Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Opportunities and Inspirations to Write

As part of my ongoing professional development I get to attend regular writing for health and personal development workshops. 

This brings me into contact with other practitioners' ideas and techniques, enables a reflective space for me and an opportunity to engage with my own writing - which I'm aiming to do more of. 

In this spirit I attended the Breathing Space Conference in North Wales last November organised by poetry therapist, Jill Teague.

Morning in Maentwrog

There were a range of workshops whose titles and descriptions were so engaging and poetic that choosing was difficult. I picked mythic journeys and storytelling, dramatic monologue, memoir writing, and Ekphrastic poetry. This last because I had no idea what it was.    

An Ekphrastic poem is described by the Poetry Foundation as "a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning."

In the workshop facilitated by Jill, I chose a postcard depicting The Manneport of Etretat by Claude Monet. Jill asked us to observe or 'behold' the painting we'd chosen for ten minutes. And then to write. The experience of actively looking at the painting took me to a memory of days I'd spent as a child with my family at Durdle Door, in Dorset. 

I enjoyed remembering this. The sea was sparkly, the sun was shining, my father was swimming to the Door and back, while my sister and I paddled our feet from the steep, shingle slope in the clear, gentle ripples.  Our Mum watched on in sunglasses and full make up - the epitomy of glamour always - from a wool tartan rug, anchored at the corners by large round pebbles. 

Later, from that memory, I wrote a poem.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Reasons To Be Cheerful

It's February. We've already had three months of the light fading early. Some days the weather's cold and crisp, on others stormy and wet. At this time of year it can be challenging to be cheerful.  

Our writing exercise Reasons To Be Cheerful is inspired by the lyrics of Ian Drury and The Blockhead's song Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3.

It also fits with the gratitude practice which is gaining in popularity and impact. This suggests writing three things you're grateful for each night before sleep. (Link below)

Reasons To Be Cheerful: Part 1

Write down as many reasons to be cheerful you can think of. Let your pen flow, be specific. Here are some:

  •     an open fire
  •     crocuses - purple and orange
  •     the big blue moon last week
  •     pets - a small tortoise shell cat,  a black rescue cat, two Newfoundland dogs
  •     turmeric tea   

Part 2 
Pick one and write about it for 10 - 15 mins. Write why it makes you cheerful, describe it in as much detail as you can using all your senses. Get in touch with the feelings it inspires as you write. Write about the feeling.  

Part 3
Share your reasons to be cheerful with some one else.

Here are Ian Drury's Reasons To Be Cheerful

And a link to: The Science Behind Gratitude 

This blogpost first appeared on The WordTherapy Centre blog.
The WordTherapy Centre is run by Diane Medhurst and Christine Hollywood

Monday, 8 January 2018

Making Opportunities for Laughing

"Ducks in Ponchos" - see story below

When I was studying how to facilitate writing groups and group dynamics,  I remember one of the tutors saying it was good to bring laughter into a group.

I've always enjoyed laughing. At the time with little experience of running groups I thought it might be necessary to manufacture these opportunities or even pretend. This is definitely an aspect especially in groups where laughter may not come easily to participants. And it's the basis of Laughter Therapy where, put simply, you pretend it's funny until it really is.

But it's also about being open to the opportunity for laughter, seeing the lightness in things, encouraging laughter that's within to find an outlet in the group.

I began to practice this in the groups I led in schools, holding space for students to write creatively and expressively over 6 - 12 weeks. In today's school system this is a rare and valuable opportunity, giving time for connection and storying in a safely held environment. 

Humour was a useful tool in settling students into an unusual activity. Sometimes they seemed surprised by my attempts at humour - I can't say they were jokes - I hadn't rehearsed them! They were of the moment quips about inconsequential day to day stuff. Often I made light of something I'd done or thought. And then I'd laugh. And  after a while the students joined in. Gradually over the weeks they became more relaxed, were eager to attend and able to share in and appreciate the humour of each others' stories. 

And it was never about laughing at anyone. It was about laughter that connects, not divides, through good humour and fun.

This is not to forget the sadness that can be present in a group too. Writing releases emotion. Laughter and tears are both bodily responses to finding and sharing words. Holding a space that's safe enough to find the words and allow the connection with a bodily felt response is key to the work involved in facilitating a writing group for health and wellbeing. 

Recently in a long running group for a London mental health charity, the photo above of three ducks in the snow provoked hilarious laughter after a theme of coats emerged during the session. Ideas were bouncing around culminating in one participant suggesting the ducks wore ponchos. Her infectious enjoyment set the group off laughing.  We were all involved, there in the present moment laughing together about the juxtaposition of words, ideas, sounds and images and the funniness of ducks and us finding it all so funny. You needed to have been there! The feeling was great.

Laughter is a big connecter. It dissolves awkwardness and barriers between people. It's democratising. It's also good for our health. Isn't it a lovely feeling to have a really good laugh?

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Finding Words for Feelings

I sometimes ask participants to write down how they're feeling at the start of the session. 

They do this anonymously on pieces of paper which are collected in a container, shaken up and then shared by writing them onto the board. This reduces anxiety for group members around sharing how they're feeling. It may also increase openness.

People may find they've used the same word or feeling as someone else.  

The exercise encourages connection and understanding.It also acknowledges, validates and allows expression of the feelings in the room.  

It makes me aware of the range of emotions which can be present in a workshop at any moment. 

These were the feelings at the start of a creative writing workshop for parents of children with disabilities earlier this year.


Monday, 18 September 2017

The Power of Stories

Writing in Response to Others' Stories 

This post relates to the first of several I've written over the summer inspired by current news topics
 Weymouth Harbour Bridge
The inspiration was the release of the film Dunkirk and it's link to Weymouth. It brought to mind a story my cousin Keith told me about his Mum. 

Keith messaged me recently. He'd been in Dublin staying with his friend Padriac. He said, "I told him the story of my Mum's golden rose necklace from the Dunkirk evacuation.  He wrote this poem for me after seeing a picture of it and I think it's wonderful!

Thanks for sharing your story Keith and Mum, Betty. And thanks to Padraic for writing and sharing your poem: 

A French Rose for an English Girl  

He kissed the ground 
he kissed the air.
He waved to strangers on the shore 
there greeting him, as he arrived 
in Weymouth from Dunkirk.

The French arrived without their boots 
from bloody fields in Normandy,
grateful to be saved 
from death, by tiny boats. 

My mother stood above the rail 
and saw survivors climb to land 
from baby ships that risked their lives,
to pluck the French from German hands. 

But a girl of fourteen years 
she still recalls as if last week,
the soldier who threw this gift 
a bracelet that she holds today. 

A dainty silver rose
his precious chain - who knows?
To an English girl in a Weymouth crowd 
a Dorset rose today. 

Why do we kill those we do not know? 
Why to stranger do we throw 
our dearest charm in life?  -
To the young English girl who 
became my father's wife.