Evangelism. It can be scary. It can put you off a nice walk in the park. It can make you squirm uncomfortably at the front door. Or it can be fascinating and illuminating to see how the power of belief can make someone turn their life around, dedicate themselves absolutely to what they believe in. At its worst it can become fanaticism, extremism, terrorism. At its best it can be selfless dedication to a philanthropic cause.
Evangelism is like being possessed by a virus of belief. You want to spread the word to everybody, you want them to feel as you do. I felt that way recently when I joined twitter and after the first self-conscious new kid on the block feeling, (tagging onto people and hoping they would be nice about it) I began to discover what a wonderful place it was. As a writers forum it is invaluable…
Dear writers, if you’re in the Northern Hemiphere you are probably trying to keep warm as you tap away on your keyboard or scratch out an account of your life from your attic room. On my writing.ie blog I’m asking writers to share the details of what they wear when behind closed doors doing their writing thing? Is comfort the main factor or do writers dress for the office? How many layers is acceptable and what about accessories, lap blanket, hot water bottle, foot warmer. Just what does it take to keep that bestselling endeavour on the road.
Writing,ie is a fantastic resource of how to articles and personal stories, competitions and new release info, so you can log in to comment. If you’d rather, leave your comments here! See if your weird and wonderful habits are share by your fellow writers. It would be great to hear from writers from other climates (other than the cold, damp and dismal.)
January: Bleurgh, endless white skies and here, rain, news, it appears, of death upon death, for those suffering from SAD or other depressive tendencies in the Northern Hemisphere, January is perhaps the last slog on a upward climb that hopefully will open up to a plateau of hope when Spring begins. But depression is not weather dependent, it can hit at any time, come from trauma or trial or seemingly from nowhere at all. It may be chemically based, genetically predisposed. It is a combination of temperament and circumstance and how society is set up. There seems to be, at this current time of technological change, dissipating boundaries, an individualistic culture, separation from nature, social media and always on personas, ways in which the vulnerable can be knocked into self-doubt, anxiety, paralysis. There appears to be a surge in the number of young people experiencing mental health difficulties and there are the age old problems of personal and relationship breakdown.
In the challenges I have faced over the past number of years in family life, one thing has made more of a difference than anything else – the discovery that I am not alone in my journey, that others share similar difficulties and that within myself and my band of comrades we find together a sense of resilience, a broadening of the mind and compassion for others through adversity and a huge capacity for kindness and humour which we share with each other.
It is in this vein that I share with you a publication, Depression and the Art of Tightrope walking written by a friend of mine, Vivienne Tuffnell who in her generous blog always shares her experiences and consolations on the subject of depression. She charts a course (a tightrope, she calls it) through the undeniable reality of depression (a study I read as a student asserted that depressed people do not used the same tactics as people without depression, tactics that can sometimes fool us into believing things are better than they really are – thus depressives are more realistic!) while taking solace and sustenance from elements in life such as nature and creativity. This is a journey through experience, there is no cure, no, as she puts it “no final answer about anything. That’s the joy and the sorrow of it.”
Depression and the Art of Tightrope walking collates several of her blog posts on depression. This is how she describes the book:
“I’m a writer and poet and a long-term sufferer of depressive illness. I try to keep smiling but sometimes I fail. I love the natural world, and am a great fan of the vagaries of the English weather.” These words were the first attempts to define what my blog was about when I began it in February 2009. From these first tentative steps into blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking has expanded into a wide-ranging and eclectic exploratory journey into what it means to live with depression. There are many posts on the subject now, and I decided to collect together the ones I felt were potentially most helpful to others affected by mental and emotional distress. They’re not intended as classic self-help or as a replacement for treatment but rather as a commentary from one person’s experience. Sometimes it can help simply knowing we are not alone in a journey, even when it feels that way. I’ve enjoyed the whole concept of the Zen koan, a short question that usually has no answer but is intended to provoke more questions and more thinking. Think of the classic one: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Most of my posts are written with this aim in mind; I just lack the compactness of a koan. I try to look at the world from another angle. I like (like? not sure I like it but I am inwardly compelled to do it) to ask questions, sometimes awkward ones. There is no final answer about anything. That’s the joy and the sorrow of it. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking contains twenty essays from the original blog and includes a foreword from Suzie Grogan, author of Shell Shocked Britain-The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health and editor of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days (Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety).
It’s available here in both paperback and kindle formats.
Vivienne’s book is realistic, reflective and informative and shares an honest experience of how she lives with depression as part of the fabric of her life but also explores the ways she finds to live more fully alongside it, to find meaning and joy, light alongside darkness. This honest account will make you realise that the human experience may feel a lonely one but there is always someone travelling a similar path, that there is no final answer but that the steps we take in challenging terrain is the true story.
Thrown sideways by the loss last week in particular of David Bowie and of Alan Rickman, I wrote an article on my writing.ie blog about how the artistic endeavours of their lives, (and that of Ray Bradbury) and their commitment to invention and expression of the human condition can fuel our own continuing endeavours. Let me know what you think.
As (some of) my children become teens, learn to develop relationships with others, forge their ideals and identity and face various challenges, I wrote this (along the lines of the wonderful Desiderata) as a guiderail for their journey.
I’ve completed the National Novel Writing Challenge (50,000 words in a month) several times resulting in the comedy novel with a sci-fi slant that is Housewife with a Half-Life and some literary novels under submission and revision. My first foray into the world of NaNoWriMo was when I had four children under the age of ten and some of the best posts come from that time of madness and perseverance. Like much in life there is no ‘right’ answer. There are pros and cons to the intensity of NaNoWriMo. On the plus side a regular routine and burgeoning wordcount, on the minus side, desperation may lead to writing that’s impossible to decipher after the fact, sentences that don’t actually make any sense and material that needs a good untangle. Other more structured and organised minds have found it a great way to produce whole series of novels. I’ve collated some of my posts below to give you some tips on whether NaNoWriMo is right for you, how to keep motivated and to give an insight into the reality of writing for your life for 30 days straight. The best of luck to all who endeavour either at this pace or more sedately over the course of time.
Several years ago I attended the wedding of a friend. At the table I was chatting to one of the guests and the topic of reading came up. I was flabbergasted when she asked ‘why would you read a book?’ She simply did not see the point. For someone for whom books have been central for most of my life it was like being transported to a foreign planet where I had to try to understand the aliens. Bookshelves, libraries, the comfort of being tucked up with a book, the feeling of never wanting a book to end, stories, lives, places, all these feelings a book engenders. At the time I stumbled over an answer to the woman’s question, I was so taken aback. So I want to ask you. What would YOU answer this woman? To make it interesting I will offer a signed copy of Housewife with a Half-Life and a Ten pound Amazon gift voucher to a winner I choose. Entries in by July 19th. Just add your thoughts to the comments.
Also interesting is this article on how reading helps with anxiety. I certainly find reading great for gathering together my overactive thoughts and it gives me a feeling of relaxation and comfort.
Update: Dear Readers Heather Walker has won the Amazon voucher (more reading!) and complimentary copy of the alternate worlds comedy Housewife with a Half-Life. Thanks for all your comments and congratulations to Heather!
My last post mentioned the Serendipity of social media and the internet and the interesting, informative and wondrous aspects of life it can put us in touch with. Having been working through some difficult times I’ve come to realise that Serendipity can be a source of great comfort and inspiration, bolstering resilience and nurturing spirit when life throws rubbish at you. Amidst the difficult there are always, in this world, glorious and astounding things that can reach through and set the heart beating fast once more.
Help, Thanks, Wow
Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow is a book for those who are flailing in times of crisis. In the Help section she says “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.” Whether you are religious or not you can just stop and utter that word, that prayer to the universe ‘Help’. Things may or may not work out but you can just wait and know that the universe, or friends, or beauty will give you something, some kind of sustenance, some kind of peace. (You can read an excerpt here
The ‘Thank’ element of her book is one we’re familiar with. A philosophy of gratitude or marking the positives in our lives and relationships and exchanges helps to slant our worldview back towards the hopeful. The Wow part of her books is what I’m talking about here with this idea of Serendipity, where serendipity is the lucky happenstance that reveals the worlds wonders to us. It has elements of surprise, awe, luck, appreciation and excitement. Again, it enlivens the blood.
Wonders found through Serendipity
Throughout our lives we all happen upon fascination, either on line or in the ‘real’ world. In newspapers, in the street, in the homes of our friends and family, in the garden, on trips abroad. We hear of astounding medical miracles, we hear of bad luck made good, or we watch extraordinary nature programs or visit astounding caves or gorgeous national parks. We hear gorgeous music, admire art and fashion, taste incredible food, watch movies that change our lives, read books that enter our blood.
And chains begin, an artist who learned from another, a collaboration between a singer and an author, a book that refers to another, an artist, or musician or author or scientist or doctor or architect whose work fires up something in you or speaks to you and leads you down the path of their work and thus to their influences, opening and opening up the world further and further.
At the moment I am in the world of my ongoing novel Eat! It’s core theme is how we fill the spaces of loss and need within us in different, somethings unhealthy, poignant ways. Secondly I’m seeing how as we become more and more ‘inside people’ the comfort and intimacy we have with nature is lost. As a child who grew up with an intimate knowledge of my local landscape, I can see how, living in increasingly urban areas, my children do not have the same intimacy and knowledge of the natural landscape – although of course they are more au fait with their landscape of concrete and brick. Some of my characters explore a yearning to get back into the natural landscape while others shy away from it within the backdrop of the recent housing boom, where ‘buildings sprung up from the ground, rampant like weeds.’
But I ramble, like a rambler on hills…My serendipity in exploring the themes of my book began with my discovery in a newspaper of a review of Robert MacFarlane’s book Landmarks, whose aim is to create a glossary of words for nature, words that are beginning to be lost, words that help provide us with that intimacy with the natural world which many of us are losing. I will save the details for another post but this book has put me in touch with many other books on the same theme and thus has already deepened and informed my exploration of this natural theme.
To bring it back full circle (as I love to do). My Serendipity posts each Wednesday will share with you fascinating books, articles, sites, places I have found by chance conversations or browsing (both online and offline). I would also beseech you to share your fascinating finds in the comments, things wondrous and beguiling that might inspire and uplift others.
The Dust Motes Appreciation Society
In the spirit of serendipity and wonder, I recently set up on Facebook, The Dust Motes Appreciation Society. Originally a reaction to a literary editor’s wry exasperation with the number of dust mote mentions in short stories, I wanted to celebrate bothe the beauty and metaphoric power of dust motes. The aim of the society is to share appreciation for everything tiny and wondrous in the universe, particles, petals and persons and to celebrate dust mote mentions and appearances in literature and art. In practice it means that the page is a place that you can go throughout the week to find inspiration, wonder and joy.
I hope you explore some of the books and pages I’ve mentioned here which will lead you to further wonders. I look forward to the fascinating links, articles, books, movies, programmes and so on that you can share with us that will enhance all our experiences. Thanks so much.
While social media has many drawbacks including its skewed version of reality that can sometimes make us feel inadequate, it can offer up a whole lot of support (which it did, in my last post, and a heartfelt thanks to all of you who commented for that). Despite it’s obsession with cats, it can sometimes offer us a completely different animal to admire and it can also educate, inform and offer wonder and consolation as we serendipitously come across fascinating and helpful articles and links. At times it’s algorithms can be suspect and constricting but at other times it can offer us truly human connection and insights.
From my last post you’ll know that my tank has been on empty and some of the challenges have not gone away. So it was timely that I found a helpful post today on Facebook from Estrella Azul, a lady that I have made the acquaintance of online through our involvement with #FridayFlash. Her exchanges with me and her work on the Friday Flash website have always been very thoughtful, industrious and kind. Today she has posted about an ongoing project that she is involved with – a set of 52 (weekly) assignments that focus on nurturing and uplifting the self. This week’s assignment Estrella explains is on ‘practising pleasure “doing what you do – creating, reading, hiking, writing, dancing, singing, gardening, running, knitting, cooking, making friends, making art, making love – with everything you’ve got, savoring the experience, letting delight rearrange your insides”. The quote comes from the E-book of assignments 52-52-Love-Your-Wild-Self e-guide by Judy Clement Wall. Linking to Judy’s website from Estrella’s I see that she is interested in developing (wild) creativity, making art and the impetus is developing the self also by fearless love and living. The e-guide offers a weekly task to focus on caring for and bolstering ourselves. In her post on her Love Your Wild Self e-guide she says that “we live in a culture that celebrates a certain kind of martyrdom. We appreciate sacrifice and celebrate those who, day after day, put themselves last. I think this is especially true for women, upon whom we have heaped so many nurture-the-world expectations.”
While not so sure that our culture “celebrates martyrdom” and having seen, especially in the boom years the opposite case where greed and selfishness has often been institutionalized and rewarded, it is true to say that for both men and woman and particularly at certain phases of life juggling work and home issues people can lose sight of themselves. They forget the need for self-care and feel disillusioned. Something that is important to me and that I admire in others is open mindedness and compassion with regard to others. There is no celebrity so famous or public figure so powerful that they should be exonerated from treating others with consideration and respect. And the same for the rest of us. But at times it is ourselves we lack compassion for, we are perfectionists or at least believe that if we cannot solve life’s problems or ‘cope’ continuously then we have somehow failed. Yes, I’m talking about myself but we all set ourselves impossible standards especially in these times when we are led to believe that our efforts and our positive thinking alone can make us succeed (not taking into account, luck, circumstance, economy, the state of the publishing industry etc). Judy Clement Wall talks about self-compassion and in turn links us to Jill’s blog which has the tag line life is beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible – keep your heart open. Jill compiled a self-compassion e-book filled with reader’s posts on how they practised self-compassion. The self-compassion pdf is free to download.
Judy’s weekly assignment 52-52-Love-Your-Wild-Self e-guide is available to download from Etsy for roughly 15 dollars/euro. Along with Estrella I’m going to give it a go and use the assignments as a structure for seeing myself again and strengthening my spirit and energy. We know to exercise to get our bodies in shape, why not a similar program for the mind?
In my last post I said that my head was under water. I felt adrift and overwhelmed, sorry that I couldn’t post on this blog under ongoing trying circumstances. So many responded and emphathized and shared their own struggles and that in itself helped refill the well. This morning I was able for the first time in many months to do an hour (ish) of writing at my favourite 5am slot. So down, but not out. And I’ll keep posting other consolations I find along the way of self-compassion, those things that we can learn from and enjoy.
The purpose of this blog for the many years it has been running was always to try and support others in their journey through writing and life and to help engender creativity alongside life’s challenges. This mission, alongside my own writing was of great importance to me and made me feel as if I was contributing something, helping others. Sadly some very difficult circumstances, some of which have been at play for some years and other pressures that are more recent or have become more acute in recent times have got the better of me. I have an exciting project in train but at the moment I have not got the mental or emotional space to work on it. Similarly, although it is my hope and wish to make my blog and Facebook page a source of inspiration and support, I must pause for a while until the issues alleviate. These are real world challenges as well as the stress that goes along with dealing with them. I suppose there is no shame in admitting that once in a while we lose all verve and life, reality, family requires all remaining resources. What is difficult at this time is that my creativity and writing has sustained me through challenges before but in the current circumstances I can’t access that comfort. I hope things will turn around and that I’ll be able to engage with you all in the future.