Jotting down tiny scenes

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #128

In the spirit of trying to channel inspiration for my writing, I have been making a conscious effort to be more observant of what goes on around me.  I am easily overwhelmed when there are too many stimuli and living in a busy city means that there are constantly a million things vying for my attention, as well as the need to be careful of traffic, so most of the time I feel like I am blocking out a lot of my surroundings.

However, I do find opportunities to practice noticing things, like sitting in cafés and people-watching, going for walks in my neighbourhood which is rather quiet or just staring out of the window of the tram. Lately I’ve started jotting down what I see. Nothing fancy, just the date and a few words to remember the details of the scene which can maybe serve as inspiration for my next poem or story.

Here are some recent examples that caught my attention:

  • a little boy on a bike wearing a t-shirt, blue shorts and a ski mask, pedalling wildly on the sidewalk
  • a gaggle of geese patiently crossing a busy street, head held high and unphased as cars stop to let them pass, and people on the terrasses of cafes watching the spectacle in amusement
  • delightful blossoms fallen off a tree onto the pavement, forming a pink carpet in different stages of decomposition

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Has any particular scene caught your eye lately? I’d love to hear about it!

So many things to be grateful for

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #124

I am sitting on my sofa, with the sun streaming through the wide-open window, warming my skin and I am wondering what to write about today.  After a few false starts where I type and delete a couple of paragraphs, I decide to consult my angel cards and see if they have any suggestion about what I should focus on. I shuffle the cards carefully and choose one of the 80 glossy cards from the tiny stack spread out in my left palm, I turn it over and… the word on the card is GRATITUDE!  Hahaha, OK, so much for that;) I guess it is a luxury problem not to know what to concentrate my gratitude on.

So here are a few things from the past days that I am particularly grateful for:

  • having time to write Morning Pages at home while drinking coffee (and feeling light anxiety release its grip when I lean into it and write out my thoughts, making the day ahead so much easier)
  • seeing a gripping and original play about 9/11 terrorist attacks (and the subsequent discussions with Paolo about it)
  • gorgeous sunshine (and enjoying a lovely walk with a dear colleague and her son, discovering favorite spots in their neighbourhood)
  • attending an intimate Q&A with author Kristen Roupenian (and learning all about her approach to the craft of writing, extremely inspiring!)
  • keeping up the rhythm of writing two pages per week (and getting precious feedback from Paolo about which parts work and how to move the piece forward)

Wishing you all a great weekend!

Pockets of downtime

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #122

As I type this, it is Friday morning on my blissful day off. It’s quiet and I don’t need to rush to work. I’ve enjoyed a slow breakfast and a chat, looking over a lovely bouquet of flowers towering in an improvised jug-vase on the kitchen table.  Ahead of me I have a peaceful creative afternoon with a dear friend, and afterwards a low-key weekend to process the past week, read, stare out the window perhaps, do a little writing and generally take the time to relax. I am grateful for pockets of downtime, tranquil moments to recharge in between the busy office days.

How writing helps me keep my balance

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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;)

People, Places & Things

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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.

Like spending a day at the beach

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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:)

A poem about everyday moments

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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.

Creative writing course

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‘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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Daily morning pages

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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?

When the well goes dry

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Sometimes ideas about what to write here come seemingly out of nowhere, and I list them sacredly in my Little Prince moleskine notebook to return to when I’m out of inspiration. Some days, the photos lead me to the content of the text. On others, I’m processing events from day to day life and writing helps to bring clarity on how I feel.

But today I’ve got nothing! Or to be more exact, I’ve been channeling what I have to my weekly assignment for the creative writing course I’m taking.  It seems that while toiling on those two double-spaced A4 pages of fiction that need to be ready by tomorrow, I must have emptied the well, pulling up more buckets of ideas and energy than my brain had time to refill.

So today I leave you simply with this picture, taken after a rain-shower during one of my walks in the neighbourhood last Autumn. I hope that many drops of water, gleaned from everyday observations and rest (and a still-to-be-planned Artist Date), will fill my inspiration well again soon:)