Tripping up

Things go wrong in life sometimes just to remind you to find the humour

Today I walked in the woods. This is a common occurrence, the setting of my work-in-progress is wooded so I get to call it a research trip. Though I haven’t actually worked on it or made progress for quite sometime, getting out in nature was calling to me. So in the interest of research, -or just indulging my passion for the best season, Autumn– I have been out and about amongst the trees again.

I took a shot of a fairy door, the oaks twisted me around so I got a little lost and there were acorn galore to crunch on..so far, so perfect. And then, the puddles starting to seep through my trainers, I decided to make my way back another way. Winding through soggy earth to spot footholds I made it back to the main path. But my way was not clear, the path was flooded but I couldn’t face going back on myself. Instead I performed a spectacular leap across the path in a bid to jump over a pond-like puddle. Rather than fly effortlessly to the other side, I landed in it, cracking my knee and getting water all the way up my leg. All the way. I might as well walked back along the river.

The worst thing about falling over as an adult is you are not supposed to cry but laugh it off. Alone,there was noone to pull me up, noone to hear me gamely laugh along. Actually, that may be the best thing today. Looking around, I had got away with it. Not a soul to see my fall or more importantly how pathetic my leap had been. I managed an awkward limp along until I established my legs were working alright. I got back mainly unseen in very muddy clothes, stripped off at the door and found a dramatic scraped knee but little else to show.

But you have got to laugh. And I did at myself for being a clutz. And also because I think scraped knees are supposed to be something that happens to children and if I hadn’t been taking pleasure in nature for the sake of it, this wouldn’t have happened to me. I remember someone who read a scene about my main character said to me “I think she’s quite witty.” A compliment, for sure. But also because seeing adults doing childlike things there has to be some comedy there.

When I do something ridiculous (which happens more than it should) I think I can “use this” in my work. Not necessarily to write comedy, but because if life isn’t tripping your characters up then what are they even doing in the woods in the first place?

Taking some time

Take the time that you need, that’s what I am learning more each day

As part of my bid to have more compassion for my anxious brain I have taken some time off from work, including blogging. Sometimes it is joyous to feel part of the #WritingCommunity and sometimes it feels like a constant reminder that I am not doing enough. I wrote just before we went in lockdown as a country that I was taking simple steps to make life a bit easier. But I have also been doing what I can just to survive.

As this pandemic takes hold in parts of the world with far worse conditions than I live in, after the horrendous explosion at the Lebanese docks, as the economic impact starts to wreak havoc on many lives, I find increasingly connecting to the outside world is overwhelming. Yes to keeping abreast of the news, being a member of the community, a charity-giver, but no to the constant barrage of The News.

In reality this has mainly meant stepping away from Twitter. I took a break to censor Wiley after his heinous anti-semitism a few weeks ago and am now using it very little. Helped along by the fact we have come to a remote spot to enjoy a week’s peace and relaxation. I have never felt luckier to be able to do this. We always staycation (hate that term) and love a countryside holiday from our usually busy, urban lives. Last year I wrote just how much a change of scene can give you new ideas. But I think it also helps with a new perspective on what you need in life.

With this in mind I have a new practice to add to my list of Artist Dates (that I have described in previous posts) which I would recommend to chill out more.

Stone-stacking on the pebbled beach while I am on holiday whilst my son played with his trucks (and knocked over my towers) was both playful and mindful. To take time, flattening the space around, searching for nearby rocks that are smooth enough to stack absorbs your mind completely. Then placing each stone took time and care. A lesson then on taking the time you need to create something beautiful.

What quiet thing do you do to take time out?

On Photography

This week as part of my Bored and Brilliant project I tried to take few photos to mixed results

Last week I attempted with some success to reduce my phone addiction and become Brilliant and Bored using the advice from Manoush Zomodori’s book Bored and Brilliant:How Time Spent Doing Nothing Changes Everything. The challenges I faced this week were to not only put my phone to one side but also stop trying to capture every moment with photos.

You would have thought that having studied Susan Sontag’s On Photography, I would have found it easy to understand why taking fewer photos forms part of the Bored and Brilliant project. Photography is about trying to hold on to a particular moment, but Sontag argues at the same time not really live it. This ultimately chimes with the idea of our distracted lives which Zomodori is showing impacts on our creativity and concentration.

“Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past.”

― Susan Sontag, On Photography

The fact that the image is captured on camera seems to play into Sontag’s claim that a photograph is “imprisoning reality.” Her book was a series of essays from the 1970s but her ideas have become more prescient in the way we live our lives now. Instagram (which I do use) and Snapchat and TikTok, (which I don’t) rely on us communicating via image more than anything.

I do have a MumWriteNow insta but I am not very good at keeping it up and I didn’t think I was too bad at taking photos, only sharing on there and my personal account from time-to-time. That was until the first day I tried to live, not just capture reality. My son had been grumpy all morning, it was hot, so I decided to set up some tubs and toys for water-play in the garden. Without thinking, I took out my phone to take a photo of him playing. Part of me knows I wanted to show off that I had engaged him outside (not on a screen!) but worse still, he has grown to expect photos and often wants my to take short videos.

This was a wake-up call that even I am not immune to needing to capture everything, whether or not I needed to share my Mum humble-brag with friends online, or just because I felt I needed to have a record of our lockdown life, it was still quite mindless. I started instead to try and watch him, asking him questions and he ended up making up a story. This may well have happened even if I took photos, but it was interesting to see the change. I wonder also if the play lasted longer as I was definitely more present.

clouds hang on a blue background
Be. Here. Now

I know of course I idly scroll through my feeds which includes photos of friends, but also people I don’t know like celebrities, housewives and book-lovers of course. Quite often I think of Instagram as a replacement for magazines, a way to keep up with style, gossip, for example. But in watching my stats and admitting my addiction was greater than I assumed, I put my phone away again and stayed away from social media too. It was only then that I felt I was being more mindful.

By the end of the day, perhaps in a stroke of brilliance, I was watching out of the window, knowing sunset must be soon. I had a book in my hand, not quite able to give up all my crutches as yet, and my son who was supposed to be in bed disturbed me. Irritably, I hurried him back to bed worried I would miss it like it was a TV show back in the old days. Then as I came back into my room, my heart-lifted in triumph, the curved cumulus clouds were surrounded by the deep orange-red of sunset. I had just made it back in time. I watched it until the sun went down, and felt lifted by it. I had actually experienced that moment, on that one day.

If only I could show you what simple beauty there was in the evening sky, but I didn’t get a photo, sorry.

Brilliant and Bored

Inspired by Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant I have set myself the challenge of reducing my tech use and expanding my creativity

My phone usage stats have crept up in the last few weeks. Although this isn’t the first time I attempted to track them, taking time to detox before, I have been meaning to read Manoush Zomorodi’s book and apply it to my life. As well as tracking how and why you use your technology she provides really in depth research about why our minds need time to be bored. Turns out if you yearn for a more creative life, spending time letting your mind wander might be the way forward.

The first challenge she sets is to track how much you use your phone. The idea is you keep your usage the same to get a true picture but also stay mindful to the moments you reach for your phone. The stats are collected on my phones “digital wellbeing” section though in the past I subscribed to the Moment app. I like the fact there are built features to restrict the time you are on an app. Halfway through the week, horrified by the figures, I have set an hour or less limit on most things. The apps time you out if you are done for the day and its become a game to go on without going grey for the day.

Even by tracking my stats I confirm what I thought, I reach for my phone as soon as work is over to decompress, zone out. I watch TV in the evening while also scrolling through social and playing games. (And we have watched some stuff with complicated plots during lockdown.) The first few weeks of lockdown I clung to my phone for work messages, home school ideas, listening to podcasts during exercise and staying in touch. We all doing our best to find ways to cope. We have called my Mum for Grandma-time a lot and so really it has been essential. But the hours and hours online have crept up.

Zomorodi is not anti-tech at all, working in the field. But she explains that even the presence of our phones, designed to chirp for our attention like a needy toddler, is distracting. A bit like that child I have had at my elbow everytime I make a work call in recent months. The advice is to just put your phone to oneside but away. Out of sight completely. Only this way can you really let your mind wander when it wants to.

Challenge two I completed this week was to commute without the distraction of my phone. She made it clear that even a nursing stay-at-home Mum who she interviewed had to count her moves from the couch to the kitchen as a commute so no excuses for me. I have been trying to leave my phone upstairs and away but have found that there is always someone trying to reach me. I did manage instead a couple of walks without my phone, doing as she suggests, I tried to notice things I usually miss.

Instead of quietly contemplating my surroundings on my walk, I got bored so stood outside a friends window, to say hello. Fine until a neighbour’s kid threw an insult at me for no reason. Not only do I enjoy the company when my earphones are in, I also get to ignore the not-so-nice elements in the world.

Frustrated today as well, I finally had some time to myself but tried not to use my headphones as a crutch. I was lying down, annoyed that I could use an app to meditate because my phone was elsewhere, and I realised I can meditate without the app. Who knew? I probably only lasted ten minutes and moved on to clean the bathroom. But the point was I can see how I have become reliant in many ways to the point where I don’t like being without my phone and rely on it to absorb me and relax me in equal measures.

It has been a revealing week trying the first few challenges, although I know there are harder days to come: taking no photos and deleting the app that distracts me the most. Though I don’t feel I have been struck with brilliance as yet, I admit I have been more productive so maybe creative inspiration is around the corner?

Have you tried a Bored and Brilliant challenge?

Create a collage

Feeling bereft without Artist Dates, I started my day with some craft.

Last year when I embarked on The Artist’s Way programme, I was struggling to fit in my weekly Artist Dates that Julia Cameron recommends. A chance to nurture yout inner artist, she prescribes two hours a week as a designated date. It was hard to give myself the time to do it and I felt like it took longer to go to a museum or exhibition. To encourgage myself and others, I made a list of cheap and easy things to do as an Artist Date. Novelty and curiosity are the main things I need.

Well since then I haven’t been diligent at observing the practice, I admit. The main thing I have tried is cooking new things but I haven’t pushed myself. And all of a sudden, with my options limited by social- distancing rules, I am feeling a little bereft of creative outlets.

We were discussing in our work support group this week that there are many ways to give our brains a break from the collective trauma we are living through. Being creative may be one way to help your mind adjust to the extreme shifts of life most of us are going through. I have no psychological training so I won’t prescribe creativity if you are really struggling. But if you do feel well enough, trying your hand at something creative may help.

As well as origami, I have seen these ideas on Pinterest of cute animal collages. It was so interesting paying attention to my inner critic. I am not a visual artist though I enjoy craft. I journalled after and felt intrigued about how many emotions came up for me. I worried for example that it was a childish activity, and that the results were poor.

A playful Artist Date

But if you can overcome thoughts that distract your art. Here’s a how to for a collage cat.

Materials

  • Four types of paper, a page ripped from two publications and two different lined notebooks
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Markers or maybe paint

Using basic shapes I created a cat based on this Pinterest tutorial.

I drew the shape on one sheet, then using those as a template copied the shape onto one other of the types of paper.

Playing around with the order of the shapes, I stuck them together on a dark background

To finish I used a highlighter pen to colour my cat in. Then, and this was the hardest bit, drew in the features.

Tackling the inner critic

Sharing my work, (which I don’t particularly rate though think it’s cute), has brought up my inner critic to the fore. One good thing about playing in a different medium than you’re used to is your standards for what you expect of yourself are much lower. And so almost,(almost) I can feel less fear about sharing. In fact it may even be more useful to observe what holds you back when you try something completely new. You hear very quickly the inner saboteur voice, her opinion is much louder and less insidious when you have little expertise. She will tell you what you have done wrong clearly, rather than blocking you from writing.

I found this such a productive Artist Date, I am definitely going to insist on this time in the coming weeks. And when we are safe again, appreciate more the chance to go further afield.