Writing about Writer’s Block

I’m part of a writer’s group that get together every month to debate themes around writing, critique work, share ideas, etc.  The following comes from this month’s theme which was “Writer’s Block.”

Writers BlockWriter’s Block
~ Or… When your imaginary friends won’t talk to you…

I put my hand up for this topic for very selfish reasons… It really was a case of ‘physician, heal thyself’…

To kick off the process, I researched the meaning of ‘Writer’s Block’ which, I discovered, was frequently described as a ‘condition’.

So if I’m going to tackle this condition, I first want to pin it down and define it – this then is what I came up with:

Writer’s Block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write and how to start, proceed with or complete your writing.

So tell me about when you have experienced penned procrastination or writer’s block?

So what can be creating such creative slowdowns or stops for us?

We’re all different with our own blocks and triggers, but let’s look at some of the more widely recognised common causes:

These include:

  • Time / Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. You feel as if your ideas may need to percolate a little longer in your brain before writing them down.
    It could be that that voice in your head is telling that you have more important things to do with your time.  Writing is not a priority.
  • Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid, with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and criticise. Fear is a major reason that many people cite for never becoming writers.
  • Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper / touch a keyboard. You try to get it straight and perfect in your head, but never do, so you never even begin.

In our last session we explored creativity and writers block is the antithesis to this.  In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield defines this as resistance – that is, the things that prevent us from sitting down and doing our best work.

  • “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

Pressfield describes resistance as a force that can’t be seen, touched, heard, or smelt.  Instead it is felt.  It’s a repelling force.  It’s negative.  Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

  • “Most of us live a double life – the one we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

This being The War of Art, he likens the writer (artist) to a warrior.

  • “The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

He cites the example of Hitler, who was a would-be artist, but found it easier to start World War II than face a blank square of canvas.”

“Resistance here is experienced as fear and the degree of fear felt equates to the strength of Resistance experienced.  Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.

That’s why we feel so much Resistance.  If writing meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance around it.

“If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying” you, Pressfield tells us, “you wouldn’t feel anything.  The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”

When we start to think about what has to be done to realise our artistic projects: “Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man.  Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our art.”

In the war of art, like the warrior “The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with themselves, but also with others.”

So when it comes to the trouble of resistance, “The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work.  She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.”

So essentially “Resistance is fear.  But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form.  Because if it lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame.  And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.”  Resistance doesn’t want us to do this.  So it brings in Rationalization.”

Pressfield then explores what it takes to be a professional – taking the principles we often apply to our first lived life and applying it to our artistic one.

“Those defeated by Resistance share one trait.  They think like amateurs.  They haven’t yet turned pro.  The moment an artist turns pro is as life changing as the birth of his first child.  With one stroke, everything changes.

“The amateur plays for fun.  The professional plays for keeps.  To the amateur, the game is a hobby.  To the pro it’s a vocation.  The amateur is a weekend warrior.  The professional is full time warrior.”

For me that is owning and defining myself as a writer.  This fact is fundamental to who I am.  I therefore describe myself as such.  It is part of my life, including my working life as a coach and Human Resources consultant.  Having applied for a job several years ago, I faced an interviewer who had clearly done their research.  If I wanted the job I was told, my public persona would have to be as their Personnel person.  This would include not linking my blog or describing myself on Linked in as a writer.  I politely explained that I was a writer and this, along with my HR experience is what I bring to the party of life.  My writing has never been about my HR work – the 2 would not necessarily marry well.  Yet to my mind the fact that I write makes me more rounded, interesting and observant.  So, it was their loss…

My writing is every much a profession to me as HR.  But “resistance hates it when we turn pro.”  But the path we follow is not necessarily an easy one: “The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not.  He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”

So how do you turn ‘pro?  In one of the most oft used quotes on the subject “Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration.  ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied.  ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’”

What then are the qualities that define ‘professionals’?

  • We show up consistently (every day).
  • We show up no matter what.
  • We are committed over the long haul.
  • The stakes for us are high and real.
  • We accept remuneration for our labours.
  • We master the techniques.
  • We have a sense of humour about it
  • We receive praise or blame in the real world.

Yet still “The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love.”

“A professional acts in the face of fear.”  Whereas “The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work.  The professional knows that there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”

Did you know “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.”?

That then is the theory, so now how do we stop staring at a blank page and start writing, in practice? For this section I have turned to author Lisa Cherry and her book ‘How to stop staring at a blank page and start writing’ for some practical advise.

First of all I would invite you to think about what motivates you to write – what are your reasons and drivers?  Why do you (want to) write?  So what are your writing ‘whys’?

If we can understand why we write, then we can turn that understanding into action.  These ‘whys’ can now be translated into tangible steps towards achieving your goals.

When it comes to motivation, one of my major issues is around the solitariness of the process of writing.  It is something that I embrace, since it is something that I can claim is truly unique and individual to me.  Yet, my contradiction is that as well as being solitary, I am also social.  So social goals have been one of the best motivators that I have found.

What are your best motivators?

So what can stop you achieving these goals?  Often we are programmed with a number of ‘Self-limiting beliefs’ which are mental blocks, negative thoughts and excuses.  They tend to have a negative effect on you, on how you feel, on what you feel is the ‘right’ thing to do.  They are about keeping you safe and hence small – encouraging you not to break their dark boundaries.  They therefore get in the way of you striving for and ultimately achieving your goals.

Common ones for writers are:

  • I’m not good enough to write
  • No one will be interested in / want to read my writing
  • That writing is a luxury which I don’t deserve
  • That I will fail and be criticised

Does that strike a chord – what are your self-limiting beliefs? 

How does this translate into reasons why you can’t write?

Take each of these reasons and write a positive solution to each of them.  Even if you don’t believe the solution – decide to choose it!

For example “I can’t write because it’s indulgent” could be reframed as “I am creative and writing is part of who I am, which is worthy of expressing.

You can then use the answers that you come up with here as positive mantras / affirmations to repeat to yourself when resistance rears its ugly head.  Learn them by heart, repeat them – resistance is trumped by persistence!

Now it’s time to deal with the excuses that resistance is putting in your way.

First of all, of course, you need to list them out.

By analysing them you then get to understand your own usual suspects.  Then you can work your way through them.

Time is so often at the top of many people’s lists.

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time.  You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

— H. JACKSON BROWN JR.

We have so many distractions these days, which suck up the precious commodity of our time.  TV, phones, iPads.  They are your excuses for not doing what you want – writing!  Conversely it may be that now isn’t the right time to write, because you do have more pressing priorities.  That is OK – you can now plan for the time when you will be ready, rather than resistant.

Then work your way through your list of excuses and come up with the solutions.

By going through these processes, you take responsibility for your writing, you then have the where with all to change your approach to it.  Fundamentally you are changing the script.

Listen to the excuses your resistance puts in the way and prioritise them honestly – you can then decide if they are unnecessary concerns or genuine issues which you need to think through to a solution.  A simple example of that is the concept of finding time, vs that of making time.

In his Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in 1903:

[Letter 7] “…it is clear that we must embrace struggle.  Every living thing conforms to it.  Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all costs, against all resistance.  We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.

Rilkes also tells us:

“Your doubt can become a good attribute if you discipline it.  It must become a knowing; it must become the critic.  Ask it, as often as it wishes to spoil something, why something is ugly.  Demand proof of it, test it, and you will find it perhaps perplexed and confused, perhaps also in protest. Don’t give in; demand arguments.  Act with alertness and responsibility, each and every time, and the day will come when doubt will change from the destroyer to become one of your best fellow-workers, perhaps the wisest of all that have a part in building your life.”

My fundamental piece of advice to anyone who asks me for advice about getting started with their writing – is just to sit down and begin!  Just write – don’t judge, don’t compete.

In fact I’m with Charles Bukowski, who states:  “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

On day 25 of my first ever blog challenge, I was definitely feeling the resistance, so decided to write it out:

25 February 2012

Letter 25: To Resistance

Dear Resistance

‘Love your enemy’ is the first phrase that comes into my head now.  Since I sat down and pondered who or what to write to next, as I am so tantalisingly near to finishing my cherished challenge of writing a love letter a day, every day, for the Valentine month of February.  That is twenty nine epistles … shooting out into the cosmos, reaching into the void … may be to over reach and be sent unseen; or may be to touch and to torch another creature’s flame.  Well so it should be, if indeed 29 there were in existence.  For I stared at a white page and racked a blank brain for an object of inspiration … and there was none … Just five letters to go … the end in sight, but now no sight, no sense of next.

So then suddenly, there it was – my enemy: resistance, procrastination, pfaffing, dawdling, dreaming, distracting or whatever name you are going by today. 

Now I want to have this out with you and I’m guessing this won’t be once and for all, this stalling, this staying, this stopping of my strived for success. 

Why can’t I move beyond this solid wall, this barrier, this self-created strange protectionism?  Why am I so static, so staid, so very stuck, so often?  What weight is this, what darkness, what blindness to my future?  What rocket, what change or what challenge will shift you out of my path and let me stride, rather than stress myself forward?  I am staggered that not even grief, tears or terrible fear motivates me on and over you. 

So I must consider this and think … well … could it be that now is not my time to move; or may be here is my lesson – my learning obstacle to be climbed up and over and scaled like any average mountain of life.  But then this mountain is unseen, and it feels so solid, so heavy, so truculent, so frustrating, so scream generating, if I let it stick and let it raise steam …  There I am pulled back to black – stale, pale and aged. 

So forward now … I see you and I raise you … I am aware of you and I name you.  Not to shame you, though shame is tempting, but to acknowledge you, to understand you, to know your role, to push your boundaries, then to blast through to freedom.

Someone told me there is no real cure.  “My name is Sandra and I am a procrastinator” … I wait for the acknowledged applause to die away …

Now I know you Resistance, I can start to step away from you, to walk around, climb over or sail in you.  I know how you tick, I see how you move, I hear your special solid voice.  That voice not to be a vice to me now.  For in the very act of stopping me, I learn to step around you, to dance away. 

For me the solution is to share.  Your weight is too much to bear alone.  Life is not meant to be for one.  I chose to connect to cherished colleagues, not fellow workers, not to sharing inmates.  I chose to commit to promises, rather than to (other’s) deadlines, I move to the light, to the way forward in ways that work for me, that work with my rhythms, my wants, my true skills, my loves.  I trace the naturalness of my form, my thoughts, of my heart and I replicate that out into the world.  Then I chose to share the un-natural, the unwanted tasks and transferences with those who have the gifts which are my strangers, my sloth and my burdens.

This is not one lesson learned and kept close.  So often I slip back, absorbed into alternate realities, distracted by your square solid form blocking out the sun.  I forget you are there, lulled into old life patterns, long learned forms of being and of seeing.  Now in my new life there is not the pattern of average days to give me reason and meaning, so I create my own way and my freedom.  And freedom is not resistance, it is grace and flow and ease and these I love.

    Farewell old fiend.

                 Not yours, Miss S E A Peachey

There is no one perfect answer to Writer’s Block, resistance or procrastination.  We all have our own scripts and sometimes the story in them changes.  That’s why working through our patterns is so important.  It isn’t just a one off exercise either.  On the journey of my life, with it’s ebbs and flows, I realised recently, that I wasn’t making writing a priority.

I’d been putting off editing my latest book, as my script had told me it was a chore that I would find impossible to fit in around the business of earning a living.

Then Caroline, a friend of mine died in September.  She was only 2 years older than me and had so many plans for living her life to the full.  But suddenly she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died only a few days later.

Her passing unlocked something within me, made me want to make the most of every conscious moment.  She had always been a fan of my writing and now I turned to words to work my way through the stages of processing my grief and the plethora of emotions that accompanied it.  Out of this came a number of poems and a tribute, which I published as a blog.

What it did too, was spur me to return to my novel.  Far from being a chore, I found that editing my book was actually pure, motivational joy which uplifted me and gave me a deep well of contentment.

I have since made a conscious choice to put writing at the top of my list of priorities.  Not just as a one off decision, but as a continuous process.

To round this topic off, Steven Pressfield cites that:

  • Ultimately, “The more Resistance you experience, the more gratification you will feel when you finally overcome it.”
  • And that so many people put their lives off until their deathbed.”

I don’t intend to be one of those people.

And whilst I thank Mr Pressfield for his wisdom on the subject, I’m going to give the final word to Terry Pratchett:
There’s no such thing as writer’s block.  That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

~ Sandra Peachey
With inspiration from Steven Pressfield, Lisa Cherry, Rainer Maria Rilke and Terry Pratchett

PS: My book – Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life has been featured in Psychologies  Magazine and The Lady, it was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.  

The book takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a satisfying structure. It’s an easy yet satisfying read, which has allowed its’ readers to laugh, cry and think – seeing the love in everything we do in life – from the big themes to the tiny, trivial minutiae of it too.

Buy the paperback on my website – here for just £7.99 including P&P…

  • Or get it from Amazon for £11.99 and from all great book websites anywhere in the world.
  • You can also buy it in Kindle format…

If you want to get in touch, you can contact me by clicking here…

I’m also variously known as:
* The Director of LifeWork Consultancy & Coaching;
* The Author of Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life and Co-Author of The F-Factor.
* A 2015 International Book Awards Finalist, in the Women’s Issues Category;
* The Winner of a Women Inspiring Women Award in 2013;
* As being shortlisted for Women’s Coach in the APCTC Awards 2014, also nominated in 2012 & 2013; and
* Being nominated for a Networking Mummies National Recognition Award in 2015.

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Poem: Mermaid Dreams

Feet

I’ve rediscovered my inner child… Standing ankle deep in the sea, waiting for the waves to break over me – laughing like a loon.
Suddenly I remember being small again and playing tig with with the waves – letting them chase me and catch me – to tickle, caress or push me over.

Even though I’m older now, the sea still wants to play…
So I wade further and further in, feeling my way deeper – letting the waves reach higher and higher up my body;
feeling the velvet smoothness of soft, weed covered rock beneath my feet.

Suddenly I’m ready and so I dive right in.
Now pulled with the heartbeat of the waves –
alternately swimming against,
then riding them back to the shore.

My senses are dazzled – the sounds of the waves crash in my ears
and the tang of Ozone fills my nostrils as I inhale the ocean air.  I float and play like a dolphin’s daughter, then remember who I am – allowing the sea to run me aground with my gravity bound feet.

My evolution from child back to woman means I wade out of the water and return to leggéd land.
Time now to dry out with the smiling sun and
languidly forget my girlhood mermaid dreams…

PS: My book – Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life has been featured in PsychologiesMagazine and The Lady, it was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.  

The book takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a satisfying structure. It’s an easy yet satisfying read, which has allowed its’ readers to laugh, cry and think – seeing the love in everything we do in life – from the big themes to the tiny, trivial minutiae of it too.

Buy the paperback on my website – here for just £7.99 including P&P…

  • Or get it from Amazon for £11.99 and from all great book websites anywhere in the world.
  • You can also buy it in Kindle format…

If you want to get in touch, you can contact me by clicking here…

I’m also variously known as:
* The Director of LifeWork Consultancy & Coaching;
* The Author of Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life and Co-Author of The F-Factor.
* A 2015 International Book Awards Finalist, in the Women’s Issues Category;
* The Winner of a Women Inspiring Women Award in 2013;
* As being shortlisted for Women’s Coach in the APCTC Awards 2014, also nominated in 2012 & 2013; and
* Being nominated for a Networking Mummies National Recognition Award in 2015.

A Love Letter to Caroline

My friend Caroline Ashby passed away suddenly, in her 50s, just over a month ago, with so much to live for.  She was a special woman who made a difference to so many – not least in brightening the timelines of the myriad of her Facebook friends. 

My heart now wants to share my story of her – including a number of postings from Facebook – the platform which she embraced so brightly and beautifully…

Caroline FB

I first met Caroline when I was a Director of an organisation called Damsels in Success, when she joined her local Group, which I ran, in Ashby de la Zouch.

We became Facebook friends that day and this is the first of many typically bright and breezy posts I saw on there, which I would soon come to take for granted as part of our everyday online lives:

I found out about Damsels in Success about 2 p.m., yesterday and went to my first meeting last night.  It’s only 19th January 2012, and already I have made a great move and become a member.  Thank you to everyone for making me feel so welcome and energised! X

She immediately became one of our most treasured and stalwart members, staying with us until the group had its last meeting 3 years later, when we took this picture:

Last Meet
Damsels Pauline, Sue R, Me, Caroline & Sue B

Damsels in Success (now known as Simply Sisterhood) is a network for women who work for themselves, with a philosophy that by creating a loving and supportive environment for women to be in – their natural essence – i.e. who they really are and what they bring to this party of life – blossoms.  Then, when such women come together, they can make a real difference to their own lives, the lives of their families, communities and the world.

For me that encapsulates why Caroline became such an important part of that particular community – since she naturally embodied and lived out those values.

She truly embraced everything we learned and shared in that setting.  In her typically generous and positive way, she let us all know how much being part of this community meant to her.  It meant so much to those of us who shared it with her, that she was part of it too.

As I grew to know her better, I realised this was just so beautifully typical of her…

Caroline was well known and loved not just in our local Damsels group in Ashby, but also with members UK wide, who she met at national events and on the web.  We had an online forum, where she was a bright presence on almost a daily basis – both sharing her wisdom and asking for support.

Working in my home office the week before her celebration service, a bundle of papers tied up in a pink ribbon, caught my attention.  I wasn’t looking for them, but somehow from the corner of my eye they sparked a memory…  I had saved them from one of our Damsels meetings where each of our members had written down a promise to themselves.  We were in the habit of transcribing our dreams and plans on paper, so as to commit them to our hearts and our futures, as the starting point for creating action to turn these wishes into reality.

And suddenly here in my hands, was a promise that Caroline wrote in her own hand:

Autism will be seen as a beautiful gift – showing the world how to live in the now and not stressing about the future.

Promise

In tandem with her membership of Damsels in Success and what she had learnt there, it was during this time that she developed the idea for her Autism Nanny Coaching business.  The Facebook page she created for it, has nearly 4000 members, with this as its stated ethos:
Helping families with autistic children, live a fun, creative, easy, fabulous life.

I can feel Caroline so much through those forthright and shining words…

Under the aegis of the Autism Nanny, she supported parents and families who had children on the autistic spectrum, providing them with practical and emotional support in a way which only someone who has a gift of a child like her own darling daughter – Emily, can; delivered in her trademark – pragmatic, yet joyful way.

I have a recording of when, in July 2014 she was a speaker on a BBC Radio Gloucester programme, where she talked about her learnings from her time spent with the Son-Rise program® in America and how these had informed her mission as a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum, and then as The Autism Nanny – which was fundamentally, about making a meaningful connection with your child, on their terms.  In her words, from that interview, this was about:

Trying to connect – be a real observer.
Stop trying to make them be like everyone else.
Then join them in that space and develop and move them forward.

Also in 2014 – both as a result of her being a true ‘Damsel in Success’ and her work with the Autism Nanny, she won the Most Inspirational Damsels in Success Member Award, at a sparkling awards ceremony in Birmingham, where we danced the night away to celebrate!

That was one of the proudest and happiest nights of my life…

Pres
At the Awards Ceremony with myself, Joanne & Sue – fellow Damsels members

As her mentor, Caroline made me feel like she was a number one fan and we watched each other with pride as we walked our own ways through life.  When I published my first book – Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life, she told me again and again how much she loved it and how proud she was. And I watched her grow into her Autism Nanny business – with its ups and its downs, with more than matching pride.

We stayed friends after the Damsels group closed and she brightened my Facebook world daily, not just with her Emily updates, but also her constant affection, support and comments on my own posts there.

The woman I knew was garrulous, funny and colourful in every sense.  She was caring, determined and all embracing.  Somehow she seemed simultaneously childlike and incredibly wise.  She soaked up knowledge like a sponge and gave wings to her thoughts and wishes. This woman was an action taker and so much of a giver.  You would know exactly how she was feeling and always, whatever was going on, the glass was at least half full.  If I did something daft, (which I am prone to), she would say “I still love you.”  And I have to say ‘thank goodness’ that I told her I loved and appreciated her too – it is one of the things that gives me comfort now she’s gone.

When she moved to Brighton from the Midlands, I was sad, since it would be harder to meet, but knew that she was doing this for Emily, to get her the very best support at a college there.  And so her Facebook posts then told of the new home that she, Robert and Emily created.  It wasn’t all plain sailing though.  The local authority had different plans for Emily… So then Caroline and Robert had to fight for her to have a place where they knew she would get the best support.  It took a lot of time and energy and also the services of a barrister.  Caroline, most definitely was not going to give up on everything they had worked towards and relocated across the country for.

They won their case and the posts showed her daughter blossoming more and more.  In between we chatted about meeting up and what the future held – not least that whilst the Autism Nanny had been put on hold during the move and settling Emily in, now she wanted to start it up again.

On Facebook, the world shared all the show reel moments of their lives.  Here is one of the posts Caroline made on the occasion of Emily’s 21st Birthday:

HAPPY 21ST BIRTHDAY EMILY

21 years ago today, I walked (ok staggered) into the Maternity Unit in Gloucester. I knew that within 24 hours my life would change forever, but had no idea how massive that change would be.

Emily was born at 2.47 p.m. on 13th August 1997, weighing 8lbs 6 ozs and I was the happiest person on earth. She was and still is the most precious person on the planet to me and she has given me so much. Being Emily’s mum has not always been easy, but what a journey we have all been on together.

Tomorrow, when Emily turns 21 years old and becomes a young woman, I will be so proud of her. To live for 21 years, with little language and understanding of the seemingly random acts of people, in this crazy and often complex world and to have such a sunny disposition and be so gorgeous, is wonderful.

Emily is my inspiration for everything I do, both within my own family and in helping other families with autistic children and she remains my most powerful teacher … live in the moment, always try your best, laugh when you want, cry when you want and never let anyone else live your life for you.

Thank you so much for being in my life, my beautiful Emily. I love you to the moon and back. Happy, happy 21st Birthday.

Before she posted the news about her brain tumour publically, Caroline shared her diagnosis with me.  I was scared and shaken by her news, but given her generous and positive nature, she made it easy to discuss.  As always, even in the midst of trying to process it all, her courage and humour continued to shine through.  When I asked her about Emily’s understanding of what was happening, not least the surgery she was scheduled for, her response was “Obviously… that will be a really new experience for both of us.  I am thinking colourful headwear for the winter would be good.”

So I planned to surprise her with a beautiful scarf in her favourite colour – purple, after the surgery had taken place…

With typical brio, she soon shared the news on her Facebook timeline too:

I took the view that if anyone had a good chance of beating something like this, then it was Caroline.  Her sudden passing therefore, 4 days before the surgery was scheduled, and only a day after this post, was a terrible shock…

Robert Ashby Announcement

The scarf arrived in the post after she had gone.  It was pretty, purple and sparkly, just like Caroline.  When I saw it I cried and was comforted simultaneously.  Instead of giving it to her, I got to wear it at her Celebration Service instead, along with a beautiful purple dress she would also have loved…

After the shock wore off – grief and sadness set in, as I started to process what had happened.  And yet also, in the strange soupy and complex mix of emotions I’ve been going through – none of which I could quite accurately label, I have also been resonating with the sheer joy and blessing of having known this genuinely unique and beautiful soul.

A few years ago, when Caroline suddenly lost one of her precious pets, I penned these words for her and now, somehow she has given them back to me:

That you were on loan for us for such a short time feels hard to bear.  But what a gift you were and are!  We have learned so much from you, gained so much laughter and light and so now let’s choose your loving legacy.

It feels like you were taken from life too soon.  Too soon for us, anyway.  Is that fair?  That is what I have felt, but not what I know, when I think with love of where we are.  For me, the knowing is that you had your time.  You see, that was the thing about you, it was always YOUR time and so thank you, so much for giving it to us.  For that gift was a rare one, indeed.

We now have to allow time to grieve and be sad, for that honours what we felt for you.  Because you gave us so much, we feel so much now.  But I want to celebrate you too.  To celebrate the distinct sparkling light that you were.

In the days before her Celebration Service I felt sad that it was time to say farewell and yet also joyous that I would somehow be close to her again.

Despite the fact that I traveled to Brighton the night before the service, I still managed to be a few minutes late and it had already started…

Feeling flustered, I dashed in, round the front of the service hall, squeezing pass her casket – rather than entering quietly through the closed back doors. I flung myself into the nearest chair trying to be inconspicuous, yet Robert – Caroline’s husband smiled at me – all was well.

I took in the sight of her wicker casket, with purple banding woven in, adorned with flowers.  Beyond it a glass wall was opened out and I could see over the natural burial ground, to the South Downs beyond. To make the scene even more heart breakingly beautiful, the sun was shining in an almost cloudless sky…

The Humanist celebrant conducting the service, told Caroline’s story, most of which I knew – as one does with a friend – like random pieces of a jigsaw, scattered through time.  All those pieces were now being assembled into a portrait of her life with new ones added in to create a more complete image.  I smiled my way through, but wondered how I would hold it together when a recording of Aretha Franklin singing ‘Bridge over troubled water’ was played. Her family gave readings and poems.  I laughed and sniffed away my tears simultaneously.

Lucie Bradbury – the founder of Damsels in Success, had snuck in to the service even later than me, but just in time to hear some of my words, read by the celebrant, about Caroline’s time with Damsels and the Autism Nanny – my sharing of that part of her glorious story.

One of Caroline’s brothers also read out many of the Facebook postings which had poured out after her passing was announced.  Her family had the quite brilliant idea of doing this by printing them on cards, dropping them into one of Caroline’s many colourful hats and then asking members of the congregation to serendipitously pick them out.

The service drew to an end and it was time for her committal.   We filed outside and I held back to greet Lucie, who rushed towards me.  I could see that she had been crying, so my own tears fell unchecked as we hugged long and tightly. We then took each other’s hand and walked to the graveside.

The celebrant finished her ministrations before the casket was lowered into the ground. “Now” she said, with solemnity “it’s time to say good bye.”  She then had to pause as a train noisily rumbled by somewhere in the ether, before she could continue.  Inwardly I smiled – “you did that on purpose, Caroline – trust you to have the truly last laugh.” For me that moment was Caroline telling us not to be too serious.  It was another joyous moment in a truly celebratory day.

So everyone there said goodbye to that earthly part of her and later gathered together for the Reception.  I had carried with me the promise that Caroline had written some years before, that:
Autism will be seen as a beautiful gift.  I slipped it into the Remembrance book, happy that I had finally returned it to her.  This ‘beautiful gift’ was just one of many that she gave to us…

One of the things I gave her was the nickname of ‘My Sparkly One’ – both for the constant sparkle in her eyes and her vibrant personality…

Me & C
She & Me: Purple & Peach

Thank you for so much, my Sparkly one – “still love you.”

Heavenly hugs,
Sandie xxx

Caroline was a true advocate for Autism, which was in every way, her life’s work. Her family have therefore set up online links to various charities in support of her memory, including Research Autism:
www.justgiving.com/CarolineAshbyResearchAutism,
as well as Cancer Research UK (she had a brain tumour) and Humanists UK (she had a beautiful Humanist Celebration Service).  It would be amazing if you could make a donation.  Thank you…

On Brighton Beach at Black of Night – Poem

A friend of mine suddenly passed away several weeks ago. Her name is Caroline Ashby and a year or so ago, she moved away from the East Midlands (of England) where we met, to the Sussex shores of Brighton so that her daughter, on the autistic spectrum, could attend a college there.  The day before her celebration service, I had driven down to Brighton and some time around bedtime, found myself walking alongside the pebbled beach in almost pitch blackness.  Hearing the sea, I was drawn off solid land to sit in the dark with my heart, and so I wrote this poem…

Brighton Beach

On Brighton Beach, at Black of Night

I’m sitting here with the sea.
Listening to her thrash and relentlessly beat the beach.
Close to you, my reason for being here on this Brighton shore;
yet only able to touch you in my memory.

Here on the pebbled beach in the dark,
I have only my lilting grief for company.
Even the slicing ocean wind won’t carry my cares away.

Yet I shan’t fight the melancholy or seek to blot it out,
for I know it has its time and purpose.

But then, like the sea, the question hurls itself at me…  Why you, why now?
I hadn’t let these thoughts haunt me till this moment.
Had instead simply surrendered to the shock…

My inner voice murmurs to us – if anyone had a huge ‘why’, a reason to breathe –
it was you my love, it was you; since all your roads led to Brighton
and Brighton had blossomed into a magnitude of precious possibilities.

But on this darkest of nights, your breath is now the wind grazing my face and pushing me sideways.

So… I can be blown out to sea by that voice, or else I can breathe with the rhythm of the wind…  This then, is what I choose:

I can only know that this was YOUR time – whatever its length,
and feel blessed by sharing some of it with you.
And I promise I shall always keep and caress the gorgeous gift and genuine joy of knowing you.

You’ve created a huge legacy of love, in your daughter
and your mission to see the autistic spectrum as a prism of light with endless colourfully sparkling possibilities, rather than to box it up into monochrome black and white…

Here on the beach I’m suddenly sprinkled with rain.
It’s a benediction of new perspective and shifting stones as I heave myself upright again.
As my heart is now lighter, the wind can blow me back – from stumbling darkness, onto shining, solid land.

~ Sandra Peachey

Caroline was a true advocate for Autism, which was in every way, her life’s work. Her family have therefore set up online links to various charities in support of her memory, including
Research Autism: www.justgiving.com/CarolineAshbyResearchAutism,
as well as Cancer Research UK (she had a brain tumour) and Humanists UK (she had a beautiful Humanist Celebration Service).  It would be amazing if you could make a donation.  Thank you…

 

Poem: The Clown Strikes Again

This poem was written when I was feeling the mortification of the consequences of an action I had thought through, but not considered in full and fine detail…
In the grand scheme of things it was a minor occurrence, but I felt it deeply and keenly at the time, not just being annoyed with myself, but thinking it would damage others perception of me, too.
Writing this poem helped me get rid of those feelings and to put it all into
perfect perspective.

Clown in Mirror

I’ve been slaughtered, again.
Laid bare.  Knocked out and lying on the hard, grey pavement.
Mortified in cold blood.
That clown of mine, is raising his ugly head.
Obscuring me. Blinding my thoughts
And shadowing the actions
which I take in the warm light.
The thousand things that I do right,
suddenly thrown into shade.

I’ve messed up – misinterpreted one thought, again.
Did not see the consequences
that others could see so clearly.
I could not see around the clown,
and now he blatantly attacks me again;
Pulls me off my white horse.
Painfully twists small things
into vast misinterpretations.
So I am not seen.  Just the clown.

It is not enough that this has happened again?
Cannot the clown cease now?
Stop this stupidity, consciously,
and leave me to walk unencumbered and illuminated.
No – that gaping, laughing red mouth spreads misery;
It’s a disease of mind and perception, that in this circus,
the audience forgets the trapeze and the dancing horses.
They only see the clown, filling their senses
with violent reaction and violated distinction.

The clown must be banished, again.
But please don’t send me with him, into the dark.
Remind me, constantly to be on the lookout for him,
In the audience out there, under the chairs, I will scan with my torch.
I’ll look for him lurking, waiting to leap out and scorch.
I can see through the dark, I know his name.
for this is Martrucio and shame is his game.
I succumbed for a while, yet I know the story,
since I strayed and fell backwards into dark, hurted history.

I’m righting myself as I write this, again.
Words can blight or be therapy – the latter is me.
I stumble, then stand and keep on walking,
both humbled and learnèd – I know how to heal and how to deal
with anger vs faith, darkness vs light and despair vs trust.
I take responsibility, with karmic sensibility, since I am part of the cyclic crowd.
I’m sorry, I forgive, love much and am grateful for my part in this charade.
I choose to learn from, then laugh at the clown.

And I sit in the audience too, to observe and feel the truth of life, yet again.
Jeers are not necessary, neither are cheers. This circus performance is over now.
The curtain is closed. No clowning around or clapping required anymore…

PS: My book – Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life has been featured in Psychologies Magazine and The Lady, it was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.  

The book takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a satisfying structure. It’s an easy yet satisfying read, which has allowed its’ readers to laugh, cry and think – seeing the love in everything we do in life – from the big themes to the tiny, trivial minutiae of it too.

Buy the paperback on my website – here for just £7.99 including P&P…

  • Or get it from Amazon for £11.99 and from all great book websites anywhere in the world.
  • You can also buy it in Kindle format…

If you want to get in touch, you can contact me by clicking here…

I’m also variously known as:
* The Director of LifeWork Consultancy & Coaching;
* The Author of Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life and Co-Author of The F-Factor.
* A 2015 International Book Awards Finalist, in the Women’s Issues Category;
* The Winner of a Women Inspiring Women Award in 2013;
* As being shortlisted for Women’s Coach in the APCTC Awards 2014, also nominated in 2012 & 2013; and
* Being nominated for a Networking Mummies National Recognition Award in 2015.

Finding my French Feet

It had seemed like a good idea… I was feeling tired and low, so on a whim, booked a train ticket and hotel to a random destination in France.  So far so good, but then I got cold feet and a sudden case of shyness…  But then I know that I’m a creature of contradictions, with warring inclinations alternately sending me off on adventures and then making me hide from them.  Basically I’m a brave wimp.  Is that impelling or introspective?  Either way it’s time for me to explore ‘Finding my French Feet’…

My inclinations are all at odds again….  On one hand there is…
The Extrovert me!
I write and put my personal stuff out there.  I give speeches and presentations.  I even take charge and am decisive.
Sometimes…
And I like being that person…

But then again there’s…
The Introvert me…
Look for me on another day and it maybe that you won’t find me, since I’m staying safe and still, hidden blithely out of sight.
And I like that version of me too…

It means that I’m a mixed up marriage of a girl with gypsy instincts, hitched to a stay at home hermit.

So the gypsy in me frets to flee my responsibilities and set myself free for a while.  It’s such a wonderfully liberating ideal.  But then my inner hermit gets cold feet…

Despite my misgivings I still bravely boarded a Eurostar train.  And suddenly, there I was, in the city of Lille, in France, on my own.  And so I had to own my sudden shyness.

I had embarked on a mild mannered adventure, breaking my norm, expanding my horizons and insisting to myself that I must practise a language I rarely speak.  So I’d made the journey and so far so good, but still I needed some time to adjust to my new solo world and overcome my protectionist fears.

Smartly marching off the train, I floundered around on foot until I finally found my hotel – hidden away in plain sight.  I must have walked past it at least 5 times.  Oh well – I didn’t earn the nickname ‘Crap Nav’ without good reason…

But having found my new home I wasn’t quite ready to adventure yet.  Instead I quietly caught up on work in a café, with a croissant and hot chocolate for company.  Then hid away in my hotel room to sleep and read my time away.

The heated world of France outside my room intruded into my idyll.  The bars, cafes and hotels surrounding me were full of people watching football, as France played a World Cup round against Uruguay.  I could tell from the never ending cheers that my host country had won, so my inner gypsy pushed me out to revel in the atmosphere.  And when the revelry reached fever pitch, my hermit took over and I skulked off to the quietest, least threatening restaurant I could find for dinner.

As I sat with an aperitif waiting for my starter to arrive, I mused that being middle aged is interesting…  I’ve definitely lost the confidence of youth, but now I have more knowledge and surety.  My gypsy and hermit tendencies may be constantly contradicting each other, but at least these days I’m good with that and I know that on my path, I can make my own rules.

I realise too after half a life time, that the French I have learnt over the years is stuck in my brain, so that’s as good a metaphor as any I can think of for where I am in life.  I have amassed a set of skills and experience.  On my little sortie into France it was time to add to those – to speak and act in a different lexicon.  Time too to stride out into the world, be a bit of a braver soul, an unashamed tourist and an observer, encore…

Somehow after some time I eased in and found my French feet.  The next day was a shamelessly touristy one of shopping and walking, as I wandered around, happy as a clam.  My French wasn’t perfect, but it served, I got by and on the whole I was forgiven my linguistic imperfections.

 

Being in a city, I didn’t expect to get eaten alive by (what felt like at least) 60000 or so avaricious mosquitoes.  I was covered in itchy blistering bites from head to foot.  Then again all the gluten I’d consumed into my gluten intolerant body had given me indigestion.  I decided this was all part of the experience and headed for the nearest Pharmacie, there to consult with a man in a white coat who recommended homeopathic remedies to me in a typically French fashion…  I chose to keep enjoying myself and that minor medical misfortunes were of no consequence in the grand ‘weekend’ of things.

Whilst my gypsy let me play Russian roulette with the food to get the full on French experience, my hermit told me to avoid the strong French coffee – that was one food intolerance TOO far (the stuff makes me seriously ill).

The next day I had a late breakfast in a little enclosure on the pavement outside my hotel which faced the Gare de Lille – the city’s train station.  I sat watching the road works and the people go by, including 8 soldiers cradling their macabre rifles as tenderly as if they were babies.  I’d already seen them at the rail stations I’d passed through in France on this trip, but to see armed soldiers on the street like that felt raw and odd.  I rationalised it as a show of protectionism, given recent terrorist events in this country, but it seemed odd, just a couple of hours from my English door, where we’ve had our own share of similar atrocities.

lille 6
Soldiers on the streets of Lille

An American tourist oblivious of my musings wandered in past the street barrier, seeking ice cubes for her for her flask – asking the waiter in a mixture of French and English.  He shook his head and I tried to translate.  “I looked the word up on google” she said adamantly.  Then she asks me if she could buy some from the hypermarket over the road.  I explained that it was Sunday so it was closed.  “That’s strange”, she said.  “That’s how it is in Lille” I replied with a Gallic shrug.  I spoke to the waiter again and he reluctantly purloined some ice from the bar for her.  “Your French is fluent, do you live here?” She asked.  Suddenly I wasn’t such a shy a stranger…  Cue another Gallic shrug – “I’m just here for the weekend”…

Another day of sightseeing / meandering ensued.  On a tour bus, there was some light and friendly French chatter with the woman sitting next to me.  I’m particularly proud that I made her laugh, when I pointed out the bird sitting atop the proud head of very serious statue.  I made someone laugh…  In French! She hadn’t seen the bird or the joke at first, but a few words and a dramatic mime had her laughing and frantically snapping away with her phone camera, hopefully to share the joke with who knows who back home.

Lille is close to the Belgian border and still has a distinctly Flemish flavour, especially in its architecture.  On the bus I saw a city of history and modernity, the two sometimes neatly dissected and often fiendishly integrated.  At the end of concreted side streets I’d glimpse churches of astounding beauty and gargantuan proportions.  Behind road works and sitting amongst rows of modern terraces, ornately façaded buildings would suddenly assert themselves to my senses and let me admire them from afar.

The bus whizzed us pass the cathedral, statues and civic buildings – ancient and modern.  We skirted the old quarter and admired its historical tweeness.  We craned our necks to fill our camera lenses with giant towers -precariously shooting our photo prey in between the silhouettes of the couple sitting in front of us.

Disembarking the bus I made my way back to hone in on the places I wanted to pry on some more.  First stop was the Old Market, where the locals come to buy fresh food produce and then get a beer at the one of the surrounding bars – to smoke and talk and create a cacophony of crowded Sunday sound.

I dawdled through the old quarter and stopped for lunch outside a bistro on a sunny street.  Having read that Lille followed the Belgian fashion of drinking beer rather than wine, I plunged in and ordered a Leff Ruby – a lager of a rich red colour and gorgeously fruity taste to go with my Tarteflette.

I lingered around the flea market housed in the square of the deliciously ornate Stock Exchange building, then wandered back to my hotel for a nap.

Later on I found a Moroccan cafe where I seemed to be the only tourist they had seen in a very long time.  The waiter bade me to sit inside, but I asked to sit out on the street explaining that I didn’t like football (which was loudly blaring from the incumbent TV attached to the wall).

The only other customers outside were a young couple, who seemed to be smirking at me.  Feeling the discomfort of their attentions, I ignored rather than engaged with them…

I know my Moroccan food and am fluent in menu, so confidently ordered a lamb tagine, washed down with water, since no alcohol was on sale – at this Halal establishment.

The food was scrumptious and I slowly picked it apart and devoured it, watching the street comings and goings in the shadow of a huge and beautifully ornate church.

Feeling the need of a drink to finish off my last evening in France with a suitable finale, I headed towards the tourist area.  Suddenly I lost my nerve again.  The bars were crowded and noisy.  I circled them all at least 3 times, until finally I told myself to get a grip and just sit my arse down at the nearest one.  I drank more Ruby beer and watched the world go by, then followed the sound of music, around the corner in the Place Charles de Gaulle.

I sat myself down on the wall of the fountain, alternatively watching water splash and then the couples who had gathered to dance tango to modern Latin beat.  The sun sank down.  It felt like a gourmet slice of heaven…

Despite my occasional timidity, travelling alone is liberating – you set your own agenda, you make the decisions and the only ego you have to tussle with, is your own.

As a creature of contradictions, I’m a little home bird hermit that loves to nest in peace and I also have a gypsy spirit (and Traveller’s ancestry in my DNA), so necessity has been the mother of invention when wanderlust calls and I need to fly the confines of the familiar, soaring over the horizon of my fears.

So maybe my inner gypsy and hermit are not at odds after all.  In fact they allow me simultaneously to adventure and keep me safe.

And if that is yet another contradiction, then it is also a choice and one I know that I will keep making, as my adventures through life – huge or tiny, continue.

~ Sandra Peachey – Timid Adventurer

PS: My book – Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life has been featured in Psychologies Magazine and The Lady, it was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.  

The book takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a satisfying structure – that will make you feel the love, entertain and enlighten.  It’s an easy yet satisfying read, which sees love in everything we do in life – from the big themes to the tiny, trivial minutiae of it too.

Buy the paperback on my website – here for just £7.99 including P&P…

  • Or get it from Amazon for £11.99 and from all great book websites anywhere in the world.
  • You can also buy it in Kindle format…

If you want to get in touch, you can contact me by clicking here…

I’m also variously known as:
* The Director of LifeWork Consultancy & Coaching;
* The Author of Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life and Co-Author of The F-Factor.
* A 2015 International Book Awards Finalist, in the Women’s Issues Category;
* The Winner of a Women Inspiring Women Award in 2013;
* As being shortlisted for Women’s Coach in the APCTC Awards 2014, also nominated in 2012 & 2013; and
* Being nominated for a Networking Mummies National Recognition Award in 2015.

Missing your mother or miss being a mother, this Mothering Sunday?

It’s Mothering Sunday in the UK – time to celebrate and venerate those who gave us life and / or raised us in the Christian and Hallmark calendars.  I see a lot of joy around this time and I also see a lot of sadness.  As a woman whose mother is no longer here and has no children of her own, I wrote this poem to celebrate and demarcate the child…

Mum and Kids cropMy mother and the children that made her so

HAPPY CHILD’S DAY

I’m reading all the Mothering Sunday posts and reflecting:
I don’t have a mum any more.
And I’m not a mother myself.
So, regardless of why, that’s just how it is today…

For every mother and every child there’s a single story.
And it’s different for each and everyone of us.
Made out of genetics, chance and a million interactions.
Starting in the womb, then pushing out and pushing a way through life.

And I’ve heard it said that we choose our parents.
That’s both coldly crazy and softly sane in different measures.
I know I have chosen what I take from and learn from mine.
That’s some bitterness turned in to much sweet reason.

I’ve chosen the love and the laughter.
The generosity, the surprise gifts and all the toast.
The recognition of a tough job with the tough and easy love.
And today, what ever our story is, to celebrate my mother.

And there are no birth babies for me, but I’ve created so much.
I’ve played with god children and cooed over little ones.
I’ve hugged, hid, tickled, spoilt and giggled many times over.
I’ve witnessed the joy of new generations and played my part in their lives.

So Happy Mother’s day, what ever your denomination.
Whether in flesh or memory – seen or invisibly felt.
Regardless of our parenthood, there wouldn’t be a mother without – us.
So celebrate and be a cause for celebration:

And most of all – have a Happy Child’s Day – what ever that means – for you.

~ Sandra Peachey – Child and Creator

PS: I currently have a Child’s Day special offer… You can buy the paperback of my ‘Love Letters to Life’ on Amazon for £11.99 or as a Valentine’s treat you can get an author signed copy on my website – for just £7.99 including P&P…

Featured in Psychologies Magazine and The Lady, it was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.  

Making a perfect Mother’s Day (or any other day) gift, the book takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a satisfying structure – that will make you feel the love, entertain and enlighten you.

It’s an easy yet satisfying read, which sees love in everything we do in life – from the big themes to the tiny, trivial minutiae of it too

Buy the paperback on my website – here for just £7.99 including P&P…

  • Or get it from Amazon for £11.99 and from all great book websites anywhere in the world.
  • You can also buy it in Kindle format…

If you want to get in touch, you can contact me by clicking here…

I’m also variously known as:
* The Director of LifeWork Consultancy & Coaching;
* The Author of Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life and Co-Author of The F-Factor.
* A 2015 International Book Awards Finalist, in the Women’s Issues Category;
* The Winner of a Women Inspiring Women Award in 2013;
* As being shortlisted for Women’s Coach in the APCTC Awards 2014, also nominated in 2012 & 2013; and
* Being nominated for a Networking Mummies National Recognition Award in 2015.