Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.
This week’s prompt was: Grace and Gratitude
The idea of grace and gratitude has always been a fundamental aspect of character for me. It is a spiritual discipline, one easy to start but difficult to master and be consistent with. The tendency to fall into complaining mode is strong. To focus on what we can be thankful for is too easy to dismiss.
It is a contemplative spirit that seeks understanding and strength beyond itself.
Music that encapsulates this for me is from solo bass performer Steve Lawson. His 2004 album, Grace and Gratitude, is a spiritual refuge for me musically and aesthetically. He samples and loops his bass guitar in sonic landscapes and has been a constant companion when I am writing.
This is my favourite track from the album, Despite My Worst Intentions. Have a listen. The whole album is an aural hug and meditative journey.
Below is a live recording so you can see how he does it from one of his house concerts. I wish I could attend one if I lived in England.
This is the title track from the album, recorded for Bass Player magazine. It is a beautiful piece of music.
Sometimes, the lessons of grace and gratitude come at the least expected moments.
Earlier this week, I found myself in a situation where I needed to have a tough conversation with about seven of my students. Due to some sloppy editing, we had published some material online that was never meant to be shared with a larger audience. It wasn’t anything that put another person in jeopardy; it was just information that we cut from the article for the purposes of developing and refining the angle. It was sloppy, and none of us liked the message it gave to our readers.
After I had shared my concerns, I asked the students, one by one, if they had anything to add. Beyond a few mumbled apologies, there was nothing anybody wanted to say.
Until we reached Natalie.
Now, Natalie is our copy editor, and a darn good one. She’s quiet, but confident. Her contributions to the team have been largely made with a red marking pen.
When it was Natalie’s turn to speak, she let us have it. She reminded us that we had lost our desire to have “fun” while still working to the best of our abilities. In a matter of seconds, she had turned a shaming into an inspiring moment about what our team is all about, and what has brought us together this entire year.
Since then, our team has had a more positive energy, and our production has markedly improved. All thanks to Natalie and her graceful words of optimism and inspiration.
The next day, the editors and I made her a card to express our gratitude. What goes around comes around, and we put our creative talents to work to recognize just how thankful we were (and are) for her speaking up and showing us the way back to enjoying our work.
So here’s to you, Natalie, and all of you who have the courage to speak up. we are grateful for your words…and you!
Serendipity found me on Monday morning. Grace is not a word I come across a lot when making cut-up poetry, but there it was, the day after pulling the prompt. Gratitude often arrives most powerfully in the small moments of life.
As writers, we are intimately engaged with the art and process of telling stories. What we can forget is the conceptual power of narrative is greater than the fiction we create, or the poetry we pen, or the ideas strung together in non-fiction. Narrative is a hardwired aspect of human existence. It forms the basis of our identity: how we make sense of the world and our place in it; how we behave, express ourselves, and make decisions; the core beliefs and values we adopt. Our personal narratives are fundamental to understanding who we are, and for those willing to go deeper, how and why we are.
As writers we are no different. We create deep and often invisible narratives about ourselves as ‘Writer’, around writing, and how we engage and seek to be seen in the worlds within and beyond us. Some narratives free us into authenticity, truth, joy and passion. Other narratives disable and disengage us, create suffering and disconnection.
This where I found myself in 2017, with deeply embedded fears (maybe a side serve of surrender) that I was Writer Interrupted, and what I was experiencing was possibly a terminal interruption in what had been a decades-long love affair with writing.
The deeper and more profoundly dysfunctional my chronic depression became (and it’s sidekick insomnia), the harder I dug in with my writing. It was 2014, the second year of homeschooling my son, and I knew writing held the key to feeling better. It was the only space I entered and felt truly free. But as the year progressed, I became obsessive about writing. The more I was rejected, the more I wrote. Consequently, I moved further away from freedom, from all the good parts of writing, into darker places. It was like course correcting in heavy seas and each new navigational decision, born of a survival reaction (rather than a survival response), pushed me deeper into more treacherous seas.
In September 2014, I finally gave up submitting stories and within a week of this decision, I received my first acceptance for the year, for a project I was deeply in love with. I was very clear though: this was not an invitation back on the write-submit-reject-infinitum cycle which had burnt me.
There were brief and sporadic returns to writing in 2015 and 2016, but something inside me was fundamentally warped. Disconnected. Distraught. Heart broken. It kept me distanced from what had been my greatest love—my truest passion.
As the years fed into each other, from 2015 into 2016 and beyond, I felt momentary reprieves from the bleakness when I wrote for The JAR Story project, an idea Rus had gifted the three of us. There, I was able to write effortlessly, with incredible joy, unprecedented focus, and a skill and precision I had never experienced. Outside of there, I became increasingly antagonist toward anything associated with writing – past, present and future.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
I will be honest: things became intolerable. The only reason I stayed a peripheral part of so many writing-related things was I am loyal to the last breath. But like last drinks called, the last breaths of this incarnation were calling me to make difficult decisions. It was closing time.
I left the online writing group I’d founded, and I didn’t look back. It was an immediate weight off my heart. The whole thing had been making me miserable as I veered more toward poetry, as a survival tact, and increasingly away from fiction and any desire to invest in beta reading or editing for others.
I officially closed eMergent Publishing. I realised that even if I had money, health, focus and energy – it had been set up as a joint vision. Without Paul, there was no eMergent. It was as complicated and simple as that. With that knowledge, I let go with grace and allowed in the reminders of the incredible legacy we left (which had little to do with the back catalogue of 13 books) and moved on.
Then, as the ends were tied, I was invited to read at a local bookstore. It was a big bucket list item, yet I felt empty. I said yes to being part of the launch because I thought I needed to. As it approached, I knew this was my last hurrah and as much as I didn’t want to show up, I had to. From there, I went quietly into the night, knowing never is a very fucking long time so there was no point in invoking it—appreciating things change.
And they did.
No sooner had I taken a graceful exit than Adam messaged to say we’d been invited to directly submit Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to a publisher. Yes, I said. I had no illusions it would be successful. In fact, part of me was happy for it to be yet another failed attempt to get someone as excited by it, as we still were. We were offered a publishing contract on the eclipse on Feb1st 2018 and I knew the Universe was not yet done with me as a writer.
NOT DONE YET
So, if the Universe was not yet done with me, then I had to stop being done with me and the role of writing in my life.
Serendipity stepped in and I was gifted a six-week course on manifesting your dreams. In my work at Soul Lyrical, I spend my time unearthing, unpicking and helping people recognize where their core narratives undermine them and assist in re-writing new, cognizantly aligned ones. It was time I turned these skills toward writing and me… and the door opened.
The first thing that became apparent was I had course corrected myself so far away from my home port, I no longer remembered that I had one, much less how to get back there.
I was invited back into the beginning: to remember why I first wrote.
I was 10 when I first discovered the magick of writing.
Why did I do it? I did it because I could (and that’s not the ‘could’ wrapped up in adult notions of talent or skill) I could write because I had the capacity to pick up a biro, steal my mother’s shitty notepad, and slip away to write stories about a yellow dog who lived on a farm. In doing this, I discovered the joy of entertaining myself with writing. It’s interesting to note that my 10-year-old self never bound her stories into a ‘book’. No cover. No author name. Writing from the beginning was a deeply personal endeavor I did for myself.
Moving into adolescent, I extended the readership of one – me – into an intimate group of my closest friends and that’s how it stayed until my final year at high school when I wrote a novel, for an English communications project, with the intention of submitting it for publication. That was the beginning of the moving away… of the change which ended with me walking totally away 20 years later.
The honest truth is, I’ve only ever been compelled to write for myself. And I write because I love it. As a teenager I pursed it for escapism. As an adult the siren-song of deep immersion remains a core motivation – the different is what I am running toward, rather than running from. And the high. The fucking brilliant high of having written.
In the excavations, I saw how in disconnecting from my core narratives, I’d lost my authentic Self-As-Writer and moved into a shadow identity, obsessed with publication as a way to justify my existence as a writer (at a time when I was having a hard time justifying my existence as a human being). This identity, incongruent with my core narratives, created constant dissonance and in the end I did the only thing that made sense – I created an interruption and stopped the pain and discomfort. At some point, self-protection kicks in.
What shocked me was how quickly everything shifted when I reconnected with my writing origins and remembered those core narratives; remembered the why. Not long after, eight key points came to me, put down in a mission statement as insurance against ever losing my way again.
I hope I never forget I write first and foremost for myself; that this is the beginning and end. This is how easy and difficult love can be.
Writing is where my joy lives; what fills me, expands and nourishes me.
This is my truth. What is yours?
Poetry: Jodi Cleghorn
Source Text: If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler (Italo Calvino)
Photograph: Erich Hartmann, Paris (1982) via Magnum Photos