Monthly Archives: October 2015

Cup of Tea Inspiration

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The other day, a new reader to my blog (welcome, Sarah) … asked me,                                      “How do you decide what to write about? Where do you get your inspiration?”

These are in fact two separate questions and interesting to consider.                                                                                                                                              One of the beauties of blogging is that you can write about whatever appeals to you and more importantly, what you feel will engage your readers. For myself, I know that I can only write convincingly about what I know and what I experience; hence the focus of my blog is necessarily on the important life lessons I am learning as I go along. My blog started out in a sense as a follow on to my book Into the Mourning Light under the heading of ‘grief and loss’ but the content has broadened in scope as time has passed. I don’t like my writing to appear to be formulaic, although it must of course contain structure and I know that I am a traditionalist in this respect.

I like my posts to carry a positive message.

I like my words to set people thinking; examining our thoughts and emotions is a good way to get to know ourselves better.

At certain times I will make a definite decision on my topic ahead of posting, and this is likely to be around significant dates in the year, – the anniversary of James’ passing, my feelings around grief vis a vis holidays and events etc.   But more often than not, the decision for my writing relies on an intuitive message. Sometimes I wake up with half-formed thoughts that I immediately scribble down, at others I may have a blog post that seems almost to write itself as I sit at the laptop.

When I started the blog in June 2014, I set myself the goal of posting once a week through a full year. That felt like quite a pressure, but as it turned out, each week something would be written, whether or not it was pre-planned. But after a year, I felt there was a danger of blog overload for my readers as well as myself, so now I tend to write only when I feel that I have something useful to share. Despite a fear of running out of words, I still have plenty to say! Like any other muscle, the creative writing muscle responds to being exercised and to quote Stephen King,

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Inspiration is another matter altogether. Ideas are stimulated by outside influences. The trick is to be able to interpret what is inspiring you and translate it into words. Naturally, if you are creative in other directions, inspiration may lead you to compose music, or draw and paint, or produce any other of the myriad results of creativity. You cannot force creativity if there is no inspiration in the first place.

My inspiration comes from many different sources. It may be a sentence I have read, a snatch of conversation I have heard, a radio interview, a photograph or painting, or a note I have written in a notebook kept expressly for the purpose of such jottings. Once on a train I wrote down what I heard one woman say to another,

“Who would have thought it was having salmonella that revealed his duplicity?”

I have no idea whom or what she was talking about, but it struck me at the time that this would be a brilliant opening line to a story, but I have never been able to take it any further. I wish I knew what it was all about!

Should you find yourself short of inspiration, draw upon your writerly toolbox. This will contain some basics that work for you. For example, it is a useful trick of writers to use the tool of the five senses in a descriptive piece of writing. This week I enjoyed a walk in the autumn sunshine along the canal path, one of my favourite places to go to restore my sense of equilibrium.

I saw beautiful mellow light reflecting off the water like molten gold

I smelled a mossy scent drifting up from the soft ground in the afternoon sun

I tasted the sweet tang of late brambles beside the path

I heard the occasional splash as acorns dropped into the canal

I felt the crackle of dry leaves underfoot and the dampness of the heavy dew that lay on the grass….

And then there is the sixth sense, the imagination, fed by your own intuition that forms the words into lines and the lines into paragraphs. You cannot help but feel uplifted if you are amidst the simplicity of nature and this certainly aids creativity. Nature is a great solace.

It is important to the flow of creativity to be feeling positive. It is so much harder to write positively if you are feeling negative. If you are assailed by a block, take yourself to a favourite quiet place. Stand firm in your own space. Take time to breathe, balance yourself and enjoy being in the moment.

Sometimes, the quality of your writing may not be tip top, but you will feel that you have achieved something simply by putting words on the page, and it does not matter if your pearls of wisdom are not up to sharing. You have exercised that creative centre in your brain, and tomorrow you may write something better. It is very hard to be original because so many writers have already written so many words … nonetheless each writer has their own individual writing voice that allows them to put an original take on a hitherto expressed sentiment or idea.

The simplest things can be a starting point for writing. I made a cup of tea. I took the milk from the fridge. I rhymed milk with silk. Then I thought about the milk of human kindness, milking something for all its worth, milky light and a child’s milky moustache. I thought of the silken threads that bind us to our loved ones. And there you have it, just in the simple act of making a cup of tea, there is the start to possibly a poem, or a story, or a feature peace. Creativity at its most basic!

Let us not forget the other meaning of inspiration …what is it that we all do without thinking about it? We inspire air into our lungs …. And that inspiration is life-giving and essential.

Writing inspiration may not be life-giving but it certainly breathes life into words on the page.

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How Fit are You?

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I have recently been following with interest the publicity around the upcoming launch of Sheridan Voysey’s new book, Resilient. Sheridan describes himself as a writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality and he is a gifted communicator who sparks my interest in finding out more about Christian faith. I heard Sheridan speak on radio when he talked about his previous book ‘Resurrection Year’ and I was drawn by his personal fortitude and resilience. He eloquently described the tough decade he and his wife Merryn spent in their unsuccessful quest to have a child. Undoubtedly bruised by their experiences but commendably undaunted, he and Merryn have drawn upon their strong faith to support and guide them as they journeyed from their home in Australia to settle in the UK, a move which is proving to be successful for them both.

I have read some of the advance writing from Resilient and was particularly struck by the summary of research factors that are said to lead to human resilience.                                                 Sheridan describes four main factors that are referred to as forms of fitness:

The first factor is emotional fitness, the ability to amplify positive                                         emotions like peace, gratitude, hope, or love, while managing negative                                             ones like bitterness, sadness, or anger. The second is family fitness,                                               having strong marriages and relationships by building trust, managing                                     conflict, and extending forgiveness. The third is social fitness, having                                         good friendships and work relations by developing empathy and                                           emotional intelligence. And the fourth is spiritual fitness, defined as                                               a sense of meaning and purpose from serving something greater than ourselves.

Sheridan relates all the above features to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which forms the basis of his book and argues that it is not enough simply to hear or read about how we should become resilient, we must act it and we must live it for it to become part of us.

In other words, don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk too.

I would add healing fitness as an important factor in attaining the resilience to cope with trauma, grief, loss and life’s myriad challenges. By healing fitness, I mean the two way process of healing. This encompasses the healing received from others’ thoughts and prayers and the healing that in turn we give out, through our own compassion and empathy for individuals in their times of need. Sometimes it is difficult to find the time and space in our busy lives to think about healing, whether it is for ourselves or others, and I have come to learn over recent years how important it is to make time, to create time, to take time out for focusing on introspective thoughts, prayers and healing imagery. I would argue that healing fitness does not depend on following a particular faith or creed, though we need to have in place some form of underlying belief system. At the very least, we must believe in the power of positive thought for any healing to take place, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.

Healing fitness is vital for the trinity of contented mind, body and spirit that is reflected in our sense of balance and wellbeing.

We are all spiritual beings, but our spiritual aspects are not always as close to the surface as perhaps they should be. Reaching in and exploring our own spirituality can be a daunting prospect but it is ultimately rewarding, particularly if we can open our hearts to receive the wisdom and guidance of others who have trodden the path we may decide to follow.

And if we are not followers of God, and if we are just beginning to explore that road, and if we find the prospect overwhelming … then the guidance of those who are showing us the route will be appreciated in whatever forms their teachings take.

Resilient comprises 90 readings which are ‘designed to recalibrate your callings, relationships, spiritual practices and life choices’ – helping the reader to find resilience. I like the promise inherent in this description. If we are to examine a premise which contains hope for improvement or a better life, indeed the gift enclosed in any self help or uplifting work, then this seems to me to be a good way to do it.                                                                                                                             Sheridan is a man whom is well qualified to expound on the acquisition of resilience because of the life lessons he has learned along the way. I will read his book not just with interest, but with the belief and optimism that it can help me to see a different view of how to achieve resilience, perhaps through a new relationship with faith.

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Of fruit and logos

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The Apple logo has it. Like the Nike swoosh, it’s an image that is instantly recognisable worldwide. The apple is complete in itself, yet it has a piece missing. In fact there is an apocryphal story associated with the logo that suggests it was inspired by troubled genius Alan Turing, the man who laid the foundations for the modern day computer. He it was, who died after taking a bite from an apple he had laced with cyanide, but the theory that this event inspired the logo has been dismissed by Apple. So too has any biblical reference suggesting the apple’s association with knowledge. More prosaically, the designer of the logo confirmed that the reason for the bite is to show scale “so that a small Apple logo still looks like an apple rather than a cherry”.

What is the relevance of the Apple logo to grief? I think there is a significant correlation. Ten years after the loss of my son James, I am complete but with a piece missing, at least that is how it feels. To the outside world, I am like the Apple logo, whole, but I know I am not quite as whole as I was. And on the inside, I feel much the same. I am not alone in this – by the time we reach a certain level of maturity, we have all experienced events in our lives that represent chunks out of the apple, but the face we present to the world is complete.

Early grief would not be represented by a small segment out of the apple, rather the fruit would look decimated with a huge chunk missing and the core laid bare.                                                             I remember feeling distinctly unbalanced after James died. It was though I had lost some symmetry of form with the loss of one of my two children. I was blessed to have that symmetry for the time that I did. It was a long time before I felt evenly balanced again, albeit in the way I live now, in a new normality.

If we as parents are the tree, then our children blossom and thrive like the fruit we bear and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing them grow, flourish and develop. The cycle of the fruit tree through the seasons represents a comforting and familiar sequence when it is unbroken.

When James died, in amongst the sense of despair that he had figuratively only just begun to ripen into adulthood, another small seed was sown in my mind.   It was this: rather than James being on the cusp of his adult life and at the beginning of everything new and wonderful that manhood can represent, he had perhaps in fact completed his circle of life in the nineteen, almost twenty years that were his allotted time.                                                                                                                  Only by having real faith that his all too short life was not a waste, does it become bearable to live with the traumatic reality of his passing.

In the supermarket recently, I was struck by the number of varieties of apples that I saw and their worldwide countries of origin – Royal Gala and Braeburn from New Zealand, American Golden Delicious, Opal apples from Estonia and Pink Lady from Australia, alongside Gala apples from France and sturdy UK varieties such as Kentish russets and Cox’s orange pippin. If James was an apple, I like to think he would be a ‘Jazz’ – a pear-drop flavoured apple, brightly coloured, fresh and crisp, with a bit of fizz.

I was reminded of a school project years ago, when I had to take the children to the supermarket to look on the shelves for items from different countries. I am sure we ended up with a few tins, tomatoes from Italy and salmon from Canada. A scant thirty years later, our expectations have broadened to the extent that we take for granted the worldwide freight traffic that enables us to have such an amazing variety of fresh items at our fingertips.

This international traffic, whether physical or virtual, always gives me a pang of regret that James was not able to fully embrace social media as it was only just in its infancy when he died – he would have loved its global flavour.

To return to the Apple (Inc) theme, the late Steve Jobs said,                                                          “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”.                                   When you lose a child your own life is thrown into sharp relief and it is exceedingly difficult at first to decide how you are going to carry on living it with any degree of meaning. There is a temptation to take the route of constantly wondering what your child would be doing if he or she were still here, and placing restrictions on how you behave, where you go, even your own enjoyment, because you feel you shouldn’t be able to enjoy yourself (guilt free) after your child died. Thankfully this effect lessens with time and when I feel happy now I do not need to qualify it with how I think James would react – indeed, I believe that he would be far happier to know I am enjoying life, than not.

Living vicariously is fun as an exercise but it is not realistic to sustain; Steve Jobs’ advice is sound.

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