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Recently I’ve read a book which took me on a beautifully written journey, which seemed destined to end in healing and redemption. I was particularly interested in this book because it promised to take its place among the ‘new’ literature we so desperately need now- one that provides an alternative vision of the world -one full of hope,  where we are part of nature, where we are connected to one another, and our lives do have purpose and meaning.

The story:  3 unrelated people form their own relationship with a strip of green, a little park in an English town which borders on a neighbourhood in decline. Each person is, in a particular way, lost. A Polish man and a lonely boy find each other. They form a tentative friendship, and one starts to hope that the child will eventually find some stability outside of his home and the total neglect of his mother. The 3rd character is an elderly widow living on the edge of this park. She occasionally does some guerilla gardening there.

Each of these characters is on a journey to some kind of reconciliation or hope, and the nature in the park is a catalyst for the healing they start to find.

Then, a crisis in the last pages sees the man and the boy who have formed a totally innocent friendship, wrenched apart by a police raid.  The man’s beloved dog, with whom the boy was also bonding,  is dragged away by the neck and will probably be put down because she has Pit Bull blood. We leave him holding a duffel bag, waiting for a bus to take him away from the tender beginnings of home and community he had patiently started to build up. The old woman we last see alone in the hospital hooked up to wires and infusions.  And the boy is torn out of his familiar territory and sent to another part of the country to his father, whom we have been told is a violent man.

Every author has the freedom to choose how to end their story, granted. But I question the integrity of such an ending. ‘Shit happens’, yes, I am bombarded by this detritus of the ‘old story’ every minute through the media. But that is not what I am looking for when I reach for a book. Artists, writers, story tellers, have the chance to create a new story- one of hope. One which illuminates ways to connect, to find meaning in life, rise above circumstances, to treasure the small things, to bond with places and people, to thrive rather than just survive. I believe we have a responsibility to the material we put out there. Barry Lopez, words this beautifully:

If I were asked what  I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it is to contribute to a literature of hope…I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns.

Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story in the end is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part.

Each of the little green shoots of healing were ground out at the end of this book, like so many cigarette stubs. I trustingly embarked on a journey with the writer and her characters and felt betrayed by what happened to them at the end. This kind of writing feeds the ‘old’ story of a hostile universe, a meaningless world without grace or miracles or healing.

Not that every story must have a happy ending, but when you deliberately annihilate hope, there has to be a good reason for it. As I see it, these decisions did not serve the story or any purpose at all. It is simply trendy to have a dark ending. It is a device.

And therefore meaningless.

 

 

The book is ‘Clay’ by Melissa Harrison. If you don’t mind the ending, I”d still recommend it for the gorgeous writing.

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organising thoughts on bulletin board

organising thoughts on bulletin board

This is being reposted with new material, featuring the next writer, Laura Burns.

Thanks to Cat Lupton for inviting me to take part in a writing process blog tour.  Different bloggers talk about how and why they write, and it is a kind of online relay. The idea is to create a continuous chain of writers.
Unfortunately, the people I asked couldn’t participate, so one of the forward branches ends here, well not entirely. This is a bit late, but Laura Burns is carrying the baton from here. I came across Laura’s work some time ago and knew immediately that this kind of artist is breaking ground for an entirely new kind of engaged art. She is a writer and performer interested in responding to environmental crisis. Her work spans performance storytelling, poetry, movement practices and visual arts. She is interested in the intersections of orality and text, movement and writing and mythology as ecology; she is currently looking at the ways in which re-connecting to our bodies might affect re-connecting to the earth around us.  Her post will be up at her blog on April 7th.
You can also follow some links backward and pick up a new branch forward.
Try these: Emily Wilkinson , and Jeppe Graugaard.
Or sideways*.

We’re following a model of answering 4 questions concerning our writing process, here goes:

1 What am I working on?

Aside from regular blogging, and the occasional guest blog, there is no active writing project on the table at the moment.

For the past 10 years I’ve had a book in the works about the emergence of new art forms in times of transition.  I keep hitting unsolvable problems so have shelved it for now.

2 How does my work differ from  others of its genre?

Since I’m a visual artist who also writes, my primary focus is art and it is hard for me to judge how my work does or doesn’t stand out from other non fiction writing. I’d like to think that my unique mix of life experiences and the issues I care most about combine to create an individual voice.

3 Why do I write what I do?

Usually  there is some kind of urgency when I sit down to write- there is  question or issue up for me that I want to get clarity on. Or I write to digest new material that has come to me through someone else’s writing.

I also write to  share my inner thoughts in the hopes they may help someone else gain insight on similar dilemmas.

4 How does my writing process work?

A lot of my writing is easy, I just, ‘stare at the page until little drops of blood form on my forehead’.

No, seriously, I seem to have two modes of writing-   Flow, and Struggle.

My book, ‘Chocolate rain, 100 ideas for a creative approach to activities in dementia care’ was written in a continuous flow over 18 months. First thing in the morning, I simply sat down to write for an hour or more, and the book emerged with very little revision.  However, I have to add that this productive period was preceded by attempts spanning 5 years, to try to find the right tone. But as soon as I found the balance between ‘too academic’ and ‘too personal’, the book just about wrote itself.

The good kind of struggle is part of every creative process. You hit a wall, get pushed beyond your comfort zone, solve it, and come out the other side with  a sense of achievement.

But there is also negative struggle. In recent attempts to progress with my book on the arts, I’ve become intimately acquainted with this type of internal battle. No matter how much discipline, optimism, or hard work you throw at the page, you stay stuck. It is like quicksand.

I’ve been learning to discern between the constructive and the negative kinds of struggle, and to disengage from the latter.
I understand now that writing can’t be forced, and things will fall in place when they are ready to. I’ve realised that despite the willingness to turn up at the page,( surrounded by copious research notes and outlines), if I haven’t connected with the soul of the book or its reason for being written, nothing I can do can make it progress.

Occasionally an idea comes to us that is so far outside our current frame of reference,  we have to fundamentally change before that idea can take shape through us. So I’m experiencing that the writing process can be a sort of alchemy that transforms the creator as well as the material she is giving form to.

* (And if  you are interested, I just ran across a past post of mine, ‘Why posting every day might not always be such a good idea’, inspired by Jonathan Harris, which addresses some issues related to blogging, story, creative process,  and living our lives publicly on the internet).

 

 

 

organising thoughts on bulletin board

organising thoughts on bulletin board

Thanks to Cat Lupton for inviting me to take part in a writing process blog tour.  Different bloggers talk about how and why they write, and it is a kind of online relay. The idea is to create a continuous chain of writers.
Unfortunately, the people I asked couldn’t participate, so one of the forward branches ends here, well not entirely. This is a bit late, but Laura Burns is carrying the baton from here. I came across Laura’s work some time ago and knew immediately that this kind of artist is breaking ground for an entirely new kind of engaged art. She is a writer and performer interested in responding to environmental crisis. Her work spans performance storytelling, poetry, movement practices and visual arts. She is interested in the intersections of orality and text, movement and writing and mythology as ecology; she is currently looking at the ways in which re-connecting to our bodies might affect re-connecting to the earth around us.  Her post will be up at her blog on April 7th.
You can also follow some links backward and pick up a new branch forward.
Try these: Emily Wilkinson , and Jeppe Graugaard.
Or sideways*.

We’re following a model of answering 4 questions concerning our writing process, here goes:

1 What am I working on?

Aside from regular blogging, and the occasional guest blog, there is no active writing project on the table at the moment.

For the past 10 years I’ve had a book in the works about the emergence of new art forms in times of transition.  I keep hitting unsolvable problems so have shelved it for now.

2 How does my work differ from  others of its genre?

Since I’m a visual artist who also writes, my primary focus is art and it is hard for me to judge how my work does or doesn’t stand out from other non fiction writing. I’d like to think that my unique mix of life experiences and the issues I care most about combine to create an individual voice.

3 Why do I write what I do?

Usually  there is some kind of urgency when I sit down to write- there is  question or issue up for me that I want to get clarity on. Or I write to digest new material that has come to me through someone else’s writing.

I also write to  share my inner thoughts in the hopes they may help someone else gain insight on similar dilemmas.

4 How does my writing process work?

A lot of my writing is easy, I just, ‘stare at the page until little drops of blood form on my forehead’.

No, seriously, I seem to have two modes of writing-   Flow, and Struggle.

My book, ‘Chocolate rain, 100 ideas for a creative approach to activities in dementia care’ was written in a continuous flow over 18 months. First thing in the morning, I simply sat down to write for an hour or more, and the book emerged with very little revision.  However, I have to add that this productive period was preceded by attempts spanning 5 years, to try to find the right tone. But as soon as I found the balance between ‘too academic’ and ‘too personal’, the book just about wrote itself.

The good kind of struggle is part of every creative process. You hit a wall, get pushed beyond your comfort zone, solve it, and come out the other side with  a sense of achievement.

But there is also negative struggle. In recent attempts to progress with my book on the arts, I’ve become intimately acquainted with this type of internal battle. No matter how much discipline, optimism, or hard work you throw at the page, you stay stuck. It is like quicksand.

I’ve been learning to discern between the constructive and the negative kinds of struggle, and to disengage from the latter.
I understand now that writing can’t be forced, and things will fall in place when they are ready to. I’ve realised that despite the willingness to turn up at the page,( surrounded by copious research notes and outlines), if I haven’t connected with the soul of the book or its reason for being written, nothing I can do can make it progress.

Occasionally an idea comes to us that is so far outside our current frame of reference,  we have to fundamentally change before that idea can take shape through us. So I’m experiencing that the writing process can be a sort of alchemy that transforms the creator as well as the material she is giving form to.

* (And if  you are interested, I just ran across a past post of mine, ‘Why posting every day might not always be such a good idea’, inspired by Jonathan Harris, which addresses some issues related to blogging, story, creative process,  and living our lives publicly on the internet).