Category Archives: Emotional well-being

Still I Rise

Very lazy post today…

Just wanted to let you all know that I’m OK….

[Thanks for the emails…..so, so kind of you all xxx]

The littles were on half term last week and I’m only just back to my laptop/desk after 10 days away….so I’m catching up on what feels like a million things….

Will be back to ‘proper programming’ shortly, but just wanted to leave you with this….

 Thank you, Dr. Angelou.

Hope it hits home with you, too, somewhere deep deep down….

See you soon!

Helen xxx

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Precious objects, even more precious memories

ClayMemories

My daughter – who’s a great believer in the ‘If I’m told not to do something, well that’s just an invitation to do so‘ philosophy – always makes a bee-line for these two clay figures whenever she comes in to my office.

She knows their history, knows that my Mum passed them to me when we were staying with her when we were in England this time two years ago. She knows they sat on my Gran and Grandad’s mantelpiece, in pride of place, from the time I made them (when I was seven) until the time their house was sold, when they were both no longer with us.

She sits and holds them in her tiny chubby hands – despite being told not to pick them up because they’re very precious – not because she’s disobedient (she isn’t, at all) but because, I’m sure, she wants to feel close to this part of her story, her family, her roots.

I often find her sitting there, at my work desk, clutching them, rocking and singing to the little hedgehog, stroking it’s back, or watering plants that have sprung up in the little garden she’ll have made around the house.

Isn’t this why we all keep mementos? To feel close. To try to feel the love, the care, the joy that must have been poured in to these objects or obtained from having these objects close?

It breaks my heart to see her sitting there, singing away to her heart’s content, in this little world of her own making, transported, as she is in those moments, to wherever and whatever it is she’s seeking.

I watch her and I remember. The memories come thick and fast, at random, books being pulled off shelves in my brain, archival material retrieved at the speed of light, neurones firing, hormones releasing, emotions flooding.

I remember sitting in my favourite teacher’s class, Autumn in the air, the thought of making our way over to the kiln later not only a thrill because we’d never used the kiln before but a comfort because I was sure it’d be warm on the outside too. I remember scratching my initials in to the bottom of both of them, fit to burst because I was so proud of myself.

I remember the sight of the white slatted kiln shelves, everyone’s creations lovingly placed on top and then slid inside for the kiln to magically do its work. Disappointment all round that they wouldn’t be ready for that class, eased somehow by the satisfaction of knowing that if we waited patiently, we’d see them soon enough.

I remember racing in to the classroom the next week (the air even chillier still) and being shocked that my hedgehog’s beady black eyes (that I’d been so proud of when I painted the glaze on) had run whilst being absolutely thrilled by the blue of the door. I carried them both home later, walking on air, so proud of myself. The bubbles and patterns in the glaze endlessly fascinating to me, I kept them at the side of my bed for an age, just staring at them for hours and hours (it seemed), amazed that I’d made them and that they were so beautiful. 

Beautiful enough to be given as Christmas gifts to my Gran and Grandad. Each one wrapped carefully, one for my Gran (Mr. Hedgehog, as he came to be known) and one for my Grandad (the house).

I remember the first time I saw them on their mantelpiece. I couldn’t possibly have been any happier. My Grandad had stuck a bit of cotton wool in the chimney “…so the people inside don’t get chilly” (with a wink). It didn’t for a second even register that it was cotton wool: it was, to me, simply magic that my little house had smoke coming out the chimney!

Every time I’d visit my Gran and Grandad, right through school, right through all my University years, there they’d sit, Mr. Hedgehog and my little house, on their mantelpiece. I’d notice, and note, them every visit: a mark of my Gran and Grandad’s love for me, that they’d keep these clay crafts, always, always with the smoke coming out of the chimney.

Fast forward to my Mum, one evening we were staying with her, calling me upstairs whilst Coronation Street was on (“Must be something important” I remember thinking). Placing a little velvet bag in my hands, watching my face as I opened it. I still remember her face. She couldn’t talk, but the tears said it all: these should be in your house now.

They were transported back with us, in my hand luggage, through Stansted, Frankfurt and onwards across an ocean (the emotional distance being far, far longer than any physical distance we travelled those two days).

I felt them, felt the comforting weight of them, every step of the way. A tactile reminder of the love I knew would support me in the difficult times ahead.

They sit on my desk now, just to the left of where I work. I hadn’t put the fire on in the house when I first took them out but, a few days later, imagine my happiness when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, smoke coming out of the chimney!

When I asked her about it later, she said, “Mama, they can’t get cold, you know” and then, “Mama, why do you think Mrs. Hedgehog is crying? Do you think it’s because she knows you miss home?”

Two tiny, seemingly insignificant, objects.

Two treasures beyond all worth.

Binding the past with the present and giving hope for the future.

Helen xxx

Limits vs. creativity: does it have to be a duel?

Limits

I joined in the On Being a Writer online discussion for the last six weeks and gained a lot from it. [The series, hosted by Kate Motaung, was based on Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig’s book On being a writer: 12 simple steps for a writing life that lasts]

One of the topics that left me thinking was that of ‘Limit’.

Before the issue was raised via this series, I was acting like a spoilt child, asking ‘Why does this have to be my life?”…”Why me?”…

I was seeing, feeling, assimilating the limits that are imposed on me as being debilitating, spirit-crushing, life-sapping.

Then I pondered the prompt, read the responses of the other lovely ladies who joined in and had a major lightbulb moment…

Limits are actually useful for our creativity if we come at them from the right frame of mind.

Now, instead of thinking ‘Oh woe is me, I only have one hour to write”, with this shift in perspective, I’m all “Yay! I have one hour to write! What can I get done in this one hour?”.

I’ve come to relish the challenge and to see exactly how productive I can be in this hour.

The part of me that needs a challenge and some degree of external motivation is excited by this new frame of mind.

I’ve come to my writing hour afresh, with new eyes and more vigour and am loving seeing what I can produce/do in my whole hour.

This fresh perspective on the external limits on my time have kick-started my creativity.

These limits have made me more determined and, because of this new-found determination, they’ve made me more creative. 

I’m working with what I have, starting from where I am, instead of kicking myself that nothing is ideal.

It’s been a major wake-up call not only for my creativity but also in other areas of my life. When abundance doesn’t flow, it’s easy to get down, discouraged. But, instead of letting ourselves get discouraged, why don’t we turn it on it’s head?

Think you’re not enough? You don’t have enough?

Start to name the things you do have that you should be thankful for. Start to think how you can maximise the money/time you do have available.

Thinking in ‘haves’ and not ‘have nots’, thinking of limits as challenges, it’ll open up a whole new world of possibility.

What’s the worse thing about limits?

We think they block our realm of possibility. This certainly is the case sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t actively seek – and make the best of – the possibilities that are available to us.

This possibility-based thinking will – through unleashing our innate creativity – lead us out of the walls we build for ourselves.

And the best thing?

Once we’ve tasted what we can do when we’re limited, we won’t seek happiness, contentment elsewhere, we’ll find that we’re happy where we are with what we have, doing what we can do.

We’ll be expressing ourselves – our rich, inner, selves – despite the limits (whether this be time or disbelief in ourselves or or or…). And this full deliverance of our self expression will make us happy (may even, in the process, remove some of the limits we place on ourselves).

We’re not going to produce our best work unless we put the practice in and what better practice than creating within the boundaries imposed by the limits we face?

Can the limits we face push us to eventually become limitless….push us towards realising our best work? Can pushing up against our limits help us to develop – and flex – our creative muscles?

Would really love to hear what you think!

Helen xxx

On being a writer: Limit

Have loved joining in with Kate Motaung’s online discussion group On Being a Writer, which is based on Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig’s book On being a writer: 12 simple steps for a writing life that lasts.

Yesterday was the last instalment, and we were asked to think about Limit, in terms of what limits our writing time, what needs to be limited so we can have time to write and how to juggle all the things we need to do so that we can write when we have time to do so.

Here goes…

I know I’m a writer because I feel compelled to write. This series has also helped me get to the stage where I can say, “I am a writer because I take my writing seriously and want to find markets for my writing“.

For my fiction writing, this is a huge step for me.

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It’s a huge step because, for me, this means that I’ve actively re-organised my life so that I can make the time for not only writing but, also, marketing my work (because I won’t be a published fiction writer until my work is published (Doh!)).

It isn’t easy: I’m a Single Mum, I run two freelance businesses, I literally have zero free time. But, you know, just like having children, there’s never going to be a perfect time to try to ‘follow my dream’ of getting my fiction published.

The perfect time is now.

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The ‘On Being…’ series has helped me get to this important stage where I now have the mental clarity I need, surrounding my writing, to realise that I need to “Just do it” (as that highly motivational marketing tool says!)

This feels like an important marker in my life; it somehow feels like I’ll look back at this period of my life and I’ll be able to identify ‘pre-On Being’ and ‘post-On Being’.

Sometimes all it takes is an active ‘yes’ and a firm commitment.

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Part of the commitment is realising what limits me, what the risks might be, and working to minimise those limits and risks.

For me, that’s definitely my own self-doubt and self-limiting behaviours (‘Play it safe, Helen, you have two littles to support’). To combat these (fear-based) behaviours, I’ve set in place a series of routines that’ll help me use the time I do have available to market my writing.

I’ve made a series of commitments to myself to meet the deadlines I’m setting myself and to give this all I can because my most authentic me is the one where I’m writing fiction.

I’m living a lie – and being a bad role model for my littles – if I’m not expressing my most authentic self.

Whatever needs limiting so me can be set free, it needs to be limited.

This, I’ve realised, is a direct confrontation with all the things that have beaten me down, all the things that have stripped me of my ability to be spontaneous, to be joyful, full of life, to express my uniqueness.

It’s a confrontation that’s all about re-gaining, and re-inhabiting, my power.

It’s a reclaiming of me.

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And this is important. Fundamental, actually. I’ve somehow managed to harness all the negative that came (still comes) from my experiences of domestic violence, of insidious abuse, and have somehow managed to take it all and use it as fuel for re-birth.

It’s beautiful. I feel free. I feel able. I feel like it’s time. Time to let go of the hurt, of the memories, to let go of the resentment and bitterness of gifting 16 years of my life away.

With this transcendence has come deep joy. I’ve felt my limits slipping away. I don’t now feel like a bird trapped in a dark, airless box, trampling my way through my days, suffocating.

I feel I’ve been set free, that I’m standing on the edge of something and that all I need to do is open my wings and be brave. 

To take the jump and see where I land…

(I can see the terrain set out in front of me in my mind’s eye and I’m ready to fly over it)

I’m not scared any more.

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I thank Kate and Ann and Charity for setting up the ‘On Being…’ series and I thank all the ladies who have so readily opened their hearts and shared their thoughts about writing over these past six weeks (you know who you all are). I truly feel that my participation in this series has been transformational for me and I literally can’t thank you all enough.

Helen xxx

P.S. For those of you who might not have seen this, I highly recommend watching this video; it’s a discussion between Marie Forleo and Elizabeth Gilbert, all about fear and creativity. I’m sure you’ll find something in it that’ll be a ‘lightbulb moment’ for you.

On Being a Writer: Rest

I’m continuing to join in with Kate Motaung’s online discussion group On Being a Writer, which is based on Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig’s book On being a writer: 12 simple steps for a writing life that lasts.

Today’s (penultimate) prompt is rest, and asks us to discuss our idea of a perfect day of rest/struggles we have with resting/the link between rest and productivity.

Here goes…

Rest1

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, as this is fundamental for my ability to write anything worth reading: I can’t write if I’m not in a ‘good place’ mentally.

For me, this generally means being free of negative thoughts and overwhelm. This doesn’t mean that I simply need a rest (because there I would find peace); rather it means that I’m facing trauma symptoms (flashbacks/insomnia etc) and that these are interfering with my ability to relax/rest and my mental processing.

I’ve gone through a whole multi-stage process of teaching myself how to learn to be ‘off guard’ (domestic violence tends to make you ultra-vigilant) and – after a long while – I seem to have come out of this process equipped with tactics that help me rest, because they reign in my thoughts and help me calm my mind.

Rest2

I love these words from Victor Frankl….”Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom”.

I love these words because I’m a great believer in the idea that if we can learn to control our minds then we can gain better control of our lives. By consciously directing our thoughts, we become “masters of our fate” as the wonderful poem says.

For me, this process of understanding has meant that I’ve been able to overcome not only very difficult and dangerous personal situations (and their psychological/emotional aftermath) but, also, that I’ve learnt tools and techniques that can be usefully extrapolated to other areas of my life.

Like my writing life.

Rest3

It’s kind of ritualistic, actually, my resting process, but I’ve found that my words can’t spill out if I’m not full to the brim with inspiration. If my mind’s not clear, there’s no space for things that inspire me, no room for creative thinking.

Once my mind’s clear I can notice and drink in the beauty around me and be inspired by it and then I can write. I can reach the bottom of that well where all the good stuff lies, instead of floundering around in the upper, empty, waters.

need a clear mind (free of tension/stress) to be able to focus my creativity and to enter my zone of flow for my writing. Trying to do it any other way simply doesn’t work for me.

This causes practical difficulties, but I’ve found that by taking time to clear my mind, through meditation, I’m able to rest and then I’m ready to write.

If I try to skip the necessary preamble to sitting down and writing, I might save myself an hour or so but it’s almost certain that I won’t produce anything of worth that day.

Rest-4

I’ve found there are no short-cuts to reaching my ‘flow zone’, unfortunately.

How about you? I’d love to hear about your resting/writing processes and how they interact/input each other…

Helen xxx

On being a writer: plan

I’m continuing to join in with Kate Motaung’s online discussion group On Being a Writer, which is based on Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig’s book On being a writer: 12 simple steps for a writing life that lasts.

Today’s prompt asks us to think about planning and asks us to share some of our writing goals and the dreams we have for our writing life.

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As for many, it’s not so easy for me to find time to write but I do find the time to do so (early mornings before my littles are awake). It’s important for me to write and so I made it a priority to carve this daily habit from my unrelenting schedule.

As a result of the On Being series, I’ve now made the commitment to use some of that writing time to dedicate to ‘promotion’: finding potential markets for shorter articles and making the connections necessary to try to market my writing.

For me that’s a big step and one that’s taken me years to arrive at.

I realise, as I’ve been joining in this series, that as much as I need to plan to write and to promote, I also need to plan to introduce texture in to my life.

It’s only when my life has texture, colour, stimulation that I feel ready to get in the zone and only then that I feel that my writing flows. 

If I’m feeling yuck my writing will most likely be yuck.

When I’m running on half mast, starved of visual, aesthetic, stimulation, my writing just doesn’t work, doesn’t come freely, doesn’t sound good. It’s not authentic. Its forced.

So, as much as I need to plan to do the writing, and to set goals for my writing, it’s important for me, due to my particular circumstances, to ensure that I’m doing the work on myself, for myself, so that the words come free, come freely, uninhibited.

I can’t create if I’m not in a place of plenty on a personal level.

So what does this mean in practice? It means planning to take a whole lot more care of myself and my mental state, to stimulate my mind as much as possible, to keep my body active [I was shocked the other day to realise that on the days I run, my Luminosity score increases by around 35%! How’s that for proof that exercise really does feed the mind?!]

It means considering me, making time to be my best me, as I take this journey, with myself, to realising the things I want to realise.

And what might those things be? I definitely feel called to share my personal story in book format. I’d like to give talks. [Part of my planning to be my best me also needs to deal with pushing through the vulnerability that comes with openly discussing my dreams, addressing the awkwardness that comes with sharing my (very private) hopes].

But I think that’s been the wonder and joy of this group: finding connection, finding community, finding people who understand each other, who we’re willing to be vulnerable in front of, so that we can find the support, accountability, we need.

If we don’t have that, we’re boats afloat but adrift, destination uncertain.

With a truly heartfelt thanks for your support,

Helen xxx

P.S. As I was on my walk this morning, a Nina Simone song came on shuffle, encapsulating so many emotions I’ve been feeling throughout this On Being series. I couldn’t find a version of it online but did come across Emeli Sande’s version….(I’ve a sense it’s going to become an anthem for the writer part of me)…hope you like it too!

Anatomy of a bag

My bag. Often Tardis-like in its capabilities, today thankfully not so full.

I often wonder what people would glean from my life/character if my bag were rummaged ‘Through the Keyhole’ style.

What story would it tell today?

AnatomyOfBag2

That I like nice things (Burberry purse) and that I can’t part with old things (the nearly 20 year old scuffed and battered Burberry purse)? That I like a bargain (it was found in Bicester Village for 80% off; a bargain, even then, at £30!)?

That I have a pen/notebook fetish? That I scribble a lot (6 pens? A pack of sticky notes?! A folded scrap of paper with notes all over it)? That I’m a thinker? A writer?

That I have – and adore – my two children….who draw a lot, anywhere and everywhere (a Super Super Hero and a zoo, if you were wondering!)? That our home is full to the brims with creativity?

That I like to try to be glamorous (gold nail polish – I actually have no idea what that’s doing in there!)?

That I have a daughter who loves pink??!! That she recently hurt her eye and so has to wear sunglasses when she’s out and about?

That my boy’s 9 and loves pranks (the chewing gum that gives you an electric shock is most certainly not mine)?

There are many, many stories in there.

And as I look on these things and hear those stories, I realise…

The narratives we create for ourselves are the narratives our world/the world hears.

Note to self: being brave enough to say “I’m a writer” gives the dream a name and makes it that much more attainable because it makes you accountable.

What stories do you/your things tell and is that narrative in concert with your goals/dreams?

Helen xxx

 [Written in response to the Day 15 prompt for Blog-tember]

Reading Habits…

ReadingHabits

I couldn’t resist Lady Lizelle’s invitation to the Reading Habits tag (thank you, Lizelle!).

I’m a voracious reader and there’s pretty much nothing else in the entire world I like to talk about as much as I like to talk about books or reading or characters I’ve loved from books I’ve read or…well….you get it…

The tag questions:

Do you have a certain place at home to read?

I pretty much read anywhere and everywhere that’s comfortable. Comfortable means that I won’t be needing to get up for a good long while. I love reading in my hammock on our balcony (Saturday afternoons/Sunday mornings) or on the settee (sneaky short reading whilst I’m having a break from work) or in bed (although I’m finding I’m not enjoying this as much recently; I’ve reached that age where my neck doesn’t forgive me for the work it has to do and my eyes are not what they once were, unfortunately). [My Mum will tell you that I ruined my eyes by reading, by torchlight, late in to the night as a child; I blame her, actually, for not letting me just put the big light on! After all I wasn’t ever, as a child, going to stop reading late at night!]

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Oh goodness…definitely random bits of paper. I must have hundreds of proper bookmarks (literally!) but they never seem to find themselves in my books. I think it’s because I actually secretly love it when I pick a book up a few years after reading it and I find some random bit of paper in there and a) the book transports me back to that time and b) the bit of paper somehow makes that time even more vivid (adding extra memories in to the flashback). Love it. [I recently found a love letter from an admirer from some years ago; it was too wonderful to read it again all these years later!]

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter or number of pages?

I like to aim for finishing a Chapter but I know that when I do this, I won’t be able to finish just one Chapter so I tend to just stop where I am when I need to stop….in a sort of ‘should have been doing something else ages ago’ type manner….(!)

Do you eat or drink while reading?

Absolutely not. What heresy.

Do you watch TV or listen to music while reading?

Goodness me, of course not. What a silly question (!!) Although, having said this, I’ve recently discovered, after all these years, why tiny white earphones are so popular: they block out all the crap happening around you so if you’re on public transport, you can pop on some classical music and read to your heart’s content without having to read through ‘My boyfriend left me last night’ or ‘What do want for dinner?’ or ‘I can’t believe it!’ (all good story starters, for a budding writer, but not conducive to being able to read as reading should be done: attentively and thoroughly!).

One book at a time or several at once?

Oh goodness, always and forever absolutely more than one book at once. I’m incapable of reading just one book at a time. I’m a schizophrenic reader: I need ‘something’ for each and every reading need as and when that might arise. I have my ‘informative’ books by my bedside, my fiction by the settee, work books on my desk (piled scarily high), my academic books on the bookshelf in the corridor, my ‘just arrived and can’t wait to read’ books under the stereo on the bookshelf in the living room. I think I probably read about six books simultaneously, although usually only one of them (the fiction one) will take up permanent residency in my brain until it’s finished (the others will be a quick ‘in and out’ to gather the information I need).

Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere. I always have a book with me just in case. You never know when you might find yourself with a spare few minutes to fill.

Reading aloud or silently in your head?

Silently. Unless it’s to the littles in which case my ‘out loud’ funny voices would put Monty Python to shame.

Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?

If it’s non-fiction, or for work, I always skip bits to find the information I need quickly. Fiction books: I never skip ahead no matter how tempting this would be (er-ghhm The Goldfinch).

Do you ever write in books?

Goodness, yes. All the time. I know, I’m the very definition of terrible, but I have to write in my ‘for work’ books, to remember things I want to quote/ponder in the article. For my fiction books (or other non-work/informational books), I write in the margins when something has resonated with me. I kind of like the idea of these notes being a sort of archaeology of my thoughts.

Thanks Lizelle so much. I really enjoyed joining in!

I think I’m supposed to tag other people? [I’m a tag novice]…if so, then I tag:

Julie from Notes on Paper

Sian from From High in the Sky

Alexa from Trimming the Sails

Gabriele from Back on the Floor Again…and…

Heather from Icing on the Cake

[Ladies…feel free to join in or not, as you’re able…I will most definitely not be offended if you don’t join in!]

Helen xxx

Moral duties

If you hopped across looking for my Blog-tember post, I was incapable of putting one together today.

[I originally posted this post on Friday, for Five Minute Friday. I left comments off on Friday but I’m opening them again, as I re-post this, as some readers may have other ideas of how to help. Please, if you do have any other ideas of how individuals can help, do leave ideas in the comments. I am absolutely sure that we can all do something and a whole lot of small somethings add up to a great deal]

Joining in with Five Minute Friday: this week’s word Yes

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START

She left her home (who knows when: was it dark? Was she in the middle of cooking lunch? Were her children still out playing somewhere?). She left her town. Her country. (I’m sure none of these decisions were met with an active ‘yes’ on her part).

Terrified, she and her two children stepped in to the boat. Terrified, they felt the water entering the boat. Powerless to do anything about it – stranded, literally stranded, as they were – nothing familiar to cling on to (except each other).

There, in that water, so far from her home, her life, and the life of her two children, ended.

I’m hoping, praying, that the human face of this refugee tragedy can be considered by the powers that be, that they find some way (however that might be) to find yes.

[Little Aylan Kurdi, little Ghalib Kurdi and their brave mother Tima: may your souls find the peace you were denied in life]

END

I made the decision to re-post my original post about this as I just saw, this morning, that Ann Voskamp has a really powerful post on her blog about the events that are unfolding in Hungary and across Europe. In the post, she lists ways of how each of us could do something to help. I urge you to click across and see if there is some way you can offer help to these people.

As The Independent so powerfully stated, “…people are dying and they need our help. If we cannot see that, then we have no right to look away from the consequences of inaction”

Helen

Three-day quote challenge: day three

The third and final day of Carrie’s Three-day quote challenge and it’s a big one, a Biblical one, an intriguing one…!

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“Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7)

The Qur’an puts it thus: “Whatever things you will ask for when you pray, believe that you will receive them and you will have them” (Mk 11: 23-24)

Hindus believe, “As a man does, so he shall reap”

It’s a common denominator to most religions. A basic act of faith for many the world over. It’s spread to the non-religious ‘self-help’ sections of society through The Secret and the rise of the vision board. Physicists have known about it for a while: quantum physics states that if we align our energy with what we want, and we couple this with action then the laws of the Universe dictate that we’ll get what we want.

Act of faith? Fundamental law of the (quantum) Universe?

I don’t know but it’s the one place where science and religion agree and my lived experiences tells me it works.

“Knock and the door will be opened for you”

Helen xxx