Archives for the month of: July, 2013

Writing has not been easy lately. Which is a surprise in some ways as when I travel to work, or even pop out of the office to buy my lunch each day, I find a stream of loose sentences, chapter beginnings and blog reflections running through my brain.

But then either there isn’t the time to make use of them, or when I do finally find a moment to sit with pen and paper or at my laptop I’m struck with a terrible paralysis. When this happens it’s not long before my inner critic rears its ugly head….any writer, or anyone with a dream for that matter, knows the voice of the inner critic very well. The voice that goes, ‘why are you bothering?’ or ‘you’re not good enough to be trying this’ or ‘who really cares? who wants to know about your latest pursuits and interests?’

I’ve noticed that when I become too busy to write, or too busy to make time for reflection which can inspire and trigger writing, I descend into a pattern of self-doubt and self-loathing. I’m currently on an endless treadmill of striving to do the best in my job without really pausing to ask myself whether I’m approaching things the right way, whether this is really what I want, whether what I’m doing is letting my true and happy self flourish. Without the time to process my experiences and connect with my deeper consciousness through writing or other soulful practices, I find myself unhinged by the daily challenges of work, unsure of my abilities and full of insecurities about whether people like me, whether I come across as an idiot, whether I’ve said the wrong thing….

coffee and cake

Today I sat in one of my favourite cafes in southwest London, determined to resume my writing practice. I sat there, laptop in front of me, latte and cake being consumed bit by bit….and panicked. Where do I start? What do I want to write about? Is there anywhere to go with all these snippets of ideas that play around in my head each day? I started trying to write a blog piece but couldn’t get beyond this title you now see.

So instead I did something totally different. I wrote a chapter, or moment, in the story which is slowly formulating in those stolen moments on my way to work or in my lunch break. Where the story goes, I’m yet to find out. I’d be lying if I said it was totally made up, pulled from my extensive and far-reaching imagination. I’m not pretending that I’m going to produce the next great work of fiction. Whatever I write will always be based somehow on my own experiences, that’s just the way I roll.

But as I start trying to draw from my experiences some structure, plot, characters and dialogue I realise that I’m entering a new chapter in my real life. I know deep down that my work in the NGO sector may soon be reaching its end. After spending over a year in transition, I no longer feel that my identity is defined purely through human rights activism or aid work. There is something bigger in my soul that is waiting to come out. And writing seems to be the channel through which to explore and express it.

This blog has been a platform for documenting my transition in the last year. It will continue with this purpose, and as such it is likely to change in its content and style, just as I connect with a new writing voice within me. A new appearance, more reflections on the writing journey, and the odd extract from the story currently unfolding in my head and making its way on to the page will be found here in the weeks and months to come. As always, comments, thoughts and feedback will be welcome. I hope you enjoy the ride and come back for more.

Writing

The last few weeks – the last few days especially – I’ve struggled with the challenges of writer’s block, of the perils of falling in to the ‘Busy Trap’, and the associated exhaustion, imbalance and familiar wafts of depression which come with these conditions. How strange then, that a moment of clarity should come at the end of a long and tiring day, when I’d been feeling hot and bothered, rather than appreciative and joyful, from the heat wave we’re having. Or maybe not so strange, now I’ve started to wind down after a cool bath, fifteen minutes of mindfulness in my room and some time in the garden watching the sprinkler glide its way from the fuschias and snapdragons to the green grass and herbs.

Since arriving back from Kenya my life seems to have accelerated at such a rapid pace that I struggle to find time to check in with myself, to be alone, or simply to relax. A busy final week in Nairobi, interviewing slum-dwellers at risk of eviction whilst trying to control the amoebiasis – a common hazard of eating contaminated food in Kenya – in my stomach, was followed by an equally busy week in London. On day three of my return my mother contracted a similar infection which, unlike me, put her out of action for two weeks and in need of help and support, and on day four I was thrown back in to the internal politics, mounting bureaucracy and low staff morale of my organisation’s London office. Working in East Africa for two months may have been tough, with the continuous stories of fear and despair I heard and documented from victims of human rights abuses and the related feelings I went through daily of self-doubt and hopelessness; but being back in London suddenly seemed a whole lot harder, with more pressures, and less time to breathe or to take stock. So out went my blog, and any time for reflection or relaxation.

Then yesterday I heard some sad news of a personal nature. My old home of four years was also subjected to its own form of eviction. An entire squatting community in Brixton, some of whom had been there for years, were given their marching orders and police were on hand to make sure they really did leave. Unlike what I witnessed in the Nairobi slums, the procedure adopted here was most probably legal; in other words, notice will have been given, it would not have been carried out under cover of darkness, and efforts will have been made – however inadequate – to suggest alternative accommodation. But the heartbreak felt by the residents – and also me, as a former resident – remains. The scene will not have been pretty; there will have been resistance from those who could not bear to leave their homes, and heavy-handedness from a menacing contingent of bailiffs and police.

I am lucky that I had another home to go to, long before these evictions took place. My time in the squat in Brixton may be in the past, but the memories are still alive – of all its colourful, unique and often damaged characters, of weekend-long parties and the Monday dregs and debris of the guests and gatecrashers; of managing to complete my Master’s degree despite these distractions; of discussions on art, philosophy, or simply how we could survive living in crack alley in the heart of a suburb that never sleeps. I certainly had my moments of frustration and wondering what the hell I was doing, living in a place with no natural light and no central heating. But it was home for me for four years, and to see it now being emptied so forcefully to make way for a new, homogenised community, fills me with no small measure of sadness.

This may not be on the scale of the daily tragedies that the poor and destitute experience across the world, and some may even argue that the struggles of a privileged middle-class white girl are self-indulgent and petty in comparison.   But we all inhabit our own realities, our own dark moments and periods of grief, as well as our own moments of joy and happiness. We all have our own stories to tell, that will resonate succinctly for some and grate or be misinterpreted by others. If we feel it is within us to tell our stories, then we should, as it is one way of fostering understanding, empathy and compassion.  And so, as I recover from my writer’s block, I will finish off this piece with these words….

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.

Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer, 1894-1991

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