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Play Me, I’m Yours

I was in London last month visiting my ‘other’ home. I arrived feeling dislocated.  It’s an odd sideways movement returning to a place where you have left roots. A place where  you have made memories… sweet and bitter, clear and fuzzy, quiet and loud. When I land at the airport I feel like explaining myself. I want to pause at the passport control and tell them my story.

“I’m both you know. British and American. I have an American passport but a British accent. I’m double sided. Split. Torn in two. I was born here. Have lived in both places. I am always questioning where I belong.”

I wonder if they would listen – momentarily intrigued by the chance to see me as dimensional, rather than a flat document needing to be stamped.

So often we bypass opportunities to hear people’s stories. To colour in their outlines. To add flesh to their bones. I can think of too many occasions where I have met someone in a social situation, and even though I have asked numerous questions expressing a genuine interest in who they are, I am met with indifference. They show no curiosity. Ask nothing about me.

Sometimes we become so bound up in our own head space that we forget to look outward. We forget how nourishing and surprising it can feel to make connections.

During my trip to London, a friend and I set off optimistically with our daughters for a walk on Hampstead Heath. The sun above our heads was daring us to peel to off layers and believe we could be warm. But within minutes of embarking on our jaunt – the heavens cracked open and drenched us through and through. There was nowhere to hide. The four of us huddled together on a nearby bench under two small umbrellas for almost an hour. We shared biscuits and gave in to the absurdity of an English July, growing wetter by the second. When the rain finally let up and we stood up, a rainbow etched itself onto the sky and I knew the afternoon would remain vivid in my memory, even more so than if it had been a simple, sunny picnic.

As we made our way back to our cars we passed a piano in the park. Recently pianos have been dotted across the city of London with signs inviting people to ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’. They even come with piano ponchos to protect them from showers.

My eleven year old daughter took up the invitation. She carefully removed the dripping plastic cover, sat down underneath the rainbow and played ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay — the smile on my friend’s four year old’s face was priceless. I stood transfixed by the magic of the moments unfolding — knowing that the outing was transforming into a story I would always want to tell.

An older man on his bike stopped to listen too and when my daughter finished, he took over, playing an enthusiastic rendition of a Bee Gee’s song. He told us of his frequent visits to the piano in the park. He told us about the others who gathered around him each time for a ‘sing-a-long’.

We became threads linking each other together.

Whoever it is who came up with the brilliant idea of putting pianos in public spaces is a genius. I’d like to write them a thank you letter and tell them how grateful I am that they understand the value of connection. The pianos are providing the gift of a story… a story told through hundreds of notes played in countless configurations daily. These instruments, bared to the elements, hold chapters of lives lived in sudden unexpected bursts of creativity. They are bringing people into contact. Encouraging expression. Allowing strangers to seem less strange.

I only wish they had thought to place a piano in Heathrow airport. At the front of the queue . A welcome distraction while we all wait to be stamped.

Write about an unexpected interaction or connection. Curiosity about others fuels our writing lives. Pay attention. Don’t pass up a chance to ‘Play Me.’

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Ready, Steady, Write #21

Pause

Breathe

Write about the Light

Share in the comments

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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Double Exposure

At the time of writing this, thanks to those of you who generously donated your words, I have raised $395 for The Pablove Foundation.  48 of you sent me a fictional story, poem or memory inspired by a simple picture of an ice cream cone taken by a child living with cancer. 48 of you carved out time from your busy schedules and pledged your words, trusting your voice and risking sharing.

I am so grateful to those of you who participated. 

Plus it was such a treat for me to read the contributions landing daily… each expression unique and interesting. If you haven’t already, have a browse through the comments from the Incentive posts. There are far more than 31 flavours!

With every new comment that arrived, I sensed a community gathering.

This was always my intention for the blog and for Write To Be You. Writing only in isolation can feel extremely lonely. While writing and sharing, linking words like hands, has the collective potential to nourish your soul and expand your outlook. But with that nourishment comes the threat of exposure, and I realized over the last 2 weeks, that many of my readers didn’t join in my fundraising campaign for fear of feeling over exposed. The realization saddened me. I want to emphasize here that any contribution to the site can be submitted anonymously. You can even invent a fabulous nom de plume and waltz your words around the screen with abandon, cleverly disguised by your daring alter ego.

But more importantly, I’d like to propose that some level of exposure is vital to the creative process and integral to growth.

Think old school SLR cameras. The shutter has to open, even briefly, in order to catch a flash of light and imprint the image onto the film. Human beings are not so different. A little exposure can go a long way. Can you break free of your ‘not a writer’ persona and write anyway? Can you give yourself permission to play with words or thoughts and discard the looming fear of being compared or judged?

Can you allow yourself to develop?

Somewhere in the script of my childhood I repeatedly heard the line, “people don’t change.” I am here to contest that notion. I absolutely believe in the power of subtle transformation. Not necessarily sweeping leaps of faith… but small skips in alternate directions. Hushed murmurs like butterfly wings, powerful because they are intricately bold rather than overbearing.

So open the shutter.

Capture a surprising aspect of yourself. Some of the most intriguing photographs are double exposures, randomly stolen moments, immortalized by mistake. Why are these images so captivating? Because they reveal that two things can exist at the same time. You don’t have to define yourself with only limited parameters. Writing is not only for ‘writers’. Creativity is available to everyone.

Demand that the uptight, hard assed teacher living inside of you put down her red pen and experiment with some other colors for once. And while she’s distracted, discard your uniform, skip through the hallways and release your words into the world.

The butterflies are waiting.

PS.If you didn’t get around to donating words for one reason or another, my deadline is up, but you can always go directly to the Pablove site and donate $10 yourself. Every little bit counts…

Are you afraid of exposure? Where does the fear stem from? Can you break through the fear and explore writing something? Anything? Be gentle on yourself. If you don’t want to be too revealing, invent a name and see what words come. Equally, if you have reaped the benefits of exposure, please share!

Or

Create a character who resists change. Write an outline of this person and notice how you feel about them as you write. Think about their backstory. What and who has shaped them?

 

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Incentive

Incentive.

Let the word sit on your tongue. It’s a subtle word. It sizzles in the middle.

Incentive.

It beckons you forward. Encourages you to engage. Dangles a reward.

Or does it?

Writing is a tough one. Are you enamoured by the process? Do you feel compelled to let words tumble out of your brain and onto the page? Are you bold enough to let those words fly, or play with them, shifting their positions as if they were an enthralling jigsaw? Unless all of these conditions are in place, what incentive is there to write?

Money, fame, fans, accolades?  No guarantees, and if you are writing with these aspirations – may the force be with you.

You’ll need it.

I am incentivized by the potential of impact. I want my words to resonate. When I release these blog posts every week, the words have already resonated within me… and that IS satisfying. But if they then resonate with even ONE person beyond me – that is enormously satisfying.

I have heard from many readers, “I love to read your posts but I haven’t written… or I can’t write… or it’s not my thing… or I’m not very good or, or, or, or, or….

I’m bored with OR! I want to tempt words from you. I want to ignite action. I want you to feel the surge in your soul that can come with digging deeper. Unearthing creativity. Inventing worlds. Exploring expression. I want to incentivize you to WRITE – without fear or judgement.

So here goes…

When I first moved to LA two years ago I was introduced to a lovely woman called Jo Ann Thrailkill. Jo Ann is the founder of The Pablove Foundation– a non profit that raises funds for paediatric cancer research and offers a remarkable photography program, Pablove Shutterbugs, for children lving with cancer. Pablove grew with passion, dedication and care from the dark roots of grief. Jo Ann and her husband, Jeff, lost their son, Pablo, to a rare form of childhood cancer when he was only 6 years old.

Pause here. Let those words resonate.

In the short time since his death, despite the massive unrepairable rupture in their worlds, Jo Ann and Jeff miraculously didn’t lose their incentive. They found a way to keep going. They began to create something that would not only honour the precious life of their brave and beautiful son, but that would also positively impact other children suffering from cancer.

Pablove was born.

If I close my eyes I can picture Jo Ann and Jeff carving a heart into the trunk of a tree. I imagine the birth of Pablove as a pact between them. A statement.  A message. We are still here. Pablo’s older brother, Grady, was fifteen when Pablo died. We are still here. We will continue to make meaning…

Pablove inspires me. Jo Ann and Jeff inspire me. The children in the Shutterbugs photography program inspire me. I never met Pablo, but he inspires me. Hugely.

As part of my aim to inspire YOU and incentivize you to write, I am pledging my continued support to Pablove.

Below is a gorgeously graphic image taken by Diego, 13 years old, who participated in a 2011 Shutterbugs photography program.

I am going to leave this post up for 2 weeks and within that time, for every fictional story, original poem, or memory you share on the site in response to Diego’s photograph , I will donate $5 to Pablove. And if you want to match that donation – please do so here: pablove.org. Let me know if you donate, but remember, your words alone will ensure a contribution.

Do it now!  It doesn’t have to be literal – use the image as a springboard and jump. Remember my ethos – forget about getting it ‘right’ and get it ‘write’ instead!  Share part of you. Share this post with friends and family.  Share the Pablove!  Click on the ‘comments’ button to get started, and if you are reading this via email…  please visit the site directly to respond.

Join Jo Ann and Jeff. Carve your initials and your heart into that tree trunk. Let your words truly make a difference.

I’m here to make certain they will…

From Pablove
The Pablove Foundation is named after Pablo Thrailkill Castelaz, the son of Jo Ann Thrailkill and Jeff Castelaz and
the little brother of Grady Gallagher. Pablo was six years old when he lost his valiant yearlong battle with bilateral
Wilms Tumor, a rare form of childhood cancer. The mission of The Pablove Foundation is to fund pediatric cancer
research and advances in treatment, educate and empower cancer families, and improve the quality of life for
children living with cancer through hospital play, music and arts programs. Pablove Shutterbugs is the foundation’s program to teach
children living with cancer to express their creative voice through the art of photography.For more information on The Pablove

Foundation, please visit pablove.org and follow Pablove on Facebook at facebook.com/pablovefoundation and Twitter at @pablove.

Please also take the time to click below and read a true example of Writing To Be You – a soulful letter written by Pablo’s father, Jeff, on Pablo’s birthday.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE WORLD FROM A FATHER WITH A FRACTURED HEART

What’s stopping you? You donate words… I donate money… it’s sweet, easy and soulful. Please grab this gift of incentive and WRITE! You have until Monday 9th July!

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Ready, Steady, Write # 20

Photograph by cjohnlang

Reflect on this image

What floats into your mind?

A story?

A memory?

A wish?

Allow words to flow

Share in the comments…

 

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Singing in the Street

It was a rare occasion to be collected from school by my father. My sister and I had a half day. My dad picked us up and took us out to lunch. I might have been ten. I don’t remember the food we ate. I do remember he bought me a white bird that looked strangely real. It had glass eyes and wings made from silky soft feathers. I ran my fingers endlessly over those wings, imagining it had landed on my window sill to speak a special language, only to me.

My father held my hand as we walked through the West End of London and he sang out loud. My sister and I hit the back of his coat and begged him to stop. He took us later that day to see Flash Gordon in the Odeon cinema on the Edgware Road. Besides us, there were probably only fifteen people in the cinema. I was mesmerized by the adventure on the screen.  Neon lycra, laser guns and the Crash(!) Boom (!) Pow(!) of a boy’s world that had remained elusive to me being the youngest of three girls. My dad wasn’t so mesmerized. He fell asleep. Head lolling forward. Loud snores erupting in bursts. I tried to jostle his arm to wake him up. It didn’t happen. He just wasn’t that riveted by the Saviour of the Universe.

Parents are embarrassing. It’s not my opinion.  It’s a well documented fact.

My Dad was embarrassing but he was MY embarrassing… if he hadn’t sang in the street or snored in the cinema, I might not be recalling the tender details of that afternoon. If he had been dull or bland, twenty years after his death, it would be harder to conjure up the moments that make me smile on father’s day.

My mother was enormously embarrassing too. She collected us from school wearing an impossibly fluffy orange fur coat, flared jeans and owl round sunglasses. Today she might get splattered in red paint, but in 1978 she was the epitome of cool. She was the true manifestation of a yummy mummy, and totally immune to the glares of other more reserved mums, piling kids in the backs of station wagons, heading for Hampshire to their weekend retreats. My parent’s were city rebels. My mum drove a two door silver Mustang with black leather seats, and a perfect white stain on the vinyl roof, imprinted by my vanilla ice cream cone. I’d stand behind the driving seat and hold onto the smell in her hair. Estee Lauder Youth Dew. She made being a grown-up look so very fun and easy. But she was still embarrassing. She was a mother after all – it was part of her job description.

When I became a grown-up, I realized that life wasn’t nearly as breezy or fun as my mother had made it seem.

Perhaps that’s when I started singing in the street.

I might not have fur or glamour on my side, but I have found my own unique methods to ensure my children cringe. And on the days I don’t successfully humiliate them, my husband manages to pick up my slack. Somehow I am reassured by this cycle of life. Like the secret language I shared with my white bird… each family has their own code to interpret. And while back in the seventies I flinched  at my parent’s eccentricities, I grin fondly at the recollections now.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Take a moment and recall some of your own parents’ embarrassing highlights! For some of us this can tip from humour into shame… notice your feelings. See what emotions surface as you begin to write. When I wrote my piece, I felt very sentimental.  Has time smoothed away the creases or does the memory still make your toes curl?!

Be brave, feel free… share your words. Your stories are a gift to me and all the Write To Be You readers… thank you!

If you are subscribed via email please do not reply to the email (I won’t receive it) Click HERE to comment on the site, or click HERE to comment on FB, or email me by clicking HERE. Lot’s of options! I want to hear from you!

 

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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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Ready, Steady, Write # 17

Photograph by TBSteve

Drop and give me ten

What’s the story?

Unpacking

Photograh by Mr Woodnz

My family and I moved from London to Los Angeles almost exactly two years ago. While packing up our lives, I found myself unpacking a plethora of feelings related to change, loss, endings, beginnings, doubt.  I was showered in sadness. I cried so often that looking back it’s hard to believe through those tears I managed to cope with all the practical tasks. I was a soggy mess. Our boxes arrived in Los Angeles stained with my teardrops – a reminder of my emotional confetti.

Moving is incredibly challenging and as human beings we are frequently confronting displacement and relocation in various guises. Moving house. Moving country. Moving school.  Moving jobs. Moving relationships. Many people package up their feelings about these ‘moves’ along with their external belongings. Sadness gets taped up. Fear gets shoved in a side pocket. Anxiety gets filed away in a folder titled ‘UNHELPFUL’. And we forge ahead, still in possession of these feelings, but desperately hoping that concealing them will make them less potent.

In England we call this a ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. But isn’t it true that we have all seen that ‘rigid’ lip wreak havoc in many ways, in many countries, translated into many languages?

Repressing profound emotional states can have major repercussions. Feelings that have been filed away, unprocessed, have ways of finding the oxygen they need. They follow us through life, festering, waiting to leak out like toxic fumes or explode into billowing clouds of anger. Or simply collapse, leaving us in fragile heaps.

I know from experience that people are afraid of revealing too much emotion. Keeping it safely hidden away feels so much tidier. But release can take different shapes for different people. You don’t have to have a personality transplant. Find ways to gently tap into your feelings if they have been locked up for a while. Choose a friend who you trust. Consider talking to a counsellor or a therapist. Buy yourself a notebook and begin to write or draw. Creative expression is boundless and free and is available to everyone. But firstly, you must be willing to explore.

Two years on I feel more lucid and centered. I’m rediscovering a sense of being ‘placed’ internally and externally. Facing, rather than avoiding my grief about leaving, has helped me to arrive in each day, to stay authentic, and to feel empowered by my emotions, instead of endowing them all the power to overthrow me.

How does this post resonate with you? Write about a significant ‘move’ in your life and explore the feelings around it. Write for ten minutes. Time yourself. Share any thoughts or responses in the comments.

 

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