Raise a (gentle) ruckus

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I attended a protest rally recently.

I didn’t carry a placard, didn’t raise a clenched fist. I joined in with the chanting, but only in a very quiet voice. I felt a bit uncomfortable. That type of resistance just isn’t me. And then I felt guilty for not shouting louder. Did I not care enough?

But is that form of protest my only option? If I’m not a slogan-shouting, flag-waving freedom fighter, how do I best express my despair with the things that are awry in the world just now?

Last week I came across this lovely illustration by Mari Andrew and it reassured me.

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There are all kinds of ways to resist and many of them are gentle and full of grace. They may not be direct or vocal but they are subversive, wrapped in joy and beauty.

One of my favourite writers seems to agree.

On receiving an award at the recent gathering of the Writers Guild, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (creator of tv programme The West Wing) lamented the current state of play in American politics before asking the room:

“So what can we do? A lot, actually. Because the most powerful delivery system ever invented for an idea is a story.”

In other words, show your resistance in your art.

Be creative with your protest.

When the landscape around you is in rubble and ruins, plant colourful flowers that speak of hope and new life. When the news is full of violence and greed, share stories of peace and wild generosity. In the face of uncertainty, paint your truth. Stand toe to toe with despair and sing your splendid joyful song.

As I watched the people around me at the march, read their banners and listened to the chants and angry cries, from somewhere on the other side of the crowd came a very different sound.

Singing.

Gentle female voices raised together in a chorus.

Eventually those ladies marched past me. I couldn’t read their banner to see who they were but they looked like seasoned campaigners, women who had attended many rallies over many years to make their voices heard in the most beautiful way. Raising a gentle ruckus.

They made me feel at home. They reminded me that I don’t have to shout to be heard.

The writer Sally Lloyd Jones said,

“I see all of it [art] as redemptive. Sin has unravelled the fabric of the world and art is one of the ways that we re-weave, however we do it.”

There are large gaping holes being torn all over this wonderful world of ours and it’s up to you and me to pick up our chosen tool or instrument and begin the slow, delicate but deliberate process of pulling the frayed edges back together. I take great heart and encouragement from those leading the creative way. People like Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective, cross-stitching their mini protest banners for London Fashion Week, or Shane Claiborne and his friends, turning guns into garden spades and musical instruments, or Mari Andrew sharing her art on Instagram and reminding people like me that there are many ways to make your voice heard.

And so I salute my fellow marchers, the flag-waving, slogan-shouting masses. I need you. The world needs you. And I will stand with you.

I may simply choose to raise a more gentle ruckus.

I want to tell you a secret

Shh, come closer.

I haven’t written a blog post in four months. The observant among you will have spotted that already.

This isn’t down to a lack of inspiration nor any artistic crisis of temperament.

Rather I have had a Christmas deadline on another writing project and so every ounce of creative energy was spent on getting that completed and delivered. And now that it is done I am back and able to tell you about it.

Are you ready?

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I have written a story.

A beginning, middle and end.

And then I got it printed into a book to give to my nephews for Christmas.

The other part of the secret? I’ll just say this quietly.

I’m really proud of myself.

Oh not because it’s any kind of masterpiece. J.K Rowling can sleep soundly in her bed at night. Michael Morpurgo need not fear me snapping at his heals any time soon. The one copy that currently exists hasn’t even been proofread and is currently sporting several spelling mistakes.

No, the reason I am most pleased is because I got it DONE.

This was a self-imposed deadline and for me those are usually flexible affairs, all the more so if no one else knows they exist. But this was a story I wanted my nephews to hear, with lessons about kindness that I want them to learn, carry and practice throughout their lives. And once I was brave enough to crack open the lid just a little, to let some trusted friends see what was inside, their encouragement spurred me on to the finish. (Thank you Kirsty and Anna!)

But the main reason for me telling you about this now is not simply about explaining my absence from here, but rather because I feel galvanised at this annual time of setting goals and making resolutions because I now know that sometimes they actually happen. Sometimes you do finish what you start. Sometimes you can achieve what you thought was impossible. But for that to happen it takes three things – or at least it did for me.

Firstly it needs to become your priority. Whatever you want to achieve has to make its way much further up your list of things to do, and this means that other items on the list will have to take a lesser place. You can’t do everything and something’s got to give. For me, over the last few months, it’s been writing blog posts. I just didn’t have the creative energy to do both. At first I struggled with this but eventually made my peace with my priorities and cracked on with it.

Secondly you need encouragement. If you’re setting out to achieve something that feels daunting to you then you’re going to need some cheerleaders along the way. There may be times when you tire, moments when you doubt yourself and your ability to get across the line, days when you’re just fed up to the back teeth with the whole darned thing. Don’t stop. But make sure you’ve put a few people around you who will urge you on and keep you moving forward. They will be as much a part of you getting to the end as you are.

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And thirdly, accept the fact that whatever you’re aiming for won’t be perfect, but better to get it finished than never have it see the light of day. My personal guide in this process has been Elizabeth Gilbert and her brilliant book Big Magic. On more than one occasion I came to a key paragraph or two at just the right time, none more so than a section called Done Is Better Than Good, the final few lines of which are as follows:

Because the truth of the matter is, most people don’t finish things! Look around you, the evidence is everywhere: People don’t finish. They begin ambitious projects with the best of intentions, but then they get stuck in a mire of insecurity and doubt and hairsplitting….and they stop.

So if you can just complete something – merely complete it! – you’re already miles ahead of the pack right there.

You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.

 

These words gave me the permission to take my eyes off my doubts and fears, and instead refocus on my original motivation and get the work DONE.

So what next?

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2017 beckons.

365 days of possibility.

Plenty of time to achieve something if I set my mind to it.

If you set your mind to it.

There’s just one question – what shall we do?

 

 

On taking a break

I’ve had a break from writing over the summer. It wasn’t intentional, I just ran out of steam. I started my blog just over a year ago, and at first I was going great guns, posting two or three times a month, then my strike rate slowed to twice a month and then to monthly. I last posted at the start of June and in the second week of July I became a little twitchy. The voices of should and have to started whispering in my ears, but I didn’t have anything to say. A week or so later they won out, and I sat down to try and write. I began several different pieces but didn’t get anywhere. Starting from a place of should is never going to produce your best work. Perhaps I did need to stop for a while.


Taking a break, whatever it’s  from, is a good time to evaluate. Remind yourself why you began in the first place. Is that still the case? Is there something that needs altered or realigned? What are your values, and is what you’re doing in symmetry with what you believe? Decide afresh what matters to you. Write it down and place it front and centre in your day, on your desk, your mirror, the bedside table. When I began this blog I saw it simply as a place to ponder, reflect and share whatever thoughts I had on any given subject. This time of reflection has allowed me to distil that breadth into a narrower field of vision, giving me a specific lens through which to view my writing topics.

Once there I felt in need of fresh inspiration. Instead of writing I have re-read some of my favourite books, found new authors to enjoy and listened to podcasts which have refreshed me and reinvigorated my creativity. I’ve given myself the permission to take time away to sit at the feet of others and drink in their genius.
And now it’s time to begin afresh. Tempting as it would be to simply admire the work of others, and listen to the voices constantly telling me someone else will always do it better so why bother trying, I choose to believe that there is room for each person’s creative input to this world, and so I will offer mine. There are enough people spreading hate and violence, negativity and darkness. We need more people to stand up for joy and peace, to celebrate beauty and hope, to find and share the quirks, colour and spiritual splendour of life. I pray that’s what you’ll find right here from now on.

Are you needing to stop doing something for a time? Embrace the break. Silence the voices of should and have to. Let yourself rest and be still.

Then ask yourself those key questions about why you started, who you are and what you value.

Find inspiration – read, listen, look, pray.

And finally, refreshed and reinvigorated, get going!