Into the darkness

I am slipping between seasons.

I can sense the afterglow of summer; flowers are blooming, the sun is still warm on my face. Then in another moment I am tumbling towards winter.

The darkness draws me forward.

There is still time after work to dodge the rain showers and squeeze in a walk to the estuary, yet by the time I have finished my evening meal there is blackness outside the window.

Winter guests are arriving along with the first frosts. The geese are back and countless small birds enliven the garden with their flittering flocks. I’m still waiting for a glimpse of redwing, or fieldfare. Tasty berries await their return.

Sometimes it’s still just about warm enough to take my cup of tea to the bench in the front garden, but I spend less time there now.

Of course, there is still work to do outside, weeding and pruning and such, which will build up body heat and make time spent outside feel good. But the mooching, the gazing, the simply being, the doing nothing, the outdoor tai chi practice; the season for all that is ebbing away.

And so the true owners of the garden come to the fore. The blackbirds, robins, wrens, dunnocks, tits, goldcrests, song thrushes, the mice and voles, the squirrels, the spiders and slugs, snails and countless invertebrates. All those beings who spend the entire of the day and the night outside, however cold or wet or grey it gets.

I watch a blackbird probing the lawn for insects and I suddenly realise that the garden belongs to all of them, not to me. They depend on it for survival, I just appear outside occasionally and they watch me with caution until I am gone.

The darkness approaches with relentless speed.

I fight it, just like every year. I wish it wasn’t happening. I dread the clocks changing, darkness before I even leave the office.

I’m not sure when this started. As a child winter and dark evenings just happened, that was just how life was. It didn’t bother me at all.

The winter started with our annual end of October half term Lake District family holiday, an old cottage with no central heating, roasting the chestnuts that we collected in the woods over the open fire, cold bedrooms, huddling under the sheets with hot water bottles. Probably my favourite holiday of the year. Back home, the house was usually warm, and the dark months were punctuated by brightness: Halloween, bonfire night, Christmas.

And I’ve been wondering when I learned to dislike the darkness that comes with winter, the short days, the endless grey and the damp cold.

A run of grey days can hang over me like a bad mood. Then, the sun comes out and everything is OK. Colours come to life. The world around me sparkles. This is perhaps not a good attitude to have developed given that I live in rainy, grey, beautiful north west England.

And yet. Every year there comes a point when I stop fighting the seasons, when I start to see the long dark evenings as something to treasure.

A space.

Often, there is not much to do. The working day is over. There are no little jobs to do in the garden, because it’s dark outside. I read. I binge watch tv programmes.

A little idea arrives in my head, about seasons and the approaching darkness. I go outside and reacquaint myself with the stars. Back inside it’s warm. I sit down and I start writing.

We are just at the beginning. There are months of this creative, enveloping darkness ahead. I could choose to welcome it.


What do dark evenings and approaching winter mean to you?


Boredom

Boredom sits heavy.

Don’t resist,

don’t drive it away

with endless scrolling

or unnecessary busyness.

Let it be.

Mooch around.

Feel a little fed up.

Just when you think

you can’t take any more,

you will notice something.

Within the boredom,

a little seed of creativity

is growing.

Give it space.

Wait, then watch it blossom

into ideas,

into action.


An empty holiday cottage on the Dorset coast. Everyone else has gone out. At first, the peace is bliss, then I get bored.

Then eventually the boredom transforms into the wish to draw. But all my sketchbooks, pencils and paints are at home.

My eyes fall on my nephews’ drawing book and gel pens.

My fingers itch to draw.

I have an idea.

I go and find their favourite toys, scattered around the house.

I draw each one, 2 monkeys and 2 cats, on random pages.

Tomorrow we all go home.

Sometime in the future, when my nephews look for a clean sheet of drawing paper, they will find my drawings.

And when I get home I will get my paints out. And maybe add some gel pens to my ever expanding range of art materials.

Thank you boredom!

Making time for creative projects

How many creative ideas, however humble or life changing, have withered and died in tidy houses and organised, outwardly perfect lives?

Allow your creativity to flow.  Give it time and space.  Take your ideas seriously. 

Make time in your week for your creative projects.  Add them to your to-do list.

Don’t wait until the perfect time or place.  Don’t wait until you have a studio, until your kids leave home, until you retire.  Do it now!

Maybe you get up in the morning to a whole new shiny day, and think ‘today is the day’, but then you think you must wash the dishes, clean the house, you think ‘I’ll do it later’, but later never comes.  Don’t wait until the washing up and tidying is done – do your creative projects first.  How many creative ideas, however humble or life changing, have withered and died in tidy houses and organised, outwardly perfect lives?

Experiment.  Be joyful.

Wear your creative work lightly.

Create, create, create…..

Go on….you know you want to!

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Weaving a life

Are you a specialist or a generalist? Can you fit all your interests into one job, or do they spill out over the edges?

It’s a question that interests me because I’ve never been able to fit all of my interests, my personality, my strengths into one job. I always leave something at the office door.

Maybe this is normal, I don’t know.

We start out in life fascinated by so much, little sponges soaking up language and learning, our favourite subjects at school might be as diverse as art, astronomy and cookery, yet we are forced to choose as we get older.

Art versus science, trade versus a degree, adventure versus security, practical work versus academic work, physical movement versus sitting all day at a desk, fresh air versus an open plan office, making a difference in the world versus making money; we cut out options until we are left with one narrow beam of focus leading us into one narrow career and one particular lifestyle.

Maybe some people follow their passions into this narrowing of choices and end up exactly where they want to be. I really hope so, as that’s the way the world seems to be set up.

But what about those people it doesn’t work for? Who follow the rules, do what’s expected, work hard and then find themselves stuck, half way up the career ladder, unable to climb down, not wanting to climb further up, and afraid to jump off. They look around at a landscape of tall ladders, other careers, and none of them are appealing. What then?

Maybe it’s just not possible to fit everything into one job, and a diverse life can be created, leaving plenty of time for hobbies, for family and friends, for volunteering, for exercise, leaving time to just be. But full time work doesn’t leave much time, and a badly fitting job sucks vitality from other parts of life, leaving no energy for anything other than an evening spent in front of the tv.

I’ve tried various approaches, interesting part time jobs that allowed me time to paint, write, go for walks, practise tai chi. Working full time for a while then taking time out to travel or do creative projects. But always I wonder if it’s possible to weave it all together into one coherent whole, to make a difference and to avoid the times when jobs or income are not forthcoming.

And I know it’s not just me that feels this way.

What about you?

How do you weave all your various interests, creative pursuits, employment, family, dreams and adventures into one life? Any tips?

Inspiration

‘I want to write a poem’
never works for me.
I have to wait.
I have to go to the places
where inspiration lies.
Sometimes I glimpse it
quietly sleeping
in a grey sky full of rain,
or shouting for attention
through the flowers and birds.
Sometimes I glimpse it
within myself
and I have to be quiet enough to hear it.
A blog post from a writer I admire
sparks a train of thought,
or I glimpse an old quote in
a book, inspiration travelling
across time and space.
Or I walk.
Usually I just walk,
and the world nudges me
into attention.

Inner Worlds

Imagine yourself

as an unusual kind of Russian doll.

A little plain on the outside

features worn away

wood chipped

colours faded.

Not really fitting in

with the colours and fashions

tastes and preoccupations of the world.

But inside

Oh! it’s like walking into a temple

There is a painted dome, midnight blue

studded with stars

And if you look really closely

you will see the stars are real

twinkling

stretching out into

infinite space.

The inside of this doll is bigger

than the outside,

like a tardis.

Time and space mean little here.

Rich fabrics and jewels shimmer on the walls

but also trees, landscapes

an ocean.

Birds flit from tree to tree

and an imaginary cast of thousands

act out plays, ideas, novels

while music flows like wine.

At the centre, not a nest of smaller and smaller dolls

but a heart, beating in time with the universe.

Images and ideas flowing in from outside

are turned, shape shifted, into something beautiful

or something terrible,

and this place goes on for ever.

Imagine this is you.

Now, take that shimmering  inside

Create

Project it into this world

say what needs to be said

Light up our lives.

 

How to be creative when you have a full time job

Right now, I have a full time job.  It’s interesting, sometimes challenging, and it pays the bills.  Mostly, I enjoy it.

I’ve never really liked working full time, however enjoyable the job is. Because I like to have time to do my own creative stuff.  To paint, to write, to mooch around dreaming up ideas.  And time to be outside. And see family and friends.  And exercise.  And…..how to fit it all in?

I’m not sure I’ve found the answer yet.

Though now the nights have drawn in, I find myself reaching for my  watercolours.  Ideas form and want to be written down or painted.  The summer was for outside, for evening walks after work, for pottering in the garden.  Now, in the post-work dark evenings, time is opening up, time to get up off the sofa and away from the TV, time to start creating.