creative therapeutic writing

c58647f9d6b9e37e71384351c044412d--underwood-typewriter-writers-blockWould I go back to this?

Probably not. But any residual expectations that my computer will work smoothly, perfectly and continuously have been ditched.

The way our computers work is in constant flux … I must forget about perfection and stability, the expert young guy at Apple Technical Support tell me. Over the telephone he works patiently sharing my screen, directing me to click here and there until a stubborn locking mechanism unlocks and stays unlocked. I sigh in relief and gratitude. That sounds straightforward. It wasn’t, taking several long calls. The updates are necessary to beat the hackers intent on corrupting the smooth running of all these trillions of invisible connections that lead to how I tap away at my keyboard.

Wonderful that I have achieved a convoluted but workable method of accessing past drafts of documents. Retrievable, I am able to work on my mini-books. And regain some affection for my computer. And forget about hankering after a typewriter which wouldn’t give me instant access to this extraordinary world wide web of information that still amazes me.

Blogging has taken a lull during 2017. I’ve found there is just too much social media material, book-writing and real life to keep up with . . . Here though is an update:

Cabin on the Hill – Studio Retreat – Latest News
One aspect of these changes is that I have to abandon my much loved web-site. Apple no longer supports the technical back-up for continuing http://www.cabinonthehill.co.uk.  Until I create a new web-site, a link should bring you to this WordPress site, which will in the meantime carry relevant information.

Retreats

After five years of running the Cabin on the Hill as a studio retreat, I am now offering only the following kinds of stay:

Studio

 

24 hour cabin deal – this includes: writing session, supper and breakfast

 

4 or 5 night stay for writers

 

Writing for Healing Workshops

These small (no more than six participants) four hour workshops on a Saturday afternoon allow participants to find their own flow of words, discuss and explore a wide range of personal issues, and learn to express their creativity through writing.

Because we share our common humanity, time and again the synchronicity of themes fosters connections. Conversations may be about tricky relationships, loss of a loved one, death of parents, feeling ambivalent, feeling blocked, needing to own feelings, needing to find space to be creative. Tears may be shed, but there is often a surprising amount of laughter.

Just as important is the sitting around my kitchen table for a pot-luck tea-break with goodies which everyone brings to share.

Next Date: Saturday 25 November 2-6pm. (£35)

Dates for 2018

Saturday 20 January 2-6pm.

Saturday 3 March 2-6pm.

Creative Therapeutic Writing Series

** the second in this series of mini-books Creative Therapeutic Writing on Love & Loss is at the printers and will be available in the New Year.

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For anyone with an interest in the therapeutic potential of expressive and creative writing, A Fox Crossed My Path is a find. Like spending time with a good novel or short story, this book leaves the reader changed, more aware of how people’s lives are, and this life in particular. I would suggest that for starting points in how creative writing can be a life-line when other options are limited, this book is a must-read.

Dr. Jeannie Wright

 

 

Crammed with practical approaches to the use of creative writing in relation to depression – its reality, its recurrence, its terrors and agonies – and by using her own story, Monica Suswin leads the reader and sufferer towards the possibility of recovery, enrichment, an integration of the ‘fox’ of illness with the self which functions in the world.

Rob Henley – Lapidus Journal Summer 2017

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fox drawing by Olivia Haughton

BOOK ORDER direct from me: monicasuswin [at] iCloud.com

Cost: £10 with free p&p to UK addresses. Overseas plus postage

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creative therapeutic writing

 

img_0724A FOX CROSSED MY PATH 

creative therapeutic writing on a depressive illness

The boxes of mini-books arrived one rainy morning and I stashed them one by one inside the house. And for the whole weekend I didn’t even look at them. Three days later I started sending them out; became used to their presence as the finished thing. It’s a slim volume of 104 pages, easily fits into a handbag, rucksack, briefcase. The cover is laminated so it’s smooth to the touch. I’m surprised at how tactile the experience is of holding my own book.

A book in my hands – slip it into a slightly padded envelope: weigh, seal and stamp it. Walk to the end of the road and drop into the red post box.                                                               

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Monica’s respect and love for this process has taken her into creativity which will inspire you to write too.                                                                                         Gillie Bolton

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A Fox Crossed My Path is an unusual and compelling book and provides a bridge between the countries of Illness and Wellness. Defying categorization, this is a unique contribution to our understanding of what happens under cover of darkness.         Victoria Field

Cost: £10 with free p&p to UK addresses. Overseas will be plus postage. 

I have no clever merchandising scheme in place, nor Amazon arrangement (everyone asks). A good old-fashioned cheque or an internet banking transfer is how to purchase direct from me.

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Fox Drawings by Olivia Haughton

Please make contact on: monicasuswin [at] icloud.com and we’ll take it from there.

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creative therapeutic writing

The Long Journey to Publication: one train ride at a time

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What I love about this book is that it makes something positive out of the darkness that is depression. Monica Suswin writes movingly about how writing can make sense of mental illness. With characteristic generosity of spirit, she gives you the steps to give shape to your experience.

Rachel Kelly, bestselling author of Black Rainbow:
how words healed me – my journey through depression

EAST GRINSTEAD TO LONDON VICTORIA
Notebook: 14th June 2016
I had an ‘aha’ moment in the early summer on the train to London. I was mapping out my chapters and thoughts about self-publishing; perhaps my book would divide neatly into two books, not one as I’d always thought. Then a flash came: why not four?

Quickly I rejigged my thirteen chapters into four distinct themes. The mental illness writing, which had stretched to three chapters, would lift out and be the first mini-book; the second would be about love and loss. Those were the two big themes I’d written about. The third would tackle relationships within the family and in friendships. Certainly another big theme. And the fourth would cover writing companionship, spirituality and the hidden aspects of the psyche. Four mini-books of around 25,000 words each – half the length of a short book. Edited extracts have already appeared in these blogs but the books will put them into greater context with suggestions for reflective writing that readers can explore for themselves.

Since then everything has fallen into place: my editor, copy editor and proof reader.  One of my workshop participants, with 25 years of experience in printing, advised me on terminology and stages. I commissioned an author photograph. At a book launch of Annette Boehm’s The Knowledge Weapon, I liked her poems and book cover so much that it led me to the same printers: Short Run Press in Exeter.

CLAPHAM JUNCTION TO EXETER  
Notebook: 4th October 2016
My iPad and keyboard are on the table; I’m typing while the fields and trees whizz past the window.

A buzzy meeting at Short Run Press. Mark Couch, one of the directors, talks me through paper quality, sizes in centimetres – though I am still an inch person – and matt and glossy cover finishes. He introduces me to Paul, the font man; we chat curlicued tails, squiggles, point spacing.

When it comes to the cover design, I’m told I can return and sit next to Paul as he takes me through gradations of colour and the size of the lettering on his screen. His computer will give more precise variation than my Pages or Word programmes. I’m far more involved in this process than I imagine any publisher would allow me. Far better a face-to-face meeting than exchanges screen-to-screen.

Downstairs Mark shows me around the clattering machines which fold large sections of paper into 16, produce colour, notch and cut edges, glue, and sew up seams. I expect to smell rubber when I see the huge cutting blades and the enclosed machine measuring out steaming hot glue. As a child I used to visit my father’s factory, which made outdoor clothing. I remember the smell of rubber solution used to waterproof the seams of garments and the installation of a new machine with a similar pattern-cutting blade to slice through thick layers of material, much like the pile of paper waiting to be cut through to size.

I ask Mark how much space 500 copies will take. He gets his tape measure out to gauge the probable width of the book’s spine and says ten boxes. I’ve heard of authors storing their books under the bed. This doesn’t appeal: I’ve got the material out of my head onto paper and screen, then into a book format. That’s the last place I want them to end up whilst I sleep. I want my books to find their way onto bookshelves and bed-side tables. Out there in the world.

FONTS & TYPESETTING
Fonderie (Old French), the modern French word fondre and the English word foundry all have their derivation in the meaning: to melt or cast in metal. (OED)

Lettering, like language, has evolved over millennia. We are indebted to our human need to communicate. Archaeological evidence has unearthed graffiti on walls, the ancient world used hieroglyphics, sharp tools incised into stone, scratched into wax tablets. In medieval times monks used a quill pen and ink on parchment made from animal skins.

The sixteenth century invention of the printing press with movable letters cast in metal revolutionised how the written word was reproduced. Now in our age of electronic screens, every one of us with a computer screen has a pre-loaded choice of fonts: the lettering we use at our finger tips as we type.

My natural inclination is to the clear lines of sans serif: lettering without additional curves or marks added to the main body of the letter. I know I must be discerning with the choice of font but I have no experience in knowing what will be suitable for a book in the hand. At Short Run Press, Paul advises me and we pair up two fonts: serif and sans serif.

The main text uses Sabon, named after a sixteenth century print maker: Jacques Sabon from Frankfurt. This serif font was developed in the 1960s with a careful balance of weights for up and down strokes and finely detailed curves and tags to the main body of the letter. Jan Tischold, a German typographer, was a moderniser of classical fonts and had a big impact on British book design after the Second World War. His aim was clarity above beauty; Sabon is considered one of the most readable of book fonts, helping the eye move more easily through a line of text.

The contrasting sans serif font is Frutiger: originally designed in the seventies by a Swiss typographer, Adrian Frutiger. This typeface is regarded as one of the best choices for giving information and legibility and I liked it immediately – ideal for my exercises and informative boxes at the end of each chapter.

NOVEMBER 2016
The whole book is sent off to Short Run Press. I have come to think of my iMac and its Pages formatting as technological hurdles and the only way to overcome its problems is patience. Naïvely I once thought our digital technology was sophisticated. I have come to realise the problems I experience are not my ineptness but glitches in the software after many trips for Apple lessons in Brighton and London. It is necessary to find my way around, not through, a maze of options to sort them out.

Paul required Word not Pages for typesetting. Not a problem, I simply export the documents to Word. Except doing this means the formatting always goes higgledy-piggledy. That is a disaster for the lay-out of poems let alone extracts of prose. Lines and spaces wander all over the place. I send a pdf document for reference. It takes many exchanges of samples for style and lay-out until we’re happy to go ahead with the whole book. Then it’s waiting time for the first soft proof – a copy in my hands to correct.

EXETER ST DAVID’S TO DIGBY SOWTON 
Notebook: 19th December 2016
It’s a dull December day with a blanket of grey over the countryside. I check my pencil marks on the soft proof copy. At the printing works, Paul and I go through the corrections. So much better to sit side by side and do this directly onto his screen. Well worth the journey.

I have ideas about the cover. I’ve not commissioned a designer. But Paul will be able to turn my ideas into a suitably professional cover. I want it simple and straightforward. I know how important the first impression of a cover is and I know Short Run Press are experienced in dealing with self-published authors.

My thoughts about white lettering on a charcoal grey background bleeding into a paler grey just didn’t work at all. Paul introduces some blue into the grey and he fiddles around with the colours until we end up with a blue-grey fading to pale blue-white at the bottom (the image above has not reproduced true to colour). A red fox leaps across the bottom of the page; we choose two deep blues for the title and my name above. I am satisfied. It fits the subject matter and size of the book and immediately tells the reader what the book is
about with a little mystery around the image of the fox: readers will find out how the fox turns into a metaphor.

Time to think over Christmas and inevitably find a few more corrections. The print run will be in January 2017. And soon I will be shifting those 500 copies from under my bed.

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A Fox Crossed My Path
creative therapeutic writing on a depressive illness

published by Cabin Press
printed by Short Run Press
£10.00

Available in January 2017
Contact me directly to order: monicasuswin [at] icloud.com

A compelling invitation to use writing as a healing and therapeutic tool, based on the writer’s honest accounts of her recovery from psychiatric illness. We are taken beyond the horror to a sense of the power of writing both to transform and enable rebirth. Inspiring.

Robin Shohet, psychotherapist and author

A Fox Crossed My Path is an unusual and compelling book and provides a bridge between the countries of Illness and Wellness. Defying categorization, this is a unique contribution to our understanding of what happens under cover of darkness.

Victoria Field, writer and poetry therapist

***

Editor for the series of four mini-books: Dr Gillie Bolton, an authority in writing for the helping professions, academics and the lay reader. Her recent books include The Writer’s Key – an introduction to how writing can find creative solutions for life (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) & Inspirational Writing – addresses key phases for academics in their critical research process leading up to publication (Sage Publications).

Both books available from the publishers or Amazon                       http://www.gilliebolton.com

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ⓒ Monica Suswin December 2016

NOTES

The Naked Author – A Guide to Self-publishing by Alison Baverstock. Bloomsbury (2011)

The Knowledge Weapon by Annette Boehm. Bare Fiction (2016)
(winner of the Bare Fiction Debut Poetry Collection 2015)

Just My Type – A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. Profile Books (2010)

Author Photograph by Daniel Regan – http://www.danielregan.com

Short Run Press: Litho & Digital Printers & Bookbinders – wwwshortrunpress.co.uk

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Creative and Therapeutic Writing

A CRITICAL VOICE

I – as Your Writing – can only speak the truth of the moment. I know no more about the future than you do. The future is unknowable that is why it positions itself in a time not of the present or the past.

Those words settled a disturbance in me about how truth manifests itself through writing. More of my ‘critical’ meaning to come…

In June, I took part in a conference: Critical Voices 2016. 

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left to right: Graham Shaw, Antonia Attwood, myself, Daniel Regan, delegate from ‘Safe’

Medicine & The Arts

Critical Voices: careful or analytical evaluations to provide insights and conversation.

Artists, performers, erstwhile patients, health professionals and academics came together for the annual conference to discuss aspects of practice, humanity and healing. Critical Voices was held in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. My own contribution was a reading of prose and poems written about (but after) serious episodes of clinical depression.

Theatrical

Those of us presenting spoke from the stage in the Trinity Theatre, somewhat blinded by the lighting, to an audience sitting in tiers. I’m more used to the flat dimensions of a public and neutral space in a community centre, café or university.

The atmosphere was a bit theatrical which was thrilling. I shared the stage with film-maker, Antonia Attwood. It was a brilliant pairing because we had overlaps in our presentations and lives. Mine through words, hers through images. Both about serious mental illness.

Antonia’s films are evocative; the first one I looked at on her web-site really disturbed me. Six minutes long, it felt as if it was going on forever. She had collaborated with her mother (also a film-maker and diagnosed with bipolar mood affective disorder) to make a short film called Everest. A heap of household objects are piled on a bed – all in muted colours of greys, whites, yellows and black – with a rumbling sound track and crashing crescendos as these objects fall off the stack like an avalanche in slow motion. As a short film layered with symbolism Antonia creates a ‘feeling’ of mental illness.

She showed extracts from several films at the ‘Critical Voices’ event. Afterwards a conference delegate said she should have given the audience a warning – presumably as news presenters do about war scenes on television. The nature of Antonia’s work is to depict feelings about what it’s like to be mentally ill. Her films last for just a few minutes. Around five minutes…that’s all. It is a personal war zone after all for those of us who have suffered and have had to live in acute states of mental illness 24/7. It is an unbearable experience with not much let up, even in sleep which may be disrupted. This was an audience prepared by informative notes and a preparatory talk. Mental illness is disturbing and Antonia succeeds in disturbing her audience. That is the essence of her work.

In these blog posts I have written about my own severe depressions, included various styles of writing which have helped me integrate the experiences of my ill-self with my well-self. During a Q & A session, another audience member, working with severely ill patients, made a suggestion to those of us on the stage that we were privileged to use an art form to express ourselves. We had now been joined by photographer, Daniel Regan who had shown stills of abandoned psychiatric asylums.  Taken aback, we both talked about how these art forms contained the chaotic lived nightmare of being ill after recovery, not whilst in a state of incapacity.

The Truth & Lies of Writing

A series of Letters was one of the ways I wrote about my depressive illness long after the episodes I’d experienced in my twenties and forties. The Illness was personified; the replies naturally written by myself.

In my many years of wellness it felt impossible to believe I’d ever be ill again and in 2005 my writing predicted I’d never experience another serious illness. Yet two more illnesses came in 2007 and 2009 which knocked me over and under. That made me feel a deep criticism (this time the pejorative meaning) about my writing.

I had believed my own prediction. How naïve could I have been? How could I have treated this writing as an oracle? There are times when my writing feels magical – as if from an invisible unknowable entity coming through me. It didn’t, however, feel like wishful thinking.

The words were staring me in the face. Visible. Externalised. Evidence of a reality. But was it real, rational? No. It was about the future – also unknowable. But I wanted certainty about being well for the rest of my life. (This correspondence is lengthy and I’ve not included it in any of my blog posts.)

After the first set of Letters and Replies, I wrote a second series (2010) accusing my writing of having lied to me. The two sets of correspondence, written five years apart, have been pivotal to my writing and the presentations I’ve given on mental illness.

Here’s a couple of extracts from the later writing (2010). It’s clear, however, I was writing to both Writing and Illness. Illness is addressed directly:

Illness,
You said emphatically and I quote your own words: I will not be visiting again. And you did. Not: why did you return? Because I know there is no satisfactory answer. Why did you allow me to write those words, those untrue words? Why when I trust you my Writing, did you lie to me? Writing as Liar. I didn’t expect that. I expected better of you.   Monica

By the end of the letter, I’m really addressing my writing. I followed with this piece in the Voice of my Writing:

I – as Your Writing – can only speak the truth of the moment. I know no more about the future than you do. The future is unknowable that is why it positions itself in a time not of the present or the past. It’s unpredictable by its very nature. I can only be true in the moment. It’s not a lie to make statements which are intentions expressed for the future. But the future cannot be pinned down. I’m not a liar in the present.

In hindsight it’s obvious that my writing can only be a reflection of my thoughts in the now of the present. I’ve always been lucky not to have an ongoing condition. When I’m ill I’m very ill. When I’m well I’m very well. Now, however, with a greater integration within my psyche I am more circumspect and humbled about my own vulnerability.

A Whole Self

It has taken me all my life – right past my mid-sixties – to integrate those terrible times into being a whole self. This performance in Tunbridge Wells was of a different quality from previous readings I’ve given. Here was an audience sitting in darkness whilst I was in the limelight. An inverse mirror from the ill experience of being in the darkness whilst the rest of the world is in the light. To be well and on a stage, to be heard by others, including those from the medical profession, to read aloud the words I had put onto the page – all of this gave me a sense of owning my particular power. Completed a feeling of acceptance and wellness.

I remember an occasion when I was in the Eastbourne hospital ward and a tabloid was lying on the table. I saw a piece about a best seller from an author who was part of my writing group. And here was I in the ‘world of the ill’ to quote Virginia Woolf. And my writing friend was in the ‘world of the well’ and becoming known for her historical novels. And all I was able to do was pace a hospital corridor (see poem: Hospital Corridor – March blog).

The stigma surrounding mental illness is finally falling away as more and more people are talking about their experiences – I have witnessed it change in my life-time. Although my parents would probably turn in their graves if they knew I had spoken in public – on a stage no less –about such matters as my own depressive illness.

At last I may rest on a metaphorical ledge from a long uphill climb of gathering all the strands of my life: the bad, the good, the private and personal – with the public acknowledgement of what my mother said (the illness) should never have happened. Life should be perfectly arranged like museum objects behind a glass case. Polished like the antiques in the house I grew up in. Manicured like their garden lawn. These physical structures probably sheltered them from the messiness of real life and also helped them cope with their daughter’s fall from grace.

Well the long and horrible illness did happen. Six times. And I have spoken about them publicly ever since I started this blog in the autumn of 2014. I may speak again. But I am done with writing anything more about them. I don’t like the word ‘closure’. Because I think nothing really ends. In my life I find new forms for what has been. I don’t make endings. I make new connections.

***

ⓒ Monica Suswin  July 2016

Notes:
Antonia Attwood is a film-maker of still and moving images interpreting the phenomenology of mental illness. http://www.antoniaattwood.com

Critical Voices is an event curated by Graham Shaw and part of a growing movement to understand medicine, illness and health, through insights from the arts. This year it was held on Saturday 11th June at the Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

References:
On Being Ill in The Moment and Other Essays by Virginia Woolf [1930] (1981) London: The Hogarth Press.

Extracts from my book ms – Chapter 10: The Truth & Lies of Writing

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Creative and Therapeutic Writing

                     Overlaps, Links and Differences

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to create
to make something from nothing
therapy
therapeía – θεραπεία – treatment – Ancient Greek

Some while ago I asked myself this question: Where are the overlaps, the links and the differences in creative and therapeutic writing?

Within minutes my brain had gone fuzzy. I kept thinking of pieces that I’d written which answered both aspects. I couldn’t divide one from the other. And yet… I find myself arguing the case to define each.

I draw on literary styles and my writing often proves to be healing. I have long called my slant on writing: Creative Therapeutic Writing with no ‘and’ to separate the two adjectives. It is a phrase that means what it says. A ‘creatively therapeutic’ approach to writing. More so I feel than the inverted description of ‘therapeutically creative’. To me that infers a given therapeutic or healing intention for creative writing in the first instance. Whereas I find writing in itself is often (not always) a therapeutic activity, but I find it first and foremost creative.

When I turned my question on its head, I asked myself: what is the intention in my writing? Then I started to get lots of answers flooding into my mind. If there is any satisfactory answer, I think it has to lie with the writer and the intention of a particular piece. I might ask myself: Is this going to be a piece of prose? Am I writing for the sake of it?

Often in the beginning I may start with an outpouring of scribbles and go nowhere else. The piece may not have any intention at all. That perhaps is the therapeutic end of exploration. Other times I may redraft and edit until I have writing which is well-honed and has a clear form like a poem. A fully created piece.

Writing is an adventure into the unknown. In this blog I quote some words from a real adventurer: a mountaineer. I critique one of my poems which started as a free-write (therapeutic intention) and ended as a prose-poem (creatively worked). And thoughts follow on what my writing achieves therapeutically and creatively.

My Therapeutic Approach

A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable almost naked activity . . .  It is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. (Harold Pinter – Nobel Prize for Literature 2005)

In real icy and treacherous conditions, the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer (1913-2006) described how ‘true confidence’ and knowing himself with ‘unsparing clarity’ was vital when he climbed. He said: ‘Unless you cross inner lines, you cannot encounter great adventure.’

My writing helps me know and understand myself better – makes me more confident as well as, at times, more vulnerable. I write to know what I think, how I feel and how I might act in any given situation. If I cross my own ‘inner lines’ as a writer, I am down to my bare bones, inside my skin, my naked self clothed with words. This is what I know about those times:

I come up against the forces of myself
the rawness of myself
my desires and anxieties
my limitations and my expansiveness

My Creative Approach

But then I use my imagination to develop what I am writing. In this extract I draw on the metaphor of a rope to describe what my writing achieves. I show its therapeutic effect through expressing myself creatively with a range of images.

My rope writing has a very long reach; up to the heavens and down into the bottom of the well with a bucket to draw up surprise after surprise. It is the sort of rope that I twine and weave as I go through time. The strands hold the content and I travel on with less emotional baggage which unravels on the journey. I travel lighter. Emotions like fear, shame, and anxiety are shed and what is essentially mine is not lost. What is left after this shedding of cluttered up feelings is like a steel core through the centre of the rope, through the centre of myself.

My Approach in the Present to Past Experience

The following prose-poem was written in response to reading Selima Hill’s collection: Lou Lou. Her poems – with their extraordinary juxtapositions of different images – entered the world of psychiatric care that she had received when younger in hospital. She gave her bizarre but brilliant poems ordinary names like: Night-room, Day-room, Side-room, Corridor and so on.

Reading them brought up painful memories of my own time in an acute psychiatric ward. Many of those memories were of the corridor. There is a lot of action in a psychiatric ward’s corridor: patients pace up and down like animals in a cage, fights break out, patients are smartly walked in or out. Visitors come and then leave behind their relatives.

My first description was a free-write: no form, a string of words on the page. Later I turned that into a prose-poem. Here it is:

Hospital Corridor

hospital corridor

is where the tramp woman fingered the walls

                                       to find her way

hospital corridor

leads to everywhere I must go

hospital corridor

is where visitors come in and leave me behind

hospital corridor

is where they shouted my name from the medicine trolley

hospital corridor

echoes             my name

hospital corridor

is where I was frog-marched
for trying to use the office telephone
when the trolley phone had been out of order for days

hospital corridor

leads to the doors

they tell you are locked                                    they aren’t                               I can slip through

I didn’t run away     I returned   then they knew they were not locked

hospital corridor

is where I went when I was so out of myself that I needed those walls

***

I read this silently to myself before a Presentation and felt my stomach turn over. The poem became alive, recreated the scene from over twenty years ago. Even though I had felt sick I knew the writing worked; that is the price I pay as a writer willing to read my poems in public. The reward came when several people told me afterwards that it was their favourite.

The creative process began when I redrafted my free-write. I put in line-breaks and spaces to make the lines look like a corridor on the page. (WordPress is limited and this is as near an approximation to placing on the page as I can get.) I changed the tenses from past to present. And wherever I had put in a ‘you’, which tends to distance the experience from both writer and listener, I owned the phrases with the first person pronoun, my own ‘I’ Voice.

Redrafting my original free-write into a prose-poem meant I had taken those memories from out of my head onto the paper. Taking that expressive writing and editing as I have described gave a shape to the lived experience. The naked vulnerability of exposing that experience became clothed with words. This may sound paradoxical but I found this helped my inner vulnerability shift into the body of the poem. The whole process was both therapeutic and creative.

True Feelings

My writing draws on my life experiences with feelings in the moment and old ones from the past. I never planned in the beginning that Hospital Corridor would end up as a prose-poem. I just thought if Selima Hill is giving her poems titles like that, I’ll have a go and see what emerges for me in a free-write.

After one of my readings, a member of the audience asked me: When does a free write turn into something creative? My answer stressed that a free write wasn’t intended to be anything other than writing in a flow with no particular intention. Later I thought of a better answer:

When I take some gems of sentences from a free-write and begin crafting them into a piece I may redraft and edit into something that pleases me. Then I feel I have entered the creative phase.

To end this blog, I return to the rope metaphor. That free-write led on to another, and another, which in turn led to a chapter: Rope-Mates in my book ms.

This rope threaded with words serves me well; it is intertwined with stories from my own life and stories I find in my imagination. I have twined this rope, with my true feelings.

I draft and redraft probably more now than years ago. Every word matters. Every sentence needs to be in the right place. The question of whether writing is creative or therapeutic interests me but in the end I find it spurious. Each piece rests on its own merits depending on how it evolves and shapes up. That’s what the writing process is all about.

Have I said what I meant? Will you the reader understand what I am trying to get across? Will you the reader find my writing resonates with some of your lived experience, some of your feelings? Is that creative? I hope so. May it be therapeutic? I shrug my shoulders. Will I change how I name what I do? Not at the moment.

***

ⓒ Monica Suswin  March 2016

Notes

New terms keep popping up. I belong to Lapidus in the UK which currently calls itself: The Writing for Wellbeing Organisation. In its early days the phrase: Literary Arts in Personal Development was used.

The Metanoia Institute in London & Bristol calls their MSc Course: Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes thereby avoiding any claim to the more specific term of therapeutic writing. That means it may draw students and practitioners with a more literary disposition, as well as a wide variety of people from the caring professions.

Yet another – rather side-ways but aligned term – is Creative Non-Fiction. The University of East Anglia runs a course in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction – previously called Life-Writing, which includes memoir, other lives and any writing based on facts. Real life written with a literary style to reveal the narrative.

My WordPress Analytics shows that you my readers come from many parts of the world. I’d be really interested to know about your own experiences of writing within these definitions of creative and therapeutic or healing and wellbeing. Please do comment. I’ve not had one from abroad so far.

References:

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer (1976) London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon.

The White Spider – the classic account of the ascent of the Eiger by Heinrich Harrer (2005) [1959] p.21

Lou Lou by Selima Hill (2004). Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books.

“Harold Pinter: Nobel Lecture: Art, Truth & Politics”. Nobelprize.org.
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture-e.html/. accessed: 6 Aug 2012

Extracts from my book ms – Chapter 9: A Fox Crossed My Path & Chapter 12: Rope-Mates

 

 

 

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Creative Therapeutic Writing

The Gift of Love and Writing       

Experimenting With Voice

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If I look back over my life, I’ve probably fallen in love in every decade – from a schoolgirl crush in my teens to passionate love in the next thirty years or so until my fifties.

Love and its strangulations are the stuff of drama. It takes us to the theatre, to the cinema – or maybe nowadays to Netflix. It buries us in books. Writers grapple with their fictional characters and scenarios in their novels; write poems and plays. Because love and relationships are among the most important forces we address in one way or another.

Here I show various pieces I’ve worked on creatively and therapeutically. As my blogs are based on my own lived experiences, this one presents as much of a risk to me as writing about mental illness. But I speak from a place in the future – many years after these were written. That is why I’m able to share them.

One of the advantages of becoming older is to be able to look back over a long writing life. In recent years love and writing have become rather interwoven. I’ve found surprising insights I would never have discovered without my recurrent free-writes and experimental ways of expressive writing. I explored ways of writing during that rosy flush of romantic euphoria when love first lets itself be known. I wrote with Voices spanning different perspectives and expression: the Wise, the Naïve and the Lyrical.

THE WISE VOICE

First is my Wise Voice. This inner voice is not always easily heard so I have to listen very hard. But it is always one I trust. I find it when I’m very still. I described this aspect of the self through accessing the wisdom of King Solomon in an earlier blog on the Wise Self (see: Blog 9). In a way it feels like the Wise Voice speaks through me, beyond my emotions. It makes me feel grounded too. I’ve used Capital Letters with intent:

I have found myself doing the love thing in my writing. And it is held in writing not in the body. It gives me trust in what real love means for me, shows me how it exists, not through owning it as my particular love belonging to me to give – paradoxically of course it is mine – but knowing it exists of its own accord. Love just is. Love is a gift as Writing is a gift. Without Writing, I would be bereft. Without Love, I would be bereft.

That piece of writing showed me how, in the depths of loving someone else, I might discover a place not driven by ego and need. A new experience. Love comes in many configurations. Writing through tapping into my Wise Self helped me find a new form for loving. It taught me to respect the existence and feeling of love and to trust it as I trust my writing. I don’t know where it will lead me, I wrote but as with my writing I had to trust in the great unknown which is essentially the creative process. And by that I live.

THE NAÏVE (or Inner Child’s) VOICE

The next piece experiments with a Voice trying out the inner child’s viewpoint. No grown-up measured self here. Just straightforward language:

And it is a terrible thing if you want to say: I love you and the words are stuck and do not come out of the throat and it is like a ball of sunlight in the heart. If you say nothing the ball stays there. But then it wants to get its rays out and put the words on them. And if you can’t tell these words – the sunlight swirls around and can’t get out and makes the person uncomfortable with a lot of heat.

And if the words from the heart can’t find a way out through the voice they go round and round in the head all day long and all night long. You want to tell the person you love that I love you is what you want to say. But when the words get so close to the heart it is very scary.

I want to stop the going round of words in my head. I want to speak the words and if I can do that then maybe the fire of the sun will not get stuck inside my body and want to make me explode and the sun will shine its rays in the sky where it belongs.

Children don’t speak like this and very soon I called this my Naïve Voice. I found myself describing adult feelings with simplicity. I move around between the first and second person pronoun but the ‘I’ Voice is pretty emphatic; there is punctuation but with this voice it is tempting to use little and stick to the lower case too.

In circumstances where one / you / I might not want (or not be ready) to say three words with such potency, this voice abandons being sensible, abandons feeling reasonable, abandons being rational. It gives such a freely expressive approach.

Here’s an even younger insistent Voice. A two year old in an adult body:

2 yr old:  What I want I want and I want it now and for now and for always and immediately.

Adult Self:   You can’t have what you want.

2 yr old:  You pretend I don’t exist. I do. It’s because of you I can’t have what I want.

Adult Self:  Perhaps. Perhaps not. Anyway it’s good to have the wantings. Wantings are not bad. Just not always possible. A two year old can’t understand how grown ups think. What I really want is the cuddles.

2 year old:  I like cuddles and kisses. That’s what I want too.

And so the foot-stamping toddler was listened to and appeased. And the adult was free to write more lyrically.

THE LYRICAL VOICE

Sweeping Leaves
The eight o’clock sun is warm on my shoulders as I sweep the path on three sides of our house. I sweep and scoop up the winter-curled oak leaves from underneath stones, the withered wisteria blooms which only last week were fresh in their pale mauve scents, bits of twigs, cut the nettles back.

I could sweep for the rest of my day, the rest of my life like the monks set to sweep whilst brains coil and recoil. I am sweeping and clearing all the days up to this one. They line up behind this morning ready and waiting to be swept – not away – not swept away – but here to be brushed down with all that has been.

Old loves too tightly entwined all prised off, fallen and tumbled through too many years. I have no idea how to do a new love which asks for its own truth ever since it surprised itself into existence. Let it breathe lightly in its own expansive way and find its own form as each day speaks and I listen to its voice.

As I swept the leaves I thought of zen monks in monastery gardens clearing the leaves in front of their huts, purposefully lifting an ordinary task to the level of meditative awareness and practice.

I discovered through my writing a refreshing insight which I hadn’t found in other relationships. One that meant Love was not to be owned; a real love survives on its own terms. It exists in its own right between two people, between friends or even sometimes momentarily in the passing of a complete stranger for a second or two.

Discovering this possibility that I needn’t own Love gave me an enormous freedom to explore these different expressive styles. Because I found new ways to write and experienced Love speaking through me, I released a feeling of loving everybody. That was the biggest surprise. And over time this love has grown in richness and fullness for life itself.

Here I’ve wanted to show how explorations with these different Voices have really transformed my feelings and understanding about Love. Matters of my own heart may be private, but experiences of how I have loved is pivotal to my writing. Not to be swept away with the leaves.

I’ve witnessed myself meeting many challenges with different kinds of loving relationships. Even if writing raises more questions than answers, it does the trick of settling me as I watch the page or screen generously accepting all my words and feelings. As a writer I spill my bleeding heart into my drafts but take the outpourings off the page (or screen) as poems or prose emerge from all my scribbling. Writing holds my passion, my creativity, my life. Fitting then, to end with one of my poems called: Love – in the week after Valentine’s Day.

Love

The chrysalis hangs
over-winter by a silk thread on the branch
which spreads itself across the yellow-blaze-risen sky

It feeds from tiny arrows
shot from the deep secrets of the blood-red earth

It unfurls like a green veined leaf on a May morning
as the butterfly opens its darling wings

***

ⓒ Monica Suswin  February 2016

Poem & Prose from my book ms – Chapter 2: Butterfly

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Creative Therapeutic Writing

Visible Vulnerability

Attachment-1Through the process of creative therapeutic writing I have uncovered and explored my own vulnerabilities. The physical act of writing makes visible what has been stored invisibly in my mind.

Below are two poems which nestled in the impulse to form words, rested embryonically – if you like – until each took shape on page, then screen.

This key theme of Visible Vulnerability emerged over a year of giving presentations of my work in different UK cities and counties: Cardiff, Norfolk, my own village in Sussex and at the end of this week a fourth in London.

Because my pieces were written around ten years ago I wasn’t feeling particularly vulnerable in advance about reading them to an audience. I was ready. The writing had definitely helped to integrate the experiences into my present life. Speaking in public and posting my blogs has given me a big step into the open. I feel it is great we are as a society acknowledging long-held taboo areas of life.

Yet wobbly responses came. In Norfolk I instigated a break because I felt a need to go out of the room and compose myself. There and in Cardiff I’d seen tears in the audience. That moved me too. I find the power of this kind of writing lives on the page and as I spoke my own words, they were still potent to touch me emotionally.

One relevant question posed:
how do I write about traumatic events without taking myself back into the original feelings of depression?
My answer:
I write only enough to name what has been without all the details. 
See some of the ways I write in this guest blog: http://www.blackrainbow.org.uk/healingwords/guest-blog-monica-suswin/

Becoming Visible

I first became visible in December 1948. My own beginning was a bungled birth with an inexperienced mid-wife and a mother who knew nothing of childbirth.

HOLED UP

You never knew the way out for me.
Against the hard rock of your pubic bone,
I rammed and butted

hour after hour twisting and tearing
the membranes of your too narrow vagina.

You were pethidined out and the mid-wife
on her first ever shift made the mistake
of urging too soon, too many times: Push

And my naked baby self jutted stuck.
They called Doctor Clark back from the nineteenth hole
to clamp and remove me

It is true this is the story of my birth
just as you told me     just as you told me
this story stays as if I were there
aware of fighting my way out

into my life with the imprint of this birthing
played out like a hymen stretched between me and the world.

***

The following poem, I feel, is a celebration for this life (so far) that belongs to me.

Easter Sunday Blessing

I have stretched finger-tips far into darkness
Now with these two hands
May I give and may I receive
May I keep my feet on my own soil
And as I walk this earth alone
May I not fall over the edge
For we have known for some time
That this globe is round
May I walk its entire girth
And always find my own beginning

***

Staying Visible

I type this while world leaders are debating their responses to the barbaric destructive actions of men and women who are terrorising cities and countries with shootings, bombings and the slaughter of fellow human beings. Their incomprehensible and distorted mindsets allow them to murder and dehumanise the sacredness of others.

After the Paris attacks, my free-write told me all I can do is witness the stories of those affected by listening to those who escape with their lives. All writing is helpful to find out what I think and feel about the outer world as well as my inner one. That metaphorical hymen stretched between me and the world has been pierced. I belong in the world. My writing tells me so.

Over the next few months, I will be posting blogs around the theme of vulnerability. I don’t know which pieces I’ll choose but I look forward to making them visible.

ⓒ Monica Suswin November 2015

Next Presentation:
Creative & Therapeutic Writing – Links and Differences
The Poetry Cafe – Covent Garden, London WC2H 9BX
London Lapidus meets Saturday 28 November 2015
10.30am-1.00pm

Starting at 2pm – the annual AGM for all Lapidus members www.lapidus.org.uk (The Writing for Wellbeing Organisation)

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If any group of writers would like to contact me about visiting to give a presentation (reading, discussion & writing) on any of my themes please get in touch.

Previous Presentations in 2015
The Truth & Lies of Writing – Lapidus Conference. Cardiff. Wales. (March)
Soul Works – Forest Row Festival. East Sussex. (September)
Visible Vulnerability –  Lapidus East Anglia. Wymondham. Norfolk. (October)

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