Writing, dreaming and voting: it’s all the same!

I was astonished, a few days ago, when a writer friend told me she was fed up with politics and wasn’t going to vote in the General Election next week.

I’d known, of course, that there were people who felt that way – like everyone else, I saw the clip the BBC aired repeatedly just after the election was announced, of a woman in Bristol grumbling about what an imposition it was, being called upon to put a cross in a box for the third time in two years.

But as far as I know, that woman was not a writer.

Writing is a solitary act, but it’s about community; it’s about sharing the best of yourself with other people you don’t know, and trying in your own small way to make life better. Reading is about community, too.  Hearing other people’s stories fosters empathy and understanding, enabling us to recognise how deeply we all share the experience of being human.

Dreaming is arguably an even more solitary pursuit, but dream awareness brings a deep sense of connection with all our tribes, from family and friends, to nations and the whole  of humankind, now, in the past and in time to come.

We don’t only become aware of the collective layer of consciousness through dreaming – we also understand that just as we draw from it, we also contribute. Our thoughts and feelings, our beliefs and experiences, become part of that realm that connects us.

Voting is connection, too. We are privileged to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of our communities, by trying to understand the issues and make the best choices we can, according to our lights.

It doesn’t matter which way you vote but, if you don’t bother, you are missing a precious opportunity to care and connect in a positive way.

Every vote matters, just as every book in the multitude of books matters, and every dream in the dreamspace we share. Each one is like a drop in a pond; it may seem so small as to be insignificant, but without drops there is no pond.

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If you’re in the UK, and you’re eligible to vote, are you planning to put your cross in the box?

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Journals to fall in love with

With the most beautiful journals we’ve seen yet in this series about personal writing, my guest this week is Angela Brookman – gardener, artist, friend.

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Angela Brookman

I have diary envy looking at her exquisite covers and title pages. Here’s how her practice evolved, from the page-a-day diaries of her teenage years.

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My first journals, diaries really, started around the age of about 15, and about the usual stuff teenagers wrote about in the 60s, boys, pop songs, the horror of school, controlling parents etc. I always bought a page a day diary so I could get lots in. Writing got smaller and smaller, codes for secret stuff, just in case parents got hold of it. It would be so interesting to read these diaries now, but unfortunately they are all gone, no doubt burned by my ex husband when we split up. I’d forgotten they were still in the attic! Hopefully he didn’t read them first, although actually in the beginning I was so Crazily Madly Deeply in love with him, pages dripping with sex and passion that I guess he would have enjoyed those bits at least.

I didn’t really get back into journal writing till about 25 years ago, although I did once or twice get into Dream journals. Keep meaning to again, as I do dream quite vividly. Time—and all that!
Anyway my counsellor I was seeing at the time encouraged me to write a few sides of A4 a day, filling them with thoughts, feelings, observations, dreams, lots of things. This got me into the habit of daily journals, and opened up a sea of writing that has never stopped.

One good thing about keeping old journals, for me, is to see how things have changed in my life. One thing is dramatically different in that when I was younger I seemed to be playing out the “dying of love” dreamy Bronte style heroine. I loved people saying to me “Why do you look so sad” I revelled in that. Even 20 years ago pages got filled with the disasters of my relationships, would I ever be happy? What a difference now. Now my journals are pretty joyful really, full of appreciation for the wonderful life I live here in Cornwall. I think it’s good to write about gratitude. It’s easy to think about, write about, all that goes wrong, but when I stop to think about all I’m grateful for in the day, I find I could go on for ever. I realize that when I wrote about all the negative stuff, day in, day out, I just drew more to me. Now the opposite is happening. Of course it wouldn’t be real to not record the not so nice stuff, I guess I just do it in a different way now that doesn’t increase the energy of it.

Another way I find my journal useful is to remember what the heck I did last week. Sometimes I sit on the edge of my bed last thing at night, start to write, and can’t even remember what the heck I did this morning, well I can if I think hard enough. Don’t think I’m quite losing the plot just yet! But it is helpful when I suddenly think “when on earth did I sow those carrots, I did sow them didn’t I?” Just look at my journal, it’s all there. Actually if someone got hold of my journal in a few hundred years, they could probably could write “An old Cornish Woman’s Gardening Journal” Not that I am Cornish, of course.

I write a lot about the natural environment around me, the many creatures that seem to be drawn to here, and have been my friends over the years. It’s lovely to look back and remember them, the pheasants that ate from my hand, the swallows that nested in my woodshed that I had many a conversation with face to face, that I felt proud as any Mum when the babies first took flight, how I cried when they left for warmer climes each September. Foxes, badgers, deer.

There’s a lot about my garden in my journal too, but I also have written for the past about 8 years an actual Gardening Diary, since having my poly tunnel. To start off with, everything was an experiment, so it felt very useful to record everything. Times of sowing, what I grew, how things did. So that the following year I could refer back. I also, quite diligently grew everything by the phases of the Moon. That’s not happening so much these days – maybe I should get back to it… If it’s raining a monsoon when you’re supposed to be sowing your parsnips, you probably ain’t going to do it. And that happens quite a bit.

I used to always buy my journals, with beautifully decorated covers, people would give me lovely ones too. Now I love to decorate my journals, making them very personal to me. That’s quite an enjoyable part of starting a new one. I buy a very cheap, thick, lined note book. The paper needs to feel nice, not too coarse. Then I just let the decorating happen. I quite fall in love with the present one, really appreciating it each time I write, don’t want to fill it up( that’s why I buy a very thick one so I can appreciate it longer!) But then the next one gets decorated, and it’s even better. I love it!!!!

I sometimes think how lovely it would be if I were to come across a journal written by my Grandmother, or even further back. Feeling this, I’d like to think that maybe some day a descendant of mine might come across one of mine and find it of interest. I shall keep writing anyway, till the end of my days. Might be quite useful then, and entertaining, when my memory’s shot, to look back on my life.

 

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Angela doesn’t have website links, so here’s a pic of her stall at a recent craft fare, with her email if you’re looking for a lovely handmade woollen rug.

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Have you ever taken a cheap notebook and turned it into a beautiful journal, like Angela? Are you tempted to try?

Blogging: Does Size Matter?

Susanne van Doorn mentioned in the comments of A good week for a writer like me that views of her excellent Mindfunda blog were down because she’d taken a break, and we had a really interesting email chat after that about blogging.

Her reduced hit rate was, it turned out, about the same as Writing in the House of Dreams in a good month, so that got me thinking about how we bloggers measure the success or failure of our blogs. Do the numbers matter?

I guess you can only measure success in relation to why you are blogging, and what you want your blog to achieve.

Here are my blogging goals:

  • to express ideas, and have them affirmed or challenged, so that I can progress my thinking.
  • to maintain a kind of shop window, where people who enjoy my writing might be tempted to try one of my books
  • to find themes I might develop into new writing projects
  • to build a community, where people interact with me and with each other in the comments

You’ll notice they’re rather like my writing goals – quite modest in terms of a more mainstream definition of ‘success’, which you would have to measure in visitor numbers and views.

Every time I put a new post up, I get a few new followers, and there’s no doubt that if I blogged more often, that number would rise faster. I often take a break, even though views gradually drop off, and sometimes my blog holidays can run into several months.

But I always come back, because my blog does everything I want it to do. You challenge my thinking or, more often, augment it with your own experiences. Like this blog post, new ideas for writing come from random exchanges with people I meet through blogging (hello, Susanne!)

I’ve got two books in development at the moment that have come directly out of my blog – one about personal writing and one about depression and the writing life, as something I have noticed from the numbers is that my posts about depression and creativity seem to attract the most interest.

I do have a sense of community when I write here. I feel we come into the House of Dreams to share our thoughts and experiences.

I remember years ago someone telling me that when you go to a conference you shouldn’t be trying to get round as many people as possible – you just need to make sure you meet the right one or two.

I don’t need thousands of visitors to this blog. I just need you!

If you’re a blogger, what do you think – does size matter?

Amongst it are songs, poems, ideas for stories and life…

I’m delighted to welcome my friend Mel Johnston into the House of Dreams this week, to talk about her journals and diaries, as part of my guest series on personal writing.

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Look at these boxes, bursting with thoughts and experiences! Here’s what Mel has to say.

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As you can see, I have whittled down my back catalogue of journals and diaries to two boxes – apart from the notebook under my bed, the one in the kitchen and the one in my bag! One reason I keep notebooks and pages upon pages of journaling is because amongst it are songs, poems, ideas for stories and life. Sometimes they contain necessary evidence of this woman’s journey. Occasionally it has felt right to ‘let go’ of certain journals having at times poured negative energy into them in an effort to remain sane.

I loved writing as a child. My first poem ‘Winter’ won me a bar of chocolate at a friend’s 7th birthday party. At one point I kept a notebook and pen in the downstairs loo and was writing a Dick Francis style story about a stolen horse – tragically I lost that epic along the way! My teen diaries didn’t go in for much detail – ‘homework’, ‘church’ and ‘washed hair’ featured a lot! Sadly, leaving Northern Ireland became the escape I craved and creativity was side-lined.

In my twenties – work, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll took precedent and it wasn’t until I was living in rural Devon in my thirties that writing re-entered my life in the form of journaling, although I didn’t know it was called that. I was a single mum, low on money and support and at times struggling to cope. Rather than expose the depths of my despair to friends I began writing it all down in order to self-preserve. A daily gut-spill and vent became a survival strategy which ultimately reconnected me with the wonderful, flowing feel of writing. I could work through a worry on the page and suddenly the writing was coming from a different perspective – a deeper place – and had a more poetic feel to it. Writing my way through problems taught me I don’t have to react immediately to situations – often keeping quiet and taking time to reflect makes for a better response and sometimes no response at all works best. This early morning ‘write’ with a cuppa in bed has helped me to become a more aware human being and that is definitely an ongoing process.

Allowing that rediscovered creative and playful part of myself to flourish has not been easy – it has taken many years to embody the conviction that it must receive priority. Five years ago I made myself ill through the stress of juggling three jobs six days a week in order to keep the roof over my head, the car on the road and support my son at university. Whilst recovering I decided to write two lists – what I wished I could do more of and what I wanted to do less of. I’d attended some wonderful writing courses (thanks Jenny) and poetry workshops and wished for more time to write – but how?   Eventually I gave up my home and much of the contents and moved to Cornwall where I rented a room whilst doing a Creative Writing degree at Falmouth University. Journaling became less stress-relief and more celebration of life. Deadlines for assignments were the new stress! I discovered that academia is not the place for this free spirit – but it afforded me time and space immersed in a world where creativity is being valued daily. I’ll tell you truthfully, as a student those early morning journaling sessions in bed with a cuppa sometimes stretched out till lunchtime!

The challenge now is to stay true to myself and keep the flow flowing. Journaling has an important role in that aspiration.

You can read more about Mel and her writing on her website.

I really relate to the idea that journaling is an important part of keeping the flow flowing. Is that your experience too? 

A good week for a writer like me!

I guess for a lot of writers, maybe the dream week would include standing up in front of a major festival crowd, receiving a huge royalty payment and being interviewed for a Sunday supplement.

But for a writer like me, who has experienced two of those and wouldn’t really want to again, the things that make a great week are comparatively humble. (I wouldn’t mind experiencing the massive royalty payment at some stage, of course – just to check whether I like it or not).

Here are five things that have happened in the last few days, and made my week:

  1. Working on a new book. That’s got to be the first and best of everything for a writer like me, and it’s even sweeter now, after a year of not really writing at all.
  2. A cheque for my fee of 50 guineas (more or less – the bank can’t exactly do that) and a lovely letter from Liskeard Poetry Group, for helping them select the poems for their upcoming anthology.
  3. An opportunity to run a poetry workshop around a really interesting museum exhibition.
  4. A new 5* amazon review for my children’s book, Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends. Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 18.36.24
  5. Having an intriguing dream to write down in my diary.
  6. Word from my agent that the Turkish publisher of Peony Pinker wants to renew the rights for the first two books. We’re talking 800 euros altogether, and after agents’ fees and income tax I’ll be lucky to see half of that, but still – they’ve sold enough books to want to do a new print run… in Turkey! 2017-04-25 18.39.46
  7. An email from someone who was on my last workshop, telling me she’d felt emboldened to press send on an article she wrote for a holiday publication (circulation 40,000) and it’s been accepted.
  8. Another email from a different person who’s come to workshops to say she’s got a gig writing restaurant reviews.
  9. Discussions about book covers with my lovely designer and her assistant, Moriarty, who has excellent emailing skills for a cat.
  10. Reading Angela’s Ashes and calling it work.

It doesn’t come to much in terms of wealth and fame, but all those things add up to a pretty good week for a writer like me.

What would make a good week for a writer like you?

 

‘I stopped journalling – it was too dangerous…’

This new post in my guest series on personal writing, by Anne Phillips, vividly evokes the feeling of danger and edginess that writing can bring – something I’ve often felt myself, and that I see in other writers who come to workshops. It can hold you back, but overcoming it is part of the buzz of writing.

Anne lives and works in North Wales as a teacher; she’s widowed with four grown up children. Her entry spans 50 years of diary writing life.

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Some of Anne’s lovely notebooks

My writing life began at a young age. I was two. Blue pencil in hand, I scrawled my name backwards on the wall beneath the coats in the cupboard under the stairs. No one had any idea it was there, until twelve years later (seven after dad died), when my mother decided to paint the cupboard.

I filled exercise books with ‘double writing’ writing books for my doll and teddy. One of my earliest memories is sitting at my brother’s school desk and pretending to be a writer. No surprise that I kept diaries between then and the age of seventeen …. Young love, crushes. The superficial details and concerns of teen life. I vividly remember the day I stuffed them into the rubbish bin outside Swansea Market. I was seventeen, I had my job. I was an adult. It was time to grow up.

Writing then was a secretive occupation — not to be admitted to. This was compounded when someone close to me read a diary where I had been working out my thoughts and feelings about our relationship. In my memory I heard my mother’s voice, ‘You can’t write that. You can’t say that.’

I married, left the bank, had children. I stopped journalling — it was too dangerous and disturbed other people. Best keep thoughts inside. Writing was the stuff and dreams of childhood.

Unsurprisingly, as a full time privacy freak, full of censored thoughts, I was outraged in my thirties, when a therapist, casually — yes casually — asked me, ‘So, have you had any dreams this week?’

To begin with, I’d narrate them, then for speed I’d write them down. Stories would emerge, poems, thoughts — each in its designated notebook. For more speed I’d email my dreams. My husband was diagnosed with an incurable but treatable multiple myeloma. My dreams and journals became uglier, muddled, frightening. How would I cope? Widowhood brought with it a series of A4 journals too ranty to reread. In the middle of this I rediscovered my love of writing. Somewhere in this process – I remember where, not when – I said, ‘All I want is to be a writer.’

I kept an ideas notebook, a work notebook (by now I was teaching), a dream notebook and a notebook for my MA. I was awash with notebooks swapping one for another dependent on where I was. I down graded form A4 to A5 swapped utility blue for sparklier, more colourful diaries.

Now I am still negotiating widowhood, single parenting, a stressful job. My MA is complete and I write, occasionally with a small amount of success. I only keep one notebook and I nearly died of fright this week when I mislaid it. It’s got my whole life in there: stories, ideas, dreams, to do lists class lists resit lists, plans story arcs. I don’t want anyone to read it and realise that inside my head is a dangerous place to be.

My use of journals and journalling sums up my attitudes to a writing life. Keeping one integrated book feels ok. It’s ok to have thoughts and feeling written down. It’s ok to have dreams. It’s ok to disrupt other people. The note book covers enlivened my life as it become more enlivened. I had a sparkly phase, a butterfly phase, a blue phase, and these reflect my inner state too. There are still ‘no-go’ areas in my inner life. That too is ok. I’ll get to them when I need to or am moved to.

Only one notebook remains unwritten in. A gift from my sister who is as much a mother to me, it is the most beautifully jewelled clasped design. I simply cannot bring myself to write in it! This is a book not for drafting — not with my mucky handwriting! The inscription reads, Anne keep putting pen to paper, but most of all have joy in doing so. Love L & H

Can you relate to Anne’s conflicting feelings about writing? Leave a comment!

 

Creative people are full of contradictions!

I came across an article by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi that I shared on my fb page today, but in case you missed it, here it is in a nutshell, the ten contradictions he identifies in creative personalities.

  1. Creative people have loads of physical energy, but also rest often and sleep a lot. I certainly find this. At some phases in a piece of work, I may work all day and then wake after a few hours’ sleep, get up and work through the night as well while, at other times, I may sleep a sound 8 hours and catnap throughout the day.
  2. Creative people have a mix of wisdom and childishness in the way they think. This might be why I enjoy writing children’s self-help!
  3. They combine playfulness with discipline in their work.
  4. They alternate between imagination and fantasy and a very rooted sense of practical reality.
  5. They may be both extroverted and introverted, although these particular traits are normally the most stable of personality indicators.
  6. They are both humble and proud; humble out of a deep respect for their art and the sure knowledge that luck has played a great part in their contribution to it, and proud in recognition of their own work, because it is the result of great effort.
  7. They don’t fit rigid gender stereotypes, but have a kind of psychological androgyny, having the strengths of both their own gender and the other.
  8. They are both rebellious and conservative, able to take risks but also respectful of traditions.
  9. They are both passionately involved with their work and able to be objective about it.
  10. Their openness and sensitivity may mean they feel both pain and pleasure more acutely.

The article goes on to describe the pain of those times when the art isn’t flowing, and the joy of the times when it is. In my life, that would be last year and this. When I wasn’t writing last year, I felt adrift from myself. Now I’m writing again, I’ve come home.

You can read the whole article here. I personally found it very affirming, because I could so relate to it. I imagine a lot of creative people struggle, as I do, with these contradictions in themselves, and are aware of how their own inner contradictions can impact upon the people around them.

I’ve wished, for the sake of my family and friends, and for my own sake too, that I could be a less complicated person. I’ve tried to be less up and down, less inconsistent; I’ve felt, especially in my younger years, that there was something really wrong with me.

I don’t think so as much now – but it’s still nice to have it affirmed that at least some of the trickiness I navigate through life is down to the simple fact that I am a creative person.

How about you – do you relate to these 10 contradictions? Or do you recognise them in a creative friend or family member?

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