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
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.
Part of our creative writing project at The EDGE Cafe is a weekly Guest blog from one of our group.
This week’s blog is a piece about the pleasures of writing by Bernice Zieba.
Writing is for me a way to sort and express my thoughts and ideas. It is a passion, a joy, a commitment. Sometimes it’s almost an obsession. Writing also means power: As a writer I have the opportunity to say what I really want to say, without being interrupted by anyone; a chance to tell the world my opinion. Writing neutralises feelings of anger and consoles in sad times.
Writing is an exciting journey, especially when writing fiction: It’s like being carried away on the back of an enormous bird, flying above towns, hills and mountains, viewing the world from a different angle. It’s like travelling in a train that brings you to places you’ve never been before, seeing things, you didn’t even know existed. Sometimes you’re aware of the train’s destination, but sometimes you might just take a seat without knowing, where you’ll end up.
I think the most important part of writing is that you want to tell something. Of course you need to be able to spell words and shape sentences‑, but that is something you can practise, something you need to practise. Writing is a craft: First you write a draft, and then you modify it until it has the right shape. Just like a sculptor who starts off with a piece of rock. He carves around on the stone until it has the perfect shape of whatever was desired: a bust, a statue, an animal.
Writing raises us above plants and animals. We are the only earthly creatures that express themselves in written words. Writing makes us almost divine.
Writing is an art. We don’t need writing to survive physically (like water, food and shelter), yet written work is essential for the soul. It nurtures, educates and entertains the mind. Reading about other people’s lives can help us understand each other better.
I’ve been writing all my life. When I was three years old, I knocked on the door of my dad and asked him for some paper. “I want to write a book!” I announced full of confidence.
Throughout my youth I wrote many diaries, including travel journals. But at the end of my teenage years I burnt them all. As a young mother I took up writing again and have been writing ever since. Sometimes noting down bits of daily life or catching an interesting dream on paper. When I discovered home education, I soon began to write a book on the subject. My first book was published 2015 in Germany and has been translated in English.
I believe my passion is writing fiction. That’s why I’m currently working on a children’s fantasy story. It’s an exciting journey and I’m learning a lot during the process. After finishing three quarters of the first draft, I started re-writing the whole thing. During re-writing I discover my faults and change great parts of my text. Impatience is my greatest enemy at writing. The more I write and re-write, the more I notice how long the journey lasts – longer than firstly assumed. But it’s worth the effort. There’s one more thing I’d like to mention: I also enjoy reading books. Reading is important for developing my own writing style. Reading and writing go hand in hand.
About the author Bernice Zieba was born in Gloucester. Her parents originate from Guyana and Switzerland. As a child she moved to Switzerland and stayed there for thirty years. In 2016 she returned to the UK and lives near Cambridge.
Bernice is married and the mother of seven children. She is author of the book Growing Up Without School (originally published in German) and is now working on a children’s fantasy story.