NaNoWriMo Check In – Days 3 & 4

Day 3 of #NaNoWriMo and #wrimohero’s prompt was #calltoadventure – how do you generate ideas? I get a lot of my ideas from the environment around me. Places, found objects, the weather – my imagination spots the most random and insignificant things as I’m going about my day and runs riot with them! I collect these scraps of ideas, along with words, quotes, and anything else that takes my fancy, in my commonplace book. When the ideas are ready to become part of my story, they worm their way back out of the pages and into my writing.

Day 4 of NaNoWriMo is behind us and the prompt for #wrimohero was NaNoCheckIn – 6,668 words? The answer is yes! And more! I’ve had the best start to my first ever NaNo and have managed to bash out over 11,000 words so far! I’m glad to be getting ahead of the word count goal because, by all accounts, things get tough in weeks 2 and 3! So far, though, I am truly enjoying getting this story out onto the page. I was worried that I didn’t know where it was going to go but really, the story is writing itself, I’m just tapping the keys. I’m super excited to see where it goes.

Fellow NaNo-ers, how’s it going?

Autumn Mornings

Last September we got a puppy. She turned our lives upside down (mostly for the better – who can resist a happy puppy face in the morning and when you get home from work?) but probably the biggest change she made is that I now actually HAVE to get up when my alarm goes off in the morning. No more snoozing. No more lying awake but savouring the warmth of my duvet. I am not a morning person but I have actually found that, once I’m up and out, I genuinely enjoy my morning walks with the pup. Hubby and I alternate the morning walk so we both get alternate days where we can be a tad more lazy/slow to wake up. But on my walking days, even when it’s raining, it’s nice to start the day with some fresh air. I can listen to my audiobook or some season or mood appropriate music to set me up for the day. Sometimes I blog as I walk (like I am now) with breaks, of course, to throw a stick or chase my playful not-quite-a-pup-anymore, or just to watch her revel in the general joy of being a dog off the lead. It’s lovely.

But…

Now we are getting into autumn proper and winter is creeping it’s way toward the northern hemisphere, our morning walks are happening in the pitch black. I’m not so much watching the pup playing as I I am watching a disembodied LED collar trace circles round the park. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year – the boots! The scarves! The autumnal food and music! It’s my favourite. And I still enjoy stepping out into the crisp morning air. But, this morning, as I walked, I couldn’t help but pen a realistic portrait of how I felt…

The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • In This Moment

    Outside my window… the sky stretches wide and blue overhead, streaked with wisps of white. The air is warm and still. The street is quiet. A summer weekday morning lull has settled over the neighbourhood. There is a white butterfly flutter past, stark against the red brick of the house across the road.

    I am thinking… that I should probably get on with the work I have to do but I’m enjoying taking a moment to relax so I’m going to ignore that nagging should, just for a little while.

    I am thankful… for the school holidays and the opportunities they give me. For the incredible friends and family I have around me. For the opportunities that are presenting themselves and the support from those around me to take them.

    In the kitchen… there is currently complete chaos as the whole room is about to be ripped out and rebuilt! That’s the work I should be doing…finishing packing it up…just a little bit more lazy time first.

    I am wearing… black treggings and a rust t-shirt – comfy clothes for a mooching round the house kind of day.

    I am creating… a novel, a blog series, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content – so much of my creating these days is in writing form. It feels new and exciting and I love it.

    I am going… to get around to packing up the kitchen…really soon…honest…

    I am wondering… if I can squeeze a nap in somewhere today.

    I am reading… Notes On A Nervous Planet, The Summer That Melted Everything, A Wrinkle In Time, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince…this list goes on and on.

    I am praying for… for calm.

    I am hoping… for a smooth kitchen installation over the next couple of weeks.

    I am looking forward to… a trip to Gladstone’s library with my mum in a few weeks time.

    I am learning… that sometimes we have to accept uncomfortable truths and unpleasant feelings in order to deal with them and move on.

    Around the house… it’s all very chaotic! The kitchen is in disarray, the dining room is piled high with boxes containing the new kitchen, the lounge currently has old furniture we’re getting rid of waiting to be collected later today, the main bathroom is tile-less and covered in plaster dust ready for its own makeover…I’m trying to focus on how fabulous it will all be when the work is done.

    I am pondering… the direction I want to take.

    A favourite quote for today… (I’m cheating and using a whole poem…)

    One of my favourite things… is curling up under a blanket with a good book or a good film and forgetting the world for a bit.

    A few plans for the rest of the week:

    Finish packing up the kitchen.

    Take some photos for bookstagram.

    Watch some TV.

    Read some books.

    Nap.

    A peek into my day…

    A Hundred Tiny Pleasures

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    There is so much joy to be found in little things. This is a fact that seems to be popping up in front of me on a regular basis at the moment: in the final chapter of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive he lists just that – reasons to stay alive – and for the most part they are tiny every day pleasures; in a bookshop in Bristol I came across a little box filled with little cards each of which had on one side a simple but appealing photograph and on the other a small pleasure; in one of my favourite writing companion books, The Five Minute Writer, the activity I came across this week was to list as many tiny pleasures as I could think of. It’s a message that comes up in podcasts and blog posts, novels and research papers, TED talks and tweets: it is the little things that make a happy life. So I decided, rather than completing that writing activity in my notebook, to list my tiny pleasures here. Sometimes we need reminding of where those tiny pleasures can be found so I hope this list helps you find some of your own. I plan to come back and add to this post whenever I think of more. Tell me your tiny pleasures in the comments.

    Freshly washed bedding.

    Walking in the sunshine with a slight breeze playing across your skin.

    The joy of a puppy running through long grass.

    A long hot shower.

    The smell of a bookshop.

    A new notebook.

    A book that makes you laugh out loud.

    A book that makes you cry.

    Summer evenings in the garden.

    The feeling of accomplishment that comes with creating something – anything – new. (It wouldn’t have existed without you.)

    Fresh flowers.

    Music that gives you goosebumps.

    That certain slant of morning light.

    The peaceful silence of a sacred space.

    A child’s laughter.

    Sweet, fresh watermelon.

    The smell of freshly baked bread.

    A handwritten letter.

    Poetry that speaks to your soul.

    A whispered “I love you”.

    An unexpected compliment.

    Knowing you made a difference.

    Rediscovering a childhood favourite.

    The steam rising from a cup of hot coffee.

    The sweetness of chocolate as it melts on your tongue.

    Standing on top of a hill or mountain, looking down on the world.

    The sound of a stream bubbling in the country side.

    Walking through a forest when no-one else is around.

    The moment of silent solitude after you shut off the car engine but before you get out.

    Fingertips grazing bare skin.

    The crackling of a real fire.

    The smell of woodsmoke.

    Mum’s perfume.

    Laughing until you cry and your belly aches.

    Reading something that seems written just for you.

    Unexpected quiet moments.

    Walking barefoot on warm sand.

    Sunset skies.

    Moonshine on water.

    The reflection of mountains in a perfectly still lake.

    Reuniting with friends.

    Having your hair brushed or played with.

    Unusual cloud formations.

    Watching fish swim.

    The elegance of ballet dancers moving in perfect unison.

    Reading something so immersive you forget you’re reading.

    Finding someone you can be silent with.

    Felling the intricate power of your own body.

    Homemade soup.

    Finding the perfect gift for someone.

    A good night’s sleep.

    Getting to finish work early.

    The cool quiet of caves.

    Lists.

    The first time you hear birdsong in spring.

    Blossom trees in full bloom.

    The texture of tree bark.

    Being able to see the stars.

    Countries where the air smells of spices.

    Watching a sleeping dog dream.

    Finding the perfect pen.

    A cold drink on a hot day.

    Finding the perfect position in the bath.

    The smell of Christmas.

    Singing at the top of your voice.

    Meeting someone who you feel instantly comfortable with.

    Philosophical conversations at 3am.

    Losing track of time.

    Sitting round a bonfire with friends.

    Chunky knit blankets.

    Comfy boots.

    Oversized sweaters.

    The colour of the turning leaves in autumn.

    The taste of parkin.

    Scarves.

    Finding a bargain.

    Old leather.

    Libraries.

    The sharp and sweet taste of fruit dipped in chocolate.

    Sitting down after a long day.

    Curling up with a book whilst it rains outside.

    The magic of thunderstorms.

    The smell of petrichor.

    Discovering a new recipe.

    Whimsical art.

    Finding someone who loves the same books/music/films as you and gushing together for hours.

    Putting the finishing touches on a newly decorated room.

    The ache in your legs after a long walk.

    The smell of the circus.

    Driving alone at night.

    Snowfall.

    Rainbows in waterfalls.

    Finding the perfect Pooh-stick.

    Successfully skimming a stone.

    Days with no plans.

    The first page of a new notebook.

    Finding trousers that fit perfectly.

    Exciting socks.

    Old typewriters.

    Really great hugs.

    Stone cottages with roses growing round the door.

    Realising you are not alone.

    Being Emotionally Honest

    This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

    When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

    Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

    Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

    It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

    What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

    I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

    Reading:

    The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

    Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

    Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

    Circe by Madeline Millar

    (I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

    Listening To:

    The Happy Place

    The Guilty Feminist

    Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

    The Quibbler

    Made of Human

    Photographing:

    Books

    Nature

    My dog!

    Writing:

    Poetry

    Blog posts

    A young adult fantasy novel…

    Journaling:

    Quotes

    Doodles

    Tracking sleep, mood, steps

    Daily gratitude

    This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

    What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?

    Reach Out

    It’s so close you can taste it. You can see the possibility solidifying into a reality, just a little way ahead, but it’s fragile: fuzzy and fluctuating like a mirage in the desert heat. But it’s there. You could make it real. You have to reach out and grasp hold of that dream. You have to pull it from that sacred space of imagination and daydreaming into the clear light of day. It may not materialise with one tug. It may take dozens. Hundreds. It may take all your strength and discipline not to let go. Not to give up and let it drift back into that distant and untouchable plain. It may not look exactly how you imagined if you manage to wrench it forth into the world. But you may also find that you can shape it and grow into it. If you want to make it real you’ll have to hold to it with everything you can. Breathe life into it.

    Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if it. It’s your dream. Reach out and make it real.

    Finding Happiness

    Today is International Happiness Day. I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently; I think I am generally a happy sort of person. I have a wonderful life and there are many things in my everyday that make me very happy indeed. I also sometimes feel profoundly unhappy, for no discernible reason, and subsequently make myself feel even more unhappy by berating myself for feeling unhappy in the first place. I am surrounded by happy people, but I am struck by the fluctuations in their happiness too: one of my very dearest friends has recently suffered a blow which is causing her deep unhappiness, whilst another has just experienced what will probably be one of the happiest moments of her life. Happiness is a strange and intangible thing which can both live inside the darkest of times and can dominate whilst unhappiness resides within it.

    I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the many small things that can be little happinesses in themselves and that can contribute to a bigger happiness. I believe these little everyday happinesses are fundamental to our ability to cope when we are faced with unhappy events and moments. I believe that everyday happinesses are different for everyone but that they DO exist for everyone. I encourage you to create a ‘happy list’ of your own, to help you find comfort when it seems there is none. For now, I’ll leave you with a snippet of mine:

    – Watching a puppy chase it’s tail or run to its hearts content.

    – Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt – especially if the thing that made you laugh wasn’t actually that funny…

    – Reading something that speaks directly to your soul.

    – Receiving one of those really great hugs that feels like it’s squeezed all of your brokenness back together and finding that afterwards you feel just a bit stronger than before.

    – Seeing spring flowers begin to emerge.

    – Hearing a certain song that you just can’t stop yourself from singing and dancing along to.

    – Dancing.

    – Singing songs from musicals at the top of your voice.

    – The smell of that particular moisturiser that reminds you of mum and makes you feel like a child again.

    – The taste of risotto that reminds you of dad and makes you feel like a child again.

    – Toast with lots of lurpak, cut up into small squares, because that’s how gran used to make it.

    – Knowing there are people who love you no matter what.

    What are some of your everyday happinesses?

    The Joy of A Moment

    Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

    In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

    I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

    I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

    I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

    Wishing you all a peaceful week.

    It’s #TimeToTalk, Now

    It’s easy to be too busy

    Or say

    It’s not the right time

    To worry that you’ll make it worse

    So you accept their fumbled

    “Fine.”

    It’s hard to find the moment

    For hearing truth

    And depth

    But really we’re just finding excuses

    To keep ourselves

    Deaf

    To all the pain that gathers

    When people can’t speak

    Truth

    And have to keep it bottled up

    For fear of hurting

    You

    But what happens when you leave it?

    When you let the silence

    Grow?

    What if their pain is your pain too

    But not asking means

    You’ll never

    Know?

    So let’s all breathe together

    Hold hands and take

    A dive

    Into conversation

    With neighbours

    Strangers

    Friends

    And lovers

    Because

    Now

    Is The Time.

    • JH

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.