Golden November

Unusual to think of November as a bringer of golden days. But today it brought one.

A lovely walk along the beach at Sandbanks.


Blocked, flattened and carrying on…

For the first couple of weeks of November have I have felt blocked and flattened.

For a few days we were literally blocked by road resurfacing outside our house, which closed the road and meant our only access by car was a bumpy journey down a small bridleway track.img_0800

Then I was flattened by a steam roller of a virus, which took its time to work through my system. The night of the US election I was kept awake by paroxysms of coughing, while watching political convulsions and upheavals across the Atlantic. No wonder I felt a bit worn out and flattened in the aftermath.

Unable to get out easily and feeling too weak, I spent some time working on an online course I had enrolled for with Jane LaFazio. Collecting leaves and other items from the garden, paying attention to their autumn beauty, and capturing their shapes and colours was great medicine against the sense of fear and despondency which seemed to have engulfed the media. The leaves, flowers and veg are passing, (we ate the veg last night!) but noticing their transient beauty and continuing the practise of kindness and love towards all life, is the greatest antidote to fear and hate.

Amidst all the fallout I was encouraged by a quote from from Toni Morrison. “This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!” It is at times when we feel most flattened or down that we need to carry on, create, make art and spread hope. Brain pickings

Embroidery meditation? 

The current enthusiasm for so called “adult” colouring-in books does not attract me very much. But I think this is probably my equivalent. For me it is a kind of embroidery painting by numbers. I started with a batik cotton panel which I bought several years ago when on holiday in western USA. I have spent the last few months adding colour by embroidering along the outlines, and filling in the shapes. I have added shisha mirrors and couched thicker threads and ribbons, before hand quilting the fish outlines to make them stand out. image

Just like colouring-in, it is repetitive and soothing, requiring concentration  but not much thinking.  Hephzibah Kaplan, director at the London Art Therapy Centre describes it like this. “When choosing a colouring-in book … the convention is generally to keep different colours within different lines. This requires a relaxed focus where the outline is containing and the mark-making repetitive and smooth. So a bit like repeating a mantra where repetition is a means to relaxation, colouring-in is also a type of mediation.” (

The only problem is I have discovered it can become a little addictive!

Blaze of glory

Strange how when I  hear this rather cliched phrase I know it means something is ending, about to finish, albeit magnificently. It is sometimes used of stunningly beautiful skies just before the sun sets and darkness reigns, or of someone’s brave achievement at the end of their career or even life itself. For me the phrase holds the tension of beauty and loss.

And when I look though my window today, there it is again, that pull of opposites. The tension of the glorious colour as the trees let go, allowing their leaves to die and fall. If there were no letting go, there would be no magnificent fiery glory. Flames sometimes burn most brightly just before they are extinguished.

I discovered it was the poet John Dryden who seems to have first used the phrase, blaze of glory, in written English,  (although the phenomenon must have been observed for millennia before that!)  No ‘Ode to Autumn’ from him though. In his 1686 poem The Hind and the Panther, he refers to the throne of God as a “blaze of glory that forbids the sight.”

Perhaps Dryden’s use of the phrase has theological concepts which are not quite so easily accessible to 21st century thinking. But it does suggest an ambivalence, just as my feelings are mixed as I contemplate the magnificent beauty of the season. Watching the golden glory of falling leaves, I know that they hold the inevitable promise of winter, and feel the shiver of endings.

However, today I will marvel at the kaleidoscopic display, and have a bit of childish fun kicking through the fallen leaves.


The magic of writing

So what is so special about writing? After all it is a relatively new skill in the long history of life on Earth. Most people in the world learn to talk, but many still don’t read or write.

This week I experienced a bit of the magic of writing for myself. The writing group I have been part of for over five years had a meeting where, for a change, we brought pieces of writing we had developed and polished to share.

One member of the group was away on holiday and was disappointed to be missing the opportunity to share. She suggested she might email a poem she had written so that I could print it for the others to read.

So although the author wasn’t present we read her writing together. Because we mainly meet to write we decided to respond to her writing by writing in our own notebooks. We asked ourselves what we enjoyed about her writing, what we found harder or surprising or shocking. And then we considered the message we had received from her writing.

Anne’s beautiful and poignant poem about the approach of winter moved us all. The use of colour, red against the black and grey, the imagery of skeletal fingers and the edginess of raking nails, stirred deep emotions. And the ambiguity of two words ‘winter stalks’ conveyed layers of meaning.

Anne was not physically present, but we heard her message. We felt her sadness and grief conflicting with her wonder at the beauty of the ending of the year, and the approach of winter.

All through some little black marks on white paper. We read her words, and heard her voice, and made our own meanings. We wondered if we should have waited till she was present to read us her own writing, but I for one am glad we didn’t.

It illustrated for me the power of writing over speech. Writing captures moments and experiences, it  preserves them in a form which can then be shared. The author may not be with us, but their presence is. Writing can be sent far away, and endures beyond death.

In my notebook I now have Anne’s written poem, and also my written scribblings, my feelings and thoughts in response to her writing.  Emotions and ideas which if I had fed back to her verbally quite probably would have been quickly forgotten.

A moment of encounter, response and creation, all though staring at some squiggles on a page, decoding a message from someone not there, and making marks of my own.

No wonder early books and scrolls, and writers and readers of the same, were viewed with awe. Writing has a kind of magic.

Written evidence…

It is a strange feeling to get to the end of a long process and then have to wait…

I have had two such moments recently.

The first was sending off my final research paper for my MA in Creatvie Writing a few weeks ago. After that there was nothing left to do but clear up all the scattered papers and notebooks, and file them away. No words left to write, just wait for the verdict! That is what it felt like. I had done my work,  I had submitted the evidence and must wait for a judgement.

The second such ending was submitting the final document of the Community Writing Project I have been coordinating – Life on the Hill. After the slow careful task of proofreading it was as good as it was ever going to be, and so I sent for the first printed copy. What a strange and wonderful feeling to hold the book in my hands. There is a sensuous quality to feeling the smooth new cover, crisp pages which turn with a satisfying firmness. And it is a joy to see the words, which I have pored over so many times in the editing, fresh and clear, out there in black print on white paper, scattered with colourful illustrations.

imageThe same day my printed book was delivered, I also heard that I had been awarded a distinction in my MA. I was thrilled with the result, and with the many congratulations I received.

But my research paper was academic, read and seen by a select few. Not published for the world to read. The anthology book will soon be launched and on sale for a wider readership. The words of many will be out there, public and waiting to be read. What will the verdict be, I wonder? What will readers make of the writing in the anthology?

I believe those who dip into it will be moved and inspired by the beauty which emerges from its everyday-ness. I am expecting a judgement from the readers, but not based on academic principles. I believe it will be a response to the spirit in which the words were written, and the evidence submitted. It will be a verdict which applauds from the heart.

The proof is in the (re)reading

Well, I’m learning a lot! A community anthology I have been helping to compile is in the editing stages, and the process is providing me with some new experiences, some fascinating, and some quite frustrating!

I am beginning to understand the correct meaning of the terms to do with editing; copyediting, proofreading, typesetting. I am exploring parts of my word processor which I have never used before, and hunting down errors in punctuation and grammar like a terrier down a rabbit hole.

You might think it sounds a boring and tedious process, but strangely it is not. I am enjoying reading and rereading the words, written by myself and others. It’s not just about checking for correctness and accuracy, it is about hearing the individual voices behind the words, thinking about the meanings they carry, and then standing back to hear the whole harmony.

Then, today, Facebook sent me a memory – a piece of writing from my own blog called  ‘Difficult Threads’. I wrote it two years ago, and as I re-read it this morning I realised I could prove its truth. Experience demonstrates repeatedly that there are times when the threads of life snag and tangle, and they don’t run smooth. And I can confirm that forcing the issue often makes things into a worse mess.

Revisiting my own writing, with a two year perspective, not only validates my experience, but it also affirms the process. Back then I wrote that it is in patient perseverance and trust that we find our way through the tangles. I just have to remember to reread my own writing, and then believe it. A different kind of proof reading I suppose!