Free Writing

Today I read a post by Sara in LaLaLand about free writing, and it reminded me about a poem I wrote at my writing club at school. I’ve mentioned before that how I write blog posts is very similar to free writing, but I pay too much attention to what I am typing and have a very specific topic in mind. Whilst I let the post go wherever my mind takes it, its still bound within the topic and I am very conscious of spelling, punctuation and grammar. Free writing is incredibly liberating as you focus on the words and your thoughts and feelings and let them flow, unbound by language rules and you can skip from topic to topic and back again. I wonder if it could be comparable to meditation, in the book I am reading, Women, Food and God, Geneen Roch details a technique that focuses on feelings within the body and free writing focuses on what your mind is producing. You aren’t editing as you go, or dismissing thoughts as tangents or irrelevant. Everything that pops into your head ends up on the page. Then, when you let the writing overtake, you frequently forget about the sentence, or even word, that came before what you are currently writing. Just like meditation, you are only aware and concerned with what is happening now, in that very moment, without consideration to what came before or what might happen next. You’re not concerned with whether it is sensible or makes sense to anyone else. Thus, free writing is not only a great pre-writing technique, especially if you have writer’s block, but it also has great benefits for mental health. Free writing enables you to access your unconscious, to release emotions, process thoughts and feelings, and relieve stress.

I hope to do some free writing over the next few days. In the past I have used it as a technique for writing poetry, but I am interested to experiment with prose and see if it can get me kick-started on my novel writing project. For now, I hope you will enjoy the poem I wrote whilst gazing out of the classroom window, wondering what on earth I was going to free write about. In this regard it is like the exact opposite of meditation. With meditation the stereotype is emptying the mind, with free writing you are waiting for a thought to scuttle across your brain so that you have something to write about. On the occasions I have tried meditation my mind suddenly recieved a whole deluge of ideas, when I am free writing it suddenly becomes astoundingly blank…

That Leaf

That leaf.
That brown dry leaf.
Swinging like a crazy pendulum.

It dangles there
On slender stem
Brown and dry.

Dew drops still hang from
The droopy foliage,
Slimy even at midday.

They drip the seconds by,
A constant ticking
The time it takes for the last leaf to die.

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Lessons from Poetry Slams

I made a comment in my post yesterday about how I felt I would never move beyond being a hobbyist poet because my poems are largely expressions of personal feeling rather than being widely relatable, containing strong generalised sentiment or making a strong statement. I mentioned that this was a criticism that I had faced a number of times when participating in the slam poetry scene at university. It wasn’t that all my poems where bad but different poems do different things and as a Fresher at university it took me a while to understand that.

The poems I’ve posted over the last couple of days are good examples of why most of my writing is not ‘slammable’.  The poem Hunters received a positive response from friends and at the writing club when I wrote it, but the amount of description and imagery it contains, is smudgy at a slam event. The poem I posted in Grief about the death of my father, is perhaps too personal, so whilst it is more suitable to being read aloud and performed, it doesn’t deliver what a slam requires. The poems that my companions in the university writing group (many of whom have gone on to be successful professional poets) were powerful, energetic statements. As I said yesterday, they made statements, not just expressions.

However, whilst I was in my second year (just before I entered into that particularly destructive relationship which I documented a couple of weeks ago in New Year – New You and two years before I met my now husband) I took part in a slam that was being held in a local pub, rather than at the university. I got into the semi-finals. Now it wasn’t really much to do with the location and a large number of the usual faces were there from the uni slams , but the poem that I performed was different. It was broader, more relatable and is the only poem I have ever written that has the suggestion of mild humour running through it. Perhaps it contained a few statements too. It was certainly trying to make a point to the person it addressed. I have typed it out in the way I type poems out before a slam so that the performance notes are essentially incorporated into the text.

Love Letter

This is not a love letter
This is a business proposal.
We’re in a time of recession
A stressful situation
I’m sure you’ll agree
And we’re told (repeatedly) that
Networking
Has never been more important

So let’s form a cooperative,
Work as a collective
Take opposing seats in the boardroom
For when have we ever not debated something.

This is not a love letter
This is an international negotiation.
Ours would be a special relationship
Like Great Britain and the U.S.A.
You might appear bigger, brighter, more advanced
Than this small island
But I too have learnt to punch above my weight

This may be called:
Tenacity
Audacity
Pure bloody obstinacy,
Especially by those who consider you
Out of my league.

But you see…

This is
Not
A love letter.
This is a request of allegiance.
I may not have the golden hair,
Gem-stone eyes,
Or marble skin of traditional economy.
I have coal in my bones,
Copper in my hair
And a spirit of steel.
Hands made of Kevlar
Heart a nuclear bunker

So let me include you
Amongst those I swear to protect
No matter what the cost
For friendship has no budget cuts.
And this is not a love letter
Unless you want it to be.


 

 

Blogging and Creative Writing

Over the last few days I have talked about the connection between mental health and creative writing and posted up some pieces of my own. I am very grateful for the positive response those pieces received, as a very amateur poet, posting online is especially scary. But I think posting anything online must be very daunting, even when you have edited and edited it and are feeling quietly confident that it is good. Whilst I know some poets who manage to write about completely fictional scenarios, for many, their writing is very personal and for me at least my poetry comes from a place of very raw emotion. Most of the poems I compose are completed within 10 minutes and are not very good. They are unrefined and really are as if I just took what I was feeling and threw it at a piece of paper.

Sometimes, just sometimes, some parts stick and become workable. If I am extremely lucky, the poem has written itself and there is just the smallest bit of tweaking to do. This is why poetry will never be more than a hobby for me. I was part of a student poetry group at university and witnessed the extensive editing of my fellows and the labour of love their poems became. They made statements, not just expressions.

For me, blogging has become an extension of creative writing. The expression of feeling is not as dramatic as it was when I was younger and charged with teenage hormones, but it is still a flow of consciousness, and perhaps to an extent unconsciousness, as sometimes the posts still feel as they are writing themselves. My hands hit a variety of keys just as my conscious mind manages to construct a sentence. I never used to be able to type like this. I used to always have to have pen and paper, the pen feeling like an extension of my arm. I was a real tortoise when it came to typing too, to the extent that it became quite the joke at school. So blogging seems to be developing all sorts of skills. I have enjoyed reading back over old poems these last few days as I selected what to post online (something like blogging I never dreamed I’d actually do). Perhaps the fact that I haven’t written anything for a couple of years has made me more aware about what is reasonable, workable and what just needs to be deleted and let go of. I’m becoming more aware of grammar too as I edit my blog posts, although my spelling is not improving!

Blogging and Mental Health

As I hoped, just as creative writing in the past helped me to process how I was feeling, since I have started this blog I have experienced a marked improvement in my mental health. I don’t feel as highly strung as I did two months ago, I am more inclined to reflect and by typing up and publishing some events I have been able to reduce their presence in the front of my mind. Of course they are still there, loitering somewhere in my memory, but they no longer appear as flashbacks, suddenly spiralling me out of control. Another comparison I have noted since starting this individual post is that just like my poetry, my posts are very personal. They are expressions of how I am feeling with the odd generalised observation thrown in. This is a criticism that has been made in the slam scene of my poetry, not necessarily meaning the poems themselves where bad, but that they didn’t suit the fast-paced, powerful and clear statements usually found in slam-style poems. Again, its the case that the poems made statements, not just expressions.

This comparative statement links back to every bloggers fear, that what they are typing and publishing online has absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Even when it is personal, human nature often seeks approval and desires to feel useful. That there is some value to ourselves and in what we do. The first few posts I published were very much just for me. I didn’t expect anyone to read them and I wasn’t too concerned about what they were saying, as long as I didn’t make a fool of myself on the internet. Then I started putting up posts that I hoped might be beneficial to someone else but me. Not helpful or advisory or anything like that but that they might find a solidarity in them. One of the reasons I began volunteering in mental health organisations was because I didn’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I did when my father died. I felt that I had no one to talk to about how his death affected me or about the grief I was feeling. Everyone just wanted to hear that I was fine so they could move on to another topic. All aspects of mental health can feel the same way. I was lucky that both my mum and dad had prepared and responded to the situation in a way that meant my mental health remained stable even after his death. But a few years later a number of things happened and my mental health did decline. I hoped that posting about these experiences would let someone else know that they weren’t alone in that experience and that there was something beyond it.

Moving Forward

Now I am looking into maybe trying to make my blog a little more substantial. I am enjoying blogging, it’s great to be writing again and, as I mentioned, there have been a lot of positive outcomes so far. However, in the reading that I have been doing (it’s still pretty minor at the moment, the idea of really getting my teeth into blogging is a very recent one) the recurring theme is not just to find a niche, but also to solve a problem. I’m not sure that writing posts expressing my own experiences with mental health in the hope of instilling solidarity and presenting empathy to hoped-for readers can be classified under problem solving.  I’m also pretty convinced that I am either too niche or not niche enough. I am quite an eclectic and, I suppose, erratic personality, even as an archaeologist and historian, I know a little about the whole expanse of human existence, from early hominins to the 1980s. But I am not the person you want on your team in a pub quiz because I don’t know enough about the specifics. I don’t specialise well.

I have come to terms with my eclectic blog, writing about all the little bits and bobs bouncing about in my brain was the reason I started blogging, its the reason its helping my mental wellbeing and I’ll just have to hope that someone else finds it enjoyable or useable, perhaps by accident. It is perhaps possible (and as soon as I have finished typing this I will sit for a while with my fingers crossed) that by pursuing and documenting all these little bits and bobs, I might stumble into a bit more of a niche and maybe that will solve the problem of problem-solving for me. One can dream.

 

Grief

I mentioned before that my mental health and creative writing have always been connected. When I was 18 my father died of stomach cancer and this sonnet is about his final days. Just as blogging has, and still is, helping me digest and come to terms with some of the more recent traumas in my life, writing this poem helped me begin to work through my grief.

Goodnight Dad

We kept on hoping that you would wake up
Wetting your lips from a green plastic cup
Mum told you about her day again, again, again
Twisting a golden cross on a sliver chain.
I was so sure that you would come back
Couldn’t believe you would leave us like that.
If this was a fairy-tale, like Snow White
Then you wouldn’t have had to die that night.
Mum’s tears would have washed all your pain away
And put Death off to some far distant day.
But reality is cold-hearted cruel
And all I have left is this frozen replay
Of the last few words I know you heard me say:
‘Goodnight Dad, I love you.’

Alliteration Writing Exercise

I really love alliteration, it’s one of my favourite techniques. I thought I’d post up a poem I wrote at school in English class, the purpose being to use as much alliteration as possible…

Alliterative Accountancies

Red sun setting on summer fields,
The green grass hiding in the gloom,
An old orange oak tree,
Standing staring at the stars.

The falls flowing far away
Dashing down the dales
Searching soundly for the sea,
To where it may run free
And need return no more.

A couple walking in the moonlight,
Why wake at this late hour?
Daisies droop their drowsy heads,
As do all summer’s flower.

Soon they stop their delicate dancing,
And lean against the old oak tree,
There they lie in each other’s arms
And silently slide asleep.

Writing Exercises

Another reason I started blogging was to get me back into writing. I mentioned in Breakthrough that I have sent off an application for postgraduate study. One of my biggest concerns was whether or not I would be able to produce written work of the same standard I did for my undergraduate, let alone the quality required to score high at Masters level.

There’s also the skeleton of a novel rattling around in the back of my mind. I have never written seriously before. Not with a deliberate goal. From the time I could write I was scribbling (the only adequate description for my handwriting) silly stories and adding rather squashy drawings as illustrations. I started writing poetry when I was about 9, because my friend had to write a limerick for homework and I fancied giving it a go. As a teenager these poems got particularly morbid and dramatic, but they potentially served a subconscious purpose of keeping my mental health issues in check. I would get anxious or overwhelmed or upset, and pour out my feelings as words (I guess as I have been doing whilst blogging) and it eased those emotions.

When I was at university I joined a couple of writing groups and participated in a few slams. Some poems were well-received, sometimes I froze on stage and some poems just didn’t fit the set up of poetry slams. A number of my poetical friends frequently post their work on social media, but I feel too shy to do that. My writing has been mainly for fun or for catharsis; a hobby rather than anything I took particularly seriously or considered professionally. But as I have been blogging and sharing other intimate experiences I thought I would post up a couple of my poems, as another anti-anxiety milestone if nothing else. Often it is the anticipation of doing something and all the imagined negative outcomes that causes the anxiety and I do hate to be beaten by my own mind. So, as much as it scares me, I’ve posted a poem that I have shown a few friends in the past, so at least its had other people looking at it before. Its speaking to my oldest friend.

Hunters

We grew up under the same mountain
Ash and Sycamore;
I, small and pale,
You, tall and rustic.
Playmate, rival, sounding board –
You rounded me;
As the river
Carves
The chalk.

Ours was always competition:
You – older, bigger, stronger;
I – younger, faster, bolder.
Our playground squabbles,
Practice for a wider arena –
Sparing partners united
Against a splintering world:
Blood sisters.

But then –
We fell in love
With a shadow
Passing over the mountain.
A hawk –
Hiding in the sun,
Only visible
By its shade.

You chased with your bow;
I courted with my quill.
Hurling bolt after bolt,
You tried to bring it down –
Hold it captive:
A trophy of your mercy games.
I seduced with song –
Letting it soar
To watch its full glory.

I haven’t taken part in any slams, or even written poetry, for a few years now and I am really nervous about posting this online. If you have any feedback or comments please get in touch!

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 2

If my last post was about Why (it wasn’t supposed to be it just came out that way) then this post is more along the lines of how. Not the mechanics of blogging (there are lots of good posts out there containing tips for new and future bloggers) but about the way I decided to go about my blog.

I settled on a name long before I decided to take the plunge and start sharing my thoughts and feelings on the internet. Dreaming of the Temple. For me it means a lot of things. I suppose it also represents the gradual evolution of the blog itself. My initial idea was to create a blog based around spirituality. More specifically my own encounters with missionaries and eventual conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (popularly known as Mormons – not the ones with multiple wives, before you ask).

In The Church of Jesus Christ, the Temple is a very real, physical place. It is considered sacred and the ordinances and ceremonies that take place inside the building are not discussed beyond its walls. Some feel very uncomfortable about this (we are quite often referred to as a cult) but in reality it is just a continuation from the doctrinal principles that can be found in any aspect of Church literature, should you be so inclined to read it. The ultimate ordinance is known as a sealing. In essence, it is the belief that whilst marriage is ‘until death us do part’, a sealing makes that marriage last for eternity. I like to think of it as putting a GPS tag on my husband, making it easier to find him after we die.

Without turning this into a debate on the reality of life after death and the various different attitudes and perspectives surrounding the subject of religion, the crux of this initial blog idea was to map my journey to the Temple. I have been a member since the 21st of April 2016, but my conversion was certainly not complete when I got baptised. I had faith that that was were God wanted me to be, and that it was the Church I was meant to join, but a number of the doctrines were very far from what I had been brought up believing. Therefore, in this instance Dreaming of the Temple is very literal; I wanted to get there, but sometimes it seemed almost impossible.

In addition to being a literal place, the Temple itself is highly symbolic. Almost every aspect of the building, its interior and the artwork displayed, represents something more than its physical self. The Temple is not just a place to feel spiritually close to God, it is also a place to feel close to family. The Church of Jesus Christ places great emphasis on the importance of family and the majority of the ordinances performed inside the Temple concern living or deceased relatives. My husband and I have a great many hopes for our own family, so whilst this was initially about me dreaming of going to the Temple, it is also about the dreams that the Temple represents.

Shortly after baptism all Church members receive a patriarchal blessing. This is a blessing from a senior member of the Stake that is intended to provide guidance throughout your life. In my blessing it was advised that I endeavour to make my home like the Temple. As I started to think more seriously about actually creating a blog, not just scribbling notes on scraps of paper, I realised that whilst my spiritual struggles might have been a primary motivation for me, they probably weren’t that worthwhile. After about a year of indecision, my husband and I graduated from university and bought our first house. This was an exciting prospect and as we both grew up in the countryside we were glad to move out of the city. As ever, there were a number of small interior projects to undertake to fully make the property feel like our home. We discovered many characteristics of the house that had been covered over and concealed. Amongst these were several fireplaces, original woodwork and historic wallpaper. I thought these might have the potential for some blog material.

But that material would be about converting a house into a home. What making your home like the Temple really means is emulating the atmosphere of the Temple; as a peaceful place of rest, somewhere to find solace, filled with love, joy and happiness. When you go to the Temple, even if its just stepping into the grounds, the peace becomes almost tangible, and you are able to stop caring about all the concerns or worries that you had before. You are there with one purpose and all the deadlines, commitments and to-do lists have no part in it. Prayer is very similar to meditation; it is reflective, focused and has been found to relieve stress. In the ideal, the home should be the same. The door should close and work should be left outside or, if you work at home, left at a specific place of work. One of the principles of mindfulness is having specific rooms for specific purposes.

So Dreaming of the Temple is both literal, symbolic and is about striving for tranquillity within the home and within the self. For me that is one of the biggest challenges in looking to fulfil my patriarchal blessing. I have enjoyed our DIY projects; decorating, gardening and furnishing our home over the last few months has been a really fun marital project. I would always hope that any visitor would feel welcomed, happy and be able to sense the love in our home. But I am not a calm person. I have always had anxiety, my biggest flaw is a quick temper, and since developing depression my emotions have surged and dipped more than ever. It was this that led me to become truly serious about starting a blog. I have had various experiences with counselling, some good and some bad, and I know that I am very self aware. I am a very open person and frequently talk about my mental health and other life experiences, but it can still be difficult to talk to friends and family. There are always feelings that you are burdening others, that you might be judged, or that they don’t completely understand how you feel or what you are/have been going through. I was after a space to explore why I felt the way I felt, to be able to dissect some of the more traumatic experiences in my life and to spend time appreciating what I have. The primary aspect of my blog now is mental health.

I am still not up to speed, or particularly confident about blogging. It’s something that I have been contemplating for a number of years and its concept has changed several times. It is very daunting and in the words of Winnie the Pooh:

‘you find sometimes that a Thing that felt quite Thingish inside you
is quite different when its out in the open and has other people looking at it’
( A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, 1928)

But I hope that all the different things that I am personally exploring; my mental health, my efforts to become a calmer, more tranquil person, the physical changes to our home, the preparation to have a family, will be encompassed by the blog name, Dreaming of the Temple.