Thursday, 30 January 2014

Julia Cameron and her Morning Pages

Okay, hands up, everyone who's been churning a problem around in your mind recently, chewing over an issue repeatedly, running into the same old road blocks in your life day after day or having the same endless dialogue with yourself and getting nowhere. Yeah, we've all been there. In fact, it's where we all reside most of the time. So, what do we do about it? Well, Julia Cameron is one of my all-time heroines, and her practice of writing Morning Pages has been saving me for the last 20 years!

She is someone who seems to embody all the things I'm shooting for right now: authenticity, creativity, grace, joy, awareness, strength and much more. I can't remember when I was first introduced to her most seminal tome The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self — it just feels like it has always been in my orbit, and I would like to thank whoever it was (probably my mother!). It changed my life. Really.

One of the tools that Julia advocates is Morning Pages. They are the best and fastest way I know to check in with myself and get back on track. You simply commit to writing, long-hand, three pages of A4 every morning, uncensored. Just write whatever comes into your head and keep writing til you've filled the three pages, even if it's "I don't know what to write." Sounds crazy, works brilliantly — and it's so simple. It doesn't take very long for the pattern to emerge and then you are much better equipped to proceed wisely. You really are your own best guide!

Her second book in the series, Walking in This World: Spiritual Strategies for Forging Your Creative Trail, picks up where The Artist's Way leaves off. My favourite tool from this book is the Weekly Walk. You are supposed to do this alone, but I cheated and asked my friend Loralie if she wanted to join me as a regular thing. That was nine years ago and we never missed a walk unless one of us was sick or on holiday. It became a hugely important touchstone for both of us — a safe space to explore ideas, figure ourselves out and be 100% supported in our respective journeys. She has just moved away and her absence has left me feeling somewhat untethered and missing her terribly.

Often, when this happens, I find myself turning to Julia Cameron's wisdom for some guidance and some grounding. How can I get back on track? Which tools are the ones that will help me the most in this situation? She always comes up with the goods and I have faith that this time will be no different.

I am currently working my way through The Prosperous Heart: Creating A Life of 'Enough', and, before she moved, I know Loralie had secured a copy of The Artist's Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children. [And here's how "in the zone" working with Julia's techniques makes you: just as I was typing that sentence, Loralie emailed me! This is not so remarkable until you know that she has almost no internet access at the moment and is many, many time zones away, so it really was quite a "coincidence"!!]

P.S. My best friend Denise confessed to me a couple of months ago that she hates Morning Pages. Hates them! Can you imagine? I couldn't, but then there are lots and lots of ways to access that peaceful place that moves us forward, so I'd say do give Morning Pages a go, but if they are not for you, please no guilt! There will be something else that comes along and scoops you up…just keep paying attention so you recognise it when it suggests itself to you!

P.P.S. Ha, ha, in another In The Zone "coincidence", Denise called me this very morning, totally unaware that I had been working on this post, to say that she had just been doing…. yup, you guessed it: Morning Pages! I think I'd better post this and let Julia continue to work her magic...!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

3 Happy Things: January

January can seem like a long month what with the excitement of Christmas passed, the nights still drawing in early and the weather challenging. As I write, there is torrential rain streaming down my windows and many of my friends are caught in the Polar Vortex! So, this month I have been trying to notice things that bring "light" in some way. We have been burning loads of candles, baking, doing puzzles and trying to lift each other up. I hope you are finding some light in your days too!

One: a bright bowlful of clementines in the sunshine

Two: this happy Buddha on a card from my brother: pure joy!

Three: planning my next bake...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Lemon Aid… for your eyes!

I got this for my birthday. I opened it and immediately loved the packaging. I'm like that. But I had no idea what to do with the product! I checked the back for clues: "colour correcting eyelid primer". I was none the wiser. And then I started worrying about whether or not the colour of my eyelids actually needed correcting. What colour were other people's eyelids? Were mine not normal? Oh my, I was full of questions. I decided to put the little container (face out, so I could see the packaging) in one of my little, clear plastic make-up drawers and come back to it when I could cope with that level of enquiry.

Approximately one month later, I could no longer hold out. I wanted to love lemon aid, but, more importantly, I wanted to know what it did! And so, without any research whatsoever (most unlike me!), I started putting it on my eyelids. I have to say it goes on smooth and makes my eyelids a uniform colour, lighter and brighter than my own. Then I wondered if it would hold my eyeshadow in place for the whole day. I vowed to check it that night. But I forgot. I forgot for the next two weeks (although I faithfully put it on each morning). And then, finally, I remembered. And it does! It works! My eyelid were just as perfectly made up as when I finished my morning maquillage.

I am shot through with fatigue most days and so anything that perks up my eye area is a blessing. My dear friend Jane is not limited only to excellent book recommendations, she is also a genius gift-giver and this is one of her finds. It's good to know your friends are looking out for you, and if they are not, well, you can order some for yourself right here: Benefit Lemon Aid. Go on, you know you are a sucker for the packaging too!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Inspiration Times Two

2014 started here in London in typical fashion: wet and windy! I have to admit I had been feeling a little gloomy and housebound when I was unexpectedly cheered up by two people I have never met! Buddhists use the term "sangha" to refer to their community and, in my mind, it is how I think of the community I am coming to know online. The only things you need to join in are common interests, some shared reference points, possibly a love of Nutella (depending on what "sangha" calls to you!) So, last week, when I had lost my momentum, I logged on looking for some of these people who are putting their good vibes out into the world to help lift me out of my malaise and get me feeling inspired again. There were two that jumped right out at me.

The first was a quote I saw on Laura Wright's Instagram feed ("thefirstmess"):
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
I did not know it was Zora Neale Hurston and had to look that up. Perhaps you already knew! However, that sentence has been bouncing around and around in my brain ever since I read it. It feels so prophetic to me ahead of this year that is about to unfold. Last year was tough and the year before even tougher. I faced the biggest challenges of my life. I made it through and am proud of what I have picked up along the way, but now I am ready to move forward, instead of just surviving, and how I do that is still ahead of me. It's an exciting time.

The second thing was a connection I made through my blogging that showed me again the power of the internet to connect us to people all over the world who are doing amazing, inspiring things every day. To be able to tap into that and be a part of something so big and so awesome (in the true sense of the word) fills me with joy…. and that has been my goal for the past two years: to get back the joy that seems to seep out of most of us as we grow up and get bogged down by the responsibilities that come with adult life. It doesn't have to be that way and I forget that when I am busy/tired/focused elsewhere. We need to be present, and also to present our most authentic selves to the world. When we connect with each other and share our experiences, we create an opportunity for joy to flood in for everyone.

So, thank you to Christa over at Christa In New York. I came across her blog via a friend and have been following her journey for several months now. I noticed after a while that when I was having a day where I was struggling to get off the ground, it was often one of her inspiring (daily) posts that perked me up enough to get going. She followed her heart last year and that authenticity shines through her writing and is now bringing her lots of exciting new opportunities. Sometimes all we need is a little prod, a little reminder that we can choose how we feel and that can make all the difference.

So I am sending out a big thank you to all of you who inspired me in 2013. I hope I can pay some of it back (or forward?!) here on my own blog this year.

Much love, Aimee
Photos courtesy of my very talented dad and brother, respectively.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Cazalet Chronicles

Oh, where to begin?! I have just finished All Change, the last book in Elizabeth Jane Howard's marvellous Cazalet Chronicles and am equal parts elated and bereft! After five books and a story spanning 21 years, I feel like the Cazalets are my own family. As they are a large and ever-expanding family, it is to Howard's immense credit that she has drawn them all so completely for my mind's eye that I did not once have to refer to the sprawling family tree which appears so helpfully on the endpapers. Quite a feat at the best of times and she was in her late 80s when she wrote this.

It amazes me that she was able to so accurately capture and describe the internal emotional lives of so many diverse characters. She weaves them together beautifully by writing different chapters from the perspectives of different people, so the story keeps moving on but we are far more deeply involved with each character through seeing things precisely from their point of view. As my writing teacher always said, "Don't tell me, show me." Howard is a genius at that. She has also been clever here with her ending, which, of course, I won't spoil by giving away. I was so curious as to how she would manage to successfully wrap up such an ongoing family saga. There is no plot, after all; we are simply following the life of a family — all the ins and outs, up and downs…. I will simply say that I was not disappointed.

Howard's real skill is making us care about each and every one of her characters, even the less sympathetic ones. She has managed to make them so utterly human that we can always find a scrap of recognition (and therefore compassion) in even their most appalling behaviour. We all have less-than-attractive traits and it is a relief to see them handled so beautifully. We are also treated to a partial social history of England between 1937 and 1958, which is inherently woven into the writing (some of which is autobiographical). It's all the bits I wish I could "see" when I visit an old country house, the bits behind the closed doors: how did they really live, how did they think and feel, what did they wear and eat and do? What social conventions were they held by? And when and how did they allow for changes to set in?

Howard is brilliant at showing all the dynamics of a big family, how they are all cogs in a larger machine, each affecting the others. I come from a smallish family and do not live near most of them, but I do have childhood memories of gathering as a clan at my grandparents' house for summers and Thanksgivings with my aunts, uncles and cousins. There were elements similar to Home Place (the Cazalets' family home) and they are lovely memories, but only took place over a short number of years. In this series, their whole lives and those of their parents and children revolve around this hub and it is this unifying theme of the house being a true home to them all that is the real bedrock of her story.

My friend Jane (she of the most excellent recommendations) introduced me to these stories. I was resistant at first. Surely one family saga is much like another, I reasoned, and I had read plenty. She finally got so fed up with me that she bought me the first one, The Light Years, and told me to Get On With It! And I'm so very glad she did. My life has been immeasurably enriched by Elizabeth Jane Howard's wisdom, intelligence and grace. Jane told me once that every few years she would re-read the whole series (and there were only four at that point) from start to finish. At the time, I thought, "Good Heavens, is she mad?" (I am not usually a re-reader.) But now I totally understand.

I shall miss the Cazalets enormously and there really won't be any more stories this time as Howard died, age 90, shortly after the New Year. However, I know without a doubt that I will be joining Jane in her tradition of re-reading these wonderful books. In fact, just knowing that I have the pleasure of re-visiting all of them again has taken me from a mood of feeling quite wistful to one of happy anticipation of a grand treat to come. So, I have now only to implore you to go and get yourself a copy of The Light Years and tell you to Get On With It! Trust me, you'll be ever so pleased you did.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Year for Creating

Happy (slightly belated) New Year! I realize it has been a while since I was last here. My heart is still not quite strong enough to sail through school holidays, and Christmas is the trickiest, what with all the "extras" from the North Pole to attend to! However, I have some rest time set aside now that the girls are back at school and there are lots of ideas percolating around in my head that I am excited about exploring in 2014.

One concept that I keep running into is that of Theme Words. Like everyone, I am familiar with New Year's Resolutions (or Revolutions as my daughter used to call them, perhaps more accurately!), but picking a word that represented what the "theme" of my year would be was totally new to me.

The first word that popped into my head was Authenticity, but after some reflection I realized that that had been my theme for 2013! It was the whole foundation for this blog, in fact — tapping back into my authentic self to help bring about healing. I had been diagnosed with heart failure in 2012 and reasoned that living more from my true heart-space (listening more to my own heart's guidance), would be the best place to begin.

This proved to be the case and I made huge improvements last year. I also made this blog and dipped my toe tentatively into social media. I am low-tech by nature and struggle with the electronic side of things, but I love to write and share ideas and I was looking for a community of like-minded people, so I jumped in and tried my best. The site itself still needs a lot of work, but it has already (in the six months that I have been dabbling) brought me so much.

I am flexing my creative muscle and that is opening doors. I started using Instagram (aimeesapothecary) recently as one of my other loves is taking photographs. The unexpected treat that came with that adventure was the visual dialogue that is happening in that world. Wow! So much creativity there and it has connected me to people and worlds that inspire me every day. Seeing what others are up to reminded me of how many interests I had dropped along the way as life got busy and other responsibilities filled my days. I had started to feel empty and, as Julia Cameron says, I needed to fill my "creative well".

And so after a few days of pondering and ending up at exactly the same place each time, I have settled on "Create" as my theme word for 2014. Last year, I remembered who I really was, deep down, and this year I will try to honour that by creating opportunities wherever I am drawn: writing, photography, knitting, baking, candlestick-making (totally serious here!) and I'm sure many more ideas will bubble up to the surface as I continue to explore. I hope you will join me. I have a feeling this is going to be an exciting year!