Tag Archives: Arts

Advent Quote: “This being human” by Rumi

I thought it would be appropriate to offer a reflective piece of poetry as this especially tempestuous year ends: we need all the wisdom we can receive, especially in relation to the dark thoughts, the shame and the malice from which no person is immune – could we but take responsibility for those shadow qualities in ourselves as individuals and nations, refraining from projecting them onto others, the world would probably be less fractured than it is….

“This being human” is by far the most popular and most often read of all the quotes I have posted on my blog in the last few years. Here it is once more. It holds so much wisdom.

” This being human “

The poet Rumi

The poet Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.

Still treat each guest honourably,
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

from the Persian poet Rumi

(1207-1273)

These rules work for hang gliding, tennis, sex – oh, and writing….

I can see you.

The spray can of heavy duty industrial oven cleaner parked on the kitchen floor is a dead give away. Peel off those rubber gloves, stop pretending that your family will drop dead of food poisoning tonight if you don’t clean those charred meal residues insulating the inside of the oven right away. Follow me. Yes, just as I thought. The study door is ajar. I can see the laptop screen from here. Closer….yes, that’s it. Don’t die of embarrassment, it won’t help. A new document  is open on screen. A title?

(NB – provisional ) Of authorship and toads….

" Of authorship and toads...."

And ?  I suspected this. One paragraph indentation, and the word  “The”…...can that really be all ? Oh. There’s a new line.

“ F— this, I might as well be cleaning the oven!!!!”

I have two words to say to you. Pay attention, they really will help, I promise:

Natalie Goldberg.

A few months ago, I visited Glasgow Buddhist Centre in search of a meditation stool. Yes, you’ve guessed, I had an article which had to be in the post by 5pm. I was distracted from the article by the stool, then distracted from the stool by Natalie Goldberg. Her bookWild Mind : Living the Writer’s Life drew me like a lure. What a wonderful writer! What an inspiring book! Did the article get to the postbox? I’m not telling you.

Natalie Goldberg is an American writer  and creative writing teacher. She is sharp, witty, compassionate, lateral….and tough. She has bottom lines and is not afraid to state them. She has rules. My guess is, if you follow these rules on a regular basis, you’ll rarely be distracted by oven cleaning or any other form of housework ever again.

She is fanatical about writing practice. “ If you learn writing practice well, it is a good foundation for all other writing.” We need to do it as regularly as possible, she says.

“ When you sit down to write, whether it’s for ten minutes or an hour, once you begin, don’t stop. If an atom bomb drops at your feet eight minutes after you have begun and you were going to write for ten minutes, don’t budge. You’ll go out writing.”

In essence, writing practice is a technique for cracking open the confining grip of our conscious, rational mind – and flying free into the big blue sky of what Goldberg calls “ wild mind”.

Here, briefly, are Natalie’s rules:

(She also thinks they mostly work for hang gliding, tennis and sex.)

1. Keep your hand moving. If you stop your hand, you stop the creator’s flow and give the editor in you an opportunity to interrupt.

2. Lose control. Just say what you want no matter how inappropriate. Just go for it.

3. Be specific. Don’t write flower, write narcissus.

4. Don’t think. Stay with the first thing that flashes into your mind.

5. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.

6. You are free to write the worst junk in America ( or in your case, could be anywhere in the world ! )

7. Go for the jugular. Whatever comes up, no matter how frightening or disturbing, write it down.

There you are. Begin writing practice today. Next step, buy Goldberg’s books on the writers’ craft. They are a wonderful investment. I’m doing well with my writing practice, by the way. I’ve bought two new notebooks. Still can’t decide which one to start….

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Constructive criticism: can we do without it?

Where would we writers be, without constructive criticism?

One of the most useful pieces of advice I was ever given came from a newspaper editor I once worked for, a crusty old chap who called a spade a spade. “You’re too wordy, my girl!” he observed. (this was in the good old days, before my even thinking he was being offensive might have got him arrested….) “I’ve never known any piece of writing to get anything other than better by the removal of 25 per cent of its wording. Now – take “How I was left on the shelf and found true happiness” away, and chop it!”

Honestly, I did write an article with that title, for the Spring Brides feature of a provincial Scottish newspaper a few decades ago. And yes, dear reader, it actually did get published, minus 25% of its wording. Somewhere in my files I have the cutting to prove it….

Another piece of even earlier straight-from-the-shoulder feedback has just found its way to the front of my braincell. Picture the scene. Aberdeen university, the infamous Sixties. I had left my seriously overdue history essay till the very last possible evening before my second exasperated extension from my usually genial tutor had expired.

I finally stopped procrastination and began writing at one am. Many cups of coffee and cigarettes later, at 8am, the task was completed. It had to be handed in by  9am or I would not receive my History class certificate. Without that, I could not sit my degree exam. Serious business.

Burning the midnight oil….

I ran most of the way to my tutor’s office. It was pouring with rain. On the way, I somehow managed to drop one of the essay’s ten pages into a puddle. It was only rendered semi-illegible – and only the bibliography, I thought, thankful for small mercies. Made it by 9. Just.

A week later I visited my charismatic and much loved, but somewhat fierce, history tutor – Owen Dudley Edwards. He glared at me as he thrust the dishevelled bundle of paper that was my essay back at me. I scanned the title page. “Phew!!” I thought with relief. Fifty per cent. A pass!!

“This essay on ‘The Origins of the American War of Independence” Owen Dudley said severely, in words I have never forgotten, “bears all the hallmarks of the triumph of native intelligence and writing ability over little if any credible content.” There was a long pause. ” The bibliography – I had cited Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples having once flicked through it – I assume is a joke….”

There was a frosty silence. I left, not feeling as chastened as the good Mr. Edwards had intended.

“Mmmmmm” I thought to myself as I headed off to the refectory to buy a much needed bacon sandwich, ” maybe I should be a writer if I ever grow up.

That crusty newspaper editor is probably long dead. Owen Dudley Edwards is still with us, and still giving out his straight from the shoulder opinions. I know this because I heard him on the radio a couple of months ago. I am grateful to both of them for their never-forgotten feedback. It was direct, it pulled no punches. It let me know where I stood. Grit in the oyster, it helped me become a competent writer.

However, in recent times, constructive criticism seems to have morphed into something altogether much less forthright, much more timid, much more inclined to dish out indiscriminate praise and affirmation regardless of performance. Is this helpful to young people’s education and development?

What do YOU think?

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Sophie Agrell: a bright new talent

One of the pleasures and privileges of being an older person is that of having the time to notice talent in younger people and the patience to foster it. Sophie Agrell and I have had a running joke for a couple of years that she is Mouse, hiding away in her writer’s mousehole, and I am Cheese, enticing her out.

When she first very tentatively showed me one of her poems in 2010 I recognised her talent, thereafter nudging her, gently but persistently, into sending her work out into the wider world, first of all in the form of allowing me to publish her on my blogs.

She was successful in her first submission, to a UK national poetry competition. “Touching Ephemera: Rome, April 2009″ made the “Highly Commended” slot in the Poetry Anthology 2011 published by United Press Ltd. This was soon followed by United Press Ltd including that same poem in their “Uplifting Moments” anthology, published early in 2012.

Not long after that, the Editors at United Press Ltd asked her to submit a number of her poems for an anthology called Ten of the Best. As a result, twelve of Sophie’s poems now feature in this ‘Showcase of Poetry’, published in May 2012, offering through the work of ten new poets “….certain proof that poetry has the potential to cut straight to the heart of life.

Do check out the book.

In the meantime, here are two of her poems from that anthology,  very contrasting in theme, mood and tone, showing Sophie’s range as a poet. Enjoy!

In Sri Lankan national dress

In Sri Lankan national dress

Sophie, photo by Anne Whitaker

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My paradise island

Let me tell you about my country,

My paradise island, my Serendip,

Where every memory is filled with laughter,

With spices and sunlight, the mango sweetness of happiness,

Where tropical beauty splashes in technicolour

In every hedge, on every street,

Where elephants stroll through chaos –

Traffic, trishaws, wandering bullocks

And traffic policemen despairingly waving their pristine gloves –

Where gentle, ever-smiling people offer lotus flowers

To serene, impassive Buddhas.

 

Let me tell you about my country,

My paradise island, my Serendip,

Where thousands live bewildered behind wire

With loss beyond losing everything.

Where white vans steal young men at night,

Where in dusty streets war-maimed beggars sit,

Where questions are answered with bullets, with threats,

Where no one knows whom to trust,

What is safe to say and where,

And smiling murderers offer lotus flowers

To serene, impassive Buddhas.

 

O let me tell you about my country,

My paradise island, my Serendip.

SIA 16 iii 2010

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How do I explain it?

How do I explain it,

This peace that lures me

Into sleep

To dream of gentle dragons,

That fills my heart with stillness

So words vanish,

And I lie, tranquil,

Listening to your breath

Beneath my ear,

The clattering rustle of turning pages,

In entire contentment?

How do I account

For this absence of all restlessness,

All considering,

All planning,

All looking beyond this moment?

 

I only know

There is only now,

This breath,

This breadth of time,

And you and I and love

Within it.

SIA 14 xi 2011

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photo by Anne Whitaker

(sophie_agrell@hotmail.com)

Sophie grew up in Kent, UK,  in a family whose connections spread from Sri Lanka, Sweden and Scotland throughout the world. She read Ancient and Modern History at Oxford, eventually settling in Scotland where she works as a proof reader. She lives with her two dogs in a North Lanarkshire village. Sophie describes herself as “…. an escaped medievalist who watches the world, delights in its beauty, and grows roses…..”

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Sophie Agrell 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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“….in this journey of the Spirit….”

This remains one of my favourite quotes. There is so much wisdom in it, especially in these fractious and intolerant times……

“….in this journey of the spirit, I and others still walk that steep uphill road….And all our religious edifices, which serve first as staffs to help us on our way, in the end become crutches which we must discard….And the doctrines which we espouse and which we hold dear are only smooth shining stones which we pick up on the road and place in our baggage. With each new dogma and doctrine, the baggage grows heavier, until we discard these pebbles, one by one, leaving them on the roadside for others to find and carry a little further. And in the end we have need of neither doctrine nor creed, nor to name that which we worship – for it is beyond all image and words….”

(pp 120-121 Women in Search of the Sacred by Anne Bancroft (Penguin Arkana 1996)

Women in search of the Sacred

Women in search of the Sacred

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Search-Sacred-Arkana-Bancroft/dp/0140194940

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150 words copyright Anne Bancroft/Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


A note to writers: the gift of honest feedback….

Where would we be without constructive criticism?

One of the most useful pieces of advice I was ever given came from a newspaper editor I once worked for, a crusty old chap who called a spade a spade. “You’re too wordy, my girl!” he observed. (this was in the good old days, before my even thinking he was being offensive might have got him arrested….) “I’ve never known any piece of writing to get anything other than better by the removal of 25 per cent of its wording. Now – take “How I was left on the shelf and found true happiness” away, and chop it!”

Honestly, I did write an article with that title, for the Spring Brides feature of a provincial Scottish newspaper a few decades ago. And yes, dear reader, it actually did get published, minus 25% of its wording. Somewhere in my files I have the cutting to prove it….

Another piece of even earlier straight-from-the-shoulder feedback has just found its way to the front of my braincell. Picture the scene. Aberdeen university, the infamous Sixties. I had left my seriously overdue history essay till the very last possible evening before my second exasperated extension from my usually genial tutor had expired.

I finally stopped procrastination and began writing at one am. Many cups of coffee and cigarettes later, at 8am, the task was completed. It had to be handed in by  9am or I would not receive my History class certificate. Without that, I could not sit my degree exam. Serious business.

Burning the midnight oil....

I ran most of the way to my tutor’s office. It was pouring with rain. On the way, I somehow managed to drop one of the essay’s ten pages into a puddle. It was only rendered semi-illegible – and only the bibliography, I thought, thankful for small mercies. Made it by 9. Just.

A week later I visited my charismatic and much loved, but somewhat fierce, history tutor – Owen Dudley Edwards. He glared at me as he thrust the dishevelled bundle of paper that was my essay back at me. I scanned the title page. “Phew!!” I thought with relief. Fifty per cent. A pass!!

“This essay on ‘The Origins of the American War of Independence” Owen Dudley said severely, in words I have never forgotten, “bears all the hallmarks of the triumph of native intelligence and writing ability over little if any credible content.” There was a long pause. ” The bibliography – I had cited Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples having once flicked through it – I assume is a joke….”

There was a frosty silence. I left, not feeling as chastened as the good Mr. Edwards had intended.

“Mmmmmm” I thought to myself as I headed off to the refectory to buy a much needed bacon sandwich, ” maybe I should be a writer if I ever grow up.

That crusty newspaper editor is probably long dead. Owen Dudley Edwards is still with us, and still giving out his straight from the shoulder opinions. I know this because I heard him on the radio a couple of months ago. I am grateful to both of them for their never-forgotten feedback. It was direct, it pulled no punches. It let me know where I stood. Grit in the oyster, it helped me become a competent writer.

However, in recent times, constructive criticism seems to have morphed into something altogether much less forthright, much more timid, much more inclined to dish out indiscriminate praise and affirmation regardless of performance. Is this helpful to young people’s education and development?

My colleague Emily Cutts,  psychologist and independent thinker, has her serious doubts. Read Emily’s forthright views, published on MoreBitsFallOff.com :

Emily Cutts: Constructive criticism is a gift

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650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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