That Creative Place ...

I used to ride horses when I was a teenager.  Quite often they were slightly insane horses that the owners had tired of.  There was Mickey who used to paw the ground when we crossed streams ... indicating she was about to roll and you could only stay on if you imagined you could stop her.  There was Nutmeg who made a vet turn away in horror when he health-checked her for her owner. 

I was that horse-mad kid for a while.  The vet had spotted multiple 'issues' with that big, slightly crazy, ungainly chestnut called Nutmeg.  And then there was her paddock-mate, Cinnamon, the ex-racehorse who occasionally raced off with whoever was riding him.  He was a geriatric.

I survived. 

But there were days, few and far between but enough to keep me going, of sublime happiness.  When, just occasionally, everything would come together. The sky would be blue, the air warm, and the horse would be having a best-behaviour kind of day.  Those days were the days where being out with the horse was like floating along on my own private cloud of joy.

Writing is like that for me.  Just sometimes it all comes together.

Photography I can do anywhere.  I enter that state of non-thinking ... that creative space, easily and work almost unconsciously, losing my self in the process.  But writing, that's something else entirely.

Writing, for me, comes from another place.  It's a space more consciously created.  I feed it like I might feed a fire.  Building the flame from a spark up into, if I'm fortunate, a roaring fire.  And I'm finally learning that sustaining that space or that mood, is the trickiest thing.

I'm almost bullet-proof as a photographer and yet I am as fragile as a butterfly when I write.  I had spent two hours building that creative space yesterday.  I have a photography exhibition opening on 31 October and the theme is complex.  I want to get it right.  Dreaming it into being involves writing.  Writing involves building the fire.

I was horrified to realise how fragile I was yesterday.  How fragile the creation of that space is.  At the same time I was glad to finally understand the different creative spaces I inhabit when I move between the two things I love doing best.

I knew I couldn't interview someone and photograph them at the same time but I didn't know why.  I think both disciplines ask for a similar depth but they're different.  With photography I'm simply searching for the soul, or for a small glimpse of the true core of a person.  I want to capture something of who they really are ... to show them their own personal beauty.

When I interview someone it's completely different.  I am listening, intently, consciously.  I can't lose myself in that photographer space where I don't really exist, where it's all about slipping under the surface of the person I'm photographing. I have to be present with an interview.  Later, when I'm writing it up ... perhaps then there's that slippage into the soul.  Or, more nicely put, into the shoes of that person.

I was a writer first.  I thought that was what I would be in my spare time, after I found a sensible job that paid ... but I never ever learned to protect the space.  Photography allows me to move in and out of the creative space with ease.  Well ... coming home after a photography shoot is sometimes slightly fraught, as I am empty and exhausted by all I've given but ... I can flick in and out of photography without building a fire slowly.

I love that I will be 50 soon.  I love that I'm finally getting curious about who I am and what I do.  And I love that I have the opportunity to put together this photography exhibition and explore complicated things while knowing I need to keep the line through it simple and clear.  I love that I have to find the poem within the story... the few images that capture multiple layers.

But most of all, I love that yesterday, I finally understood that I need to create and protect the space where I write.  That I begin with a spark and build a fire. 

Mmmhmmm, only took me 49 years to learn this simple thing ...

Listening to Van Morrison's Into the Mystic today.  Working now ...

Christine Mason Miller - The Conscious Booksmith.

I'm teaching this course because I need it.

Christine Mason Miller,  talking of her e-course, The Conscious Booksmith.

I've signed up to do another workshop in the months ahead.  Like the marketing workshop, this one is absolutely vital for me to move forward into a world I know nothing about. 

And so when a woman I have been 'following' online for years, a woman whose work I love, and whose way of putting herself out into the world fills me with respect, offers a workshop on how to make my book real while fitting it into the flow of my own chaotic life ... then obviously I'm going to sign up.

It helps that it is affordable otherwise I might have been left at the window looking in like a kid longing to join but unable to.  But that's something else about Christine.  Her self-confessed mission is about 'Creating spaces, gatherings, businesses, communities, brands and containers that inspire healing, transformation, and stepping more fully into the truth of the world's relentless need for our unique voice in the world.'

In the months ahead, as I step into the flow with my photography workshops, I will also be hard at work on this book I've been dreaming about for years.  And while it has changed from 'all about me and that city I love' to being 'all about that city', it's an idea that has never disappeared.  Only altered and bloomed into something much more than I expected.  And I love what it is set on becoming.

If you are creating any kind of book, take a look at Christine's introduction to her course ...

The Conscious Booksmith: A Mindful Approach to Creating Your Book // with Christine Mason Miller from Animyst on Vimeo.


Writing, Football, and Photography

Raf came to dinner last night, asking if he might use my camera flash while he was over.  He was curious about the process of using the master/slave set-up on his camera. Neither of us had attempted it before and it was the best fun I had had in a while.  More to follow as I experiment with that in the months ahead as it turns out the Gert's Metz flash is able to make a wireless connection with my Canon flash. 

The photograph following was taken when Raf put down his beautiful Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, with its battery pack attached and picked up the smaller Canon EOS 550D, laughing over how to hold it in his big hands.  I liked how it looked and took a series of images with my beloved Canon EOS 5D MkII.

It was a lovely evening.  Thank you, Raf, for opening the door into this new way of working with light.

Some More On Writing, then veering off in Ylvis

19 days of blogging everyday ... sometimes more than once a day. 

And it's interesting, for me, to realise that the more I write the more I want to write.  Last Wednesday I took time out to photograph an event and that had its own rewards.  And then Saturday I took a little more time and interviewed a truly interesting woman

But always, I return to the writing.  And the book is growing.  And it's just as I had experienced, twice before, it feels something like a pregnancy.  I didn't finish the other two books, I didn't make time ... it was life then, the usual excuses I guess.  But with this book ... there is always some thing that is happening with it, some thing that excites me at least once a week.

Of course, there are all the other things too.  I guess they would be the equivalent of cramps too early in the pregnancy, gestational diabetes, elevated bp ... the highs and the lows of growing something you very much want in your life.

My cousin, Julie, the creature who so generously took me traveling with her back in October, has finally arrived in New Zealand.  She left her life in the Cayman Islands a few months ago, came to Italy via a lone roadtrip in the UK, then stayed with us in Belgium, and we did some more of Europe together, and she did Lisbon, and later traveled on to Greece and Malaysia and Australia alone ... but I know I have forgotten some of the 'everywhere' of her travels.

However at some point I realised she had my October interviews, the three I had worked on in Genova.  She had bought a voice recorder there, saying she needed one ...  but really it was so I could borrow it because mine was back in Acqui Terme.  She's like that, one of the kindest people I know.  And so I had a series of delightful interviews recorded on it.  It was a crazy-busy time and somehow I never downloaded them because there was always tomorrow

Having finally arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand a couple of days ago, she was able to send them while I slept last night, despite another earthquake there.   And as I downloaded them, I realised how nervous I had been about it all.  The nausea slowly disappeared as I realised they were all there.  They're for the book too.

So it's like that these days.  The weekend was impossible, Monday was challenging.  Today ... today has started so well.  And I received an exquisite book in the mail.  Oh and last night, I was introduced to the most interesting Norwegian brothers.  Not really 'introduced' actually.  But they call themselves Ylvis.  I don't know which youtube to link too because you have to see them all ...

So ... probably everyone else knows about their song that went viral.  (They're mortified about it just by the way which I find hilarious.)  They explain some of it to Ellen Degeneres here.  The song they're talking of is here ... What Does The Fox Say.

But I think this is the best of their story found so far.  An interview they did on a Norwegian talkshow.  It begins in Norwegian but only the introduction.  Like so many Europeans they speak beautiful English.


Things I'm Learning About Writing A Book

I'm learning ...

I don't write a book in the same way I might train my body at the gym.  It's not about pushing the limits and building up strength.  It's not about endurance. 

And it's not about 9 to 5.  It's about 'anytime'.  My most exciting idea, so far, came while I was walking back through city streets in the early morning, a 5 celsius day.  I was thinking bad thoughts about Antwerp's polluted air.

I smsed my idea to myself.  I had a book for the tram and I know how time stretches and warps on these journeys of mine.  I need to make notes.  Always.  Because I forget stuff.  Even brilliant stuff.

Always make notes.

I have a song, sometimes more than one but usually just one, that I put on repeat ... endlessly on repeat.  It helps somehow.  It disappears into the background but creates a state of mind.  I recently heard Man Booker prize winner, Eleanor Catton, admit to doing it and I thought, 'So it's normal'!'  Many have tried to convince me that it's so far from normal and I should stop immediately.

So, currently, whenever I hear Ben Howard's 'Old Pine' then I know it's time to work.  Maybe I should put a dedication to him in the front of this book.  I've played his song hundreds, if not thousands, of times already. 

Obviously this can only be done when I'm working alone here ...

I am learning to steal the Belgian's bloke's desk-chair the moment he leaves for work, as my chair is an ergonomic disaster, even though we were careful in choosing it and paid more than we wanted to.  He just sighs, rolls my chair away from his desk, and waits while I return his in the evenings.  Thank goodness he works away from home all day ...

Most importantly perhaps, I'm learning not to panic when I can't think of what to write, how to dive in and begin when I have 'just 3 hours to produce something new!!!!'  It will come.  It does.

Oh and if I have the 130 photographs I have chosen (so far) for the book colour-photocopied to A4-size to work on, in batches of 20, then it seems less wicked.  Or is that like the kid playing hide-n-seek, standing in the middle of the room with her hands over her eyes, pretending that she can't be seen.  Hmmmm.

And finally, I'm learning that committing to writing a blog post everyday in November has been more helpful than I could have imagined.

Now,  I'll leave you with Ben. 

Oh ... I've posted this song before?  At least you don't share an office with me  :-)

On Writing ...

I had forgotten the glorious agony of writing an article for a particular audience ... such is the luxury of writing whatever I want on my blog.

I have been carrying this idea that I could only write this particular article when I was ready ... when I was sure that all I would write would be perfection itself. 

Weeks later, I was still wringing my hands about it because the deadline had been far into the future.  Then the future arrived and what would I write?  How would I incorporate my best images into this text? 

I had raised the bar fairly high in my mind ...

Last night, as I was going to sleep, I thought of the series of fountain images I had added to my previous post and I knew that I had it.  A beginning point, an inspiration, a concrete image of the feeling I wanted to capture.

And so it was, after our Sunday Belgian breakfast of pastries and coffee, that I sat down to write.  And how I wrote ... and wrote, and wrote some more.  Finally, slightly lost, I handed it over and asked the more level-headed Belgian bloke if he might read it through and see where I was. 


He handed it back and told me ...   It seemed, to him, that I might have attempted to squeeze the outline of my entire book into 5 pages of text.  It was a little incoherent and he couldn't find a clear line through it.  Of course, I had wanted my best stuff in the article ... all of it!

Perhaps a prayer was needed.  Something like, Oh enthuisiam, oh passion ... be still so I can write more coherently.

Anyway, that explained my lost feeling and allowed me to pull back out of the work.

And so I reread and found the story I wanted to tell.   I had to remove some favourite photographs from the article.   I had to disappear some favourite tales too.  Paragraphs were slashed as I read.

I need to leave it a few hours now.  Weeks would be better.  I have always preferred to spend time away from a first draft, sneaking up on it at some later date and hoping to read it as a stranger.  It's more effective than you can imagine.

When I write here on the blog I write fast and, for some reason that must be entirely frustrating to those with blog readers, I edit best after I've published.   It's a luxury that I don't have when I write for others.  Even when I edit for others, the final draft is with them.  The post-publish quirk is one that has probably lost me more than a few subscribers.  I must work on that.

The thing about writing so intensely, and I had forgotten this peculiar pain, is that when I write it all out like that there is this horrible emptiness when I stop.  As if all of my intensity and energy has been poured directly into the writing, like an IV that pumps my blood to a new location ... outside of me.

I came here in an attempt to step back from the intensity of the last few hours.  Actually, I did have rather a lot of fun creating storyboards to focus me down on the writing.  Here's one I can't use ...

My borrowed 'desk' in Genova.  The one by the open window that looks out over the carruggio, and a selection of the flowers that I always buy as that first thing I must do in the city.

Before Photography ...

Before I committed to photography, I was pursuing a writing career.

I attended writing workshops with New Zealand writers and have this novel I've been carrying since the early 90's.  As I develop, move countries, learn new things, so too does my main character.  By chance.

Currently she's a war photographer who was in Iraq but who somehow ... happens to have relocated to Genova, Italy.  Before that, she was a woman in retreat, living in the mountains of New Zealand, alone with her dog, once again retired from a previously intense life.

There's a book of interviews with New Zealand climbers and mountaineers, almost published, two publishing meetings and an apology but 'they didn't think there was a big reading public for it', despite them liking it a lot.  The Everest tragedy happened later and climbing literature became more mainstream however, by then, I had enrolled at university: age 34.

I was heading for Bill Manhire's writing course in Wellington.  I ended up in Istanbul.

It makes me laugh to write that.  One never knows where life might take them if they allow it to take them ...

Anyway, back in my days of writing I used to drive my first husband crazy.  No, that's not why he divorced me.  I used to edit and correct as I wrote.  I would reach 27,000 words and edit it down to 3,000 words.  I was brutal and a perfectionist too. 

But it was my editing that made him crazy.  As I got closer to the final edit ... on a first chapter (hence I never finished the book), my editing would become minute.  I would give him the manuscript to see what he thought of my edit.  He would say, 'there's no change!'.  Exasperated, I would explain that I had moved two 'the's' and deleted an 'and'.  How could he not see the difference that made.

Children, never edit an unfinished manuscript.  Write it.  Fix it afterwards.  Or you will never finish.

The reason I write all of this is because ... there was another photograph of B&B Baur, like the previous one  but different.  I think the edit isn't so small but perhaps it is tedious to those reading this blog.

This is me and I need to 'see' both of them here, so that I can happen upon them unexpectedly later, and really 'see' them as a stranger.

Truth, by Justine Musk.

I am enjoying wandering through this woman's website, reading her ideas about writers and creativity and women and all kinds of other interesting things.

She caught me with this one tonight, part 3 of 'why you need to write like a bad girl'.

‘Honesty’ is one of the traits that psychologist and creativity specialist Eric Maisel lists as being key parts of the successful artist’s personality (the others, in case you’re curious: intelligence, introspective stance, empathy, self-centeredness, self-direction, assertiveness, resiliency and nonconformity).

“Standing apart, holding your own counsel, attuned to both the beautiful and the moral, you are the one able and willing to point out the naked emperor, the stench coming from the closet, the starvation right around the corner, the colors of the far mountains as the eye really sees them.

everything ...

I'm putting together a book about my times in Genova ... but I'm launching/writing/creating a marketing campaign too.

And I am learning that I can't put together this book until the marketing is done, till the Newsletter is written, until the adverts and everything else is done because it all comes out of my head and they don't play well together.

I fly soon.  Back to Genova.  Perhaps there, and then, marketing tidied up and put out in the world, perhaps then I will simply sit down and put all the pieces of 'book' I have here on my desk.

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Lecture, 2006

Some extracts: A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words.

He can write poems, plays, or novels, as I do. All these differences come after the crucial task of sitting down at the table and patiently turning inwards. To write is to turn this inward gaze into words, to study the world into which that person passes when he retires into himself, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy.

As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding new words to the empty page, I feel as if I am creating a new world, as if I am bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way someone might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone.

The stones we writers use are words. As we hold them in our hands, sensing the ways in which each of them is connected to the others, looking at them sometimes from afar, sometimes almost caressing them with our fingers and the tips of our pens, weighing them, moving them around, year in and year out, patiently and hopefully, we create new worlds.

The writer's secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience. That lovely Turkish saying – to dig a well with a needle – seems to me to have been said with writers in mind.

...I believe literature to be the most valuable hoard that humanity has gathered in its quest to understand itself. Societies, tribes, and peoples grow more intelligent, richer, and more advanced as they pay attention to the troubled words of their authors, and, as we all know, the burning of books and the denigration of writers are both signals that dark and improvident times are upon us.

But literature is never just a national concern. The writer who shuts himself up in a room and first goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature's eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they are other people's stories, and to tell other people's stories as if they were his own, for this is what literature is. But we must first travel through other peoples' stories and books.