I blog

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beach painting

“I blog. Writing about what I’ve been learning about, and my successes as well as my failures, has been an amazing tool for learning. I highly recommend it, even if you never want to be a writer or make a living as a blogger. Don’t worry about growing your audience, but just blog and share it with friends. Why? Because to write a blog post, you have to reflect on your life. You have to push yourself a little and experiment. You are motivated to learn something useful, so you can share it. You dig deeper and find new things you didn’t realize before. You hold yourself accountable for changes, because other people are watching.”

from Leo Babauta, ‘My Most Effective Learning Tools’, Zen Habits

I so wholeheartedly agree. As a blogger of some four or more years now, sometimes you do wonder why you bother. With the big gaps in my blogging patterns, because of managing a full-time job and a long commute, it’s so easy to give up, think of giving up, put my feet up and not blog but I love my blog and what I have created here over time and the act that is blogging.

It’s the ongoing creative heart of my days. Sometimes when it’s hard going at work, I find a few minutes to look at my blog, this almost other self it seems when I am in the work realm. I breathe more easily seeing my creative other self there in words and images on the screen, the pink blossoms shining out.

As Leo Babauta sums up, it’s about learning, about creativity, about reflecting and pushing and making deeper connections. It’s finding the right photograph for the words that you are pulling together. It drives you to take those photographs in the first place and see the world differently.

I had a rare mid-week day off from work recently and took a long walk around my local streets and beaches. I took 150 photographs on that walk of what I saw and experienced. I’m thinking how to pull them into a photo-essay here. The act of thinking about that is making me reflect on my love of where I live, the value of time to recharge, what standing in the water looking out means to me, the therapy of walking and the recharging power of sunshine and solitude.

Leo is so right when he says: “…to write a blog post you have to reflect on your life.”

Whether it’s what it’s like being an introvert, the importance of family history, the struggle to write and publish poetry, the value of what you choose to read and what it means to you, the symbols that keep recurring in your life that you are noticing, learning what sustains you, the travel to new places and what you feel there, thinking about how you can be more productive, the images that inspire you or the act of blogging itself, the act of catching those random thoughts and crafting them into a piece of writing, a blog post that becomes public is a creative, reflective and life-affirming act.

One of my earliest posts, ‘The value of howling into the wind‘, still holds so true in my experience. It’s so easy to fall into focusing on the size of your audience (or the lack of) and feeling like it’s just not reaching very far and has no point. But to blog, to write creatively and publicly is an act that has great personal value of heightening experience, digging, discovering, connecting, tuning in and shaping something that might not otherwise find itself.

Blogging might, and still does for me, feel like howling into the wind but it has its own intrinsic value of strength and uniqueness that just might be of value to others as well:

So ‘howling into the wind’ is about running with the wolves and the ‘longing for the wild’ as Estes calls it. It’s about stoking the creative fire with winds that might feel a bit uncomfortable and cold at first. It’s about the strength that might come from tuning into such intuitive sources, making connections and finding that to which we belong. And through whatever means – writing, photography, a business idea, a new perspective, the shape of a poem – forming something unique that is your voice that others may also tune into, relate to and take something away from. So let’s keep howling.

beach walking

Poetry and me – into the light #2

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Poetry and the writing of it is to me a sacred creative, transcending thing. It has always been something secret, special and introverted, not something I talk about. It’s been an intermittent relationship, a journey with many stops and starts, but a desired and committed journey nonetheless, like an old friend I know so well who is always there to connect with, to rely upon, to give to and to learn from.

And we have been through so much. From early times, when I learned to love the value of words as a passion ignited from some deep place I was unaware of. In ‘The touch and reach of poetry‘, I reflected on these early influences and my enduring love, noting that:

Poetry especially can feel like a driven art with not many places to go. It’s easy for it all to go underground for a while in between other things like work and family, but it springs back up eventually. You cannot keep it down forever it seems.

I have woven poetry into the tapestry of my days, if unevenly. When at university studying education, I also studied literature so I could keep reading poetry and study the writing of it. When doing my Honours year on education and literacy, I chose to do a research project on ‘Poetry in Education: developing affective response’ about the aesthetic reading process, how poetry is taught and why this does not generally ignite a love of poetry. It worried me that so many people leave school without a love for poetry and that the teaching of it seemed to miss its heart.

Poetry became the way I transcended heartache, sadness, hurt and loss – finding the words to hold a moment just so, to fix it, to crack it apart or to recreate it and fashion what could never be except in the shape of the words I laid on the page. It was a way of saying good-byes that could not be said in any other way.

I wrote in Poetry: into the light about the freeing up of poetry and the revisiting of it. Sage Cohen’s book, ‘Writing the Life Poetic‘, became a touch-point for poetry being pulled down from its pedestal and integrated more into my daily life. I re-engaged with my poetry writing, organised and reworked my years of drafts of poems and engaged directly with Sage and her teaching through her inspirational online poetry writing courses.

Wanting to reconnect more with poetry and modern poets, I’ve recently started the Massive Open Online Course, ModPo, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, led by Al Filreis through the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a wondrous journey and community and especially celebrates the ‘close reading of poetry as a social act‘ via online connection. People from all educational backgrounds from all over the world link to discuss poetry for mostly no other reason than the joy of poetry. It is simply so grounding and freeing to see and hear poetry being discussed, read and enjoyed in this way. Starting with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and stretching to the present time, the language and art of various American poets is widely shared.

And then there’s the world of publishing poetry – old and new. Once upon a time, poetry success was judged by publication in literary journals and only very few poems could be seen this way. This option still exists but poetry accessibility is now more opened up with people publishing their work through the internet on their blogs, through print on demand, chapbooks and various other media, and with Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook as ways to get poetry out there and to communicate with readers. Though it seems poetry has remained a publishing challenge generally and especially for e-readers.

Witness however: ‘Tyler Knott Gregson’s poetry cracks the best-seller’s list‘! Tyler has been incredibly committed to poetry and to social media, writing “at least one new poem a day for his blog over the past five years”, sharing his work on Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook without missing a day. He now has 259,000 followers on Tumblr, 184,000 on Instagram and 31,000 Twitter followers. And from this, his first publication of poetry has hit the best-seller lists. According to the Wall Street Journal article:

Mr. Gregson doesn’t edit or revise his work. He simply types the poems on scraps of paper—boarding passes, receipts or pages torn from notebooks—and posts a new one online each day.

It’s refreshing and inspiring to see how far poetry can be freed up and communicated and loved so widely.

I am learning from Sage Cohen, ModPo and Tyler Knott Gregson about how poetry can be taken off its pedestal and loved and communicated widely via new approaches, especially via online learning and social media.

And for me? Writing poetry has been a key love of my life but it’s been a stop start affair, partly because I make it so sacred sometimes, maybe too sacrosanct and special. I have a body of work of some nearly 200 poems now, crafted over time. I have been published – in literary journals, in a local writers’ anthology and online including on my own blog (apparently that counts as publication these days!).

It’s time though to dust my work off and let it shine and let more light in so there can be more growth and more light.

As Sylvia Plath famously said:

Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.

So I will learn from these key people about freeing up the writing, the reading and the publishing of poetry. A first step will be gathering what has been published of my work here in one place as a starting point, getting this, my body of work, into the light. Then working on the next steps…

What are your thoughts on freeing up poetry – writing, reading and publishing…I’d love to know!

Waterlily thoughts

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One image can sum up a holiday, a phase of life. You wonder what draws you to photograph certain sights, certain objects. What makes you strive to capture this particular image this way or that. Or when you take so many photos like I did when in Japan recently, it’s surprising how one or two images can capture the whole time and experience, the reflection in the lens coming back.

The image and symbol for that recent holiday and right now is the waterlily. The photo I took of two waterlilies in a pool of many at Yahiko, a little village in north west Japan, somehow captures this time now.

I’ve always loved waterlilies, the beauty rising from the mud, the perfection blossoming, the majestic clarity they carry and hold.

They have popped up at different times in my life. An etching I did once years ago at a time of immense change when I was pregnant, features me jumping from one lily pad to another in some archetypal riotous spiralling motion.

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At another earlier time, Australian author Kate Llewellyn’s ‘The Waterlily: A Blue Mountains Journal’ became a favourite reflective piece, read at a time of great turmoil many years ago when my heart was somewhat broken.

Kate captures twelve months of making a life in the Blue Mountains in her poetically infused language and style and especially the sense of being present through the flow of days and the feelings that ebb with them:

Shall I say in similar fashion, that it is now clear to me it is all visitors coming and going and then being alone and then visitors and cooking and cups of tea and talking and picnics and looking at the vast blue valley and the fire and the autumn, and then meals and making dinners and breakfasts and then looking at the plants and feeding the birds and stoking up the fire and writing in between. Something like that.

IMG_9186I must reread this lovely book and lose myself again in the rhythm of her days to refocus mine. There is pain and longing there but the calmness of the moments being harvested is soothing.

‘The Book of Symbols‘ tells me that the lily generally is connected with queenly divinities, identified with purity and innocence. Further…

Highly regenerative, the lily surfaces even after fire or drought. Alchemy honored the lily as evoking the very essence of Mercurius, the spirit of pysche’s unconscious depths and transforming opus. As the quintessence, the longed for goal of the adept, lily represents psychic integrity that is no longer pulled apart by affect.

The waterlily particularly symbolises the cycle of life, birth and death, and with its ability to produce blossoms and fruits simultaneously represents universality.

In the spiritual arena of Hinduism, the concept of resurrection is symbolically denoted by the water lily. This is because at night (or during darkness) the lilies close their blossoms and with the first ray of the sun, they open. It is also a symbol of purity, because even though the plant grows in mud, the flower is pure and free from blemishes.

What does a water lily symbolise?

So many ways of interpreting this image, so many water lily thoughts.

For me right now? It’s a symbol of renewal, of optimism, and of quietness, recognising the stillness and productivity in each moment and in the everyday. It’s about beauty and positivity rising so perfectly from an environment of muddiness and complexity. It’s also about honouring the fact that the mud the plant grows from is the anchor and the grounding for so much more. Without it, the beauty simply would not exist.

What images are you noticing and what are they saying in your life?

Shinjuku Gyoen – a place for creativity

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IMG_8983Some places inspire creativity. Recently in Japan, I visited Shinjuku Gyoen and it is such a place. You arrive there mostly via train to Shinjuku, apparently the busiest train station in the world. It’s a short distance that you walk from there, surrounded by people, tall buildings, lights, traffic, signs and noise.

You orientate yourself through the ticket office, the pathways and a forest with the tips of tall buildings from streets away peeking though the canopy.

Shinjuku buildings through treesYou then find yourself in a place that opens into the greenest heart of peace.

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Shinjuku Gyoen opens upIn that space, there are painters beneath trees, beside the water, their easels before them, an eye on the view and their backs turned away as they concentrate. There are others like me, taking photographs, striving to capture the light and peace of that place to take home somehow.

IMG_8960IMG_9009Reflections of clouds in the water, the roundness of trees balanced in the air, the greenness like a balm, gentle canopies and vistas framed. The garden is designed to invite you to stand and make your own landscape.

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IMG_8973It’s a place where creativity happens and is fostered, where you can be at peace in a place of beauty and feel yourself grow like the trees and blossom like the flowers.

You can see why people are drawn there to create. Or if like me, you come without this prior knowledge, you might be surprised at what you find there and find a part of you reignited as you walk, trying to fashion a vision of this place to hold onto and call your own.

The thoughts and images linger and I try to capture them again here as stepping stones to trace my way back to a creative flame I can rekindle.

Poetry in the heart of Tokyo

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Meiji Jingu

When in Japan recently, I visited Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine near Shibuya, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and established in 1920. Surrounded by a forest of thousands of trees threaded through with peaceful streams, the shrine area is a sacred sanctuary in the heart of Tokyo.

Poetry is also at the heart of Meiji Jingu. Both Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken were poets, writing the traditional waka, Japanese poems of 31 syllables (5-7-5-7-5-7). The divine virtues of the Emperor and Empress are celebrated through their poetry.

Visitors can draw a poem from 20 specially selected poems, with English translation and explanation, from the “Omikuji” (poem drawing) box in front of the main shrine building. It is a special way of keeping the spirit of the Emperor and Empress alive in the shrine itself through their poetry.

OmikujiMy special poem:

‘Ever downwards water flows,

But mirrors lofty mountains;

How fitting that our heart also

Be humble, but reflect high aims.’

Empress Shoken –

 

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More information about the shrine and the Waka poetry by Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken can be found here: “About Meiji Jingu“.

Beaches and books

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at the beachIt’s been such a busy time these past months…this the continuing mantra of my life. And the posts here are so infrequent when I had planned so much more this year.

In between the busyness, beaches and books have sustained me, my Instagram feed has mostly reflected the books I am reading and sights from walks on the beach. (Until recently heading to Japan and that’s another story to come!)

On the beach, walking, the sun setting, the cool sand and the water rushing or lapping depending on the day.

And the books, mostly Australian Women Writers lately though not exclusively – I’ve read Michelle de Kretser’s ‘Questions of Travel‘, Carrie Tiffany’s ‘Mateship with Birds‘ and Hannah Kent’s ‘Burial Rites‘ as well as Elisabeth Gifford’s ‘Secrets of the Sea House‘ plus enjoyed a reread of a gentle favourite, Rumer Godden’s ‘In this House of Brede‘. I’ve eagerly entered these worlds and stayed there for my 30-40 minute train journey on most days.

Both beaches and books have sustained me.

The beach grounding me as it always does, my feet in the sand, the act of walking, the water cooling my thoughts, my breathing calming.

The books keeping me connected to my love of words, my creative heart that is somewhat languishing. The part of me that wants to write more poetry and the novel that I imagine but cannot quite get to that other creative desk of the heart at present.

Words that have come to me lately:

The spirit of her invincible heart guided her through the shadows.

from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, and:

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

from e e cummings loveliest poem, ‘maggie and milly and molly and may’.

And my own beach walking poem on this theme:

 Narrative

She starts up high, facing north
towards slow mist,
watching the sea wash
into the rain’s drift below.

She is called to the beach
as if to a baptism, bride-like,
white as the air, stepping
down the rough rock stairs.

She narrates her life,
writes as she walks,
as if the sand and shells are
the bones of her story.

And the pieces connect her:
an imperfect white oval shell,
a fig leaf from a canopy,
the sketched black lines
of a creature’s moving home.

Cool and tight limbed,
she ends in another place,
as if washed by waves,
her contours, clear and shell-lined
as the Borromean grottoes
of Isolabella,
her white shining lights
coming home.

Reminders to shine

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Waterford Crystal, IrelandThis week a number of reminders to shine.

Firstly a lovely, lovely post How to Shine Your Light, Even When You Don’t Feel Whole from @tinybuddha read on the morning train to work one day, the final words:

Perhaps there will be times that you feel less than whole, but when those moments come, encourage yourself to remember a time when you made the world a more positive place. Regardless of where you are on your path, that moment mattered.

And on that same train trip, I read an instagram post from @talepeddlerjo Australian author, Josephine Pennicott, with some beautiful words from ‘When I am among the trees’, by Mary Oliver:

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

A reminder to be restful, grounded and to shine.

And finally, that same day, after a busy day, travelling the last leg by car through trees, the words from ‘Yellow’ that often come back to me and connect me to my brother:

Look at the stars, look how they shine for you and everything you do

So many reminders to shine, all in one day.

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Remembering Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath's grave at sunset, Heptonstall, West YorkshireI visited Sylvia Plath’s resting place at Heptonstall in May last year. Coming from the other side of the world, I had somehow ended up in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire without any forward planning to be able to honour the poet whose work had impacted me so much over the years.

We had dinner at the Stubbing Wharf Hotel – a place where Sylvia had also had dinner I later discovered. Then we ventured up the steep hill at twilight to Heptonstall.

It was quiet and still, the sun was setting, daffodils bright against the grey light and headstones. There was just my partner and me there in the cool air. It was so peaceful and I was able to silently honour Sylvia’s memory with thanks for all that her writing has meant to me.

On this anniversary of her death, I remember that quiet evening in Heptonstall and reflect on Sylvia Plath’s poetry and its value to me. These words of Sylvia’s run through my head:

Surely the great use of poetry is its pleasure– not its influence as religious or political propaganda. Certain poems and lines of poetry seem as solid and miraculous to me as church altars or the coronation of queens must seem to people who revere quite different images. I am not worried that poems reach relatively few people. As it is, they go surprisingly far–among strangers, around the world, even. Farther than the words of a classroom teacher or the prescriptions of a doctor; if they are very lucky, farther than a lifetime.”

Sylvia Plath, from her essay “Context”, The London Magazine, February 1962

Making blogging easier: a note to self

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One of my goals this year is to tend this blog and post more regularly. It’s a great love and so important and rejuvenating for me to write and create here. But it gets squeezed out with work, with other life and people priorities and currently, with the joys of renovating!

So I am looking to see how I can make blogging easier and how I can make it less onerous to be here writing, creating, connecting and communicating. What’s the secret?

I’ve been scouting the net for clues and found some great posts full of ideas. I’ve also revisited my own thoughts on this issue.

Some sites that have provided valuable tips:

100 tips and tricks professionals use to make blogging easier

5 tips to make blogging easier

5 techniques and 10 tools for making blogging easier

My post on this previously:

Shorter posts, smaller steps

These sites reinforce that blogging is hard work but that the job can be made easier.

Here is some distilled wisdom from these instructive posts, the strategies of other bloggers I admire and my own experiences:

1. Get organised with your time

Make time to blog and schedule time for planning and writing even if it’s just short grabs of time:

Treat your blogging like a friend. Schedule a regular amount of time where you can completely focus on your blog. It might  be 30 mins every Tuesday lunchtime or an hour every second Thursday at 9pm.

from: 5 tips to make blogging easier

Part of this is planning your blog posts and scheduling your time. See Charlie Gilkey’s ‘Productive Flourishing’ for some useful blog planner and calendar tools with tips on how to use them.

2. Collect your thoughts

Make sure you capture those fleeting thoughts that might result in a blog post. Brainstorm, mind map, make notes – find ways to capture those treasures on paper or digitally. It’s amazing how you think will remember something later but you often can’t. The random notes and clipped articles can be a rich source of ideas but you have to catch them and collect them like a bower bird.

A tip from 5 techniques and 10 tools for making blogging easier:

When capturing ideas for a post try to write more than just the title. Also write down the key points of the post. This will make life easier when writing later.

And here’s a really useful post from ‘The Mojo Lab’ on capturing creative ideas.

3. Be organised with the equipment and inputs

Try to be as organised as you can with the inputs: possible imagery, links, quotes, clippings and with the equipment: your computer, printer, browser and apps. It’s amazing how a fabulous idea can become a nightmare time-wise as you try to gather your resources. Some things are beyond our control but being organised with all the supporting technologies and resources can make the process so much easier when the times comes to write.

I find evernote the best for clipping articles, tagging them and making notes. I love feedly for managing online reading and keeping track of favourite posts and bloggers.

See ‘The Mojo Lab’ again for a great toolkit post and tips on all sorts of useful creative inputs and technologies.

4. Don’t make the task bigger than it can be

Yes, this post is getting long! But you don’t always have to write the long, well-researched, extensively redrafted blog piece – though these are important. Don’t defeat yourself mentally before you start. And don’t get hung up on having to write ‘x’ number of words.

In tip 89 of 100 tips and tricks professionals use to make blogging easier we are reminded to:

Chill out about length.

People are always in a tizzy about how long posts should be. It really doesn’t matter. Keep writing til you’re done.

5. Mix it up

Find different ways to blog: quotes, images, photo essays, short pieces, lists, poems, links to what you have discovered or enjoyed. Your blog posts don’t always have to feature lots of words. This is not to under-estimate the time investment and creativity of primarily visual posts or posts that share valued reads on the net – they all take time and care. But just to encourage an attitude of mixing it up so it’s not always writing time intensive pieces that require a lot of research, drafting and editing.

Some of my favourites:

Olivia White’s Sunday Reflections

Susannah Conway’s annual break from writing-focused pieces: The August Break

Tammy Strobel’s beautiful photo essays

6. Be more spontaneous

Try to write from the heart more without feeling that every piece has to be referenced, reworked and crafted over time. Try to learn to write and blog anywhere, not just at your special spot at home.

I am loving Ellen Nightingale’s Choose your own Journey for posts that have a spontaneous feel – coming from the flow of her days and thoughts as a creative working mother.

And I highly recommend Susannah Conway’s Blogging from the Heart e-course for learning about this special skill and art from one who has led and modelled its development, especially in terms of the emotional courage required.

7. Just do it…blog more often

And finally in a somewhat counter-intuitive approach to making blogging easier, Gretchen Rubin suggests do it every day and put yourself in ‘creativity boot camp‘:

Whenever anyone asks me for advice about how to keep up with writing for a blog, I always say: “Post every day.” Although this sounds arduous, many people find, as I do, that weirdly it’s easier to write every day than just a few times a week.

This is sound advice – I can see that the things that slow me down are because of the spaces in between. I am just not organised and it’s like starting over again each time. By being more engaged with blogging on a regular basis, it’s easier to pick up the pieces of all the tips above: capturing ideas, mixing it up, ensuring my systems and processes are up to speed, finding resources and being spontaneous.

I know some of my blogging buddies are working on this right now with Ellen Nightingale working on a 30 day challenge for her blog. And I am so loving the work that she is producing! I’m sure it’s not easy with all that she is juggling but Ellen’s blog is a great example of how engaging in a ‘boot camp’, committed way can result in beautiful outcomes.

So tell me, what makes blogging easier for you?

Would love to hear your tips and experiences! And I have to say this post took the longest time to write, managed to break all its own advice and everything went wrong whilst writing it including a glass shower screen shattering into a million pieces over my head today ( cf the joys of renovating above!) – so yes, a note to self if ever there was one. Would love to hear your thoughts to fuel my journey! Clearly there’s a long way to go!