Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing: daily Morning Pages, writing here twice a week and weekly exercises for my creative writing course. All this writing takes time and effort, whether I am scribbling away in my journal on tram 24 on the way to work (often finishing my third page on a bench in the one heated corridor of Amsterdam Central station) or whether I am typing away and editing on my computer sitting on the sofa (or squatting Paolo’s desk, my favorite spot in the early afternoon with the sun warming my back).
Next to that I’ve realised recently that I’m finally starting to feel less anxiety, after many rough months. There are several reasons for that: less work pressure, results of getting to know myself and my boundaries better through therapy, better self-care… but I am convinced that writing is one of the key factors leading to this improvement.
When I write I am most often in flow, that magic state where I don’t feel time passing, ideas are coming naturally and I’m problem-solving in a concentrated state. Especially with creative writing, I seem to lighten up and find myself having a little fun with the process, not so worried about the results.
It’s up to me to choose what I focus on, and these days I prefer not to spend my energy worrying about whether what I said in that meeting might be misinterpreted or other petty concerns, when instead I can enjoy the challenge of coming up with a two-page text based on nothing less than Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, using a similar omniscient god-like storyteller narrator… Life is a question of priorities;)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #121
Last night Paolo and I went to see People, Places & Things, a play about an actress struggling with addiction. The acting was superb, the stage set-up and lighting very clever and the play is so well written and paced that I sat on the edge of my seat for the full two and a half hours.
I feel gratitude about this experience unfolds in different layers. I am deeply grateful that the playwright and the Theatergroep Oostpool dare to address these hard topics, to break the taboo and raise awareness around addiction, the havok it wreaks in families’ lives and the incredibly tough process of recovery.
In preparation for the play the cast invited a doctor from a rehab clinic to ask him questions and understand addiction and recovery better, in order to more acurately and respectfully be able to portray the characters’ struggles. I am grateful for their sensitivity and effort in research which delivered a realistic insight so the audience could feel to a certain extent what it can feel like.
I was also deeply moved by how this play bears witness to the question we all grapple with of how to live our lives in these ever-changing times where things are often precarious, and how manage stay in the present moment in the face of uncertainty.
Just a few words today about the joy of some quiet time over the weekend, spent sitting on the sofa with a coffee and my laptop, conjuring up my next writing assignment. Starting with a blank page and an image in my mind of a beach scene, engrossed in the challenge of creating a patient third person narrator and some lyrical language, I was completely absorbed and in the flow, so much so that I nearly felt like I should brush the sand off my legs when I was done for the day:)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #120
Today I’m very excited that a poem I wrote was featured on the Facebook page of the International Writers’ Collective (which organises the creative writing course I am following). If you are curious hop over to read it on this page.
The poem is inspired by my relationship with my maternal grand-ma who passed away eight years ago and who I miss dearly. Writing this piece was very emotional for me, as it was a way to re-live some everyday moments that we shared together and try to put those memories into words. It felt therapeutic, as if expressing these feelings was helping me on my mourning of this special person in my life.
I am very grateful for the gentle critique, spot-on feedback and helpful encouragement from my class mates, teachers and friends over the last few months. It’s great to be part of such a supportive community.
‘Improving my writing skills’ started popping up regularly on my dream lists last year, so in January I decided to treat myself and use these quiet winter months to follow an 8-week creative writing course.
It is a very fun and interactive class, and it works like this:
- We read in detail a 2 page extract from a published writer, analysing the type of narrator, tone, mood and techniques. Then our homework for the next class consists in writing a 2-page double-spaced piece inspired by the extract. The goal is to try out the techniques that made the extract successful. I love reading, but I hadn’t looked at a text in such detail since I was in high-school. It’s fascinating to see the craft used to have an effect on the reader and how words can take us into another world in no time.
- We critique the piece written by each student. Though this sounds daunting and it is definitely outside my confort zone, it is actually really interesting both when you are critiquing and being critiqued. It’s fascinating to see in real-time how people react to something I’ve written and get feedback from fellow students and the teacher. It helps to see what people liked or didn’t resonate with. I also really love reading what other students have come up with based on the same instructions, the outcomes are so wildly different and amazingly creative.
So each week lately I’ve been spending several hours on my assignment, and I’m enjoying the challenge so much, regularly finding myself in flow. Based on the guidelines, I start getting ideas, jot them down, improve the wording and then it is like a puzzle to manage to rearrange the parts, putting them together so the story flows somewhat logically.
Though it is challenging to stick to just two pages, it’s fun to see how in so little space it’s possible to create a small world, stretching myself to find solutions and iron out the creases as the idea becomes more concrete in my head. The great thing is that having only one week between classes, I just need to squeeze writing time into my schedule and get on with it. Of course my inner critic makes regular appearances but I reassure it that these are ‘just exercises’, so no need to worry;)
The set-up is constructive because it’s a great way just to get something on paper regularly, it doesn’t need to be perfect because with feedback from the others you leave the class with concrete points to improve your piece. This course is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve done lately!
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #119
Since the Artist’s Way workshop I attended last month (given by the wonderful Julia Cameron herself!), I’ve been writing Morning Pages daily again. Last time I did Morning Pages that regularly was in 2011 for several months as I made my way through the chapters of Artist’s Way book. After a while the habit faded and I went back to journalling several times a week, but not in the morning and not so consistently.
Though on the surface it may seem like a tedious task to write three pages by hand first thing every day, noting down whatever is passing through the mind, Julia Cameron describes this as a spiritual practice and I would agree. Trusting in the process and being open to where it will lead makes it much more enjoyable.
When doing Morning Pages daily, you can’t really avoid the big things that are going on in your life or those voices inside your head that speak up about how you really feel about things. I feel like writing these thoughts on paper gives space to the ugly stuff, things I might be in denial about and just don’t want to see so I bury them under busy-ness.
Julia Cameron explains that Morning Pages push us take action. It’s true that after noting down frustration or discontent on the same topics day after day, you become more aware of what is important to you. You can then make a change to your attitude or take a small step towards altering the situation.
I am grateful for some recent aha-moments delivered through the pages: for example noticing how much happens in one day on all different fronts (at home, at work, with family and friends, creative endeavours…). This highlighted to me how much stimulation, conversations and events there are to process daily and therefore the need to make time for this (I am now attempting to spend less time mindlessly surfing on the internet to have more space to reflect).
I am enjoying cultivating this constructive practice again and am very curious to see where it will lead me:) Have you ever tried Morning Pages? How did you experience them?
Sunday as I cycled home from the bookclub, I noticed some bushes covered in what looked from a distance like small yellow tassles, against the blue sky. After picking up my camera at home, I took a short walk back through my neighbourhood until I reached the square, located between four roads, where spring is starting to show in the nurtured flower beds.
I took a closer look at those branches to find them covered in what looks like cheerleaders’ pompoms made with crepe paper, encouraging ravenous pollinators to come visit them.
Though the purple crocusses popping up through the grass are more striking, I love the colour combination on these ones, perfectly suited for a 70s kitchen.
On branches that were bare just a few days ago, tiny leaves are sprouting, deep lines etched into their surface like the grooves on your fingertips after lying for too long in the bath, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers spread their pistils like antennas searching for signals in the warm spring air.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #118
Despite the underlying worry regarding climate change, I’ve been enjoying these precocious Spring-like days that we have had recently. I found myself naturally drawn to walk part of the way home after work, strolling through Amsterdam’s city center, crossing bridges to be sure I was on the side of the canal which the sun shines down. As I go, I like looking at the details of the steps leading up to the fancy houses, peering into the basement offices and shop windows, watching cyclists just avoid tourists stepping unexpectedly onto the bike path to take pictures…
As I move my body after a morning of mostly sitting at the computer, I also start to process what happened during the day on the way. I think of the conversations I had, information received and try to make sense of how I feel about all this busyness and complexity. When I process my thoughts during the day as I take one step after another, I realise I tend to sleep better too. Usually I catch the tram for the last stretch of the way home, and by then I already feel more in touch with my mind and can let go of the work things. The power of walking is incredible:)
Yesterday I had planned to spend some time for my Artist Date at the Botanic garden exploring the greenhouses, looking for new plants I could photograph to accompany upcoming blog posts. On arrival I found the gates of the garden were closed (I hadn’t checked the opening times – rookie mistake!). However I took this setback in my stride and instead cycled around looking for a place out of the wind where I could soak up the sun and write in my journal.
I settled for a bench in a tiny playground just two minutes from my flat, which is mostly sandy with a few plants scattered around the edge. At first glance most plants seemed to have suffered from the winter months and looked rather bland. I didn’t expect much, but then a pink flower close to the ground caught my attention, so I got out my camera and started taking photos of it. Then my eyes searched a bit further for interesting colours, textures and backgrounds, and as I observed the details of each plant, I was led from one to another and kept noticing more and more things.
Here are a few of the finds that I liked most: The lace-like structure of a perfectly shaped Physalis pod with a rough black seed nestled inside it, and a rose hip with tiny lines etched onto its bright red surface… I was also very excited to stumble upon several types of ladybirds, the first I’ve seen this season, mentally thanking them for the natural pest control they perform with their unending appetite for aphids that we would rather do without. Even if it wasn’t the Botanic garden, I was impressed by the many details to be found in such a small space when taking the time to really look.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #117
This is the season where the hours of daylight get ever so slightly longer after the long Dutch winter. I’m slightly confused and happily surprised to find it’s not dark at 5pm. As the days start to get longer, I’m also noticing my energy levels are gradually getting better after many months of struggling with burnout and a sense of constant exhaustion.
So what has changed? I’ve rested, a lot, taking it very easy over the last months. But also I’m much more aware of what I need, I’m not pushing forward like a robot as much as I used to. In the mornings, I stop to think whether I feel like cycling to work through the hectic city center or whether I feel like choosing the confort of the tram where I can read, look out the window or write my morning pages. I’m trying to spend less energy worrying about how things will go. I’m saying NO to things that I think will take more energy than I feel I have available, and YES to creative things that make my heart sing or open new horizons.
It’s not perfect, I still get the occasional headache if I don’t give myself a break on time or feel totally drained after a long day… But on the whole I’m putting more regular deposits into my energy bank, doing more things that are good for me and less SHOULDS and I can feel the difference. I’m grateful that the steps I am taking towards healing are bearing their fruits.