Filling the well

Inspiration

seeps through

the cracks

like rain

on drought parched

soil.


Today, I sat down to do some work and I ended up taking a tour of some of my favourite blogs. I visited a Dutch garden filled with flowers and kindness, and followed the first post-lockdown journey of a canoe down Dutch canals. I read about walks in Lancashire, not far from where I live, photos of wide-open spaces, flowers and birds. I read about a coyote, emaciated and struggling in the desert in the USA, and the writer’s response to that struggle. I was taken step by step through the artistic process of collagraph printing meadow flowers and grasses (by an artist in Yorkshire whose courses I’d like to take when face to face courses eventually re-open).

I have been so busy recently that I have not had much time to visit these blogs, or to do lots of other unproductive (but enjoyable and inspiring) things. Actually, I don’t like the term ‘unproductive’. So many so-called unproductive things are actually the starting point for creative work.

I like the idea of ‘filling the well’ which comes from Julia Cameron’s excellent book ‘The Artist’s Way’.

In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t…our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant or blocked. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you: think mystery, not mastery.

Julia Cameron

For me reading, walking, canoeing, being in nature, being with friends, gardening, cooking, listening to music, visiting a museum or art gallery, travel, walking on a beach, these are all ways to fill the well and get my creative juices flowing again.

How do you fill the well?


And now to do some actual work and tick something off my to-do list 😉

Career, work life balance and creativity coaching – my coaching page is now live!

I’ve put it here on my blog for now, it may stay here or it might move to a separate website, I don’t know yet. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to post poems and other posts whenever the inspiration takes hold, then it will stay here and this will morph into my coaching / writing / art website. Let’s see what happens.

The focus of the next few months for me is all about growing my coaching business, now that I have a little bit more time to take on more clients. I’m not sure if it’s the best time to be doing this, in the midst of a pandemic, but I’ll find out!

A favour

I would like to start to spread the word about my coaching services beyond my immediate networks.

If you know anyone who might be looking for a career change, wanting to improve their work life balance, to have more time for creative projects or generally looking for a new direction in life, then please could you share the link to the coaching page (https://lifeinthefreshair.com/career-work-life-balance-and-creativity-coaching/) with them.

And of course, if you are interested in coaching, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks very much!

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?


Gone canoeing

It’s the August bank holiday here in England. This is a note I left in the kitchen on Saturday.

Going canoeing reminded me of a poem I wrote on May Day bank holiday 2018. Reposting it here:


A click of the shutter

I don’t have a waterproof camera

and my phone is wrapped in plastic, safe in a drybag,

for emergencies only.

And so I have no photos to share

to say I was here,

to try to convey the meaning of a moment.

But how often does a photograph really do that?

After all, there are other senses than sight.

So.

Bank holiday monday,

Coniston Water

the end of a scorching weekend.

Paddling south (first time in my canoe this year)

away from the crowds,

my arms remember how good it feels,

burn of working muscle

taking me further from the voices and barbecue smoke.

Past open water swimmers towing orange floats

who stop for a chat in the middle of the lake

unfazed by the deeps,

complaining of the cold water.

Past moored boats, and pine tree promentaries,

shingle beaches overhung with oaks,

until, at the south end of the lake

as yellow reeds narrow to reveal the start of a river,

I turn around to head back north and see

spread before me the calm lake

bordered by woods in the first flush of spring green,

low bracken-covered hills glowing

in the early evening sunshine,

the Coniston fells beyond, blue and slightly misty.

That is the moment I would have pressed the shutter.

But could that photograph record

the pleasant ache of shoulders and arms,

the gentle forward motion of the canoe,

the sound of water lapping,

a mind quietened to contentment?

One moment, containing

a sense of returning, of welcome,

a glimpse of childhood,

a farewell to winter,

and the seed of all the summers to come.

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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Jealousy

Jealousy strikes,
irritates,
illuminates,
reveals the path
I wish to travel.

Jealousy. It gets a bad press, but it can be really useful. It can point the way to something we really want.

I don’t often feel jealous, but when I do, it’s usually because someone else is doing something that I want to do. Something I have told myself is impossible, or too hard, or not for the likes of me, for someone older, or younger, more talented, better educated….the list goes on.

This morning, while I was reading an article about a writer and explorer, jealousy bit hard. I read about one of the ideas in his new book, something I remember thinking about years ago. ‘It’s not fair’, I thought. ‘I could have written that’. But I didn’t.

Jealousy showed me that writing about these ideas, and writing a book, is important to me.

Then came the excuses. ‘Oh but he’s probably a much better writer than me. He probably studied literature and writing. He’s probably rich and can afford to be a writer and not need a real job.’

This may, or may not, be true. The point is, he did it. I didn’t. The point is, more clarity on what is important to me, what it is that I want.

Jealousy is not a pleasant feeling, but it gave me a little nudge into action. I could choose to take what I want seriously. I could take some writing courses. I could start redrafting the novel that I wrote a few years ago.


What do you think? Has jealousy ever made you stop and think? Pointed the way to a new direction, adventure or creative project?

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Words

Here, unexpectedly

I rediscovered my love

of words;

yours, and mine.

I take the feeling

deep within

and pour it out

across the screen

lightheartedly.

Or I wait

for the words

to strike,

to pass through,

from who knows where.

A communion

from my heart

to yours.

Easter heatwave

This easter we are gifted with a heatwave.

It’s 21°C, and people and plants are starting to wilt.  I imagine my overseas readers laughing at this, but really, 21°C in April is a heatwave in this part of the world!

I was busy weeding the herbaceous border, then it got too hot.  The sun was beating down on my back as I dug, boring into my winter-cold body, warming my core.

I stopped, sat in the shade for a while, then decided to go for a walk in the cool woods.

My regular route is rendered unfamiliar by the warmth, the hint of summer in the air.  It’s so early in the year that the leaves aren’t all the way out yet, so the shade is dappled, sun filtering through to warm the carpet of spring flowers below.  Birds sing in the canopy.  I reacquaint myself with the sound of various warblers, swallows and house martins, welcome migrant voices joining the familiar chorus from great tits, robins and blackbirds.

Above my head, in the canopy, insects buzz.

There is traffic noise in the far distance, and the sudden harsh discord of an ice cream van doing the rounds of the village.

I sit on a piece of limestone in the deeper shade of a yew tree, to write down some of the ideas whirling around my head.

I look around and everywhere is the power of spring.  Ferns uncurl, buds burst, leaves expand, flowers turn their heads to the sun.

A dog, out for a stroll with its owner, growls at my unexpected presence beneath the yew tree.  It’s owner is too polite, or disinterested, to ask what I am writing.  We talk about the weather, and she moves on.

The limestone is lumpy.  Uneven rock sticks into my flesh, finding the tender spots from yesterday’s cycling, first bike ride of the year leaving the imprint of the saddle.

So I carry on, feet crunching on the leaves of autumn which still lie on the woodland floor, patiently waiting for fungus and earthworm to turn them to soil, to recycle them into plant food.

Several times I hear a noise in the undergrowth, loud, like a deer or some other large animal scuffling through the leaves.  Each time, it is only a blackbird raking through the leaf litter for insects, a sound so much louder than its creator.

Sycamores dangle lime green flowers below their darker green newly emerged leaves.

The insistent repetitive tweet of a nuthatch catches my attention, it’s high in an oak tree, but I can’t spot it.  The oak branches are still bare, just a yellow-green haze where the buds are swelling, usually the last to burst into life, the herald of summer.

Blue splashes are just starting to appear among the green leaves; a foretaste of the carpet of bluebells to come.  They join the wood anemones, violets and all the other flowers of spring; racing to make their mark before the canopy closes over and they are plunged into shade.

The trail narrows and I brush against the softness of newly emerged beech leaves.  Wild strawberries flower along the edge of the path.

I emerge at the estuary edge, saltmarsh almost covered, tide high this close to the full moon.  Back into the sunshine.  The sky is hazy, hills of the Lake District hidden from view.

The tide pushes dog walkers up to the railings; familiar paths submerged beneath the gently lapping wavelets.

I stroll along the coast.  The sun burns into my winter-pale skin, but I am shielded by sun cream and cooled by a sea breeze.  Even though I am high up the estuary, the breeze and tide bring the smell of the open sea, the dreams of the ocean.

The tide has pushed flounders in to the flock of fisherman, waiting at the estuary edge with baited hooks and bated breath. That tide has now turned.

I sit again, this time on a flatter, more comfortable piece of limestone.  The tide rushes out like a river toward the railway bridge, draining away, returning to the real sea.  The distant cries of gulls mingle with the voices of walkers along the embankment behind me, the sound of cars, a distant plane.

I move on, following the tide.  It moves faster than I do.

A tendril arm of the sea snakes up the saltmarsh to my feet, disgorging its water back into the bay, wet mud at the creek edges glistening slippery in the sun.

I turn inland.  A steep narrow lane curls up past ancient farm buildings, fringed with wild garlic, first flowers starting to show, white bundles of stars above glossy green.

I feel sweat on my back, wishing I’d done the walk the other way round, down the sunny steep lane, back up through the shady woods.  That is summer thinking and I’m still in winter mode, where what matters is the wind direction and strength.  Walking into a cold wind on the estuary edge is not fun.

I stand in the scent of garlic, in the shade of an old drystone wall and realise that I have taken off the armour of winter, literally, my muscles have relaxed over the warm weekend.

Then I head for home, past gardens on the edge of the village.  A lilac tree is starting to bloom.  The last few daffodils stand proudly among the pinks and forget-me-nots.   The blackthorn and damson blossom have faded.  Spring has moved on a chapter.

I walk into my garden and I swear, in the hour or so I’ve been away the plants have grown.  Back home to a seat in the shade and a cold drink.

I hope you are enjoying the weekend, wherever you are!