Creating on Little Sleep

As always, little sleep leaves me grumpy and less creative.

I have written before about trying to be creative and a parent. When I don’t get the chance of a decent night’s sleep, much time to be quiet or alone it effects my mood a lot. But if I can’t have a creative outlet, I’m downright grumpy.

I accepted a few years back that my time to create write or play at crafts, have Artist’s Dates would be in short snatches. Built in deadlines help me anyway so that is a bonus if anything. But what is also clear is in these weeks where my mood has been effected, my creativity gets a bit stilted.

Adding in brain fog I have developed since my January run-in with covid, I am literally and figuratively struggling to find the words to write. Dragging the idea out feels like squelching through mud. According to Elizabeth Gilbert this can give you a creative fear. As I wrote recently, I worry that the idea is running away.

So along with resting when I can, I have been trying to find ways to lift myself into a better mood so I can get creative, even just a little. Mostly I have been trying to improve my mood by getting out in the early light and using meditation. All the things I know help. They do enough that I dare to open my work in progress a couple of times this week.

So how have I helped myself? More sleep is not possible, though that would certainly help. Instead, I listened to music:, sometimes to pump me up, sometimes to rouse emotions, sometimes to float away. I have often worked with music on. Sometimes it provides inspiration in itself. A character who is obsessive about 70s singer song writers comes to mind, as does The Rites of Spring and the folklore that has inspired me. These moments listening often spark a story.

I tried to take more walks. On my walks I take photos of things that inspire or I sit and look at the trees a while trying to identify a tree. It was a hawthorn I discovered later. Not only do the places provide background for my woodland work-in-progress, but having time in nature can soothe my mood too.

Finally, I am try to forgive myself for taking a little time away from creative work. It’s hard, I want to blog every week and write creatively three or four times too. But really I have to be realistic about what I am able to do right now. Hopefully I will get a bit more sleep now my son is back at school and in a routine and it will inspire me to take time out to be more creative again.

Meditation For Fidgets

It occurs to me it is a decade since I first took a mindfulness course. I still can’t sit still.

If you are like me and struggle to do nothing there are simple soothing activities I recommend and also ways to make yourself feel cosy. But alongside these suggestions I am, after all this time, still trying to meditate daily. It’s been a crucial practice this year as I cope with my ongoing illness but it’s often the main thing I will do to relieve stress. The problem is I have never been good at staying still.

Here are my to five ways to meditate for fidgets like me:

Guided Meditation

By now I know that lying or sitting waiting for bells to chime gets me making to do lists in my head. Instead, I will listed to Guided Meditations by Richard Latham, use Hay House podcast or Growing Mindfulness by Michelle DuVal. I know most of these recordings by heart now, but the opportunity to either follow instructions or even better go on an imaginative journey works best for me.

Lying Down

Though it makes me feel lazy to admit it, I don’t do well sitting for meditation. Even in a class when I did attend, I would sit on my knees rather than criss cross because, again, can’t sit still. I love this cartoon about all the thoughts that go through your head as you try and meditate. I get so preoccupied by my discomfort that I feel a failure at meditation. Of course, that’s part of the experience but honestly I wouldn’t have stuck at the practice so long if I was only allowed to sit.

This quote is on Jill Conyers website which explains mindfuless indepth

The Shakti Mat

For years I have lain down for meditation but this year I really upped the practice with a Shakti mat, ie an accupressure mat and pillow. I think this has really helped with my recovery in most recent months. The theory is that after about twenty minutes dopamine reacts to the mild pain of lying across the spiked mat. You lay with a thin layer of clothing on so it is only a very mild pain. I will often shift and move and having that discomfort makes you more mindful, rather than relaxing so much you fall asleep. I find often it helps with emotional release. It may not be what you are hoping if you want to meditate to relax, but often the reason we don’t like to stop is to avoid our emotions. Mindful meditation is a lot about being present and watch as emotions drift over us like clouds.

Lavendar Eye Pillow

I love lavender as it has some happy memories of my Grandma as well as always been considered a restorative. For someone so easily distracted, blocking out light with a lavender eye pillow really works. Often I will listen to meditation on my headphones, a hygge headband adding compression and the eye mask blocking the light. Sensory distractions reduced, I have just about a chance of staying mindful.

Mindful Walks

Another great way to meditate is to take mindful walks. Again there are guided meditations I use. But you can also take in you surroundings, observe the feeling of your feet hitting the ground and the sensations of the air, sounds around you. It is a good practice to concentrate on sounds because it is so interesting to find out that something irritates you. Some days you only hear noisy cranes and parakeets near by others, when you tune in to the birds, and hear a woodpecker. Again you can watch you emotions and sensations pass over you.

For me, meditation has been a lifeline. I am not sure that all teachers would say I am doing it in any orthodox way but by finding ways that work for me, I help myself be calmer even if I will never learn to sit still.

Inspiration is like magic

Is inspiration so ethereal that it can run away from you?

I am worried that inspiration whisks away in the time I take to grab hold of an idea. I have been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She believes firmly that you have to open yourself to creativity and grab inspiration when it strikes.

I have written before how I think inspiration is everywhere. In fact it is very easy for me to get caught in a new idea. I have tried and tested ways of getting them down into snippets, sometimes if it is a character, I may write them a short story. And if I feel stuck, I just look around and start writing about what I see. That may not be a very inspired practice but I tend to find that as I start to write what I see, my imagination will follow. She will tell me what a character might do in a circumstance or ask me to see how I feel in that moment, so that I flit into a different perspective.

But Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t just tell us to be open to pure inspiration, she tells us to be ready. She tells us to work at them. She concedes you need many things to be ready. A sense of artistic entitlement that you absolutely have permission to be creative. A practice of working with what life throws at you, rather than resist it. As the quote below explains, ideas are out there, they are…

energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic is a very inspiring thesis to read. It tells you to get on with it. And if we follow the logic of her idea: the Universe wants me to know this right now. Our lessons, inspiration, come along at the right moment and are they are there to help us. And so this book coming along and telling me to grab the ideas because they will spring away is exactly what I need to hear.

It is also terrifying! My time is limited, my energy levels are pretty low as I have explained. What do I do if these ideas float through the window and I am distracted or napping?

I think sometimes it might be about letting something go. An idea that has gone stale will get lost in a quagmire. As she says, “Done is better than good.” She reminds us we have to practice and sometimes we have to let it go. Kill your darlings, know what is still fresh and get on with it.

I have found her book a really good boost to my writing though I haven’t been able to do much. I like how she too is fascinated by creativity and where it springs from.

Have you developed your creativity based on Big Magic?

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Earliest Reading Memories

Do vivid images of the first novels you read haunt you?

Relistening to classic novels recently, I am struck by the fondness I have for certain books that I have returned to over the years. Through a myriad life experiences, I have come again to Jane Eyre – the first classic I ever read- and other favourites such as Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights. And listening in the last few weeks it strikes me that the same images come straight to mind that I think I first had as a child.

I vividly remember the first time I envisioned Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. The greyed and dank room as oppressive to me as a child as it is now. Dickens writes that the…

…centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite indistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies run home to it, and running out from it…

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

No wonder I have had life long arachnophobia. The rotten core at the heart of respectability that Pip longs for fascinates us throughout the novel . Though the jilted bride hits differently now, I can’t help marvel that it still has the power to creep me out.

Jane Eyre as I have written about before remains one of my favourites so I struggle to say which scene remains most vivid. Her slap of John, the demise of poor Helen all have a life long resonance. I think probably the terror of the red room, – in my mind’s eye still not the rich red of velvet but more bloodred scarlet, – remains with me from my first reading.

Found here, a depiction of the red room that chimes with the red in my mind’s eye

Now I read this book very differently. Hardly surprising. Wild Sargasso Sea, a retelling from the perspective of Bertha, the essay The Mad Woman in the Attic, was written in the 1960 so this novel has long had a questionable commentary about race. As with Wuthering Heights I have discomfort now with some of the descriptions. Jane Eyre has a Bertha Mason described as “a clothed hyena” and she is wholly othered by the novel. In the novel the portrayal of her race and mental state seem to be connected. Heathcliff an “untamed creature” is described using epithets that describe his race ambiguously and problematically. And if course it’s depiction of domestic violence grows more uncomfortable with age, even as we celebrate our strong heroine.

But somehow, though I may analyse and wrestle with my thoughts about these novels (I am an English graduate, afterall,) I still return to them. It strikes me how important a powerful image is to hook the reader. And given my back catalogue of haunted houses, dark moors and madness, it’s hardly surprising I love gothic fiction best of all.

Certain scenes are truly like replaying a movie which I find at once both remarkable that these books impacted my life so much, and a comfort. Though it is right to interrogate this fiction, a re-read will always be a home-coming of sorts.

I would love to know what images remain from your childhood reading list? Do you think they influence you to this day?

Coping with Bone Tired

I am learning that colourful similes really do describe fatigue

Have you ever felt bone-tired, held a heavy burden, could hardly drag your head from the pillow or felt like death?

There is some colourful language to describe fatigue. When I used these terms in the past, I thought they described how I felt. Perhaps when I was drinking alcohol I would raise my head and groan, feeling like death. To be honest booze does make me feel so rough I gave it up. But now I know, I was being dramatic on those days. Even after a tougher week with my son’s sleep, I would feel particularly sluggish and use these similes. But it wasn’t until I experienced this fatigue that I really understood these phrases.

Words can be inadequate, even for someone who enjoys writing, to describe how our body can give up on us. What I am finding helpful, as well as now understanding completely the term bone-tired, is to listen to my body. I mean really I have no choice as there are days when I have to just stop. Whatever my aches and pains are, I have to pay attention much more than I have in the past because I know enough now of the boom and bust cycle to not push through aches, pains or tiredness.

This week I made it to the office, promptly to be laid up in bed again. I am suddenly getting leg cramps added to the aches in my arms. A sluggish existence. No really, like a slug, more able to move horizontally than vertically. And that’s all part of the game of learning to live with fatigue. Listening to your body and learning that when you have to stop like this, you took it too far.

And I am learning to cope. I have already written about using things that soothe me. This weekend it’s a Sherlock Holmes audiobook, familiar, satisfying and funny they have helped as I lie down. But here are a few other things I am using to help:

1. MEDITATION I have used meditation for years to help with anxiety. I love the Mindful in Minutes and Hay House podcasts and an album Growing Mindfulness by Michelle Duval, free with my Spotify membership.

2. SHAKTI MAT A new acquisition, a small spiky yoga mat. You lie on it for 20 mins and it is supposed to release pain-relieving dopamine. I am a bit obsessed and confused that I find it so relieving.

Me, but less glamorous

3. MEDICATION While holistic practices help, taking my medication and being on top of having it at certain times of day is got to be one of the best things I can do for myself. I have built new medicine into my routine by pairing it, for example taking my inhaler then brushing my teeth. This is a technique Gretchen Ruben recommends for habit change and it helps my foggy brain remember this crucial step.

4. TA-DA LISTS! It’s hard not to focus on what you haven’t achieved when you are lying down a lot. But instead I am trying to list what I have managed at the end of each day.

5. NAPS I think I have to be honest because I am sounding like I manage to do a lot despite being laid up but the most obvious way I am coping is by sleeping more, including naps. Too simple to say really but I wanted to acknowledge that to cope with fatigue, you really have to others around you. Support from work that you do shorter days, support from someone else to look after your child, the TV as a babysitter.

I feel lucky that it’s not as bad as it could be. I am really very tired but hoping that I will learn what works for me and build up more energy each day that I rest. Eventually I will learn to cope.