Looking for Bright Spots

How taking more mindful walks can help

Enjoying a mindful walk in my neighbourhood, I often take a random picture of something I like: a flower or a tree in bloom, a kite caught in wires. Reflecting on my gallery from the Summer, I can see the optimism I have tried to find in my area.

Sure you will see more professional photographers, but I love to look for bright spots that catch my eye when I am out and about. This may just be the modern habit; I am guilty as the next of putting a photo of my coffee on the gram, and I do think we have an instinct to capture our lives more than I had growing up. It helps that there is practically no limit on how many photos I can take on my phone (you remember 36 photos on a film too, right?) So when I am out on my walks, I might take a picture of something I think is pretty just because.

My Instagram is MumWriteNow although don’t expect regular content, it’s more like a place to sporadically remember to post photos. I have started a series called #treesnearme It’s a feature of the fact in recent months I have been on short walks to the same places over and over, gradually building some stamina in my exercise without crashing from a long walk. Though I walk the same way regularly, having this vague project to notice the trees around me, whether their blossom or bark, it’s just being mindful to my surroundings.

I have set it as a goal to continue mindful walks throughout the Autumn so expect a lot more leaves and bark patterns from me in the next months. I have plans to learn more about foraging too so that next Spring I am ready to identify elderflower over cow parsley and other berries than blackberries. This ties in well with the research I have been doing around folklore and woodland life but it is also a simple and achievable way for me to take Artist’s dates.

If you haven’t come across this idea before, Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way recommends that you take two hours out each week to explore, create and play. I have a list of great Artist’s dates you can do on the cheap and woodland walks have definitely become important to me in nurturing my inner artist.

I can’t say it’s a full digital detox but for me it is a good compromise to go for quiet and mindful walks, just occasionally getting my phone out to photograph something that has caught my eye. I am hoping as I gradually build up to longer walks, I can spot some more interesting finds. It is also one that I can do with my little man alongside me at times. Often, he finds a really good stick or brings home a pine cone. It is fascinating to me that part of what I am learning to do on my walk, – whether I take photos or sit up in a tree – is what comes so naturally to children. I really think that the creative mind is playful, looking at the world with fresh eyes. In taking these observant and mindful walks we can do more than appreciate nature, we can find that natural and playful side to ourselves. And if you want to build your creative practice, being more playful is a great place to start.

Autumnal Ambitions

Planning to be a bit more productive in my favourite season

As soon as I get a sense of the sharper cold of autumn in the air, I get excited. I have written before there is really no better season to get inspired. A time of finding inspiration in nature and curling up in warm socks to write. But this year, Autumn feels even more important. My life is shifting to our new patterns, my husband back to full time in the office and for me managing my condition knowing I have little help for childcare. I am seeking now to establish the baseline level of energy I have, in the hopes that soon I will not crash every weekend and feel able to socialise a bit again.

I am getting asked a lot how is my “long covid” but like many invisible conditions, it’s just there, in the background and for now part of my life. Usually when people ask you about illness they want you to say you are better but instead of saying “I’m getting there” with the usual passive politeness. I am respecting the condition and fatigue “I am learning to manage it.” I am more comfortable with this honest answer even if most people what want you to say is you are fine. Coming in the next few months I have some medical appointments which may help but in the meantime, Autumn will be the time for me to work out what works for me. I need to continue to listen to my body, but also listen to my mind which is calling out to be more creative.

For now it may be more quiet craft sessions though there are added issues I didn’t have to think about before: my markers now trigger asthma, planning out a card to make can be surprisingly fatiguing, I don’t want to add to my tidying up duties by making a mess. Being more aware of what is tiring is interesting. I know my Mum has said to me a number of times that it is very similar to ageing. Simple day-to-day tasks like taking a shower are just more noticably tiring than before. Equally you have to make plans to build in rests more often even if you do manage a busy day.

As I sit to my journal and make some Autumn goals I try and identify what exactly has held me back from writing. I then have tried to add in the element that might make the task easier in my current condition.

Plan a few research trips. It will need to be a Friday so have the weekend to recover. I love exploring the Newspaper Archives for the historical elements of my work in progress. At the British Library, there is free access and I just find being closeted amongst the books so inspiring. I know already that I probably have to build in a rest if not a sleep to travel into London so I may choose to make my next trip on a day my husband could help out.

Continue mindful walks These have helped so much whilst I recover. Getting out in nature continues to be good research particularly as I have gradually been teaching myself about the wildflowers and plants. Finding bright spots of nature nourish part of me that rejects my urban lifestyle and gives me much needed alone time.

Carry a notebook around I noticed that I have written less in notebooks in the recent years. I find that writing by hand really helps. In addition it means I can do just a little work, sketch out ideas and not feel like I have to sit and edit work in the same way because as I type up whatever I have written, I polish the words.

Re-read my work-in-progress It’s been so long since I have been working on my longest, unwieldiest project that I can use this as a chance to look at it all with fresh eyes.

It probably doesn’t sound like I am pushing myself much in the next few months. I haven’t set word counts or minutes per week. Instead I have defined the things that can help me gradually build up to doing more. Knowing that I adding a few things into my life in a realistic way is far more helpful as I recover. It feels like the right next step to get back to what I love.

How do you make progress when life gets in your way?

Reminiscing is simple inspiration

Away at my mother’s house, I have been enjoying the items that bring back memories

It’s odd how the smallest thing can send you off into your memories. This last week we have been away at my mother’s house for a change of scene. Everyday I have been noticing things with a funny jolt of recognition. I suppose when you are home, your eye becomes blind to decorations or you are too busy to stop and look. Being here I have been more aware. We are not rushing around because my fatigue has stopped us from doing too much. Staying in a different home, I am aware of spending time appreciating the things from my childhood more.

A small basket of shells arrest me at a window ledge. We collected them on the Welsh coast thirty years ago. I trace my finger down turritella shell or towers as we would call them. I think I remember the time we collected it, we used to take old sandwich loaf bags out and on a particularly blustery weekend, we walked up and down the beach stooping for more and more. I think I filled two bags. At some point I had to choose my favourite as I was told we couldn’t take the whole beach home! The crystalline pink were always my favourite though it’s a lot smaller in my hand than I remember.

I think everyone scans the bookshelves of homes they visit, many of her favourites have stayed over the years but I am not sure I have read. I pick through the shelves idolly. There are some older volumes that I think have always fascinated me, probably because I know some were her childhood editions, some her father’s. Amongst them is the copy of Little Women from our trip to Orchard House, the Alcotts home. Like the other hardbacks, it’s not in fact an antique but I still hold it with reverence. Our day in Concord is a really special memory. The postcard of Alcott’s desk sits in my writing trolley still, reminding me to stop complaining about a space to write.

Sounds too are reminiscent here. This is not my old home, though we have been welcomed here in holidays for years now. But the pigeons sit in the trees outside the back of her house just as they did in my first house and I realise that I miss the sounds of the birds coo echoing down the chimney when I am at home. We have sat this week and watched the blackbirds who play in their garden and cheep loudly when they haven’t been left food. There’s a bush here they have occupied as their own and I remember back to similar times watching birds play in our garden growing up.

Often memories can feed inspiration for me and it occurs to me in my nostalgia there is the essence of something I have been trying to capture for a while. The hard work I have been putting in in mindful walks to notice nature and neighbourhood around me. It has been come a goal to slow our time, to appreciate life. To listen to the world around. But these were things that were, at least some of the time, part of my life as a child. These sights and sounds are a reminder for me that this mindful enjoyment of the simplest things is natural to us all.

Life Post Covid

Six months on from getting infected, I pause to reflect on what life looks like now

As I wrote back in January, I was lucky to contract a mild case of covid. I still consider that I was lucky to have had a relatively easy time. I was at home and managed my symptoms with help of tablets and extra asthma inhalers. I even managed to work at first though I was mildly weary. It lasted about ten days and, for a few days after, I thought that was that.

But like many people who have had covid-19, I have ended up with a much longer, more complicated picture and at six months I can’t help but consider how it has completely changed my life. I have what is colloquially called Long Covid or Post-Covid Viral Fatigue. It has meant learning and managing fatigue far beyond the tiredness I have been experiencing before now. It has stopped me and forced me to do things differently in a number of ways.

Not everyday, but on a bad day I block out the world. I have had to strip back what I do, prioritising my activities and often managing to work for a few hours or maybe play for short bursts with my son. If I socialise I can be thrown off for days because I am getting post exertional malaise that knocks me off my feet, leaves me achy and able to do little. Never has the feeling of being hit by a bus felt so accurate.

I often spend hours on my bed although I now try and meditate not just nap. I have had to reduce exercise to the point of tracking that I don’t do too many steps, rather than counting them up, on my Fitbit. All of these changes are hard-won lessons I am still learning. Trying to find what I can and cannot handle has become my preoccupation. I am reading and watching a lot about the condition (and related advice for people with chronic fatigue syndrome) trying to get the game of pacing right.

I have had to tune into my body much more. Listening to a podcast or watching the tennis I may discover suddenly it’s far too intense. My tolerance for stress, even the pleasurable kind of tension we choose to put ourselves through for entertainment like a thriller, overwhelms me. Instead I look for things that are light, funny or soothing. And use the meditation practices that help me listen to my body more clearly.

Really doing these things has been a lesson in what I wasn’t doing for myself before. Like a lot people, my stress increased in pandemic times. I became more anxious and felt some of the losses of not seeing family, feeling isolated, very keenly. Now I am seeking help both medically and for my mental health. Actually I don’t really have a choice.

The whole world stopped for a while in 2020 and that was a lesson about how we cope with modern life. Everything too fast, too consumerist, not to mention too close, stopped and stripped back to what was essential. Well, it seems I still have to learn this lesson. My body has chosen to stop me in my tracks. I can’t be grateful for every difficult moment in the last six months, nor for all the sadness and loss in this pandemic, but I am starting to get very grateful for the chance to assess what is really important to me. To spend my energy where I can, doing what I most value. To reassess and prioritise.

And top of my list, for the first time in a long time, I am having to look after me.