Oblique Arts works with communities to deliver innovative high quality arts projects. We provide unique creative workshops and artists to work with individuals and groups to inspire and educate. We use the arts to explore important questions around sustainable futures and to encourage critical thinking and creative action in order to improve lives.
My latest Oblique Arts workshop with the residents of Jimmy’s Night Shelter. They loved creating these abstract images using masking tape and acrylic … very effective, don’t you think! I am always amazed how everyone puts their own individual stamp on their creation. – Penny Sobr
Obliques Arts Creative Writing sessions at The Edge Cafe finished with a flourish – an exhibition and a chapbook launch – a few weeks ago, but I was still keen to keep the Edgewords writing blog going on this website. So, this afternoon I was delighted to receive this new posting from Edgewords stalwart Lisa Evans.
In school the teacher asked us to write a story. I had the brilliant idea (or so I thought) of writing in a Derbyshire accent. I started with “It were a cold night and th’moon were like cream cheese”. I enjoyed picking words that were nearer to those I heard everyday. I showed the teacher. I hoped she would be impressed at my innovation. She read a few lines and angrily started crossing out all my deliberate attempts at an accent. The rest of the class watched as she got really worked up at my writing. As always, when people were upset with me, I couldn’t speak. I let her think I’d flaunted the grammar she’d carefully taught. She was a nice teacher in general. If I’d explained my accent idea she would almost certainly have understood. The message I took away was that I have to write better if people are to get where I’m coming from.
Another memory is writing a letter to my friend and including a poem I copied from a book. I didn’t know to credit the poet. My friend asked me eagerly if I’d written the poem, I could see how impressed she was, so I said ‘yes’. I’m terrible at subterfuge and I later showed her the poetry book. She spotted the poem I’d copied into her letter and I saw the disappointment drop through her body. The message I took away was that I loved how impressed my friend had been with the poem at first and I had to find ways to replicate that without blatantly copying.
I took these two messages with me as I grew up. They made me into quite a comic character. I was desperately reading and listening to audio books of any writing famous enough to reach me. I reasoned: if I can somehow take what’s special about these books and reinterpret it slightly, then I would be guaranteed to delight other people (as I had my friend when she thought I wrote the poem) and need little explanation (as my teacher needed when I wrote in dialect). I was asking myself, for each classic I engulfed, “is this me?” At one point I decided I was Virginia Woolf but with a modern scientific slant! When I came to write in this style, as I had not written anything until the style was settled, nothing came out.
I couldn’t write under such pressure. Slowly I reinterpreted the message I took from my friend’s reaction to my letter. Maybe I could enjoy other people’s work as she had. I eased up on that desperate search for what is considered brilliant writing and became more sensitive to what I truly enjoy. I tried to apply the same kind spirit to reading to my own stuff. I kept a diary for a few years where I managed to get down ideas just before they were lost from memory completely. There was an awkward gap between the writing I loved and the things I made, but this was an improvement on not being able to speak at all.
The message I took from my teacher reacting badly to my work was harder to shake. It boils down to a fear of getting things wrong and not being able to say why I did something. I knew that not engaging with my work after it was done wasn’t a great strategy, but my fears didn’t seem to care what I thought. I held on to these feelings until the writing class took us through the whole life cycle for a piece of creative work: from games that help you access your own voice, to writing a piece you really craft, to publishing it by folding and stitching together a book, to performing to a packed Edge Café and talking to audience members afterwards. I would, quite happy, of stopped when I submitted a peice for the book. With Jean’s gentle encouragement all this extra sharing and thinking of ways to perform the work has happened.
Having been through this life cycle once I can see it’s much more enjoyable than what I was doing. Being open to explain and perform my own work (with the kind help of the group) felt like letting go of the fear!
This most recent guest blog posting is by Jane Conrad, a regular at our creative writing group, here Jane touches on making writing a regular practice – a theme that is familiar to many of us.
My thoughts – My ideas –
My stories – My words
I enjoyed writing as a child. I have over the years intermittently written a diary. I have written essays, newsletters, reports, press releases, brochures for school, university and work.
In the back of my mind I have always wanted to write not to be published but to get my thoughts, experiences and stories written down not just in the spoken word.
I have procrastinated for so long.
What is stopping me? All the excuses in the world!
I need space, discipline and more than, that words to flow. I want to create beautiful, succinct, powerful and delicate words into meaningful sentences. I want structure, shape and perfection. I want humour, seriousness, pathos and joy. I want detail, perspective, overview and closure. I need to just write. All the wordsmiths I have heard describe their approach to writing describe writing every day. They set time aside every day and write. They often have particular routines, tools, hours, schedules but they make sure they write so much each day.
What a great feeling to have reached the point in a project when the long nurtured ideas and plans begin to form and take tangible shape in reality.
The progress of the Edgewords Anthology seems to me to be just at that point. The moment when thoughts turn out to be things.
Last Friday we used the workshop to collectively proof read a rough copy of Edgewords Anthology, and at the weekend I reworked the document. I am so grateful to Munizha for working with me to finalise the text.
The proof copy is looking pretty tatty, but quite authentic and very real.
This week I’ve been preparing individualised hardback cases for the Edgewords contributors (Edgeworders) complimentary copy.
Next Friday’s workshop will be a bookbinding session, we will sew and bind our own personal copy of the Anthology.
Today I spent time with my friend, Simon Mullen, at ASH Co-op. We were doing complicated copying things and printing out the content, the innards, the guts of the Edgewords Anthology.
It all went remarkably well, Simon and I seemed to get a system going and produced several dozen copies, pronto!
And so an ephemeral idea steps closer to manifesting materially.
Edgewords Anthology is Launched on 12th January 2018 at The Edge Cafe, Cambridge.
Jean Dark 2017
Thanks to Cambridge City Council, The Edge Cafe and Oblique Arts
As we make plans to start our next season of Creative Writing Workshops, we are still keeping our blog running.
This week’s contribution is a piece by Victor-Manuel Ibanez, inspired by an exercise we did in the first workshop in September, Victor’s poem elaborates on the image of a lynx
Against a cold sky surveying his domain. His hunters not far behind, their encroaching duff sounds traverse the valley slopes of calls and huskies barks.
He crouches upon the protruding tree log, his fur merging with the dead wood stains of his throne, studying his options. Exposed slopes with pristine virgin snow, a small stream tumbling down between the snow covered boulders, and beyond a curtain of trees to be a witness of today’s act. Normally his stage back drop for the rhythms of life, but today, his role is of a prey fleeing.
Under a sky which gives no shadows, his escape melt’s along the valley’s abating silence with his tracks weaving his progress, crossing the stream and dashing up to wards sanctuary. The leaps and steps grow as the distance elongates on the verge to dive into the dark evergreen. A crack slaps the valley and echoes as an organ in a church.
Without looking back, the Lynx summersaults through the undergrowth until reaching a vantage point, to check if anything enters the forest at the same point he had entered.
Snow starts to fall.
Victor-Manuel Ibanez was born in Spain and grew-up shuttling between Spain and Yorkshire. He graduated from the College of Creative Arts in Kent, to reside in Cambridge for the last twenty years. When he writes, he likes to delve and disport into the syntax, adding layers under the narrative that can be both poignant and amusing, kissing a hint of anarchy between the lines and suspended on one’s lips.
Creative Writing at The Edge is supported by Cambridge City Council, Oblique Arts and The EDGE Cafe
Our fourth guest blog posting by Faith is a lovely expression of the revitalising joy of creativity.
Making one’s life into art
The brief for this blog invited us to share our ideas about writing, our writing practice, or anything that is dear to our heart. Certainly writing is dear to my heart – for me it is more a matter of the heart than the head – a translation of emotions and desires into a medium both capable of and crying out for beauty. There is so much ugliness in the world and its words today – language and ideas that are critical, fake, brash, repetitive, meaningless, cheapening – but I feel that good writing can recover some of the beauty hidden inside the everyday world: Gerard Manly Hopkins’ “dearest freshness deep down things”. I am talking about the sort of writing that makes you slow down, pause in a deep breath of surprise or revelation, totally absorbed in the language, and then, with the rhythm of the syllables fading slowly into the background, look up and around you at familiar things with renewed wonder, seeing them as if for the first time.
So what do I write? Mostly I journal, sometimes for hours in a day, mostly in prose but when necessary, in verse. Sometimes I share it, publish it, set it to music and sing it, perform it in concerts. But mostly its just a process, done for the love of the craft, for the feel of the material giving and springing back under my mind’s pressure, like your knuckles kneading bread. What am I doing with all those words? I am making my life into art. I am transforming apparently mundane events into significant beauty, finding patterns in the randomness in the same way that human beings in every culture have looked up at the stars and seen hunters, creatures, gods. So I am changing the way I perceive my life.
As Hamlet said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” Do I think in words? I hear that this is assumed to be the case, but no, I begin with emotions, experiences, connections, sounds, directions, colours. Perhaps it is the translation of these experiences into words that could be called thinking. And once they are so translated, the more vividly the better, they are able to produce magic – the super-power I would have chosen among all others as a child – the ability to transfer deep emotions and subjective perceptions from one human mind and heart to another. You see, we share the same planet, but our minds are actually opaque to one another. The possibilities for misunderstandings are endless. But in good writing and good reading you can suddenly or gradually make that incredible leap into another person’s mind. That, for me, is more exciting than space travel, and more beautiful than a rose – to see that flower through your eyes gives me a sudden vista onto a whole new universe, a shift of perspective that can shock with freshness like a sudden shower of spring rain in the desert.
Write for me,
brothers and sisters! Tell me your truth, and I will tell you mine!
And it will be beautiful.
About The Author
Faith has a degree in English Literature, and loves reading and writing, especially poetry. She has worked as a music teacher and performer, and has recently been studying theology in the hope of working for the Church of England, perhaps as a chaplain. She loves empowering and encouraging children and adults to explore their creativity, faith and unique voices, building their self-confidence and enjoyment, using music, words or any other medium. She has two children and lives in a commune in Cambridge with six ducks, five chickens, four pianos, three bathrooms (I think), two staircases and one Aga. Pop in, the kettle just boiled.
Creative Writing at The Edge is supported by Cambridge City Council, Oblique Arts and The EDGE Cafe
We are now half way through our Creative Writing workshops at the Edge Cafe, and I am looking toward selecting pieces for the chapbook anthology we are preparing. In the meantime, we have our third guest blog, this week thoughts on writing practice are by Lisa Evans.
Daring to be Sharing
I guess if I had to say what writers have in common, I’d say we are all feeling our way to some sort of order, some sense of what feels right and learning to trust our instincts. All this while swimming in a sea of the glorious end results of other people’s best works and an ever increasing life experience. It’s tough. I want to share some things I’ve found to help.
It’s probably too much to ask that every moment as a writer should be nice, but on the whole I want it to be enjoyable, if for no other reason that to escape the perfectionism that I recognised too well when Munizha described it in the last post.
When I sit down to write I tend to be in a earnest frame of mind and somehow feel it’s my job to convey a solemn truth. Such pressure! Usually I’m writing from things I’ve researched or autobiographically. Approaching writing as truth telling is a great intention but it misses out on the joy of imagining the many things outside my experience and the simpler daily pleasures.
Also I want to write everyday but I don’t always have the energy to be earnest. To write regularly I need to feel energised and entertained by my own work.
Writing games really help give this variety. I came up with some myself, like I made a little book out of scrap paper and went for a walk and wrote scenes from the walk on each page. Hey presto I’ve written a book – albeit one with eight pages. I call anything that gives me a boost like that a writing game.
Other games came from online courses. Along with learning some poetry forms and how to write to beats when it suits a story, I did the course assignments which I think of as games, although I didn’t go so far as to submit my work for peer review as is encouraged
That’s where I’ve been lately, having a great time learning, writing, being free and not sharing! Well not sharing beyond friends and my niece and nephew. Sharing creative work feels like a whole new skill. I admit that there is some perfectionism here – I don’t want to share work until I’m really happy with it. But some of this is a legitimate concern. Julia Cameron’s book the Artist’s Way encourages a careful nurturing of creative talents. She describes a creative block where you don’t create because of too many negative thoughts, like you think the work isn’t good enough. She warns of blocked friends who “find your recovery [of creativity] disturbing. Your getting unblocked raises the unsettling possibility that they too could become unblocked and move to authentic creative risks rather than bench-sitting cynicism”, she also describes crazymakers who “are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive and powerfully persuasive” but they can disrupt and confuse other people’s creative development.
In this digital age where we have so many opportunities to publish our work, how to we find an outlet that is right for us? I’m not entirely sure of my rights over my own work when I share on someone else’s website. The legality is not always made clear. Also reading the comment sections of articles about some artists makes me sure there are blocked friends and crazymakers out there. It’s brutal!
But what is the point of creative writing if I don’t open it up to people’s reactions? I know that at this stage sharing my work on my website will elicit almost no reactions as practically no one knows me. But given time I hopefully might gather a small audience and I want to be happy dealing with that and still writing.
This creative writing group has been a big part of my solution to sharing. You have to care about your creative work to leave the comfort of your home or office and spend a couple of hours writing and reading the results (although there’s no pressure to read out). Happily other creative writers are making the same journey. Sharing in this environment makes me more motivated the create – which has been a nice surprise for me. Another probably even nicer surprise is just how much I enjoy other writers work. So that’s what this group is to me: people making sense of themselves through others. What could be better than that?
About The Author Lisa Evans made websites for the charities SOS Children and the Open Knowledge Foundation and wrote and researched for The Guardian for a couple of years. Currently making comics, both writing or researching the stories and drawing the pictures, with the aim of having a stall at a comic conference and sharing some digital comics online.
This week’s Creative Writing at The EDGE guest blog by Munizha explores perfectionism in her writing practice.
Munizha prefaces her piece with a quote from American poet Sharon Olds:
“I was very afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do this job well. And the time never came back.”
In my younger, more arrogant days, with time on my side, I paraded my perfectionism. It helped me justify the maddening procrastination and sporadic productivity that characterised, among other things, what I wanted to do most – writing. Since childhood, I had been told that I was a ‘good’ writer. Indeed, the only Brownie badges I went for were reading and writing, so I limited my options at a young age. And, the occasional poems and articles I did come to write were usually well-received. But, rather than using this to build my confidence, I was more inclined to feed it into my perfectionist fear of failure. I constantly put off committing to writing, deluding myself that when I did finally sit down to produce something substantial – at some undefined point in the future – it would, of course, be perfect.
It doesn’t work that way. While I was right in my subconscious belief that the less I wrote, the less I risked being exposed as a ‘bad’ writer, it also meant that I wasn’t a writer at all. Now, in the existential panic of middle age, the clock of mortality ticking louder each day, my pages still wait to be filled. If I don’t get on with it now, it may never get done. And the regrettable waste of not doing something you love because you are afraid of doing it badly dawns on me more intensely each day. The excuses sound increasingly hollow – it is time to hold each one to account.
How debilitating and destructive perfectionism can be hit home when I read the following passage in Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote, a mind-shifting critique of the culture of ‘positive thinking’:
Perfectionism is one of those traits that many people seem secretly, or not-so-secretly, proud to possess, since it hardly seems like a character flaw. Yet, at bottom, it is a fear-driven striving to avoid the experience of failure at all costs. At the extremes, it is an exhausting and permanently stressful way to live: there is a greater correlation between perfectionism and suicide, researchers have found, than between feelings of hopelessness and suicide.
Other useful resources that have helped me realise that perfectionism is not indelibly coded in my genes, but can be addressed and managed, are Anne Lamott’s no-nonsense writing advice in Bird by Bird, especially the chapter ‘Shitty First Drafts’; ‘The Curse of Perfectionism’, an episode of the Go Deeper Podcast, which particularly resonates with me because it is hosted by two middle-aged women, like myself, openly reflecting on what holds us back and motivates us in life; and the iprocrastinate Podcast (discovered while I was procrastinating), which discusses psychological research into different aspects of procrastination, and focuses several episodes on its entwinement with perfectionism.
Importantly, I have learnt that while perfectionism carries huge risks of not doing anything at all, or feeling like a constant failure because your standards are impossibly high, you can still healthily strive for excellence. But you need to accept that this journey involves not always knowing where you’re going, the frustration of wrong turns, and the occasional trauma of a crash. The more you keep going, and the better you try, the more likely you are to reach a place you value.
And anyway, isn’t perfection in the eye of the beholder? Although we are constantly bombarded with highly selective images and ideas of ‘perfection’ and ‘success’ – the perfect body, home, lifestyle, career, car, family, holiday, phone, and even eyelashes – what truly moves and inspires us is uniquely, and beautifully, personal. When it comes to creative work, everyone has their perfect painting, book, song, poem, dish or performance, which are no less valuable if they don’t achieve the fame and fortune we are taught to desire from such a young age. All we can do is contribute our own droplet to that abundant sea of expression.
So, I am training myself, and using this writing workshop to practise my writing – allowing myself to get things ‘wrong’ so that I at least have something to make better. As long as I deal with my fear of that ‘shitty first draft’ and don’t strangle my ideas at birth because they don’t measure up, something I write may speak to someone in a certain place at a particular moment. It may, in that instant, even appear to be perfect.
Whatever the outcome, I will have spent my time embracing and nurturing, rather than discontentedly shunning, the thing I love.
About the author Munizha Ahmad-Cooke has published poems in Oxford Poetry and In Love (Leaf publications). She has written book reviews for South Asia Research, SOAS Bulletin, and articles for South Asian Cinema and Ph7, a parliamentary health magazine. She grew up in Harrow, north-west London, and has worked in academia, publishing, politics and the charity sector. Today, she is a freelance copywriter and editor, nesting in the greenery of South Cambs, hunting words.