Tag Archives: creativity

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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Filed under Art, Creative process, Journal Writing, Reflection

David Bowie is… a creative genius

I’ve written about Bowie before on this blog, and I make no apology for doing so again. For precisely one week ago I visited the David Bowie is exhibition at London’s V&A and was once again transported by his words and music.

David Bowie again

The things that most stand out for me from this exciting showcase of Bowie’s work through sound, video, personal diaries, notes and costume, is the musician’s constant assertion that there is no authorial voice in his creations. Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke and other of his performance personae seem deliberately to negate the identity of the performer. And looking at his most recent album cover there is no image at all of Bowie, just a plain white square over the photo.

There is something important in this negation of the authorial voice. Something which gives greater life and vibrancy to the musical and artistic creation perhaps. Or which simply causes the fans to scream more loudly, so difficult to tolerate is the idea that the person performing is simply a beautiful and tantalising illusion.

The next important thing is Bowie’s approach to song-writing, his chopping up of words and phrases and random rearrangement of them, or his ability to capture lyrics in their entirety, in one take on the page, so the words we read are the words we hear. Surrealist chance or surreal imagination? A combination of the two.

Self-negation, illusion, chance and imagination. A potent mix. A vibrant creative recipe.

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3 steps to transformation

OK so the title of this blog sounds very “Deepak Chopra” but I promise my insights have arisen by way of something rather more prosaic than spiritual enlightenment.

This has been a month of record temperatures in the UK – and of major house renovations at my home in Wiltshire.

In fact the whole of 2013 so far has seen rather a lot of paint-rolling, wallpaper stripping, stud-wall installation and stud-wall removal as we’ve tackled décor projects in our bedroom, family bathroom, ensuite bathroom, lounge and downstairs study. The building dust has been inches thick. And it’s all this work that has triggered my insights into what it takes to truly transform. I’m wondering if they work for personal growth as well as for domestic DIY.

First of all, the destruction phase brings a certain amount of euphoria. Ripping off wall paper, emptying rooms, knocking down walls all carry a certain no-going-back thrill as you realise you forgot to book a skip or cover up all the furniture you don’t want to be affected by dust. Oh well.

Next the transition phase means you have to make good the surfaces to be painted or papered. For us this time there has been proper plastering to do – which in the absence of a professional my hubby decided to take on himself. Needless to say the first attempt didn’t pass muster, so the whole lot had to be re-sanded and prepared from scratch. There was much tearing out of hair.

Transition also means making choices – what paint colour? What style of wall paper? What floor covering? What colour of tile? And then the painstaking process of the first coat, the pasting, the grouting, as the space begins to shift towards its new state.

Finally the delicious restoration phase. This is the time to splurge the credit card on soft furnishings! To reconstitute the space in the way you want to live going forward. This is where you get to see the fruits of your efforts, when you finally try on this transformed skin and feel what it’s like to  move about in. This is my favourite part – though I also realise that I try and live too long in restoration mode and often it’s time for destruction again before everything’s been properly restored.

As for personal growth, do these steps apply? Often it’s necessary to slough off an out-dated attitude or habit in order to make way for something new. Next we need to make choices about what the new approach will be, and make the first steps in the transition.  Then we need to find out what life feels like within that newly created approach, and include the right support and resources that will restore us to balance and calm, enabling us to make progress on our chosen path.

So transformation is an active process that requires some key stages within. What do the three steps to transformation entail for you – and how will you use your journal on the way?

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News of summer and autumn journal writing events in Swindon

The Town Gardens in Spring by Jane Milner Barry

Image of Old Town Gardens Bandstand courtesy of Jane Milner-Barry

If you’re in Swindon, Wiltshire this July through to October and you feel like spicing up your reflective writing, discovering new creative inspiration and meeting new friends try out these 3 journaling opportunities to give your creativity a boost and ease you into the darker months.

In July and September it’s time to explore what place means to you with two free workshops, as part of Town Gardens’ Little Big Festival,  guiding you towards a new reflective and artistic appreciation of your environment.

Then from September to the end of October embark on your own voyage of reflective self-discovery with a guided series of workshops exploring the exercises in The Journal Writer’s Handbook. Treat yourself to the very special feeling of companionable, stove-side journaling at Lower Shaw Farm. It’ll be just the thing to keep the autumnal chill at bay.

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Recipe for writing

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This week I tidied my desk. The photo depicts the tidy version. Honestly.

“Is that an annual event?” asked my friend Bea.

“Of course,” I replied, “whether it needs it or not.”

It was a relief to discover that there was still a desk under the morass of paper, notebooks, sticky notes, manuscripts, tax office correspondence, business cards, paper clips, CDs, data sticks, receipts and unidentifiable wires and jack plugs scattered all over its surface. It is no wonder that my thinking has lacked focus. My desk has been a disaster zone.

The rather flimsy excuse for this state of affairs is that I’m spinning so many plates I haven’t got time to make sure my desk is clear as well! Such is my life as a freelance work-from-home Mum that I use my desk as a holding area for a whole host of stuff that I mean to get back to later after cooking dinner, or taking my daughter to her drama club, or hefting in the laundry. The reality is that often I’m so jaded by the time I sit down I just rest my elbows on top of the junk and gaze glassily at Facebook. The net result being that I don’t write. Which sometimes means I don’t get paid, and sometimes, more seriously, that I begin to question my capabilities.

Astoundingly however, having sifted through all the junk and ruthlessly chucked some of it and re-cycled other of it, I saw before me a desk space upon which there was nothing but a computer monitor, keyboard, phone, spiral bound pad and pencil. It was the most seductive thing I’ve seen in a long time. I could not wait to sit at it; I even leaped out of bed the morning after, as soon as the alarm went off, desperate to make sure that it hadn’t all been a crazy dream, or that the desk goblins hadn’t returned overnight to wreak havoc. Suddenly I felt energised and in control, ready to take on all my telephone interviews and tap out all my articles with super quick efficiency.

And what delighted me even more was that thousands of words appeared for my latest writing project. Liberated from the oppressive piles of paper and junk, they wormed their way up my unconstrained elbows, along my ergonomically well-supported forearms, through my fevered, fast-typing fingers, and onto the screen.

I’m gradually getting the message. Being in nature and having a tidy desk are two vital staples for me to get down to write and feel productive. I’m sure there are other ingredients for this particular cake. What are yours?

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ESSO-powered journaling

No – I’m not talking about petrol, and I don’t wish to be an advert for fossil fuel consumption.

ESSO stands for the things I most yearn for in my life, and which I found myself writing about the other day – Ease Simplicity Serenity and Order. I love how acronyms present themselves to me and invariably bring a new metaphor along for the ride.

Those who know me and my family personally might well scoff. You know what creative chaos we live in. But if I don’t form the intention to be with more ESSO, even if it’s a pipe-dream (OMG, when will this oil-industry analogy let go?), then I have not a cat in hell’s chance of staying sane.

With ESSO in mind I picked out a new journal this week, and found one which depicts singing birds on branches next to neat little bird-boxes. I proceeded to plan my week, including all our meals, and even shopped for all the menu items. I made sure all the laundry and all the ironing got done in one attempt, and I managed to clear away all the clutter from the bedroom floor.

A little order has gone a long way to support the ease and serenity of my time this week. Maybe I have been fuelled by ESSO after all.

What are the things you’re most yearning for right now? Can you make an acronym or acrostic out of them? And what’s the metaphor that accompanies it?

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Become an outrageous rock star – or write a journal

Although a teen of the 80s I used to be really into David Bowie’s albums from the 70s – Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust – so last evening I was interested to see Cracked Actor, the BBC’s 1975 documentary about Bowie’s conquest of America.

Coincidentally I’d mentioned Bowie in the journaling workshop last week, and how as journal writers we might learn from part of his creative process – chopping up different words and phrases and randomly piecing them back together to generate lyrics. Sure enough there he was in the documentary carefully piecing together little strips of paper with snippets of sentences. I got excited. He then went on to mention how he’d taken this approach with old diaries he’d kept, chopping them up and rearranging them in ways he claimed actually seemed to predict the future. I got very excited.

Since Bowie hasn’t been much in the public eye for a while I’d forgotten how candidly he speaks, and how he takes care to describe his experiences in simile and analogy, likening his rise to fame to the sensation of accelerating really fast, when you’re not quite sure whether you’re enjoying it or not. He also referred to the precariousness of earthquake-prone Los Angeles, and how he always felt an underlying tension and unease about the place because of it. And when asked why he’d taken on so many Americanisms since he arrived in the US he likened himself to a fly floating around in his milk carton – a foreign body getting a whole lot of milk!

One of the American interviewers from the time got irate with Bowie’s seemingly evasive attitude, accusing him of speaking in riddles, but personally I love this metaphorical approach to reflection, and believe it can often reveal more truth than literal responses.

The other thing that excited me from a journaling perspective was Bowie’s explanation about the different characters he portrays in his music. He said he believes that we are all made up of so many different personality facets, and his character creations were his way of exploring his own make up. He then commented that if he’d encouraged other people to explore some of the different characters that make them up then that’s something.

So journal writers there are things to learn from the Thin White Duke. But if becoming a Bowie tribute act is not quite in your grasp, take up your journal instead.

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Filed under Creative process, Journal Writing