Often we have ‘moments of truth’ without realising until much later what grand epiphanies they are.

Way back in about 1998, I was sitting in the back of a strategic marketing presentation about a new range of toy concepts being represented by Gaffney Licensing in the city. The room was a blackened basement (lest we get distracted) devoid of windows or any sense of life…and I was bored.

Doodling on my notepad I started to write down every word I was hearing that sounded hollow or made me yawn (and I hadn’t even read about Don Watson’s book Death Sentence about weasel words at this stage!).

I quickly had a list scrawled down my page and a sudden spark of inspiration. What if I found a better and more engaging word for each of these hollow over-used, and frankly, lazy words?

Suddenly I felt alive. Words tumbled onto the page.

What about if we used words such as inspiration instead of information?

Considered instead of strategic?

Conscious instead of profit-driven?

Preference instead of plan?
Humanity instead of consumer?

Meaning instead of marketing?

Awe instead of purchase intention?

Gifts instead of KPIs?

Authenticity instead of qualifications?

The fall in the hero’s journey instead of ‘failing to meet budget’?

Visionary instead of CEO?

*and trust me just saying Chair instead of Chairman would have been bold back then…)

 

Now this was feeling juicy…

Fast forward twenty years and I am still bought alive by the search for the right word.

I believe the right word changes everything.

It can change your mind, your connection, your understanding, your desire, your action.

The right word can even change the world.

 

And what is the right word? Well in my mind, the right words are rich words, feeling words, evocative words that reveal the beauty of language and reflect the poetics that are deeply embedded in our minds via every story ever written.

 

These words sing.

They have rhythm.

They build a state of being in your body that is much more than the word.

I didn’t realise back then how much this simple awareness about words would define and refine what I do today. It wasn’t long after that meeting I left corporate life and started to rewrite my world.

The right word really does change everything.

 

Dear Writing,
I am so sorry I abandoned you. It’s been two weeks since I last wrote a single word for myself. You’ve waited patiently in the background, but the sense of words choking my veins, needing to get out, words shapeshifting into feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, has been palpable. You Writing, did not abandon me as I have abandoned you.

What a relief it is to sit right here, right now – to go to the page today and write this ‘blog-to-self’ – the post I most need to read.

The truth is I’m a bit crap at prioritising my own writing time. If every writer has their ‘wound’ then that is mine. It’s not that procrastination or writers block keeps me from the page, but rather the ‘stuff’ of life. Eminently justifiable stuff such as the paid freelance work I need to do most days, magazine deadlines, the preparation of my Life Writing workshop (I delivered week one last night and it was wonderful), the seemingly endless stream of social media attendance I do as part of my work that has no determinable end (unless I myself draw a line). There are children and school events, horses and friends and family. And rest. Sometimes it feels that everything exists to steal my time, and while I can be effective in stealing it back, my writing soul aches for long stretches of musing time to wander through the words, rather than the snatched sentences I manage in between other moments.

How can we ‘cocoon our practice’?

I have an artist friend that I admire greatly for many reasons, one of which is her deep commitment to her painting as a first priority every day. This is a mindset, a true expression of the value we attribute to our own art making. Nothing gets in the way of her practice to paint first. She declines just about every invitation or obligation that would take her away from her painting.

I admire this.

I struggle with this.

But I think this is what cocooning may be about.

We value what we create first and most, before all our other endeavours.
We honour our work and the time we give to it.
We defend the time we set aside for it, vigorously, without obligation to others, without hesitation. We simply say no.
We protect our space physically, psychologically even. We create buffers that protect us from intrusions, be they the visitor, the ding of social media, the news of the day.
We immerse our whole self in our practice and we emerge full from the experience, and our writing becomes self-perpetuating.
We give ourselves the right to pleasure and recognise our deepest need to do our art as the truest part of our selves.

And at the heart of cocooning our practice is the deepest held belief that art is worth it.

Writing is worth it.

We are worth it.

Cocooning your practice is a form of fierce love, for the self, for the soul and for all that is created from that space.

I’m working on it.

Want a Life Writing tip to get you started with writing a piece of your own history? Life Writing is a style of writing that draws out your unique story and preserves it for you or whoever you choose to share it with. It’s a wonderful way to honour your life and anyone, regardless of their writing skills, can start today.

Read my guest blog Bring Your Story to Life here.

If you would like to know more about this course or wish to enrol call Simone on 5967 1776 or email simonewhitehead@cire.org.au. Life Writing with Lindy Schneider commences Tuesday 15th May at 6.30pm to 9.00pm (4 sessions).

Held at Cire in Yarra Junction.

You can listen to my radio interview on YVFM (1.5.18) here.

Brochure with more details on this course is below.

Ten years ago, being a Self-published author carried with it the same stigma as admitting you’d met your partner online. Fortunately, both scenarios have changed immensely in the past decade.

I am proud to say that I am a Self-published author and what this means for me is I bring work to the world that might otherwise languish in slush piles at publishing houses for months, perhaps years. I’m not alone in being empowered enough, and brave enough, to take the step to have my voice heard and to take steps to realise myself as an author.

Taking the publishing process into my own hands has meant I am living a truth. I am a writer, and this is the way I make my writing visible. I can’t imagine how choked my writing would become if I did not have this way of ‘releasing’ my words to the world. That moment when you push the button and the words that have been ingrained on your heart are set free into the world is a scary moment, but it is also the moment that makes you as a writer. And you do it again and again.

Carl Jung referred to the capital S Self as the unification of the conscious and unconscious– a wholly complete and integrated Self. As people, as writers, isn’t’ this is what we aspire to? Self-publishing could be part of our Self-actualisation.

While there are dozens of ‘vanity publishers’ out there prepared to take your money and turn your book into a reality (often with very poor editing and production standards, minimal author support and desperately woeful marketing), Self-publishing a book and actually taking on every step of the process is the hands-on way to nurture the birthing process of your book and ensure it gets the life it deserves.

And does being a Self-published author mean you will never be traditionally published? There are many stories of successful Self-published authors being picked up for second books by publishing houses and there is also the emergence of the hybrid author – that is an author who cleverly develops a range of titles across both Self-published and traditional published formats. For many authors the Self-publishing financials make better sense, and the ability for authors to ‘cover all bases’ is their best chance at establishing income streams that are sustainable.

The From This Place book is a great example of a Self-published book that has been nurtured every step of the way. Photographer Angela Rivas and I invested hours in our publishing process. We went to printers, and worked through a myriad of specifications and quotes. (Our printer even came to our book launch we had such a strong relationship!) We sat with our graphic designer, and brought people into our editing and marketing team that we truly loved and respected. The end product is an ode to collaboration and the spirit of ‘making it happen’.

And that is what sharing your gift with the world means. If you’ve resisted Self-publishing because having a large publishing house like your work is the only way you might feel legitimate as a writer then I invite you to examine what is really going on inside your head. If is feels hard, consider a coach. Don’t resist the impulse of your own heart to share your work. If Self-publishing is within your means, honour your work and let the world see you.

 

Photo Credit: Angela Rivas

I recently published a book called From This Place (in collaboration with photographer Angela Rivas) and had the pleasure of interviewing fourteen diverse women artists from a range of genres including painting, mixed media, ceramics and, of course, writing.

As we dived deeper and deeper into this work, I couldn’t help but notice one key difference between the visual artists and the writers.

The visual artists, especially those who had exhibited at some point, had all prepared artist statements. And it occurred to me that writing such a statement is not something writers typically do. I had never written one so I set myself the task.

And I found it illuminating.

Without a real process to follow, I instinctually went to the page and started to write.

I wrote about what I enjoyed writing about.

I wrote about what message I wanted to leave with people.

I wrote about what was important to me and I wrote about the kind of language I liked to play with.

I wrote about what value I gave to my writing and what I wrote.

I dug deep and I wrote honestly about the writing I do. Sometimes what came out surprised me, but in those 2-3 pages of journaling I started to find those steady places where the moment of truth emerges.

I let those pages wash over me and circled the words that carried energy for me. These words then danced into prose-like sentences, and something came alive. I felt known.

An artist statement is not a formulaic ‘fill the gaps’ type paragraph or two but rather an emanation of the soul purpose and why we create. Of real value was the exploration into those values – my statement is a living breathing metaphor for a life lived from the deepest part of me.

The process clarified me, burned away all the things I thought sounded good or would make me a living and left me with the truth of my writing practice.

In 99 words, I managed to speak up about my writing and claim my writers’ heart. That is what, I think,  a true artist statement is – a piece of the heart that brings others into your work and takes you beyond your boundaries of if, should and if only.

Here I am:

I am interested in revealing the untold tales of women and their souls.

 In freeing a woman’s voice.

In elevating the feminine.

To craft and be wholly of the feminine in way and word. To ride on the back of instinct and to write.

 

I look for the spaces in which we may seek our rest.

Where words provide pause.

Where beauty cracks us open.

This is what my own heart seeks most – to be broken by beauty and for words to become the imperfect veins of gold that allow us to weep and let us truly be. 

 

What is your’s?

Photo credit Angela Rivas

One of the most powerful and challenging aspects of our From This Place project was the Essence shoot where we asked each artist to work with us to curate their own unique portrait for the book and exhibition.

As we explored what From This Place was actually about, it became clear that ‘being seen’ and ‘being heard’ were key themes. At times this was an uncomfortable prickly space for all of us and I am so humbled by the bravery these women showed as they supported our vision.

The Essence photo was born from the feeling that there was something more, something unseen, something held in the inner life as a secret ambition or vulnerability. In the sharing  of that inner and most soulful place, the artists of From This Place have shown us their ‘essence’ the thing that makes them who they truly are.

And from that place, we view these portraits as expressions of magnificence and beauty. These are not glamour portraits, touched up to make people look impossibly appealing, these are real and honest, and they are portraits that have the power to move you.

What we didn’t realise when we started these shoots was how much the artist would bring themselves to the shoot, how much their individual creativity would shine through – the ceramicist painted her body in slip clay, we had golden water nymphs, magical goddesses, women of the forest and cups of tea.  In each portrait, their art was truly present.

It wasn’t easy for many of them. Most of us are uncomfortable in front of a camera and being the sole subject matter only amplifies the discomfort.  There were reservations, and transformations around body image and the impossible pressures of the standards of beauty in our world. There were slow intricate steps from wanting to hide behind to being seen and for many of the women this represented a profound shift in how they felt about themselves. Who are you without special effects, makeup, Photoshop, a carefully mediated image? The answer is you are you, and there is no place to hide.

We couldn’t ask others to do what we weren’t prepared to do ourselves so both Angela and I also had an Essence portrait. Angela’s truest self created a ritual around shaving her head and all that represented for her in moving forward in life. I put my portrait off again and again while I tried to figure out how I wanted to reveal myself. Every time it started to feel too complex, too many props (I didn’t really need my antique typewriter surely), too much posturing (I want to be seen like this but not this, left not right, from behind not in front), in these clothes, or maybe these or these, I had to capture myself and strip it all right back. In the end it was a rainy 10 degree day and my only desire was to be outside in nature with my horse. I ended up in the dam in the paddock where my horse lives (she wasn’t having anything to do with the light reflector) covered in mud. A kind of primal birthing out of the waters, at one with the earth, the water, the sky. It carried the same feeling as when I first walked out of the desert near Alice Springs having spent 5 days alone vision questing. Dirty but wanting for absolutely nothing, so full and happy and alive in my skin.

Angela rang me late that night after she had previewed the photos. As we chatted she sent me image after image until there was one that both of us fell silent on.

That’s the one.

We knew it instinctively. This portrait we chose for the exhibition makes me think of conjuring water. It feels right on the edge of uncomfortable for me but that is what makes it real. Later that night I revisited a short piece of prose I had written about ‘the water writing my hand’. I’d written it months before the first artist interview for the book after taking a walk beside the Yarra River in Warburton. I’d had no intention of including it in the book but suddenly I saw those words and this image in perfect harmony. Something had worked magic under the surface and I couldn’t deny it. That prose became the preface of our book From This Place and it gives me pause every time I read it.

How deeply our stories run beneath the surface, not just for my portrait but for every Essence portrait in our book. Angela has a profoundly beautiful way of capturing women in their fullness so that the world can bask in the knowing that we are all amazing, gifted, powerful creatures of life. I stand in awe of her and all the women who said yes to sharing their most essential self with us.

I attended my first ever writers retreat on the weekend (I know!) and this is one of the pieces that came out. The prompt was ‘home’. We had ten minutes. Here it is exactly as it came out.

I am most at home when I am in beauty.

This is not about walls or décor or even the people I share my space with but instead a sense of pause. Home is the place within where I find the nothing part of me that is simply content to breathe out and feel no urgency or regret.

Home is in a blade of grass outside under a random sky – where I am not molded to fit a chair or required to place my cup just so.

Home is a freedom that puts aside expectation and removes the boundary of my body.

At home I have no skin. My bones are the rivers of the earth and my flesh is food – the degenerating leaf litter than nourishes the forest floor so that tiny fronds of fern can unfurl from their homes.

My home is as vast as I am, not anchored to location, not repeatable or able to be captured in a painting. At this home I am the invitation, not a guest, not a place but an idea, an expression, a gathering of those things close my soul.

I cannot leave my home and the winds blow the curtains at my window even when I am absent. Outside, my place of worship–of writing, I look to a horizon the curves across the contours of my skin. Home believes in herself, and as I close my eyes I can feel the embrace of a thousand trees. I have travelled in ever smaller circles to find this home and in this desire to stop moving, home has covered my eyes, touched my forehead as a mother does and said ‘enough’.

 

 

 

 

Know thyself.

I don’t think there is a single place in our lives where this isn’t relevant.

I am often asked to write PR releases or web content and, for me, the client’s self-awareness of who and what they are about is far more important than their latest SWOT analysis, or KPI (in fact I avoid this jargon on purpose).

Writing great copy requires emotional integrity and honesty. That’s the key to connecting with purpose to the people you are communicating with. You could say it’s part psychology, part writing and part marketing. The questions I ask of clients are the same ones I have muddled over in my own working and personal life. The answers shift over time as I evolve and respond to new opportunities but the ‘work’ in having strong and thoughtful responses to these questions makes everything else that you do flow.

Contemplate your responses to these questions and the writing – whether you engage a professional or want to prepare something yourself­–will be richer, easier and real– touching people where it needs to. Sometimes it’s just a few words that make all the difference.

Here are 10 provocations that can inspire deeper thought (and always more questions!)

  1. My work matters because…
  2. I am passionate about this because…
  3. My authority in this lies in my…
  4. Without this (your service/product etc) the world will…
  5. The three things you will learn/gain from my service/product are…
  6. This is unique because…
  7. How I want you to benefit from this is to…
  8. I stand for (3-5 defining words about who you are)…
  9. What is or where is my edge? Where will it grow…
  10. What do I yearn for?

The more you know your Self, the easier the answers will be, and your brilliance will flow naturally from this source.

There is something profoundly satisfying about having the earth ground into my skin. A primal feeling, a recognition of where I came from and where I am going.  Dirt is realness, an unmediated, unedited offering from under our feet, without which we would die. When I imagine being born, I feel the body emerging from deep crevices in the earth. Dying is a scattering that returns to the same place. In between is life, and it is dirt that makes me feel equally humble and powerful.

When photographer Angela Rivas and I were conceptualising our From This Place project we asked each of the artists to cultivate their own ‘Essence’ photoshoot, to be seen the way they wanted to be seen. And we also realised we could not ask this of others without being prepared to do it ourselves. It actually took me many months to gather the courage to do my Essence photoshoot. I had many ideas, but as soon as an idea started growing in complexity, I realised I was trying too much and wasn’t finding my Essence. The question ‘who was I without anything else?’ lingered, and I recalled a time years ago when I had come walking out of the desert near Alice Springs after a 5 day Vision Quest. The was the closest I felt to me, covered in red dust, unwashed, unkempt and feeling expanded beyond myself. I was wild.

I was home.

Yet even on the day of my photo shoot, knowing I needed this ancient wild, dirt covered woman to emerge, I had ideas – ideas to involve my horse somehow as my wild companion. Of course, my horse had other ideas, the light reflector being way too scary for her to stay in the frame. And the day loomed ominously. The weather rainy and struggling to reach 10 degrees.  So I took a deep breath, stripped away my preconceptions and walked into the dam in the paddock my horse lives in, covered myself in mud and faced the camera.

There she was.

These photos can be seen on this website and as part of our book and exhibition. They aren’t publicity shots, they are the barest part of me, the part that writes and lives and does shit in the world.

There is one image in particular that Angela shot that day. At the start of our book project I wrote a piece of poetry that is now the foreword. It speaks of the water writing my hand. One photo, a ‘happy accident’ where I appear to be conjuring water up into my hands takes both our breath away. It is as if the camera has perfectly captured the poetry without us even realising it. This is the photo that shows me in our exhibition. It’s unmediated, unedited, wild, me.

With dirt on my face.

As I scrolled through what must have been hundreds of posts this morning offering resolutions and advice for your ‘best 2018’ I couldn’t help but come to one conclusion.
There is just one word that pretty much provides a solution to most of life’s laments.
So in the spirit of sharing and stimulated conversation, I’m going to share my one word today (knowing full well that we suggest to others what we most need to hear ourselves!)

So my one word is this…

OUTSIDE

Yes that’s it – seven letters
O.U.T S.I.D.E.

Try this…

Feeling sad? – go outside
Lacking creative inspiration? – go outside
Kids spending too much time on screens? – go outside
Carrying a few extra kgs? – go outside
Electricity bills too big? – go outside
Lacking motivation? – go outside
Seeking community?- go outside
Feeling stressed about something? – go outside
Lacking appetite? – go outside
Can’t sleep? – go outside
Cranky children? – go outside

(you get it, right?)

Cooking, eating, living, sleeping – do more outside-even meetings (cos let’s face it any time we can get out of the white wall boxes we confine ourselves to has got to be good right?)

So there it is, one word I am going to steer my compass for 2018 by. Enjoy!
Feeling gratitude outside.
(Pic: @wedgetailrides)
#liveoutside