Almanac questionnaire

I found this in amongst some notes from April 2016 and I really can’t remember what it’s all about.  But I have had fun returning to it, finishing filling it in and weaving it into a (somewhat strange) piece of writing.

Almanac Questionnaire

Weather: the bright intensity of a late evening sun in a mirror

Flora: the corner of a tree, turned triangle by brick walls and concrete

Architecture: the twisting of a treehouse, gnarled by children’s feet

Customs: Always place your right hand on the door handle.  Never your left.  Never.

Mammals/reptiles/fish: A small cat stares into a goldfish bowl.  There is no goldfish home.

Childhood dream: The kitten dreamt that one day she would grow up and get a bed of her own, as big and comfy as the one she secretly snuggled down on in the day.

Found on the Street: tuppence, a fag put and an old reciept for a loaf of bread and a crunchie; a brass button, a ticket from the cinema and a penny, dirty and tired

Export: I export rainbows, but no one buys them as the shipping costs are too high.

Graffiti: An aerosol tag, meaningless and meaningful.

Lover: Quietly present

Conspiracy: Where do birds really go when they migrate? Do they fly to the moon? Do they rest in the water? Surely these are more plausible than travelling across the globe just to fly back again? Ideas found in migration folklore

Dress: Taffeta, green, velvet trim. Outdated. Hiding in a dressing up box.

Hometown memory: The way everything seemed so dirty, a layer of grime over everything, grim faces and grim futures.

Notable person: the poet who took you out of this world, who swirled you around and around and around until you lost your bearings and fell down

Outside your window, you find: the drs surgery, healthy people pushing the doors on Saturdays wondering why it’s closed, they don’t have the opening times scratched into their ill formed body; birds whistling, traffic humming, car doors closing, footsteps on the wobbly paving slab just outside the window

Today’s news headline: Everyone’s a winner

Scrap from a letter: it was a long day and whilst the weather was beautiful, I didn’t enjoy it, I was too busy searching

Animal from a myth: phoenix

Story read to children at night: one of female empowerment, of girls who fight dragons and boys who look after babies

You walk three minutes down an alley and you find: it opens out onto a courtyard, a glimmer of sun reaches between the tall brick walls and a fountain trickles away in the centre

You walk to the border and hear: nothing, you have reached the edge of the world, do not fall over the edge

What you fear: never finding the hidden courtyard, never seeing a phoenix, never being a phoenix for only one can ever exist at a time

Picture on your city’s postcard: a large church or a narrow streets; a double exposure of history and drunkenness


A small cat stares into a goldfish bowl.  No one is home.

The kitten snuggles down.  She dreams of goldfish not at home, of migrating birds and conspiracies.

Where do birds really go when they migrate?  Do they fly to the moon?  Do they rest in the water? Surely more plausible than travelling around the world, just to fly back again?

Waiting patiently for the human to return, she bathes in the bright intensity of early evening sun.

Keys rattle.  Always turn the keys with your right hand. Never the left. Never.

“It was a long day and whilst the weather was beautiful, I didn’t enjoy it. I was too busy searching.”

A crack between door and frame. A world untrodden by padded paws. A world of goldfish, of birds which don’t migrate and answered conspiracies.

“What if I never find it?”

A world of grim faces and grim futures where phoenixes are searched for and never found.  A high cost for goldfish, birds which don’t migrate and answered conspiracies.

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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place (week 3)

Week 1 and week 2

Week three

Michael

This week we have been looking at a poem called Michael and the sense of place within it.  The poem is about a shepherd who has a strong connection to the land he lives and works in.  It contains a strong sense of place, using specific and detailed images to help anchor it in the land.

Wordsworth seems to admire Michael’s combination of strength of body and strength of mind. More specifically, it is Michael’s awareness and attention to the nature and landscape around him which Wordsworth values. I feel that Wordsworth holds Michael’s relationship with the landscape in high regard, and perhaps enviously as it is possible that a shepherd has a different relationship with the land to the poet.

Whilst Wordsworth holds Michael’s attention to nature above that of ordinary men, I think the extract (the second section of the full poem) suggests that it is possible to have this experience. That is, the depth of relationship to place could be there for anyone, but at the same time, the way of life for Michael means he has put in more days, more literal legwork than most of us ever would. Because of this, the land holds memories and this deepens his relationship to it. That said, the land has special meaning to Michael because it belonged to his family before him and this is something that most of us can’t weave into our relationship with place.

Place

Questions: How do we, as individuals, connect to the place we live in and the place where we were brought up?  How does this shape our identity?

Exercise

We were given some instructions to help us write about place.  I wanted to go outside to do this but it’s been a horrific week for my health and I’ve mostly been stuck in bed…  This writing is entirely unedited:

The longed for noisy peace of nature
Broken by the hum of traffic,
The shouts and screams of strangers.
An unseen plane whirrs
And a northwesterly wind
Carries a distant train horn.
A familiar woodpigeon, one of a pair
Calls out, cooing through the urban music;
A heart warming sound.

The sun bleeds through white mesh
Slowly brightening and darkening,
Nuances missed by most.

And if I lean slightly right
– not too far
A triangle of sky reveals herself
Clear and blue, for now.

The longed for joyful wonder of nature
Is found in unlikely places.

This is my bed, my nest, my nursemaid.
This is my bed, my prison, my shackles.

The Sheepfold

We also looked at the importance of the sheepfold in this poem.  We know from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries that William often wrote outside which may well have shaped his writing.  The course asks us then to think about setting and writing context within our own practices.  I think the importance of setting and context depend on the nature of the writing involved. If you’re writing about a specific place then the language and images used need to reflect that accurately and it is often best to jot notes when you are there and are tuned into the setting.  This touches on some of the arguments around language in my post about nature writing.

For writing which is less place specific I think the setting for writing is less important from the perspective of what you actually write. However we all work well in different places. I can’t write in libraries, I want to but just can’t, because they are too quiet and I get distracted by the quietness. Equally, I can’t write in busy places because I find the noise overwhelming and end up people watching… At different times in my life I’ve had different set ups for my writing. When I was a teenager I carried a notebook everywhere and could be found jotting things down on my maths homework if that was what was at hand… For a while I stopped writing and to get back into it I found I needed more structure and ritual around it. Now I have to write at a computer (due to a disability) which changes things again.

Being honest with yourself about your eating disorder

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

~Louise L. Hay

These are all questions I’ve been asked during my recovery process, and found helpful at some point (you aren’t always ready for a question and that’s ok). I wanted to pull them together so other people can use them as journal prompts or whatever. They may or may not be helpful and certainly not helpful to everyone all of the time.

***

be brave 1

Do you want to recover?

It’s ok if the answer is no, well, ok might not be the right word but unfortunately I really think you have to want to recover. Which is infuriating for the people around you who care and who hate seeing you in pain.

If your answer is no, I’d still urge you to keep reading or at least consider why not.

What purpose does your eating disorder serve?

I don’t think many eating disorders are really about eating or appearances when you get to the heart of them. Mine was about numbing my emotions big style, it was about control, it was about low self worth, it was about shame.

My eating disorder was a way of coping when I was suicidal. In a twisted way, anorexia saved my life. But it also tried to kill me.

Do you know what is you and what is your eating disorder?

Example, a 10k run went past my flat recently. Anorexia responded by saying oh, we could do that, let’s look up couch to 5k online and get out there. I genuinely got as far as opening Google before I kicked back in and reminded myself I can’t walk or use a manual wheelchair. Running is out the question. That’s how powerful an eating disorder can be. And if I hadn’t done a lot of work separating the eating disorder from me, I think it’d have taken longer for the rational part of me to kick back in.

Why does recovery scare you?

No, not because you might gain weight etc. Really, what’s the real reason?  The emotional reason.

Mine was a fear of feeling emotions. A fear of having to face the hellish depression which had preceded the eating disorder. It was also a fear of feeling out of control.

What does recovered look like for you?

I was asked this numerous times.  And the answer changed depending on where in my recovery I was/am.

For me, recovering meant not having to constantly think about food.

It meant reclaiming my brain and my identity.

It meant not being a hypocrite ; I strongly feel people shouldn’t diet and that looks don’t matter, I don’t care what other people look like.

Recovery meant not lying to my friends: are you OK? Yes. Are you hungry?  No. Have you lost weight? No.

And although I’m don’t feel I’m fully recovered, I now have space in my head for thoughts which aren’t about food and I’m being a million times more honest with my friends now than I’ve ever been.

If you want to recover, what are you doing which works against that?

I would think oh, I can recover whilst still doing x, or without doing y.  Somehow I was special, my body was different to everyone else who has an eating disorder.  So what everyone else has to eat regularly as part of recovery, I’m special, my body doesn’t like/need/want to do that… (I’m 99% sure that’ll be the eating disorder talking, trying to keep its claws in you cos recovery terrifies it, if you recover, it dies.)

What is your eating disorder robbing you of?

For me, it was the ability to think, relationships with friends, being able to go out for a drink, enjoyment of food, very nearly my job…

My health – you probably already know all the shit health impacts and are probably thinking somehow they won’t affect you, that’s what everyone thinks…

Who are you with the eating disorder? and Who are you without the eating disorder?

This can be tough to answer even if you’ve not had an eating disorder for very long. The nature of it means you lose touch with who you are and you can’t see who you could be or who you want to be. You forget what interests you.

All of your energy goes into the disorder, how else could you use this?

What did you used to enjoy, be interested in, do with your time?

What makes you come alive?

What might it feel like to love yourself?

I’m not asking you to love yourself, but what might it feel like it you did?

What stories do you tell of yourself? What language do you use to talk of yourself?

It’s so easy to believe our thoughts and take our feelings as fact.  They aren’t always, especially not if you have an eating disorder.  The words we use (internally and externally) to describe ourselves, our experiences etc, those words stick.

“Unloveable, fat, ugly, stupid, idiot, bitch” are words which run through my head.  They run through my head a lot less now because I’ve done some tough work challenging them.  But think about it, if you hear all day that you’re a stupid bitch, you start to believe it.

So, try and do yourself a favour, learn to notice and then learn to challenge your head messages and think about the words you choose when you’re speaking about yourself to others.

what else

I hope there’s something here which you’ve found useful.  I strongly encourage you to go away and journal about these questions or other similar prompts – writing can help you breakthrough things in a way that thinking often doesn’t.

Recovery is hard work, but it’s so much better that the eating disorder and I hope you choose to fight.

Storytelling tarot spread 

I’ve seen writing inspiration tarot spreads on pinterest and thought they were interesting. Then a while back a friend asked if I’d do one for her.

I had a look and couldn’t settle on a particular spread, they all had strengths and weaknesses and in the end I pulled together the strengths and my knowledge of writing to make my own.

Half focuses on characters, their motivations and their relationship. The other half is based on the story arc idea with a card for each key point in the plot.

The reading I did for my friend was really interesting with some great stuff for writing I think. I hope so anyway!  I was inspired to do my own reading which turned out to be very different even though there were a couple of the same cards.

hj 220716 edited

Normally when I read for myself, I just note ideas down but when I did this reading for my friend, I used full sentences and wrote all my thoughts which turned out to be quite helpful. So I repeated this for myself (PDF).

Following this, an essential step is to actually sit down and write… I did a writers block spread for my friend as well. For me, I’m going to try and create a writing plan or routine which sees me do a little each week. I’d love to say each day but I know that my unpredictable pain and energy levels will mean I don’t achieve that. And once I’ve missed one day, it becomes very easy to miss another and so on… I’m thinking it might be worth adding to my Friday check in /week ahead planning.

If i don’t get far with a plan, then I’ll do the writers block spread for myself but I think I probably know my own blocks; lack of self discipline, lack of energy at times, wanting to get something spot on first time but mostly just not sitting down to write. I have all the excuses… Pain, brain fog, using the computer can worsen my pain, using voice recognition software is frustrating… But I have the time, I have vague ideas and the inspiration from the above spread, I just need to actually turn on my laptop and start drafting and jotting down ideas…

Wish me luck!!

I did some writing!!!

This is not proof read or anything but I’m excited at having put words on paper so I’m sharing it anyway!

I used a writing exercise which generates three words for you to use to write something.  My words were: calm, canal, wheelbarrow


“bugger…” the old man grumbled to himself as the wheelbarrow caught on a jagged rock.  It wasn’t the first time that day that he’d wondered what on earth he was doing.  He was 82 for pete’s sake and here he was fighting with a contraption that looked older than he did just so that the young lass on the boat could get her fire going.  She was pregnant.  If she wasn’t, he’d have told her to put her own back into it instead of his which creaked and groaned.  He didn’t know where the father was.  He didn’t know much about her really.  Just her name, Michelle, and that she’d pulled up on the mooring at the end of his garden three days ago.

The mooring, which by the way, was supposed to be private.  Not that he’d ever used it.  What did he need somewhere to park a boat?  He didn’t even have a car…  it was a relic he supposed, from a time when the village relied on the canal for it’s essentials.  The barges were the high street back then.  Now the water was filled with middle class holiday makers and posh folk who’d paid through the nose just to be able to refer to their own moorings.  And michelle.  Now she was different.  She actually lived on her boat, or so it seemed to him.  She had a little terrier dog, dirty brown colour but friendly enough.  He supposed that it could get lonely by herself on the boat, having nowhere to really call home.  He didn’t get the sense from her that she had much in the way of family or friends… was that because of her chosen lifestyle or was her lifestyle chosen because of the lack of personal relationships…  standing upright and stretching out his back he wondered about her.  And when she would be moving on.  It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like her but he was used to his own company and of course, he could do without the additional chores… back in his day, a man would have stuck around to see his woman give birth… he should have been the one hauling about the coal… never mind… grumbling a bit more, George resumed the task in hand.

It was a calm day on board, Michelle stretched out her legs showing them off to the warming sun.  It was late spring but it had been a harsh winter and the air was just starting to heat up at last.  She sighed to herself.  She really needed to find some answers to the thousands of worries which were swarming around in her mind…  Seeing the kind gentleman approach, she heaved herself to standing and waved a grateful hand towards him.  He’d been generous to her.  Offering help which she desperately needed but her pride wouldn’t let her ask for.  There were so many things which weren’t as easy as they had been before she’d ballooned into a walking incubator.

As had become customary, Michelle offered George a cup of tea by way of a thank you and as had become customary, he’d declined.  It was strange.  They knew nothing about each other really, they’d only met a few days ago but Michelle felt there was something very familiar about him and the way they danced their parts felt like they were an old married couple.  George lived on his own.  She knew that much from watching the house.  No one had come or gone or appeared at a window whilst she’d been there.  She could ask him but somehow that felt intrusive.  No, instead she took glances at his ring finger; no sign of a ring or tan line.  Divorced? Permanent bachelor?  Or a widower who’d never been bothered with a ring?  Not that it mattered really.  She was moving on again soon and George would become just another faceless stranger who’d shown her some kindness.

a poet, anger and a banana… a writing exercise

Sometime last year, I bought a few old issues of mslexia off ebay.  I’ve got a subscription but I wanted some more to read.  The last couple I’ve looked at have had some interesting exercises to get you writing.  And as one of my projects for this year is to get back into writing, I figured I should actually give them a go rather than just thinking “oh that’s an interesting idea”…

This is the one that got me onto my computer to write.

Write a list of professions.  Come back later and write a list of emotions.  Come back later again and write a list of objects.

  profession Emotion/feeling etc object
1 poet guilt Gun
2 taxidermist Anger Spoon
3 teacher love Banana
4 Police officer Despair Door
5 Model Joy Camera
6 Journalist Excitement Pen
7 Artist Happy Painting
8 Poison taster Ashamed Screwdriver
9 Vet Courageous Tablet
10 Cook Bitter Chair
11 Editor Apathetic Marmalade
12 Taxi driver Grief Jar
13 Masseuse Overwhelmed Glasses
14 Hair dresser Anxious Window
15 Carer Peace Peach
16 Photographer Lust Plate
17 Actor pride Book
18 Miller scared Skirt
19 Ghost hunter confused horse

Then there’s different ways you can use your lists but the idea is that it’s a springboard for a couple of sentences, an idea or a vignette.

I’m choosing three numbers at random and picking one word from each column accordingly.

So 1, 2 and 3 gives  me a poet, anger and a banana…

8,9 and 7 gives me a poison taster, courageous and painting:

Everyone thought the poison taster was so brave, so courageous, risking her life each and every day for the sake of saving another. But she knew differently. It was a cop out. It was placing the risk in someone else’s hands. She felt no fear when she took that first bite or mouthful for her boss. She knew the outcome; live or die. But the second she sat at her easel and held a paintbrush in her hands, she froze. Her mind filled with anxiety, doubt, criticism. Overwhelming her, forcing her to turn away. The canvas remaining blank. A stark reminder to her of her cowardliness.

The painting remains unpainted. The poison taster poisoned.

What combinations do you get?  What stories do they tell?