing Prompt:

Each week, I share one of the writing prompts used the previous Friday in my weekly workshop, along with an example of what was written in response. Today’s prompt (take about 15 mins in total) begins with completing the following sentence five times – ‘It was the first time…’

Now, for the next ten minutes or so choose one of those sentences, and expand on it… This is what I wrote:

May I introduce…the river Findhorn. I’m heading up to Scotland today – can’t wait!

 

It was the first time she’d spoken to the river. It didn’t feel like anything special. Actually it felt entirely natural, the most natural thing in the world. It didn’t occur to her until later that she may have been seen, overheard.

‘Help me,’ she’d begun. ‘Take this away.’

The immediate wordless response took her breath away. It was gone! She looked all around her. It must be a trick. Who? What? Nothing. But the sadness she’d arrived with really had disappeared. She began to giggle, and it felt like the rapids mimicked her joy as they rushed, white-tipped and wild, towards her. She began to sing, directing her song to the movement of the water, until her new lightness turned into a contented emptiness. She sat on a rock and watched; not anything in particular, just watched.

She began to play ‘what if’. What if I jumped in, where would it take me? What if I knew how to build a shelter and stayed for a night right here on the river bank? What if I could ask this rock to tell me all that it’s seen and heard? What if I were perched on the top of that tree, light as a bird – what would I see? What if being me weren’t so different from anybody else? What if I belonged? Fitted in…

The game stopped. She didn’t fit in, but just maybe that was a good thing. She stood, with new resolve, and bowed to the river. As she turned to walk uphill, back the way she’d come, it didn’t feel like she was climbing, for inside she was already ‘up’, and could see more clearly where she wanted to go.

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/