Autumn is my favourite time of year, she said.

Autumn is my favourite time of year, she said.

With a burst of transcendent colour.
Like a sunset,
The world marks its ending
In shades of flame.

And yet,
The ending isn’t an ending.
There is life buried
In the marrow of that wood.
There is a promise of return
After the cold cleansing,
and frosty quiet
Of a winter’s rest.

Let us revel in this time of change.
The papery leaves pile:
An obscene abundance
Of value spent,
And spent well.
The skeleton trees stand
Firm and strong,
While the dust of their former glory
Gathers at their feet.
The air carries the smoky scent
Of their farewell.

As the sun goes off on further wanderings,
We can find warmth in each other,
Huddling together,
Like our own piles of leaves:
Companionate,
Colorful,
Celebratory.

She slips her hand out of her mitten,
And wraps her fingers in mine:
Saying all this
Without a single word.

Embracing Autumn magic: endings

Endings are hard.

Yet Autumn is possibly the most psychologically delicious season. Ask people what their favourite season is – most of my friends say Autumn.

It has a warm, rich feeling – bonfires, cider, crunching leaves, a particular kind of golden sunshine.

But part of the appeal for me, I think, was that it spite of nature bringing its blooming to a close, Fall always felt like a time of beginning. Every year, school would start again – a clean slate of possibility.

I like beginnings: the excitement and zing of opportunity yet-to-be-unlocked.

But how much of that push toward beginning was fighting the natural rhythm of the seasons?

Now that I am no longer in school – maybe this is a time to let myself feel more purely life’s natural pulse.

In my late night googling, I stumbled across this article by Roger Robinson called ‘How To Completely Destroy Your Artistic Life‘, where he breaks down warning signs. Number one:

“If an artist is starting too many projects, but none of them ever seemed finished, before starting yet another one. This is one I see alot in artists sabotaging themselves.”

That has the harsh ring of truth.

While I ascribe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s view that some of us are hummingbirds and some of us are jackhammers, and I believe that eclecticism should be celebrated, it can also become a trap.

There were so many projects I had to abandon midstream when I wasn’t well, or things left unfinished. There are new ideas bubbling, but I haven’t closed the loop of the old ones, either by bringing them to a state where they feel complete, or by releasing them back into the wild.

While I do feel the tendrils of growing possibility – like the ivy that is cunningly snaking its way up our wall, growing in defiance of the coming winter – I think it would do my good to try to embrace the rest of this year as a time of endings.

It’s time to let go: of the clutter, the unfinished projects, the various mental loops I am keeping open in expectation of an arrival that never comes.

This Autumn, I’d like to really feel the seasons. And savour the process of endings.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

12 Little Spells by Esperanza Spalding is pure magic

I love flying BA, because they have such a great music selection I always end up discovering new things.

I’d read about ’12 Little Spells’ when it came out a year ago, but hadn’t ever listened to Esperanza Spalding’s work.

Each little spell is dedicated to a specific part of the body – conjuring and celebrating its essence.

Here’s a Vanity Fair piece of her talking about the creative process:

“Alchemy and magic are about how mundane, benign, and abundant materials can have an effect that is greater than the sum of their parts. To me, creativity is alchemy.”

-Esperanza Spalding, Vanity Fair

As someone working to heal and connect with her body, I found this album so inspiring.

It is playful, complex, catchy, and inventive.

The music is extraordinary – no surprise there. But it was the lyrics that kept pulling me back in.

This is the introduction from the song ’12 Little Spells’ about the thoracic spine:

Twelve little wells of golden ink
Bone bottles stacked mouth to tail

How beautiful is that imagery?

This is the phrase that I kept chewing over from ‘Ways Together’ about shoulders:

I thought the more I carried
The more that life would bring
And it made my life so heavy
I couldn’t give a thing

How many of us have chosen to carry too much? Yet the way this is set is light, hopeful – it’s a song celebrating release and connection that helps with life’s load.

I listened to this album over and over – to the point where they did start to feel like spells, healing and nourishing my body and my sense of myself.

When I got home and googled to learn more, I discovered she also made music videos to accompany each song.

Another realm of magic to explore.

Finding mental space amidst clutter

This is the view from my bed right now:

Unpacking is still very much a work in process, since I was still too ill for months after the move to work on this properly. (Not to mention our life was in quite a state of disarray after welcoming a child and then encountering cancer in such close succession.)

We are making progress, but it has been slow.

I’m not a naturally tidy person – I tend to let things pile up a little bit, as big plans and good intentions turn into unfinished projects.

But clutter still affects me – as I think it does for all of us.

There were numerous moments yesterday where I found myself just standing and staring at the piles like a deer in headlights. I was too overwhelmed to even know how to start.

I’ve heard the sayings that our space is a reflection of us – ‘tidy room, tidy mind.’ I think there is truth in this. The serenity and calm from being in a peaceful, welcoming space is a powerful thing. I felt it when we initially moved into this flat with just suitcases and could soak up the calm of the emptiness.

But sometimes, we are living in the midst of chaos. And we still need a way to find space inside our own minds.

Yesterday ended up being a success story. Drawing on years of to-do list making and reading self-help and productivity books, I used a system I often find helpful to create space for myself. I managed to move from this place of feeling overwhelmed into a place of positive action, and turned a potentially stressful day into a positive one.

It surprises me every time that this works, since it is so simple. Which is why I think I keep reinventing the wheel instead of trying this when I am first feeling mentally cluttered. But this is what has worked for me time and again, so I finally wrote it out as a guide for myself. Hopefully it may be useful for someone else, too.

1. Take out a blank sheet of printer paper.

It’s important that it’s loose. You don’t need the commitment of being bound into a notebook – this isn’t something attached or bound anywhere. You aren’t saving ideas for posterity – you are dumping clutter you will then be able to discard. You don’t need to feel the weight of other ideas that a journal contains when you hold it in your hand.

This is not the time for scrap paper – you need clarity and that means clean blankness. Similarly, avoid paper with lines. The empty space means you can draw or organise things however you imagine them.

It might be tempting to work with sticky notes or butcher paper – resist the temptation. Sticky notes can feel fragmented, and something larger than a page becomes overwhelming. A single page gives enough space to explore while also containing things at a size your brain can easily process. (You can always subdivide the page if you want categories, or use more pages if you need more space.)

The crisp, unsubstantial magic of blank white paper is perfect.

2. Focus your attention on that clear space.

Imagine it as a room for your mind. It is peaceful, quiet, and clear. It is just the right size. Keep your attention on that rectangular square. Breathe in the tranquility of a space that is clean and full of possibility. Breathe out, releasing the clutter and tension that is crowding your mind.

3. Dump. No judgments.

Start putting down whatever is in your mind on that piece of paper. There are no limits, no rules. You can write things down in whatever way feels most natural to you. You also aren’t limited to words.

Draw pictures, make columns, create webs, use colours – follow however the ideas want to come out, without trying to corral them into a structure.

The goal is to take what is in your mind and put it out somewhere so you can look at it.

Now is not the time to organise things – that can come later. All you need to do is free up space in your mind and see what’s there.

We all have things we think about over and over again. These rattle around and stress us out. So in the initial phase, the main target is to get those little nagging concerns out where you can see them.

These issues may be something concrete like a broken cabinet door. Or it may be more complicated, like a relationship that is stressing you out. If it comes up in your mind, it belongs on the piece of paper.

4. Use fresh paper to go deeper.

After you do an initial dump, you might find there are categories or areas you want to explore in more detail.

They can each have their own room – as many as you like!

Do a deep dive into one area. Keep trying to follow your own brain’s pattern, even if it doesn’t seem logical or sensible to you. This is the best way to get the mental clutter out where you can look at it.

5. Follow your intuition to create a to-do list.

The goal of this list is not to capture everything you need to do it. It’s to identify the things that feel most important, and that will have the biggest impact on your mental state and sense of calm.

Look at your list and see what leaps off the page to you and feels most important. Often, these are the first things we wrote down, that are bouncing around at the top of our mental worry list.

But sometimes, particularly if we are good at delaying gratification or pushing ourselves to think logically, you have to dig a little deeper to figure out which are the bits that feel most urgent and essential to your inner voice right now.

This is not what anyone else would say is important. It’s identifying which items are causing you the most stress – or desire – right now.

Put a number 1 next to the thing that feels most important in your gut. If you could only do one thing on this list to make your life feel better what would it be?

Then, keep working your way down. What’s the next most important thing? Then the next after that?

It’s a good idea to stop around number 5 if you can, otherwise it can start to feel a bit overwhelming. (If there are two things that are equal, in your mind, don’t worry – just pick as best you can.)

Some of these may be small things (pay a specific medical bill), some of them may be big categories (unpack house).

This will help you figure out where to start from within the chaos.

The goal isn’t to finish the list. The goal is making sure your time, attention, and energy is going where it will make the most impact to your state of mind and wellbeing.

There are so many ways to make lists or organise things, and it’s tempting to the think that the more complex the system the better it is.

But under these circumstances, I think the best way to organise the brain is the simplest:

A blank piece of white printer paper.

That’s it.

No matter the clutter piling up around you, there is a clean, crisp white sheet that can contain any and everything you want to put into it.

Featured photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

Please Take

On my walk home from my chiropractor session yesterday, I came across this bag of apples that a neighbour had left on the wall outside their house.

‘Please take’, the note said.

It was a delightful surprise. A wonderful kind of generosity – no explanations or expectations, no strings attached, no effort. Just an anonymous desire to share the bounty with others.

I slipped one in my pocket to take home, as a treat for Rosie with her lunch.

As I finished walking home, I wondered: both about giving and taking.

What am I putting out into the world with the simple offer of ‘Please take’? Is there more I can give in this way – not with effort or control, but with the simple gesture of releasing it into the world.

What am I taking with the simple gratitude and openness that let me take this apple? So much has been offered to me, and it’s wonderful to take a moment to honour those gifts. Can I accept these with the same grace; without apology or self-denial?

I find it so easy to assume that I am taking too much. Particularly from the people I care about. I am unfamiliar with uncomplicated acceptance. For much of my life, I branded myself a thief for the act of taking – even whtn the gift was offered – and push gifts away.

Yet the more I can inhabit a place of open gratitude, and accept with open arms what is being given, the richer my life is, and the stronger my bonds are to the source of the gift – be that a friend, a stranger, or life itself.

Please take.

What other treasures is the world offering that are simply there for the taking?

Am I walking slowly enough to notice them, or am I simply zipping by?

Can I see these moments without needing a sign?

Nothing you are feeling is wrong

Today, I had a session with Ben Bridger. These sessions of McTimoney Chiropractic work not only make my body feel better; he always sends me out the door thinking as well.

Today, there were two wonderful and timely insights.

One: Sometimes it’s really useful and good to feel lazy. No one can be stimulated all the time, it’s not healthy.

This feeling can be a wonderful reminder from our bodies to stop, slow down, rest a bit. (Something I have been finding it very difficult to do as I am adjusting back to ‘normal’ life.)

Two: “Nothing you are feeling is wrong.” Post-treatment life involves a heady mix of emotions/sensations. It’s hard not to judge these feelings or want to change them.

This was exactly what I needed to hear. And still true for the phase of my life that awaits beyond today.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Petals

First: red
A soft, silken coin
Pressed to the lips
Clenched in the fist
Your private treasure
Found fallen
No less precious for that

Then: white
Like a feather
Dropped in flight
Stolen
Reclaimed
Cast into a puddle
Crushed by playground hands

Found: Pink
Perfect, pristine petal
An offered consolation
Lost in your tailwinds
How could I forget?
The petals we are given
Pale next to those we find

Photo by A.C. Smith

Writing for an invisible audience

“Is it worth it to speak your mind and your truth, in fiction or otherwise, if an audience, even if it is an audience of one, is never promised? Does it matter?” – Ocean Vuong

The MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ fellows were announced this week. I always find it a treat tolearn about these extraordinary individuals making a difference in the world.

I’ve only dipped a toe in so far, but today was wowed by the works of this amazing poet.

The quote above is from Ocean Vuong’s MacArthur video. He is talking about the driving question behind his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

I had to stop the video to play this part again.

The first time I watched Ocean Vuong’s video it was on very low volume. Vuong’s voice drops near the end, which made the last phrase even harder to catch.

So I misheard. The quote I heard him say was ‘Is it worth it to speak your mind if an audience…is never promised? It doesn’t matter.’

So far, I have been writing this blog invisibly. Yes, it is publicly viewable, drifting in the open waters of the internet. But only one other person in the world knows where to find it.

With this blog, it has felt liberating to be able to create in open anonymity. There’s the thrill of hitting ‘publish’ and knowing the words are out there, but I’m still protected by obscurity.

But it doesn’t always feel this way.

Obscurity is only appealing when we choose it.

For my playwriting and other creative writing endeavours, the lack of an audience almost always feels lonely. I have written plays wondering, ‘Will anyone ever read this? Does it matter?’

So many times I have felt my work was selfish or impractical, because I was not working to a deadline or for money.

But that actually doesn’t mean I was doing it for only myself. I was writing for an audience – just one that hasn’t shown up yet.

To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing for just ourselves or our own pleasure. But I’m writing to connect and to reach out into the world with words. I’m thinking of others when I’m writing – and I know I’m not alone in approaching this way.

Vuong’s real quote focused on the question, but my mind created its own answer. That’s a lovely thing, I think. This misheard quote made me feel seen, and comforted. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘These are the questions I have asked myself a million times. And this is the answer I need.’

I’m not making work for no one. Or making work for myself alone. I’m making work for an audience who has not been promised, but is out there somewhere.

For all artists, there is no guarantee that anyone will ever find our work, or at least not the people we intend it for.

But it doesn’t matter.

There is beauty in the act of making art, regardless of the outcome. There is a solidity to imagining creating for that ‘someday audience’, rather than our own empty archive boxes.

It is a powerful and generous thing to share our truth. It is not frivolous to devote resources to these creations.

Our work is still a gift to the world, as long as it is created with that intention. Even if the world isn’t quite ready to receive it.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

This is how you keep lilies from staining everything

Lilies are beautiful. There is something magical about the unparalleled optimism of watching those big star-shaped flowers throw themselves open to the world.

However, they can also be a big old mess as they start to age and the pollen falls – or if you accidentally bump one!

If you’ve been unlucky enough to have this pollen stain your clothing – or even worse, your furniture – you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

For me, the real trigger to takc action was not too long ago, when we got some beautiful flowers that triggered Zach’s allergies. (Why? Yet again, pollen! And lots of allergy-prone folks can have issues with these.)

The bouquet was a lovely gift and we didn’t want to throw it out. That’s when I heard about this…

You can simply remove these bits of the stamens!

Martha Stewart does an excellent demo video, though to be honest, it is so simple, you almost don’t need a video.

Basically, you just reach in, give a gentle tug, and the pollen carrying parts of the plant come right out.

I’ve sometimes found this easier to do little piece at a time rather than grabbing them all in one go – it’s less efficient, but also less likely I will drop pollen on the table in the process!

I also discovered recently that you can usually do this even with lilies that haven’t completely opened yet. Just grip the protruding stamens and give a tug.

And just a word of warning, it might stain your fingers a bit, so make sure you’re got very dry hands before you start, and get in quick with the soap and water once you’re done.

Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

The best yoga classes on the internet – DoYogaWithMe.com

I first discovered DoYogaWithMe.com through the magic of Google. I was looking for online yoga videos, and this popped up. There was no looking back. 🙂

This post is going to sound like an advertisement, but it’s actually not – just a tribute to a wonderful website that I have really enjoyed over the years.

They have a huge archive of free videos targeted at all levels of practice, and have seen me through many life changes.

You can sort the videos by difficulty, length and style, so it’s really easy to find something that suits your needs on any given day.

When I was more active and had a regular yoga practice, I enjoyed the more challenging videos. (They have a teacher with the brilliant name Fiji McAlpine, and her classes are fab.)

When I was pregnant, I bookmarked my favourite prenatal videos (like this one and this one).

After giving birth, this 20 minute video with Ron Stewart provided just the right balance of energy and gentleness I needed. His unapologetically positive attitude was just the pick me up I needed, and helped me get excited about starting to move again. (At least, during the moments where I wasn’t so sleep deprived that every spare moment was spent in bed.)

More recently, I’ve been really excited by their programmes, like a 7-day or 30-day challenge that combine classes to give you a programme or goal to work towards. (This beginner one is free!)

As I begin the process of trying to rebuild my fitness, I’ve found this to be a wonderful resource. Mostly, I’ve just been focusing on doing a one-off easy video when I can. But I’m hoping to be able to tackle one of these challenges in the next couple of months.

After so many years of using their videos, I decided to sign up for an annual subscription. Partly this was because it felt like a lovely thank you for the hours of fitness support I had gotten from them; and part of it was pure self-interest, as there are some fantastic sessions you need to pay to unlock.

That said, you don’t need any experience or any cash to get started with them – just an internet connection and a willingness to set aside enough time to do a video.

Bonus: they have a weekly newsletter that gives you the run down on all the new stuff, and also serves as a little reminder to make room in your schedule for Yoga. (There’s a box in the sidebar that lets you sign up.) It’s wonderful to have their bulletin arrive in my inbox once a week.

This week, they opened with this wonderful quote:

“Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.” 
– Ludwig Borne

Isn’t that lovely?

Whether you’re a devoted practitioner or just yoga-curious, I highly recommend DoYogaWithMe.com. It’s a great way to bring a bit more fitness and mindfulness into our lives, no matter the circumstances.