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.

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Poems From The Library

Today is World Poetry Day and I had the pleasure and privilege of accompanying a group of students to our local care home, where they performed poetry they had written for the residents. It was a wonderful and moving experience to see these young people engage with such care, kindness, and interest with the older generation in our community. It was also a true testament to the power of poetry to move and inspire.

The students involved revelled in the opportunity to create poetry, several of them never having attempted anything like it before. The whole experience reinforced my own love of the poetic word and prompted me to reflect on my own experience of writing poetry. Unlike with other forms of writing, I often find that poems materialise inside me in a very natural way. Writing stories, articles, and blog posts usually takes a conscious effort of considered construction, but poetry often seems gifted to me.

I heard a wonderful TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shares Ruth Stone’s poetic process:

“…when she felt it coming – because it would, like, shake the earth under her feet – she knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to – in her words – run like hell. And she would, like, run like hell to the house. And she’d be getting chased by this poem. And the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times, she wouldn’t be fast enough. So she’d be, like, running and running and running and the – she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would, like, barrel through her. And she would miss it. And she said it would continue on across the landscape looking, as she put it, for another poet.”

My own experience of being discovered (or chased!) by an emerging poem is not quite so dramatic but I can completely relate to the idea of a poem coming to the poet! Don’t get me wrong, my poems don’t just blink into life fully formed before me. I usually find that they sneak up on me and then just part of it will just appear to my consciousness very suddenly. It is like seeing something glinting in the grass and when I pick it up it becomes a thread for me to follow. I follow the thread and hope I can figure out where it was supposed to lead. I weave it into something new and hopefully capture that moment in time.

Lat summer, I was lucky enough to stay at Gladstone’s Library – something which I HIGHLY recommend to any writer or bookworm – and my time there really rekindled my love of writing poetry. One poem found me whilst I was writing in the library late one night and I thought I would share it with you today:

Night birds sing their sunset tune,

As the eloquence of trees is cloaked in shadow.

The final note rings out the day

And silence envelopes the warm, red brick.

But lights still glow through the leased windows,

And gentle figures sit in quiet reverence,

Breathing deep the ink and parchment dust

Of ages past.

Walked in by layers of words and prayers and panelled oak,

Held close by the carved pillars and balustrades

That guard the ancient knowledge of the library;

They sit

And seek

A knowledge of their own.

Outside the darkness creeps

And chases off the warmth of day

But inside the write by their own cones of light,

Cocooned in the low steady burn of ideas.

And even as the lights dim and blink out,

One

By one

By one,

And heavy heads hit feather pillows, to

Dream

And dream

And dream,

The seemingly slow and silent life of the library,

Carries on it’s endless forays into

History and Destiny and Fantasy,

Because imagination never sleeps.

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.

International Women’s Day 2018

Happy International Women’s Day to my lovely readers.

I had had in my mind some vague idea about doing a big #IWD post: share some books by female authors I love, write about the many inspiring women in my life, give a little glimpse into some of the wonderful women-focused work I’ve been able to be involved in with my students this week…but it just didn’t happen. It’s been so ridiculously busy and I just haven’t had the time to put something together. And at first I was really annoyed with myself for not being organised enough to get it done, and disappointed that a day that means so much to me would go unnoticed on my blog. I considered staying up stupidly late just to get something in before midnight and had the absurd, if fleeting, thought that if I didn’t I would have ‘missed the opportunity’…and then I came to my senses. Because although International Women’s Day IS an important day on the calendar, it is NOT the only opportunity to talk about how awesome women are.

So instead of exhausting myself trying to throw something together I am going to go to bed. I am going to read a few pages of some wonderful books written by wonderful women. And I am going to drift off to sleep reflecting on the amazing conversations I have had today and the lovely moments and opportunities I have had and have been able to offer.

But I just wanted to say to all the incredible women out there, you are magic. I am constantly inspired by the achievements, resilience, and passion of the women I am lucky enough to encounter – thank you for being you.

Borrowed With Thanks

When she woke, it was gone. Everything else was in its rightful place: watch laid out on the bedside table, its gentle tick having lulled her to sleep hours before; earrings placed carefully side by side, hooks aligned so as not to become entangled with the copper filigree leaves that hung below; bracelet creating an uneven circle of shadow, light glinting off the worn, engraved bar bearing a simple motto of encouragement: inspire. But of her necklace there was no sign.

Searching with increasing puzzlement for the gleam of the fine, rose-gold chain, she tried to recall any ‘safe place’ she may have left it, mentally rolling her eyes at her own uncanny ability to sabotage even the simplest of her daily routines.

She lifted each book from the stack by her bed. She rifled through the pages and lifted the dust-covers. She checked inside the pillow cases; unmade and remade the bed; peered under the bed frame; checked in the bathroom and even looked through the wardrobe. Nothing. Not a link or clasp to be found.

With a great air of frustration and disappointment, she gave up the search and got on with her day, feeling distinctly unfinished without the light touch of the chain round her neck. It was a day filled with quiet busyness. She worked in silence whilst grey clouds scudded past the window and a late summer drizzle darkened the panes with silvered rivulets. As the day wore on, she forgot her missing necklace, distracted by imagines worlds and daydreams. It was only after she had eaten supper and headed up the creaking stairs to bed that she recalled it’s absence.

She fell frowning into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, she woke to a dull, misty light filtering through the small bay window. Stretching, she swung her sleep heavy legs out of bed. As she rose, a tiny, unexpected glint if light caught her eye. There, at the foot of the bed, just visible under the fold of her rumpled duvet, was her necklace.

With warm surprise she tugged the duvet back further. Surely she must still be dreaming! She knew how carefully and thoroughly she had checked the bed. But maybe she had not been thorough enough, for there, as she perched back on the edge of the mattress and peered a little closer, without doubt was her necklace.

As she reached out to pick it up, she paused in a moment of surprised curiosity. The necklace was not, as one might expect, lying in a knotted clump but rather in a perfectly cooked pile. When she picked it up, it uncoiled to reveal not one knot, not one tangled link.

How strange, she thought, before fastening the clasp behind her neck and continuing with the business of preparing to face the world.

Her mind already wandering to the tasks that lay ahead, as she remade the bed she missed the tiny folded note that became lost in the folded sheets, like a fallen bonsai leaf in a snow drift. She missed the words hidden within, written in a tiny perfect hand:

Borrowed with thanks. It saved our lives.

Come Home To Rest

The Earth smoulders

With the turning of the season

And the clouds drift down

To kiss the burning land.

A veil of tears

Lands softly on flaming leaves

But even heaven’s weeping

Cannot dull the

Rioting palette

Of autumn’s inferno.

And when the most parts,

Making way for the pale light

Of winter’s promise,

And the chill of year’s end

Arrives on the breath of the hills,

The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,

Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.

Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.

Woodsmoke hangs in the air,

The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.

The world exhales

A long sigh of letting go.

As though, after a long day,

She has come home to rest.

Sacred Stories

Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Off On The Right Foot


This seems like an apt quote for this week as in a few days time I’ll be joining the epic team at Smith Goodfellow PR for their next charity event – climbing the Welsh three peaks to raise money for The Wellspring Kitchen and Crash, two charities working to tackle homelessness and support those who find themselves without a home in the UK. 

That’s right, I’m going to climb some mountains. 

Mountains…plural. 😐 

For those who don’t already know I’m not an uphill sort of person so this will be a challenge – but totally worth it to raise money and awareness for a good cause and spend time with some fabulous people.

If you’d like to donate to either of these worthy causes you can do so here and here. ☺️ 

This Girl Can (and you can too!)

  
I hate running. A lot.

It’s hard work, it does not come naturally to me and I find it boring. Finding it boring makes it even harder work because there is nothing to distract me from the fact that I’m finding it difficult. However, a few months ago I decided that it would be good fun to run a 5km with my hubby. I suggested this to him and we agreed we would go for the Manchester Colour Run 2016. 

At the time I thought this was a great idea because a) it would mean doing something with my hubby (a definite win), b) it would help me keep fit, and c) how hard could it be to run 5km anyway?

As it turns out, very hard indeed. At least it is when you hate running as much as I do.

I started using the treadmill more at the gym to build up some stamina before running outside (where there are hills and roads and stuff – scary). At first I could barely run 1km without it nearly killing me but slowly I could run further and further. I managed 2km…then 2.5km…then 3km…and then I hit a block. I just couldn’t seem to run further than that. 

Mega frustrating.

There was one day during the summer holidays when I’d had a really good night’s sleep, a reasonably long lie in, a good breakfast (and time for it to go down) and decided to go for a mid morning trip to the gym. On this occasion I magically managed to run 5km!! Granted, the last km nearly killed me but I did it and I was so pleased with myself. I thought that would be it then, I’d do it again and again, I’d get faster and it would feel easier.

Nope.

The next time I went I was back to that 3km road block again. And the time after that, and the time after that, and so on for 8 long weeks.

I lost heart pretty quickly; I do not like not being able to do things I feel I should be able to do.

It has been a very long, busy week at work. Every day this week I’ve been in early and left late. So when I got home today, going to the gym was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I moaned about it, pulled faces and posted a *reluctantly heads to the gym* tweet. 

I decided I wasn’t going to push myself too hard (I really was tired) and agreed I would slow my pace a little and just set the treadmill to do a 25 minute run. I would do what I could.

As I was running, I started thinking about all the year 11 students I work with at school. How frustrating it is when they choose not to put in the effort. How maddening it is when they say they just “can’t” do it, when I know that they can, or that they could with just a bit more focus and hard work.

I realised that that mindset really does make all the difference.

[Growth mindset is one of our big ‘things’ at work this year; I’m not going to go into it all now but if you’re not already aware of it you should go and look it up. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept!]

As I was thinking about this and what I could do to motivate these students, to get them to think positively about themselves and their abilities, I somehow, without realising it, ran 2.5km without much effort. (Usually by that point I’m already flagging in a major way.) The treadmill switched automatically to a cool down…but I wasn’t done thinking.

I reset it for another 25 minute run and kept going.

I realised that they way I feel about running is probably how a lot of the kids I work with feel about school; it’s hard work, it’s boring and it doesn’t come naturally. But I know, in spite of these barriers, that these young people can achieve something to be proud of.

I was wracking my brain to think of things I could do to re-engage them with the process of learning. Getting them to understand that making mistakes is part of getting better, and to use those mistakes as tools for improving.

That’s when I hit 5km.

It was a good feeling but, honestly, I was less interested in what I’d achieved and more interested in how I’d done it. By slowing my pace by a tiny amount (0.2km/hr) and keeping my mind busy, I had managed, with relative ease, to do something I had been struggling with for months. Could I find a way to apply this to my students learning? Or rather get them to apply it to their own learning?

I haven’t quite come up with the answer to that one but I’m sure it must be possible. It will certainly be in my thinking when I’m interacting with students from now on.

There was one more thing I learnt during my gym trip tonight. The woman  I was running next to was running faster and had run far further than me. But that didn’t matter. I knew that what I had managed was a big achievement for me. And I need to pass that on to my students. I need to find a way to say: Ignore the person in your form who seems to be getting A* after A* with very little effort ; you don’t know what they put in to get there. Ignore the person next to you who has written 3 paragraphs for your 1; more isn’t necessarily better. Comparing your work to others is unhelpful; compare your effort instead and just focus on putting your very best effort into your work. If you are still struggling, slow it down a bit but don’t stop and don’t give up.

This ended up being much longer and much more convoluted than I intended, but somehow it felt like and important message to share. Because it applies to us all in whatever context we find ourselves. Whether you are training to run 5km, 10km or a marathon; whether you are preparing for your GCSEs, A levels or degree; whether you’re working towards a promotion, trying to keep your house clean, writing a book or raising children (or several of these thing at once), keep going, slow it down if you need to, don’t compare yourself to others and DON’T GIVE UP! Your journey is your own and it’s just as important as the destination.

If this girl can, so can you.