I recently entered Byron Writer’s Festival flash fiction contest. This year the feature word was “sunlight”. Taking this keyword, I thought about the times I’ve been in the open water early in the morning. The rising sun hits the water in a narrow band and when you’re in that band, you can’t see anything to the front, back or side of you. It’s easy to panic in that moment when you can’t see the people you’re swimming with.
My piece “Escaping the Vortex” focused on that feeling but with a twist. For once I sent a piece away that I was happy with and sent it off with the thought of if you don’t enter, you can’t win. A month wandered by and finally the results came in. I was looking on the festival’s Facebook page and saw the link to the winners. I thought oh well never mind. I decided to click through and have a look at the pieces the judges felt were worthy of winning. At the bottom of the page there was a list of pieces that were shortlisted and suddenly I recognised my own name and my title. It was the most spellbinding moment of my writing career to date. Out of 170 entries, mine had made it into the top 10.
I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who assisted with inspiration and motivation for Escaping the Vortex which will be on display during the Byron Writer’s Festival
After many attempts at different genres, I’ve finally found my home in the world of historical fiction. I’ve been a history buff since my earliest school days in what was then referred to as “First Settlement City” (it was the 80s and the powers that be considered it an appropriate reference). The journey of those who have walked before us has always been intriguing to me and makes me look at the world with different eyes. What hopes and dreams were in the minds and hearts of those who landed on the beach under the red cliffs?
I’m writing this blog post in the cafe at the Queensland Art Gallery a recorder of history and the thoughts of those who have walked before us. Many people criticise the industrial facade of this building but I have always loved this area and the knowledge it contains. In its own way, the art gallery building is a historical record, a testament to the design thinking of the 1980s.
Writing historical fiction lets me enjoy my love of looking back in wonder and lose myself in finding the stories that are lost due to the human focus of “moving forward”.
Life seems to move at an ever increasing pace and we move further away from our roots on the land. Writing in fresh air and nature journaling can help to relieve stress. If you’ve never journaled before, then these tips can help you get started and let you discover the grounding effect of nature.
It doesn’t matter what you use. Currently I’m using a Moleskine Classic Large (which I got in an Officeworks sale for $5) but if for some reason I don’t have that with me then I’ve jotted notes on my phone, in a cheap exercise book or on the back of boarding pass.
While consistency of practice is good, don’t make journaling another task on your to do or hold yourself to unrealistic schedules. Being unrealistic or overly strict in your approach to journaling puts yourself at risk of further stress. I journal when something inspires me, when I’m in a new place or when I’m struggling with an issue or anxiety. It can be months between journal entries.
Find some journaling prompts to help you get started. PyschCentral has 30 self reflection and self discovery prompts to help out. I keep print outs of prompts and turn them into flash cards so that I can randomly select a prompt when struggling for an idea. This approach also works for experienced journalers; as it provides an opportunity to deeply reflect on a topic.
Find inspiring places to start your journaling and grounding journal. These do not have to be far flung Indian ashrams but simple local places that speak to you. One of my favourite places to journal is Sea, Salt and Vine Café in Scarborough. Over a coffee or cold drink (depending on the whether) I can people watch, dog watch, look at the water and boats in the harbour or look further out towards the Glasshouse Mountains and Bribe Island. There is no end of inspiration and grounding opportunities.
Another option to get started is to go to a workshop or group. Paperbark Writer runs workshops and nature journaling groups in south east Queensland. Nature journaling combines art and writing. In my journal, I have a very badly drawn baby hippopotamus from a trip to Taronga Park Zoo; this was my first experience of nature journaling and it’s something that I intend continuing.
Benefits of Journaling
Journaling can assist you to work through problems in your life by giving you distance from the problem. By writing your worries and troubles down, you can gain perspective as the emotional reaction is removed from words on paper. By reducing your worries in this way, journaling can assist you to re-ground yourself in the present moment and assist in a journey of mindful living.
A journal can become your secret confidant, you can share those hopes and dreams that you have for your future. By sharing them in the journal, they can begin to move from wishes to concrete actions.
You’re never too old or too young to enjoy the grounding benefits of journaling in nature. Take the plunge and enjoy it.
NB I don’t accept sponsorship for blog posts. Any people, businesses, websites or tools mentioned in my posts are because I personally have found them helpful.
This piece was written in the coffee shop of the National Museum of Australia, Canberra in January 2019.
The problem with being a writer is that you see so many stories from snippets of conversation, like the ladies at the table next to me who are speaking about a person they know with mental health issues and how she tried to knock on the door but she didn’t answer and the young boy missed out on going camping. The young girl in the wheelchair, with both legs in turquoise casts to the knee, asking if she can have Facebook or Snapchat, her parents are saying no but trying not to get into a public argument. Now the old ladies beside me have moved on to how the woman got pregnant to a guy just out of jail but due to abnormalities the baby had to be aborted. The judgmental friend has decided that it was alcohol related. How did that girl in the wheelchair end up with casts on her legs- did she fall or where the holidays a convenient time to have surgery? The waitress rushes round dropping tea off at this table and then cleaning that one for the next people.
Across Lake Burley Griffin the library looks stern and stately. It’s a more fitting monument than the triangular scaffolding atop the new Parliament House. The table diagonally opposite me are talking about one of their family who’s moved jobs because the boss at the current job is useless and they won’t cope without this person. I am always amazed at the arrogance of some people. Another couple have joined the crowd outside. They talk softly possibly in an Indian dialect as the rain drops get heavier. A multi colored boat meanders across the lake, its pink white and black paint jarring against the brown, green, grey and blue of the natural landscape. In front of the library there’s a car it seems to be off the road, maybe its shelter for tonight. A ute with flashing orange lights has pulled up behind it- some sort of security patrol
The Eccles cake so inviting in the cabinet has turned out to be too sweet. I’m dissappointed- it has none of the spice that mine had. At the table beside me sits a middle aged woman with a take away coffee She is engrossed in her phone; a magpie sings to us- perched on a branch. that doesn’t look big enough for him. I look at my watch and realise that I have spent an hour here, people watching, developing characters from the vignettes of life. I thank the waitress and leave – mind and body re-energised.
Stopping for coffee and cake provides sustenance and inspiration. Photo taken at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.
Like a number of my fellow creative types, I live with a monster that dwells in my own head – in my case that monster is anxiety – the constant “you’re not good enough; why are you bothering” spiel has at times been an all day ear worm for me. The brain monster causes me pain and aims to stop me from chasing my dreams. As you can see from the lack of blog posts, the monster has been successful recently in stopping me sharing my thoughts and working on my creative projects.
One of the ways that I keep the monster under some form of control (I imagine it’s a wayward dragon that needs constant training) is to use meditation. I have tried a number of meditations over the years – from CD based guided meditations for managing my anxiety and panic attacks (saying the word “calm” to myself can still take me to a mental image of lying peacefully on a lake in a rowboat looking up at the sky); apps like Headspace and Smiling Mind and meditation following yoga (especially when I can look at the clouds in the sky and hear the waves lapping the beach). All of these meditations have helped me in different ways to gain clarity in my thoughts and release the creative within. Stopping for a few moments and concentrating just on being not on doing and not on judging enables me to unplug and re-charge.
I’ve recently started doing the full moon meditations offered by Karma Being Natural Therapies. These meditations, which are also available as recordings on Facebook, are held at the beach where gentle waves lap at the shore and the moon rises triumphantly over an island. There is a calmness in the air and the scent of the sea clears the nostrils and you inhale only good vibes. The meditations I have participated in have used sea creatures and the sea as a way of obtaining clarity; through the meditations I have swum with manta rays and platypus; with the creatures sharing their wisdom and encouraging our personal development. I come away from these meditations feeling re-energised in my creative endeavours and the monster in my head is quieted.
Is meditation the sole key to creative living? I don’t believe that it is; it is simply a tool to assist in moving the psychological blocks out of my creativity’s path. For me creative living requires emotion, learning, practice and sharing. If my creative gifts are not shared with the universe then do they really exist?
In Return to Tipasa, Camus wrote how returning to your homeland can bring you alive again. For me, this is certainly true of my birthplace, Wollongong. Over the years i have moved 1200 kilometres away from my home town although I email fortunate enough to remain by the seaside and experience the beauty the beach lifestyle offers.
However coming home offers me something different, whether it’s the air that is fresher and cooler than the sub-tropical north, the sun that gently warms rather than being a burning orb in the sky turning everything brown or the emotional and spiritual connection I have with this land, a trip south to the homeland brings me alive and I see the world’s beauty through different eyes. There is nothing quite like the south coast of New South Wales, the imposing majesty of the Great Dividing Range to the west with many lookouts giving an awe inspiring view of the ocean and foreshore. The feeling of being part of something bigger than myself and my troubles – I can look at the same mountain range back in Queensland and enjoy the same sea. The wonder that I feel in Mother Nature’s playground provides me with endless thoughts for short stories, historical fiction and photography. My creative spirit is seized with new enthusiasm as soon as my feet hit the sands.
Prior to my most recent trip I had lost a valued part of my soul – swimming. I have a life long love of the beach and the mesmerising tantalising beauty of the sea. I moved away from swimming as enjoyment and made it about competition and pushing myself harder. For an anxious creative type this was a bad move and only resulted in a failed swim and the return of panic attacks. My subconscious demons told me that if I didn’t swim I wouldn’t have another panic attack and I listened to them. I ignored the best anti-anxiety and anti-depressant that nature can provide – the freedom of weightlessness in the sea.
Returning to Wollongong returned me to my love of the sea and in 13.7C water at Beverly Whitfield Pool, Shellharbour I found love again. Thank you Wollongong and thank you Camus for reminding me of the importance of our homelands and their role in personal spiritual revival.
Voluptuous conjures up the image of Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabrigida. Marcel Proust in In Search for Lost Time added intelligence to voluptuous and created the phrase voluptuous intelligence. Since the moment I first laid eyes on this combination of words I fell deeply and hopelessly in love. What a divine concept, the reverence of the space within our skull, the repository of an unknown number of hopes, dreams and stories.
VI – very important, voluptuous intelligence, vamping ingenue (and in the modern world the beginning of an air freshener used to hide the fact that we’re humans with associated bodily functions) and six in Roman numerals. Voluptuous intelligence rolls off the tongue, lilting and turning, showing a flash of ankle here, a hint of skin there. How can we obtain this mystical charm? In my opinion, the journey to voluptuous intelligence is never ending. We can move towards the target by seeking both the beauty and the grotesque of the world and trying to understand them and our place in the world.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; I will not use this post to give you a 5 point plan on finding beauty – that would be an insult to your voluptuous intelligence. I can only share what I find beautiful and see if it sparks something in your brain and soul. Where do I find beauty in my world:
my feet in crisp clear seawater and the sun beating down on my back;
perfect notes hit by a tenor in a 19th Century aria; and
National Trust properties and the feeling of history, of sharing space with those who have travelled this journey before us.
Surrounding myself with books and art allows the beauty of the world to visit me in my cosy hygge home.
Yin and Yang – opposites that give us a stronger whole. In order to have yang (beauty) we must face the world’s yin (the grotesque). Like beauty, the grotesque is a product of our social conditioning. To find the grotesque I look to the media – trauma, terrorism and terrible injustices.
When we seek the beauty and the grotesque and apply the filter of duality provided by Yin and Yang, we increase our empathy and do our part to make the world a better place. The individual pay off is that we move along on our never ending journey to fully aware voluptuous intelligence.
Although it sounds cliched, it is true a journey of a 1,000 miles does indeed start with a single step. In my case, it’s a journey of a 1,000 (or more) keystrokes that was started with 2 fingers: my right pinky on shift and my left pinky on a. Since my earliest days I have loved the written word in all its forms: calligraphy, typewritten, mimeographs with their precious smell, novels, dot matrix print outs, ink and laser jet print outs, the smell of freshly printed and bound marketing materials, non-fiction books, poetry and more recipe books than anyone needs in their lifetime. As well as the enjoyment that devouring the written word has given me, I have also spent many a happy hour whiling away the time developing my own stories, articles and assignments. Yes I am one of the people who gets excited when she sees 5000 words required for an assignment.
The journey I am beginning with this blog post is very close to my heart and soul – it is the beginning of moving towards a life where my gifts and love are shared with the world and my soul sings. My destination, and dear reader I do hope you can join me there in the future, is a writer’s retreat somewhere near a beach, that I own and operate, sharing my gift with others and providing a safe space for personal growth and development. Watch this space and join me on the journey.