Tag Archives: growth

“You Got the Part!”

When I was just married, I was known to spend hours in a galactic tailspin in the supermarket. I felt as if I had been launched into an unknown universe, punctuated with beckoning aisles, lurking black holes waiting to suck me into the vortex of indecision.

I hated all the choice.

I second guessed every item I picked up. I browsed for far too long, lingering on inconsequential decisions which I imbued with intense hues of vibrant importance.

Fusilli or rigatoni?

Barlotti or garbanzo?

1% or 2?

I studied packages and boxes and cans looking for answers- as if I was scouring dusty volumes of ancient poetry searching for wisdom. Instead I was confronted with confusion and long lists of ingredients – a litany of preseravites that would never know how to protect me. I wanted to be a confident shopper. I wanted to be focused and intentional. With a meal planner. And a talent for cooking. And a special intuition which would guide me to the just ripe fruit and the organic cashews spiced with chili and mint.

But I usually left Sainsburys an hour and half later, burdened with two or three bags of ready cooked meals, a few apples, a punishing headache and a depression that weighed down upon me like a heavy dark cloak.

I remember glancing around the parking lot at other women, balancing babies and full shopping trolleys. Getting on with it. Coping. And I thought to myself. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be normal??

I had been asking myself that question since I was a kindergartener with big glasses, skirting the fringes of groups. It was one I continued to ask myself as a teenager – an English girl in an American high school fidgeting to fit in. It would be a question I would ask myself as a new mother struggling to breast feed a baby who had other interests in mind. But when I was 25 and recently married, I was simply trying to decipher how to be a wife. I knew how to write poetry and lose myself in a book and develop black and white prints in a handmade dark room. I knew how I wanted to love and how I wanted to be loved.

I knew how to be a dreamer. A walker. A hand holder. A sister. A daughter.

But how to be wife stumped me. I wasn’t looking exactly to fit into a traditional mold, but I was looking to begin providing something I felt should come with the territory. Nourishment. Clarity. If I couldn’t manage in the supermarket how was I going to navigate this new grown-up role? The role I had auditioned for and then readily accepted the part?

The truth is – life allows us to play hundreds of different roles, but often we don’t meet our own unrealistic expectations informed by a myriad of influences, so we end up asking ourselves where did we go wrong? We end up feeling like we have been miscast in our own stories….

We hang onto the word ‘normal’ like it is a lifeline, when in actuality it can be a noose with the power to suck the breath out of us. Let’s re-imagine normal with a million different definitions. Every flavor on the shelf. Every taste imaginable.

18 years have passed since those first supermarket space travels. Do I still compare myself to my fantasy of others? I do. But I realize now – it is just a fantasy, and one that only comes to life when I give it oxygen. Those same women in that parking lot all those years ago might well have had their own fantasies about me – carefree, with a light load and long blonde hair.

Little did they know.

We’re all playing parts and wondering if the rest of the cast have a better handle on their lines.

I’d like to believe it’s never too late to re-write the script….

Write about he roles you play or the ones you would like to play or the ones you have grappled with. Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others? Use the word ‘normal’ as a springboard and jump…

Share your findings in the comments!

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Wait Here

I’ve been sitting here for a while now pondering the blank screen. It’s not a comfortable feeling – waiting. But it’s also not an unfamiliar one. I feel like I spend a lot of life waiting. Waiting for the oven to pre heat. Waiting for the traffic to move. Waiting to hear back from someone about something. Waiting for the result. Waiting for my toenail polish to dry. Waiting for  my vitiligo to spread. Waiting for that sinking feeling. Waiting for my ‘aha’ moment. Waiting to  visit the places that I’ve left behind. Waiting to take my own advice.

When I was teenager I used to wait for the phone to ring. Actually, looking back, I understand that I was waiting to become a grown-up, a woman, a lover, a writer. I was waiting for life.

It’s tedious isn’t it, this waiting for life to happen?

And it’s hard to avoid. How do we reconcile our expectations of what we imagined might happen with the reality of what is happening? How do we push ourselves out of the waiting room and into the world?

Fifteen years ago I had a book published. it was a children’s picture book which took me no more than a few hours to write. The story arrived inside of me like a sudden gift. It landed elegantly whole, not in splinters or fragments like stories sometimes do. It was the tale of a puppy called Charlie, who was searching for an owner. He was so determined to find the ‘perfect’ owner that he put an ad in the newspaper with a checklist of his criteria (he was a very enterprising puppy).

And then he waited.

And waited.

And waited.

While he was waiting, he discovered a true friend and companion who lived next door. While he was waiting he began to live.

The book, to my surprise, performed very well when it found its way out of my head and into the bookstores. It was reprinted. It was translated. It was nominated for awards. It was selected by the ‘selectors’ as something special.  I thought getting the book published meant that MY waiting was over. I assumed it meant that the career I had been searching for had begun.

I was wrong. And right.

It had begun but the waiting never ended. And a ‘career’ is not one neatly wrapped story, tied with a purple and green polka dotted bow. For some of us, a career is an unwieldily package. Sharp cornered. Taped tightly. Tough to get into to. Sometimes it is even too heavy to pick up and shake, preventing us from flirting with the fantasy of what it might contain.

I never had another book published. Not for lack of trying. I tried. Not a hundred times, but I tried. I waited in vain for that box to find me again. The one with with satin ribbon and the soft cotton bedding, cradling the diamond. But now I’m taking an ironic page from my own book. I’m channeling Charlie and paying some attention to what is vs.what if.

I’m becoming rather fond of  the ungainly weather worn parcel with the tattered bottom. I’ve learnt the value in hacking away at various corners revealing curious glimpses into what just might be inside. I’m actively practicing patience, which requires a lot more productive energy than sitting around and tapping the table top.

And fifteen years on, publishing is no longer dependent on endless waiting. So I’m here, writing, because the only thing my words depend on – are me.

Write for ten minutes about the word ‘waiting’. What are you waiting for? Is there an area of your life where you can stop waiting and take back some power instead?

OR

Write a fictional piece with the theme of ‘waiting’. This could be the beginning of something longer. A character sketch. An outline. An opening paragraph. Anything! Don’t wait… Just write!

 

 

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Not Going To Do It

I’ve been writing this blog regularly for six months. For six months the ideas have been flowing – like turning on a tap and finding water.  It’s been eerily effortless. I’ve felt confidently creative. Pleasantly productive.  I’ve been taking it for granted.

Until now.

I had a crazy, busy weekend, full of celebration and story, but when I thought about writing Monday’s blog, my mind drew a blank. My faucet sputtered and gulped. Obstructed by air in the pipes, I confronted manic bursts of feeling, but no free flowing, inspirational thoughts or words.

So I paused.

In the past I might have panicked.

In the past I have retreated, sometimes for years at a time. I have become a bear, addicted to hibernating my ideas, restricting them from light, killing them off with dreary dampness. I came to rely on the dangerous safety of defining myself as ‘creatively blocked’. It felt so much more manageable than rousing my soul and tentatively crawling out into the open air. I was possibility adverse. A quiet sulk always seemed a better option.

But when the water didn’t flow this week, I simply gave myself a break. I didn’t write. I slept a bit longer. I tried to ignore the vitriolic voice within – the nasty naysayer who was filing her horribly long nails and muttering, “Don’t flatter yourself. You’re most likely boring everyone silly. They’ll be relieved to not get another tedious email from you.”

And then I heard from a friend late last night, “I noticed you didn’t post anything today – Monday being your day…I always look forward to it.”

It was straightforward. Honest. Resonant. I paid attention. I took my finger off the PAUSE button and I pressed PLAY instead.

I’m grateful to my friend for nudging me. I’m grateful that I’ve learned to reflect and respond rather than only reacting and running. It’s all too easy to imagine ourselves irrelevant when we encounter the slightest hurdle.  This happens in every area of our lives. We adopt a position of defence. For me that position was clinging to a musty blanket in the corner of my cave.

No more.

If you’re hovering in a creative netherworld I hope that these posts can provide a chink of light.  It has taken me three times longer than usual to write this! But I’ve become stubborn. I’m not going to return to my default position. I’m resisting the pull.

There’s a comfortable log just outside the entrance of my cave. It’s under a tall Robinia tree with kindly spreading branches and delicate lime green leaves. I’m sitting there for now. I’m listening to my breath. I’m lulling words from thin air.

Come and say hello?

Choices: Write for ten minutes using the word ‘cave’ as a springboard or share a story of struggling with a creative obstacle. It  feels good to share experiences. I’m listening….

 

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Change of the Heart

photograph by Steve Fraeemba

I have been occupied with the idea of change this week because I have been making changes to the Write To Be You site. I hope you like them. I’ve been obsessing over very little things like font and spacing and shades of green. I have been awarding these small changes monumental amounts of importance – cursive versus sans serif.  Lighter or darker. Up or down. And while in the midst of this fixation with getting everything on the site ‘just right’ I received a phone call telling me that one of my dearest, beloved friends had been admitted to hospital with chest pains. Within twenty four hours he underwent a procedure to unblock a stubbornly blocked artery in the chambers of his heart. The cardiac surgeon announced he was days away from a massive heart attack.

Suddenly fonts didn’t seem so important anymore.

Life is full of minutia that stress us out to no end. Schedules, traffic, electronics, laundry, dishes, spills, stains, tangles, grievances – large and tiny. Fonts. And there on the other side of the spectrum, hovering quietly in stark polarity – our mortality.

It seems absurd that all of the ‘business’ that pads our every day lives can be rendered completely useless in a moment of heart felt pain.

Absurd but true.

My friend has been advised that he needs to change. A lot. He needs to change his diet, his habits, his routine. He needs to slow down. Pay more attention. Be kinder to himself . But this I believe should be a universal mantra. I tell it to my workshop participants weekly.

As lovely as it sounds though, change like this can be ridiculously  hard. If only it were as easy as adjusting a font. My friend is worried that he will be so buoyed by his ‘lucky escape’ that he might fall back into denial, assuming himself to have access to as many second chances as a crafty cat. Odds are he won’t, unless he opts for transformation. And even that is uncertain… longevity is a gift not a given.

So what are our choices when it comes to contemplating change? To remain blocked emotionally and or physically, despite knowing that ultimately this will result in some form of pathology catching up with us? Or to explore routes to unblocking?  Enlist help from those who love us. Loiter in moments of joy. Express and create with both careful reflection and urgent abandon.

I know which one I am choosing. And I hope that my friend, who had a beautifully large heart to begin with, will opt for a similar route, now that some of the unblocking has been taken care of for him.

On  a lighter note – what do you think of this font?

Write for ten minutes using the word CHANGE as a springboard. Share in the comments! Or simply respond to this post – does it resonate with you? Tell me why…

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Ready, Steady, Write # 9

We are surrounded by stories
But we don’t always see them.
Become aware…
I passed this scene yesterday
I was intrigued
Not only by who on earth would buy that horse lamp?!
But also by the body language of the couple
THERE IS A STORY HERE
TELL IT
Please share your story, a one line caption (ONE line!!) or
a personal response in the comments section… I’m wishing for the community to GROW
Ready? Steady? You know the drill…

 

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And Then Again

I spoke to my sister in London yesterday who told me that spring is in in the air.  She works at a school, and she noticed that the children had finally emerged from their thick puffy coats and were running around the playground in t-shirts. Like seeds hiding beneath the frosty earth, they had found the courage to break out and unveil themselves.

I do not have the pleasure of dancing to the rhythm of seasons now that I live in Los Angeles. I mourn the cycles that punctuated my year. The buttery yellow swarms of daffodil heads. The sudden rush of vibrant green stems and fields of fresh grass. The papery autumns filled with a thousand shades of orange. The crinkle and crunch of fallen leaves enveloping my feet. Then the starkness of winter. The bite on my cheeks. The bareness of branches reminding me that mother nature so accurately mirrors human nature.  A familiar cycle of moods. Light to dark. Empty to full.  Birth to death. And then again. And then again.

Holding onto hope after a loss can feel impossible. Improable. A blurry destination hovering in the far off distance. Grief is arresting.  Like a sudden winter it descends with a million bitter promises. I will strip you down.  Freeze your heart.  Darken your skies. Disect the sun.  There are no platitudes to brighten the bleakest periods of our lives.  But there will always be the arrival of spring. Even here in Los Angeles the jacaranda trees are preparing to burst out in eccentric purple blossom creating boulevards of bloom.

Loss is permanent, but grief, like the seasons changes temperature. It is hard to imagine this when the chill has just descended; difficult to trust that spring will come again and that somewhere in the world there will be children, peeling off their coats, ready to embrace a warmer day.

Writing about loss is both painful and healing. We often bury the most tender words for fear of unearthing more grief. Ironically, it is when grief is given air that its temperature can change. Share a story of loss… like all emotions, grief is a human connector… a universal experience that touches lives everywhere.
Write for ten minutes.  Don’t aim for anything but pure expression. You have permission to give up your desire to craft. Simply write. To Be You…

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Let Me Give You Some Advice (Not)

Advice is a funny thing.  We ask for it, but don’t always listen to it.  Or we don’t ask for it, but have it forced upon us anyway. There are certain things that we can advise others on effortlessly, but when it comes to following our own words of enlightenment, we lag painfully behind.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I felt as if I was wandering around the world with a sign on my back blaring “FEEL FREE TO DOLE OUT UNSOLICITED ADVICE!”

Pregnant women are advice targets.  If the reams of wisdom from friends and family members are not quite enough, then do not fear, there will be bus loads of strangers on hand to give their two cents worth, or ten dollars worth or twenty pounds worth. There’s no avoiding it. The problem is, you don’t always want to avoid it, because parts of what you hear will be vital and precious, even if you can’t grasp it at the time.

Hasn’t someone invented an app to filter out ‘bad’ advice yet? A digital troll who vibrates your phone violently when a well meaning but misguided opinion is hurtling towards you at breakneck speed?

It will come.

The difficulty of being the recipient of advice overload is that it can dislocate you from your gut.

Confuse your your instinct.

Cloud your intuition.

The difficulty of not being receptive to sound advice when offered, is that you can become narrow-minded, inflexible, stubborn.

It’s a fine line.

Meanwhile, the internet is brimming with advice on writing… some of it exceptionally valuable. However, I’ve realised that it is possible to spend more time reading the advice on ‘how to’ write than it is to actually write yourself.  Just as I spent far too many hours researching breastfeeding an unsettled baby, rather than attempting to stay attuned to the unsettled baby on hand. The one who was waiting for me to tackle it with him.

I have a policy to not automatically offer my opinion on someone else’s ‘stuff’ unless it is specifically requested. Even then, I’m known to infuriatingly flip the question back to the asker (a well practiced skill in psychotherapy training!)

The task that needs tackling is how to call on the experiences of those who have walked the same road  and benefit from their stories, while staying aware that no road is ever identical.  Each of us treads a unique path, shared, but always ever so slightly different, like the variable ridges of a fingerprint.

My pledge to you is not to advise… but only to guide.  I’ve learned that sometimes when you’re in the dark, what you truly need is not someone to turn the light on for you, but to gently touch your arm instead, and point you in the direction of the sun.

Write about advice! Are you compelled to give it? Are you always asking for it? Do you have a story to tell where ADVICE, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is the central character? All words are welcomed… I invite you to release some thoughts below…

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Once Bitten

Photograph by Chloe Green 2012

My dog, Lilly, was bitten by another dog this week.

Ouch.

The vet stapled her wound shut, and if that wasn’t dismal enough, condemned her to wear ‘the cone of shame’ for ten days. Like any self respecting animal, Lilly was desperate to lick her wound. She moped around the house forlornly. She whimpered. She kept me up for two nights sitting by the edge of my bed staring at me, determined that I would be the guest of honour at her pity party. It worked. It’s ridiculously hard to resist those beautiful brown eyes, even at 3am. The following day I gave in and removed her cone, vowing to watch her vigilantly to prevent her inflicting any further damage. Of course I got distracted.  I have a university degree in getting distracted (with distinction). After a twenty minute phone call, I returned to find Lilly gleefully licking her laceration. She wagged her tail triumphantly, having managed to pull out the staples and open the wound.  Lilly and I spent another hour at the vet.

She was hurt all over again.

We do that don’t we? We feel attacked. Bitten. Injured. Disappointed. And we hold on. Sometimes we find it almost impossible to not keep returning to our wound and reopening it, repeatedly.

I completed a novel last year, succeeded in securing an agent, and like thousands of others who submit full of optimism and sparkle, my book was rejected. Many times.  I spent months, not unlike Lilly, feeling sorry for myself and gouging at my wound. I longed for the life I was leading in the run up to the submission, full of promise and potential. I attempted to begin another novel, but without the validation I had been seeking, my enthusiasm for my craft wobbled and wavered. Eventually, a scab began to form and with the scab new ideas and resolve slowly began to generate. I decided to write about my experience of rejection, as a means of catharsis, but also as a way of fielding the constant questioning from everyone I knew.

Them: “So,what’s happening with your book?”
Me: “Ummmm….”

I sent my ode to rejection to a group of family and friends and it spread from there. The encouragement and support I received in return was awesome. The rally around me was palpable. My willingness to lay myself bare seemed to inspire people.

Suddenly it was clear to me.

I had been contemplating the idea of Write To Be You for some time, but had been too focused on the novel to initiate motion. I wanted to create a community that drew together my psychotherapy training and my writing background. I wanted to design a space for myself and others that didn’t rely purely on external approval. I imagined a forum where I could encourage others to write to make connection to themselves, rather than to please someone else. A bright, luminous lightbulb appeared above my head and Write To Be You Workshopsand blog were born.The ethos: write from your heart and your words will find a pulse. 

My intention, restated, is:

To offer a safe, empathic environment where we can contemplate wounds, reveal scabs and scars, and support one another in not constantly reopening the cuts and watching them bleed. Write To Be You is a call to creative action.  A wish that everyone reading will spend some time reflecting on the posts and writing, even if it is just for a few minutes or a few lines.  I’m showing up here every Monday and every Thursday with an invitation for you to write and to share. All your stories, responses and thoughts are read by me and published in the comments section, where we can weave together common threads, as well as delight in our differences.

If you choose to write, even for just ten minutes, twice a week, in a matter of months you will have a lively notebook. I’m also regularly challenging you to a Ready, Steady, Write… an opportunity to launch your imagination or your thoughts from an image and watch your words as they fly.

So please join Lilly (who is on the mend) and me in this new phase of promise and potential. We both may have been once bitten, but we’ve come to understand, there is little to be gained from being twice shy.

If you’re interested in the piece I originally wrote “It’s good, but…” Reflections on Rejection, it has been published on Single Minded Women. Click here to read.

And now to my readers – what has bitten you and how have you reacted? Have you been picking at a wound or finding it hard to move away from shame? What advice or stories do you have for other readers who are grappling with rejection?  Your responses are welcomed here always…. ten minutes, ten lines… just write…

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Mingle in the Mud

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

I am relatively new to the world of blogging.  One of the reasons I circumvented it for so long and wrote only for myself to see (and my dog to listen to) was because I wasn’t especially enamoured with the word ‘blog’.

It’s not a pretty word. Remove the ‘L’ and you are wading in a swampy marsh, waste up in mud and slime.

Despite my dislike, I squelched ahead.  I pulled on the wellie boots I haven’t worn since leaving England, and I entered the mire. Surprise, surprise. Suddenly writing didn’t feel so lonely.  I was surrounded by ‘Bloggers’!  All of us making our own journeys through sludge in the hopes of delivering something special.  Something sparkly.  A shiny gem that can be rubbed so clean that it will become lucid in the hands of the reader.

There are a lot of us – millions in fact.  Some days I am so overwhelmed by how very overcrowded this bog of blogs is that I contemplate giving up in order to step back on the sidelines and watch instead. I haven’t been at it for long. Surely no one would notice me slink away? Life would feel safer – less chance of getting roughly elbowed in the ribs by an overenthusiastic daily poster with a rugged thirst for adjectives.

But I am choosing to mingle in the mud.

There are times for spectating and times for doing and this is my time for doing.  So instead of being intimidated by my fellow explorers, instead of feeling threatened by their band of followers, I feel encouraged by their tenacity instead.  I feel enlivened by the connection and the surprising sense of community I have never before associated with the quiet hum of my computer screen. And I feel deeply moved by the courageous recollections of my readers, learning how to Risk It, offering up their stories filled with spectrums of colour, inspiring me by example.  And I am reminded why I began this in the first place. Write To Be You.

Not even the most experienced writers nor the most seasoned bloggers will produce gems week after week. If it weren’t for the muddy, knobbly rocks, we would never a truly appreciate the crystals when they appear. Glinting in our palms. Urging us to get our hands mucky and keep sifting for more.

Your turn now! Think of a time when you opted out because you felt crowded out? Have you ever stopped yourself before starting, for fear of being inadequate or not being able to compare? Perhaps you set a goal after reading Round and Round We Go but you’ve yet to mobilise?

OR do you recall something you began but gave up too soon? Do you want to return to it?  Take a moment to suspend judgment and simply reflect on why you gave up.

Find your notebook.  Choose your pen and start writing.  Write for ten minutes. I invite you to share. Anything. The earthy pebbles and the shiny shells – both valuable in their own ways.  I’m here, mingling in the mud, waiting patiently to collect them all…
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The Notebook

Don’t get your hopes up.  This is not a prompt to write about Ryan Gosling.  But if you feel you absolutely must – knock yourself out.  I am not in the business of holding people back!  I am in the business of encouraging growth.  Growth begins with a seed. A seed needs a container.  The container needs to be carefully selected so it feels just right.

The Notebook.

When I was a girl and onwards into adulthood, I always had a drawer full of notebooks.  With the best intentions, I would write conscientiously in any one of those said notebooks for a week.  Or two.  Sometimes more.  And then I would drift on to a newer notebook. A cooler notebook. A prettier one.  I was extremely fickle when it came to stationary.  I just couldn’t commit, and that was long before the days of endlessly upgrading an i-phone.

If you are following the blog, you hopefully have already pondered on your commitments for the year.  Have you committed to writing?  Once a week?  Twice a week?  Every day?  Set the bar where you can reach it, and if you haven’t yet – choose a notebook.  Even if you plan to write on the computer, I urge you to choose a notebook.  And stick with it.  Carry it with you if you can.  Tie it with a string or a ribbon or a piece of wool.  Protect it.  Fold images into its pages – torn scraps – words or pictures that catch you.  Write in it.  Doodle in it.  Smell the paper.  It will gradually and satisfyingly fill up.  And you will grow…

Can you remember a notebook you had as a child? A diary? A journal? What did it look like? Describe the cover. Where did it come from? Was it a gift or did you choose it? What did you write in it?

If you can’t recall, write from here: “I am a notebook, open my pages and you will find…”

Write for at least ten minutes. Go…

If you are following Write To Be You and have jumped in and started writing, I would love to hear your comments. If you’re feeling very courageous, share an excerpt.  I promise you it will inspire others to pick op their pens!

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