Becoming

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In a quiet corner

Of my existence

You bring order

Without persistence –

You’re a hoarder of resistance

And

It’s not a story of holding hands

But of holding our breath

As you implore me

To become my best.

This is how you show you adore me –

I’m blessed.

All words and images (c) of the original artist 2015

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Style Over Substance(s) – Yes Please!

drugs n alcoholAs my contemplation of Dylan Thomas and his undeniable genius continues into today, there’s one very real aspect of his life as a writer which I have been focusing on and that’s his dependence on alcohol. It’s always been fashionable to draw these links between alcohol and substance abuse with the creative process, not least of all writers. There’s a long list of critically acclaimed (and dead) literary genii who are well documented alcoholics and the list of writers who abuse drugs, particularly opiates and other psychoactive drugs, is rich in tradition and depth. I only have to mention  Thomas de Quincey and his Confessions of an English Opium Eater to put that into some sort of context. However, in the belief that it is either the alcohol or the drugs that leads to creativity or the great process of mind expansion that allows such is, I would suggest, putting the cart before the horse.

My reasoning for this is crude but nonetheless unshakeable: that in today’s society there are increasingly people of all classes, intellectual abilities, backgrounds and social groups given to experimenting with an abusing drugs and alcohol and if the relationship were as simple as these theories suggest, then they would ALL magically become creative genii. And they don’t. Not at all. You only have to subject yourself to any given episode of UK talk-show Jeremy Kyle if you require any further evidence of that. To suggest there is a simple, direct correlation is naïve and romantic at best or just plain ridiculous or even dangerous at worst. To live in a world that continues to glamorise and romanticise this (non) connection troubles me deeply. If anything it muddles and fogs the brain so that you are unable to produce anything of any great coherence, structure or substantiality. So where has it come from?

I would suggest that it is because if you put the horse and the cart the proper way around then there is the possibility of a connection – that many gifted, artistic, sensitive and creative minds have a great need, a hunger, to quiet the constant chatter of new concepts and creative thoughts, to quash the painful passions and perplexities presented by every minute of every day and so they turn to drugs or alcohol to tame – not unleash – the creativity already surging through their soul.

As a result, the voice that presents itself under these conditions, through their writing, is as you would expect – slurred and slowed and disjointed. In my view, they haven’t unlocked their authentic voice by running headlong to these false doorways, they have killed it. They are the doors of deception, not perception. They push their way through them, hastily searching out a hiding place from their authentic selves and only then – safely hidden away – do they have the courage to confront the ‘curse’ of their creativity – now that it is safely contained and calmed.

I don’t doubt that this is, for some, a huge comfort and that without that safety mechanism many truly great works would never have struggled free from those constraints of intoxicated conformity within ‘creative circles’ and into the world. However, I would suggest that it would be far more interesting to explore other ways that creativity and insights truly can be enhanced, that greater clarity and can be obtained and that the authentic voice to express those can remain loud and clear and true. Perhaps this whole notion of the tortured and toxic creative soul was created by those very people who would seek to destroy it because maybe, just maybe, without those self-imposed distortions, those creative minds could really push some boundaries in a way that’s not masked by a smoke-screen of substance dependant semantics. Now that really would be something radical.

After all, what’s the point of ‘broadcasting’ on a frequency that nobody you seek to reach can tune in to? Because what those lists also tell us is that if you’re waiting for people to catch up with you on your jolly jaunt through wonderland, so they can really understand your message – you’re probably going to be dead before they get there. And, as a teacher, how could I possibly guide a generation to embrace their own authentic creative voices, if I was so terrified of my own that I had to hide from it in an alternate reality?

These aren’t my thoughts on the morality of drug or alcohol abuse – they belong somewhere else. These are my thoughts on the mistaken and misinformed theories about the relationship they have with the creative voice and the dangers, dumbing-down and deaths that can occur because of it.

 

 

 

 

Harvesting and Natural Rhythms – The Chapters of Your Life Story

DSCF7320It will seem strange to admit that, with all my recent ruminations on the metaphorical harvesting of your soul, it was only in the late hours of last night that I discovered today was Lammas Day. Lammas Day has long been held as the first Harvest Festival and is associated with the harvest of wheat. My complete ignorance of this information, coupled with my absolute fixation with related topics over the last few days has confirmed what I already knew – your soul needs no schedule or calendar. If you only listen to the rhythms, your instincts already know all of this. I happened upon this confirmation quite by accident. I had decided that today was going to be a day for adventuring (ironically, this didn’t come to fruition as the skies decided to open) and, looking for somewhere to adventure to, I had read in the local press that a nearby castle was holding a traditional Lammas Day celebration. So complete was my ignorance that I had had to look it up and it was then that I was hit by the delicious synchronicity of what I had been experiencing of late

It has been ingrained in your soul since ancient times and it will naturally and necessarily divide your years, your life, into chapters of the Earth. We don’t just exist alongside nature, we are of nature and as such, unless we go to some considerable length to distance ourselves it, we are governed by all the same principles as nature itself.

This is not the only experience I have had of late of coming face to face with my absolute interconnectedness with the natural forces around me. A couple of weeks ago, on a particularly humid day – the type of day where you can taste a storm approaching from miles away. I had felt uptight, anxious, knotted all day – inexplicably so. Having survived the day at work, I sat down at a desk to check my emails before heading home and as I looked out of the window, the heavens opened. As the rain came, I became instantly aware of a loosening in my temples, a simultaneous downpour happening inside of me and as I raised a cautious hand to my face, I realised why. Almost the exact second that the rain had come, I had begun a terrific nosebleed. The relief was incredible. When recounting the event a day or two later to a colleague by way of explanation as to why I hadn’t quite been on form that day, they replied, ‘But I love that. I love that you are so connected to nature that you’re affected by it in such an instant and powerful way.’

I hadn’t considered that point before and as I did I became of something entirely self-evident: I am not connected to nature, I am nature. We all are.

As a writer, I am perhaps more aware of the way that my own story plays out its narrative, how different perspectives would reserve different versions for posterity, the changing tempos and rhythms, where different plot lines seamlessly cross and intersect and where the chapter breaks fall.

Having had my awareness heightened with these two simple events, these tiny instances of synchronicity, I shall certainly be much more conscious of this in the future and may even find that this is a natural and effective structure for a story yet to be written. My own story. Not a fragment of fiction dreamed up from scraps of my own experience and imagination but my actual story. My whole truth.

Continuing the Story

So, yesterday I was very much focused on the idea of both the important role that storytelling can play in our lives, our cultures, our development and the idea of returning to things in your life, seeds that had been planted in your soul a long while ago, when the time is right.

After some more reflection, I see even more clearly how these things are real and relevant in my life right now. One of the main mediums I have for storytelling in my own life is through the poems that I write. A few years ago I had some published and then, for some reason, I just stopped. It was only fairly recently, in the last year, that the muse returned and I began to write again. Prolifically. Thanks in no small part to my constant muse and motivator – a friend I shall always treasure. I find that poetry helps me to tell my story in several different ways – to focus on one tiny detail, event, characteristic, feeling, person, location or idea. To write as directly or cryptically, to be as transparent or transcendental as I please. I find it hugely liberating. In a poem I can explore voices, personas, versions of events and myself, that I may not want to invest much time or emotion in. It’s perhaps for this reason that I find it quite shocking sometimes, even a little bit disturbing to go back and read over poems I have written, to encounter parts of my identity or personalities that only existed in passing and yet, in that briefest of lifetimes, spilled their passions across the page. That’s the process I’m engaged in at the moment. Since I hadn’t written consistently for so long, I hadn’t ever really trusted that that was what was beginning to happen again and so the poems appeared everywhere – in my phone, in notebooks, on memory sticks, on the backs of envelopes and receipts. I hadn’t collected them anywhere, since I didn’t believe there would be a collection…and now there is and I’m having to form the collection retrospectively, which I am doing in this notebook – handwritten, archived in date order or as near as dammit as I can get it. So, I’m returning to them all, to review them and round them up.

DSCF7316While it has been hugely satisfying and productive, calming even, to know that slowly but surely, they’re all arriving at the same place, it doesn’t feel quite so much like the ‘breathing life’ into them that I talked about in my last post. I feel that I need to do much more with them if it’s going to feel like I’m bringing them to life. I’ve had a couple of ideas – working with some friends to film performance poetry versions of them, maybe compose some backing tracks, team them up with some multi-media was one. Yesterday, a friend also suggested that I form another blog that just contains my poetry and that seems like something simple I could definitely do. Simple but a definite start. Because it’s difficult. I think the element of exposing parts of your story, your voice, that are perhaps not familiar to you let alone anyone else you know, is the most transformational, healing and liberating element of storytelling granted to a writer, but also the most terrifying.  You’re afraid that people will be forced to acknowledge and assign fierceness and passion and soul to your being, where perhaps you and they are more comfortable with not ever having to do that. And that’s great. It should be terrifying. It should expose you and allow you and others to explore.

Although it was a shocking realisation at first, I’m quite comfortable with acknowledging that most of my poetry comes from some aspect of my own truth – my identity, my personality, my fantasies and forging on with my journey, no matter how briefly or with how much hostility these aspects of myself manifest. It’s more the readiness of others to receive those insights that I think is the more terrifying aspect of sharing your writing.

There’s another kind of freedom that is also granted to writers that can lead to fear in sharing those stories as well though. And that’s the freedom to explore aspects of life, identity and experiences that are not part of your truth and you would certainly never wish them to be. In fact, its perhaps that delicious offer to take a bite of the forbidden fruit and escape poison-free that attracts so many writers to delve into darkness and write about the things they fear or reject the most. It’s a perverse paradox that the things that repel them the most strongly in reality seem to hold the deepest attraction in exploring in fantasy and fiction.

As a teacher, I am sometimes lucky enough to inspire my students to begin experimenting with writing myself and this was the basis for a recent frank and honest discussion with one such student about our identities as writers – both mine and the student’s – that we both wrote about things that we were hesitant to share because of the fear that people would assume that all of our storytelling expressed our own truths. For me, this comes across most strongly in my fiction prose writing because I feel it is a more measured and crafted exercise, where I can take more time to contemplate things and imagine responses to things far beyond my own experiences, whereas I see my poetry as more often being an outpouring of spontaneous passion, a momentary truth in its purest form. I reassured the student, and in some part myself, that we all did this as writers and that we needed to be brave enough to explore the things that attracted us to their dark and devastating midst, that it had no baring on our real identity, that just because we could imagine and write about heinous and horrific things it did not mean that our soul had ever come close to encountering them or had any great urge to.

But I wonder deep down, how true that is. It’s a necessary platitude to fall back on as a writer, or you would censor or sabotage your most daring writing. It’s peoples willingness to go along with this explanation that I have been able to return to a particularly dense and disturbing story that I am currently breathing life into. One I had turned my back on in disgust some months ago and now felt that I had been granted sufficient distance and dispensation from the events I am about to write about, to be able to return to it. But I wonder how true it is.

I wonder if all of our storytelling, even those we convince ourselves are the imagined stories of others, quite different from ourselves, are really just an uncomfortable appendix to our own stories?

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Greetings and Completings

  So, despite me thinking that the urge to write a blog was a freshly inspired impulse, it seems I had already set this up some years ago. It was already here, ready and waiting, aptly named and everything. I’d just never got around to posting. Or thought better of it. Or lost the inspiration again as quickly as it had come.

This seems to be a common strand of my life at the moment – the idea of coming back to things when the time is right, stitching together disparate ideas and experiences, weaving a quilt of completion to rest under. Because it’s a very cosy place to be, nestling in a corner, resting on the knowledge that every seed you sow will, at some time, provide an abundance of just what you need, just when you feel strong enough to harvest the crop. You do have to be strong, you see – to go back and see what’s grown there, what has emerged from one tiny seed planted long ago in your soul. You have to be strong enough to put your back into it and tug at the roots, to dig a little under the surface, to shoulder the weight of whatever is there for you to harvest. It can be enormously satisfying though.

This is what I found earlier this week when meeting for a quick drink and a catch-up with a former boyfriend, from what now feels like a former life. I arrived with no expectations, other than to while away a couple of hours, to gain a new experience and to check off a person-I-had-definitely-talked-to’ – I had promised someone there would definitely be at least five during their absence over the summer. You see, despite the connotations of the title of this blog and despite the fact that it is as relevant today as when I set this up some years ago, I’m really rather content to be left to my own disastrous devices. Delighted even. Excited. Daily. It’s the freedom to follow whichever paths I fancy and to make missions, mistakes, discoveries and decisions on completely my own terms – disastrous or not- that has led to the level of personal growth needed to go back to my roots – and yank at them, with both hands.

A ridiculously pleasant evening was had – an evening that could never have been had all those years ago when we had thought that we had a relationship. From my point of view the biggest hurdle would have been my complete lack of confidence and belief in myself – something I’ve since shrugged off somewhere along the way. I’d have sat and listened and bit my tongue until it became numb and useless – the way I actually felt about myself in more general terms. I’d have sat in awe of his reputation, convinced that this was proof positive of his genius, his worth, his craft and convince myself that my quiet creativity didn’t count. These days though, it’s not so quiet. I have plenty to say and plenty of ways of saying them and I think it’s important that I do – that anyone does. I think it’s just as important, if not more so, to speak out about your beliefs about yourself as it is about world issues, spirituality and religion. You need to tell yourself and others your own story or it will never be heard and people will fill in the gaps with their own inaccuracies. And if you don’t already know your own version, you may be tempted to let them stand in the spaces you have neglected to fill.

As the evening passed and I was able to talk confidently about my career so far; my passions – enduring and new; how my philosophies had changed; my journey – the highlights and disasters; my identity and the tools that have carved it; my discoveries – the ones I’ll treasure forever and the ones I’d rather not have made – to talk about myself, at last, as a writer and to be taken seriously – I could feel myself breathing life into my own story. Storytelling has long been a central part of many cultures (http://www.positivepractices.com/RuralEducation/CulturalStorytelling2001.html) – the way that traditions and knowledge and experiences and expectations are communicated to an audience in a way that can be remembered and internalised. And that, I think, is the difference I had brought with me. Where my confidence had come from. I had my story. I had the details, the landscapes, the characters, the trials and victories,the images and imagery, the faultless and tireless research to dance tribe-like with my tongue and light fires where there had once been spaces. I was no longer relying on empty intellectualism or interesting but irrelevant theories or iconic but false idols – things I couldn’t trust. I was relying on myself. Trusting myself and my story. And I filled in the gaps on my own, with fire and fierce fables of growth and determination. Just as elsewhere in nature, people often don’t reach their most beautiful and majestic until they have a certain level of maturity, until they have exchanged their mottled coats for something purer.

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Conversely, he had mellowed and was more willing to hear my story. To really hear it, not just to be nearby when I told it. And he had some revisions of his own to make. Some of the hopes and dreams he had felt sure would cement his happiness, his success, his future – things he’d mapped out into his future long before we’d even met – had turned out to ‘not really be his thing.’ He had had the strength and resilience to walk away from them and to take his new insights and revised goals with him. And for that, I found I had a huge amount of respect. He had some twists to his tale that made him a fascinating and compelling storyteller and, as the main protagonist – person.

So, sometimes by returning to harvest the growth of tiny seeds in the soul, you find an abundance of beauty just when you thought it would have all rotted away. Your instinct knows when to reap and sow. The cycle is part of something of you and beyond you. Just like the sunrise and the sunset. They happen each and every day and guide almost everything we do, though sometimes we may not even be aware of them. You need to be open to following the rhythms and your heart – they will take you to what you need. They know the timescale.

Now, there’s a gap to this story, that if I don’t fill it may be filled with inaccuracies, so let me fill it first. There’s to be no romantic ending to this story – not at all. As I stated – I’m perfectly happy with being left to my own disastrous devices and that was never on the agenda for either of us. The real love that was reawakened that evening was the love for the power of people, the journeys they go through and their stories and the beauty of sharing them. Really sharing them – with authenticity, humour, humility, insight and generosity. And to allow and encourage others to do the same.

I hope that this blog will be one such outlet to keep breathing life into mine and to encourage others to share theirs. I feel sure there will be seeds worth sowing.

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