Metamorphosis through art and journaling

It’s always a huge privilege to talk to artists about their work. I find it brings their creations to life for me in a way I don’t know that I’d get just by viewing their work in a gallery. I love to understand their process, the questions they begin with, the choices they make and how these present themselves.

Creating art is vital to our humanity, though often in our utilitarian, materialistic worldview it is more convenient, or more practical, to believe otherwise. However I am a fan of art and artists.

As a journal writer I like to reflect on what art has given me whenever I have encountered it. A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed a fabulous conversation with Swindon-based multi-media artist Jill Carter. Her collection Curious Narratives contains drawings, found items, photographs, stitched dolls, journals and items to wear, chronicling her time travelling in Italy, in search of the mythical Sybils, the prophetic women of the Classical world.

The Sybils

Jill’s Sybils, depicted here in pen and ink, are left to right a doll, a healer and a donor. It feels like these are symbols of her process and motivation.

I am intrigued by what dolls, and stitching, mean to Jill. Both are central to her work. Jill tells me that dolls signify our childlike creativity and expression, but she also considers them to be the story keepers, representing ritual and spiritual healing, like religious icons.

After working in social settings Jill describes feeling overwhelmed by people’s stories and how she felt herself being drawn to stitching dolls. I wonder whether this is about containment, holding in that which we cannot process or resolve. It’s like praying, transferring our pain onto an inanimate approximation of ourselves, in the hope of transformation. And the thought occurs to me that this could be why some people find dolls creepy – the artificial, frozen features are the repositories of unidentified fear and suffering.

After the stitching comes the healing. This feels like integration, and is akin for me to journaling. Once we are healed, once we have that clarity, then we can give. It is a metamorphosis of sorts.

Where are you on the journey from stitching to giving? How does your journal and your process help you heal?

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The chinks in our armour

Vulnerability is a personal hot potato for me at the moment. It is also the topic of one of my prompts being used by the international journaling community in the 30 day digital journaling challenge.

So I was fascinated by the new series on Channel 4 featuring Grayson Perry’s quest to find the real identities of people, famous and not so, vulnerable and not so, and to represent these artistically.

In the first programme Perry was spending time with people who are grappling with their identities in transition. He spoke to a young British single Mum who has recently converted to Islam; to Rylan, the winner of celebrity Big Brother, who is embarking on fame as a career; and to Jaz, a black, British 24 year old who is navigating the waters of gender change and is trying to establish his identity as a man. These are all places where we can feel at our most vulnerable, stepping into experiences previously unknown to us, but which compel us anyway.

However it was Perry’s interview with disgraced politician Chris Huhne which was the most uncomfortable, and revealing.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You?

The question was Who are you? And despite the fact that Huhne comes across as thick-skinned and resilient as a rubber doll, Perry was determined to find the chinks in his armour. Perhaps this is a flaw in the artist, preferring to project onto his subject what he hopes to find, rather than representing him as he is. Or perhaps it is artistic genius to show our truth despite ourselves.

Nonetheless, instead of a rubberised doll with Chris Huhne’s face, Perry created a pot – an appropriate ‘empty vessel’ as James Delingpole would have it – decorated with Warhol-esque repetitions of Huhne’s face and car registration plate, along with repeating images of penises. Perry then took a hammer to  the pot, smashing it into numerous pieces, before gluing it back together and highlighting the cracks with gold leaf. The symbolism being that it is our human flaws, our vulnerabilities, which make us most precious and interesting.

It can be tempting to present a rubberised version of ourselves to the world. But this wouldn’t be human. Nor would it be true.

Our vulnerabilities are worth exploring. They are where our treasure lies. Journaling is a safe way to explore them, and as Grayson Perry identified, they are worth their weight in gold.

 

 

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Filed under 30 Day Digital Journaling Challenge, Creative process, Self-Awareness

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes

One thing I know journaling is excellent for is considering other people’s perspectives and points of view. Something about our inner voice always guides us towards empathy and compassion if we listen carefully enough. There is simply nowhere to hide once we follow our journaling practice.

But we can still have blind spots borne out of ignorance. Our inner voice has little to say about things it hasn’t ever experienced. Sometimes we have to push ourselves a little bit further to fully understand what others experience.

This is what I did last week at Diane Torr’s Be a Man for the Day workshop.

I spent the day with six other women writers, none of whom I had met before. We shared our experiences of men and gender. We talked about far more than just cross-dressing. It was an exercise in poetry; in trying to understand male attitudes and behaviours by literally growing a beard – or at least sticking one on –  and wearing the trousers, all for the sake of our writing and our understanding.

Chris Stone

It was revelatory. And strangely taught me more about myself as a woman.

I learned how much I smile as a woman. And laugh. How much I repeat myself in a bid to be heard and acknowledged, or make the right sounds and gestures to ensure others feel comfortable.

In contrast as a ‘man’ all I had to do was own the space I was occupying in order to have an impact. No smiling. No unnecessary chit chat. Certainly no thought for anyone else’s comfort but my own. It felt dour. Aggressive at times.

By the end of the day we had a new-found compassion for men. A new appreciation about the emotional restrictions many men experience, and how hard it must be to forge friendships and meaningful relationships with each other.

The man I became is called Chris Stone. That’s him in the pic. I haven’t yet invited his voice into my journal. Feels a bit scary. But I’m sure it will be fascinating.

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What would Nathan do?

It’s day 3 of the 30 day digital journaling challenge and I’m thrilled to be on-board, gaining insights into the journaling progress of so many wonderful people around the world, and also experiencing a new form of journaling for myself.

It’s early days – and I know myself well enough to recognise my penchant and enthusiasm for shiny new things, which can wane after a while, and when real life kicks in – but at the moment I am astounded by the fluency and ease with which my journal entries are tapping themselves out onto my keyboard.

I’ve always been an advocate of handwritten journals, and will never give up the joy of ink and paper, especially when it is beautifully bound, and feels satisfyingly weighty to hold. Plus the fact that I consider writing to be a physical act, involving real fine motor skill and miraculous neural links and networks. Somehow typing has been to this what I would consider Tiger Woods’ Wii golf to be to the real game.

However.

The real reason for this blog  is not to talk about how excited I am to be typing my journal for a change. (Though for anyone wondering what I’m using I have to confess to just creating dated documents in polaris on my android tablet and backing them up to Dropbox.)

No.

The real reason for this entry today is because I want to say a huge, public thank you to Nathan Ohren and his team for making the digital journaling challenge possible – and for being such an engaging and big-hearted champion for personal empowerment through expressive journaling.

I first ‘met’ Nathan in Spring 2013 when he interviewed me for his JournalTalk podcast series. What a great idea! And he turned out to be a great communicator and an excellent talk-show host. Since then he and I have been friends in the social media space and I am always delighted when he contributes his comments in response to events in my life.

Nathan Ohren

So when he invited me to be part of the current challenge I was very honoured. I admire his enthusiasm and drive and willingness to help others achieve their best. I have to admit that sometimes when I’m stuck in my work, wondering how best to contact a prospect or client, or trying to address a thorny communication issue, I often ask myself what Nathan would do. It always helps.

Without wishing to make Nathan blush any more, I’m wondering if this in itself could be a journaling exercise? To identify someone with qualities you admire and wish to emulate; and to enquire, open-heartedly, about what they would do in your shoes when facing a tricky problem.

And don’t forget to thank them when you get the chance.

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Filed under 30 Day Digital Journaling Challenge, Journal Writing

Are you up for the challenge this Back to School season?

30DayChallenge_1

30 Day Challenge

As the memory of new school year resolutions bites why not give digital journaling a go? Click on the link to register. Join in October’s worldwide digital journaling extravaganza. See you on the challenge!

 

 

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Swindon Celebrates International Women’s Day 8 March 2014

IWD2014Poster

Once again the women of Swindon are gathering to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March.

A packed programme of workshops, art and craft displays, talks, poetry recitals, singing and dancing is planned to take place around the Central Library and Art Galleries adjacent to Regent’s Circus.

The theme of the day is RESPECT NOT VIOLENCE – taking a stand against violence against women – and the Balloon Launch at 1pm will represent the hopes of Swindon’s men and women that RESPECT will always win through.

I’ll be running a short journaling workshop at 1.30 on the 2nd floor of the Library – so come along and learn how to discover your inner icon through reflective writing.

Look forward to seeing you!

 

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Lessons from Milner – expressing thoughts in their wholeness

Uh-oh.

It’s not quite been 20 years but there is something of the Rip van Winkle about the sleepiness of this blog.

Since reading Marion Milner my approach to journaling has shifted. And it has resulted in my living more – and writing less.

This has always been a conundrum for me. Reflective practice ought not to stifle action. It ought to stimulate action and ensure its enhanced authenticity. Being a lover of action I guess I’d always felt a bit awkward about the reflective bit and have always wanted to strike a respectable balance between the two.

Through Milner I have discovered a fascinating journaling trick which has been like super-charging my life with lightning.

Here’s what she says:

“I must learn to maintain a vigilance, not against wrong thoughts but against refusal to recognise any thought.”

At first I didn’t want to accept that I too may have been refusing to recognise certain of my thoughts. But then when I did, and when I then began to express those thoughts in my journal, things really started to shift in my outer life.

Our inner censors are so insidious and wily. No matter how articulate we are in talking about them, no matter how aware we are of their strange potential to sabotage us, they always find a way to sneak under the radar.

I noticed my inner censor was acting all rational on me. And who doesn’t want to be rational, right? But it was hiding in plain sight, making me think that rational is good, rational is me – when all along it jolly well isn’t.

My inner censor was stopping me from dreaming, and even though dream-like thoughts would nudge at me these were typically not the ones I would write about.

Suddenly when I took Milner’s advice things started to happen. It felt different to express all my thoughts – especially the ones that my inner censor would have been carefully corralling previously. But the results have been transformational.

Try it. Don’t let your inner censor lull you to sleep. Pay attention to the dreams you have when you’re awake. Be vigilant. Be alive.

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