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Writing Lessons of the Heart

Something powerful is activated when women seek to hold each other up in reverence and joy. This is what we found as we sat with each of the women who gave their stories to the From This Place project and this is what we saw released in our own lives as again and again the wise words these women had to share found their way into our hearts.

Every woman, no matter who she was or what she did had a moment in their interview where the words they dared to utter bought us to tears.

Not because they were sad stories but because they were truth – beautiful deep expressions that came from the source of who they are.

And as truth they cannot be forgotten.

These words, quotes if you wish, hung in the air like perfect droplets of water, waiting to infuse into all our lives. Sometimes the women didn’t even realise the beauty of what they had shared. But we held out our hands and let the wisdom fall onto our parched hearts and from there the book was written, not word by word, but drop by drop.

For this reason, their stories are an infusion into the deepest parts of us. We hear at the level we can receive and we are touched in places that most need to hear. As the writer, I have felt to be more a midwife, a conduit for story, a messenger between the holy and the earthly self. I have borne witness to creation, to creativity, to cathartic, captivating realness and every page of the book resonates with something much larger and more evocative than anything we could imagine.

This is the beauty of sharing stories. Of allowing the stories to be as they are, not asking them to bend to some agenda or theme. Letting the story speak and then taking the blessings as they come. No story could be planned, instead it shaped itself and emerged on the page in a kind of ritual. A conscious state of stepping out of all I have been taught to receive a deeper kind of wisdom. Of inhabiting the words, of capturing brief glimpses of the essence of a person and then being open to the nuances of each story as it came through as colour, shape and symbol. People have commented about how each woman sounds so unique in their own story. I think this is why. It was not a conscious act but rather an authentic one.

For these stores to inspire you, they have first inspired us. As I sent each draft to Angela to read, she would reply ‘I have goosies’ and we would know we had captured something.

I felt these stories.

Time was irrelevant as I wrote them. I would gather myself at the final sentence and feel such a rush of joy – of disbelief, of absolute fulfilment that I was writing in a deeply resonant way with my soul’s purpose.

And I have gained so much more than I have given in this process.

Sometimes it was hard.

I faced a period of debilitating anxiety for several months as I struggled with my own lack of faith in my artistry, until finally I leapt from the edge of comfort and found new wings.

This is the inspiration that lives in the pages for you, too.

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Why these Artists?

We have fourteen incredible artists in our book and we’d like to share with you a little about the process of how this came to be.

When we set out two years ago to develop this project we thought we would focus on 8-10 artists – such was the talent of the women we were meeting we expanded our aim, and yet there were still many wonderful women that could have been included that we just didn’t have the time or ability to extend our resources to cover.

When we started, we did a lot of research to develop a list of potential artists. We posted extensively on Facebook asking for people to let us know if they were interested in completing and an Expression of Interest form, or to let us know of women artists they thought might be interested. We scoured through several years of Open Studio brochures, worked through the list of women interviewed on local radio arts program, the list of exhibitors at the Waterwheel Gallery – you name it we unearthed it and from that place we encouraged women to step up. We received about 40 Expressions of Interest (and many people we contacted never respond at all) and it became apparent as we sifted through all the incredible stories that there was a theme we couldn’t ignore.

We needed to focus our attention on a much smaller geographic area than we originally thought in order to make it manageable but also because many stories spoke of specific community dynamics that were part of the Warburton and surrounds, and included the Yarra River.

We set about, from a holistic perspective, finding stories that represented a broad range of women – from a range of age groups, across a variety of mediums, and at different stages of their art careers because we felt that created the most ‘inspiring’ read where there would be something for everyone.

We also had as one of our selection points that chosen artists had taken that step out into the world in some way, and that they were mostly sustaining themselves through their art.

There was also an organic thread in the process where we trusted that those that needed to be in the book would come forward – we recognised it was a big thing and people needed to trust us with their hearts. For that reason, we always understood that many artists we may have reached out to who didn’t know us, may have chosen not to reply.

When you read the stories, you will come to know of their remarkable achievements.  Each one has opened up their lives for us to peer into. This is not always comfortable and we are incredibly grateful. We didn’t know every woman in the book, and neither did many of them know each other. Now we all do and we are proud of the way we have supported each other.

From This Place represents universal stories and while we know it is a wonderful representation of the artists involved, it also does much to elevate the profile of artists in the Yarra Valley generally and from this place, every artist is present and can benefit.

It’s been a huge project – more than 400 hours each devoted by both Angela and Lindy, over 60 photoshoots with more than 5,000 images to choose from, plus the hours provided by the artists themselves to interviews and shoots – and we are so very grateful for your support. Have we learnt something? Yes of course, Would we do it differently next time? – possibly but there has also been a divinely feminine hand in the process that we have trusted implicitly to bring the right women together at the right time. This divine guidance, dear readers, was a bigger influence that any of us could reckon. We could have filled an encyclopaedia with artists of the Yarra Ranges, but that would have required more than 2 years, a huge budget and mountains of energy!

There are so many inspiring stories in our community, in our world.  This is the beginning…

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Women Step up to the Palette

Only five per cent of artists hanging in permanent galleries worldwide are women.
That’s a statistic that was too challenging to ignore, and which in fact, was inspirational for Warburton writer Lindy Schneider and photographer Angela Rivas.
On 1 June, Lindy and Angela launched a Pozible crowd funding campaign to create a book in words and pictures of 14 unique women artists.
‘From This Place – Inspiring Women Artists of The Upper Yarra Valley’ is a project started more than two years ago in what Lindy describes as a moment of shared inspiration.
“Both of us had an idea; we were curious as to why we lived among so many talented women artists and we wanted to find out why,” she explained.
“We wanted to elevate our fellow artists, to raise their profiles in a world where it is often hard to cut through.”
That was where the five per cent statistic came to light – one of the most telling moments of their research.
They took the fact and decided to do something about it, starting in their own beautiful part of the world.
Their 14 women include painters and poets, potters and scenographers, sculptors and authors. Artists that have so many layers, that Lindy and Angela say it’s difficult to hold them to any one definition.
“These women are important, and their work matters,” Lindy said.
The names of many of the featured artists will be familiar to Yarra Valley residents – Belinda Rogers, Sioux Dollman, Marlee Nebauer, Jena Bedson, Maya Ward, Adrienne Kneebone, Kate Baker, Shlomit Moria, Indigo Perry, Gillian Farrow, Lucy Pierce, Jo Rothwell, Jenny Davis and Jeminah Alli Reidy.
The project which will launch in September is twofold comprising the hardcover From This Place Book of around 128 pages in full colour, and the From This Place Exhibition – The Essence Portraits, featuring 14 large-scale portraits from the ‘essence’ shoot.
The exhibition will run for five weeks at the Upper Yarra Arts Centre in Warburton and at the Yarra Valley Regional Museum in Lilydale in December and January.
The women are pre-selling copies of the book, and seeking support via the Pozible campaign to create a book that matches the quality of the photographs and the stories.
Lindy said with generous support from Yarra Ranges Council and the Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank Branches the project had grown beyond their wildest dreams and that they were now reaching out to the wider community.
Visit www.fromthisplace.net for more information on the authors and artists, and https://pozible.com/project/from-this-place-book-exhibition-1 to support the project.

 Source Upper Yarra Mail June 2017
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Horse Healers – an article

What a pleasure it is to combine so many things I love in one setting – horses, writing and healing. Here is an article I wrote for Yarra Valley and Ranges Country Life magazine about Equine Therapy in the Yarra Valley. Enjoy.

Read my article on  equine therapy

The Inspiration Wall

Every writer has a tip for overcoming writers block. Ten years ago I started collecting postcards. Not your typical ‘Greetings from Gunnedah’ postcard, but arty cards, images that provided me with a delightful lift when I looked at them, or were just simply appealing for whatever reason. Over the years these have filled a shoebox and when I moved into my new studio earlier this year I decided to do something with them. So I started, one by one, to put my postcards on the wall adjacent to my desk. One by one I added them in no apparent order except that colours started to dance alongside each other and a visual harmony was created. One by one a story emerged, a story of tiny images that spoke of times in a life, places I had been, impressions that had mattered.

So my wall is now full of an inspiring array of colours and themes from simple free postcards I have collected. And when a word won’t come, or I am needing a distraction so that my mind can work in more feminine or nonlinear ways, I simply turn to my wall of postcards, and let myself be immersed in the ever-changing story and message that they want to share. Sometimes a block is not something to be busted through with a technique, Sometimes, most of the time for me, a block is a signal that I need to bathe my soul in beauty, work differently, step into a different sense of time and being. In yoga there is a concept that what you do off the mat is just as important as what you do on the mat. In writing and creativity, what you do off the page is just as important as what you do on the page.

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All about Dandelions

The best logos are rich with symbolism and truth. They are more than marketing strategies – they are emanations from the soul and tell our stories in so many more ways than words convey. So I chose a dandelion to represent my mark on the world – my soul in colour and line to show you a little more of who I am. I dreamt on it and followed the scatter of seeds on the wind until I understood what the dandelion symbolised for me.

When I was a child the dandelion was a magical wish maker – it still is.

The tiny flowerets that float out on the breeze show us the magic of breath, the basis of all of life.

The spherical nature of the dandelion head is also called a clock, but it represents the multi dimensional non-linear form of time – circles and cycles of the seasons and the natural world.

Dandelion is also a wonderful medicinal herb. Every part of the plant has its use. It cleanses the liver and promotes balance and health. It restores and supports us to live from our essence.

And she is every where.

When the spring comes the ubiquitous dandelion bobs her fragile head in the green spaces of our lives. She shows us how many small things create a whole.

]She is life in perpetuity as each seed head releases its growth potential gently supported by its own tiny set of parachute-like wings.

I watch my own children delight in finding a dandelion and blow all the expectations and beauty of childhood into the winds of time.

The colours of the rainbow ripple through my dandelion representing creativity and the diversity of life.

I am also a Leo so the ‘dandy Lion’ feels like a fine expression of my Leonine ways.

If we use the breath to breathe life into our words, we bring meaning to the world.

The dandelion is a symbolic embodiment of what that means to me.

Take a long…deep…read

Have we forgotten how to read slowly?

Are we now so trained by our busyness and 140 character posts to read everything so quickly that we have lost the ability to read deeply, with presence and openness to juicy words that we can savour?

For the past few weeks I have been working on a piece of nature writing that I wanted to enter into a competition just for the experience. I decided it was time to seek the wise counsel of a writing friend, someone I could trust for their clarity of vision and capacity for honest words.

‘I don’t think l like it,’ he says after the first read. ‘The alternating between personal biography and philosophy doesn’t work for me.

Hmm, I think, surely biography is philosophy, and philosophy is biography if we are living authentically.

I am going to read it again he promises.

Half an hour later he texts: I’m experiencing it in a new way!

On the third read, he calls. ‘It’s a lovely piece of writing. When I understood that I needed to slow down and really be in the piece it became a different thing altogether.’

Ludic reading is a term coined by Victor Nell, in his book Lost in a Book: the psychology of reading for pleasure. He says ludic reading is ‘a name for that trancelike state that readers enter when consuming books for pleasure.’

I doubt that the competition judge will have the time to read my entry three times or from a space of ludicity when there is likely to be thousands of entries, but that does not concern me. The real reason one enters a competition is to learn something about the self and in the process, the writing way. In reflection, I also learnt how important it is to slow down and invite the reader to do the same.

Who knows what jewels are hidden among the words we read or write when we take the time to let them shine? Stay with your words, and…create…the…spaces…within – spaces that have nothing to do with 140 characters!

Books as Therapy

A writer friend recently told me about a project a past colleague of hers had developed in the UK – the use of books in therapy. It draws on the very real idea that whatever the malaise, there is a book that can be prescribed that if read by the client will provide some sense of insight or shift. I love this…

So it got me thinking about all the books that I have been blessed by in some way in my life – from before I could read until today.

Listing them seemed a natural next step.

Here they are  – fifty books in no apparent chronology or importance – each one has touched me in an indelible way to make me not only the writer, but also the person, I am today.

  1. The Tao of Equus – Linda Kohanov
  2. Ensouling Language – Stephen Buhner
  3. The Little Prince  – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  4. Inspiration Sandwich – SARK
  5. La Vita e Bella (screenplay)
  6. Cinderella 1940s pop up book that belonged to my mother
  7. Canyon Winter – Walt Morrey
  8. Folk of the Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton
  9. The pictorial book of Horses
  10. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
  11. Little House on the Prairie series – Laura Ingliss Wilder
  12. Care of the Soul  – Thomas Moore
  13. Man and his Symbols  – Carl Jung
  14. The Red Book – Carl Jung
  15. A Woman’s Worth  – Marianne Williamson
  16. The Prophet  – Kalil Gibran
  17. The Essential Rumi – Colman
  18. Philosophy of Love  – Hafez
  19. Death Sentence  – Don Watson
  20. Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  21. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering  – Sarah Buckley
  22. Women Who Run with the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  23. Memoir and Poetry  – Pablo Neruda
  24. Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes
  25. The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
  26. Callings: finding and following an authentic life – Greg Levoy
  27. Consolation of Joe Cinque – Helen Garner
  28. Art as Medicine  – Shaun McNiff
  29. To Kill a Mocking Bird  – Harper Lee
  30. The Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
  31. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche
  32. Approaching the Corporate Heart – Margot Cairnes
  33. Dad’s Bubbles the monkey stories
  34. The Hare and the Tortoise fable
  35. Consolations of Philosophy  – Alain de Botton
  36. The Invitation – Oriah Mountain dreamer
  37. Inferno – Dante
  38. Symposium – Plato
  39. The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
  40. Yum – Terry Durack
  41. The Horse Boy – Rupert Isaccson
  42. Way of the Superior Male – David Deida
  43. The Story of my Life – Helen Keller
  44. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  45. Siddharta – Herman Hesse
  46. The Divided Heart; Art and motherhood – Rachael Powers
  47. Princess Smartypants – Babette Cole
  48. Danny the Champion of the World – Ronald Dahl
  49. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  50. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

Words Count

We now have about three and half minutes to share, if you stay with me and read this little 500 word expose to completion. Three and half little minutes – not long hey?

Today I have set myself the task of writing to a word count, for I am apt to generally wander over any set limits, and approach a word limit in much the same way as a builder approaches a quote– i.e. always factor in another 20-30%!

Whilst it will take well over 30 minutes to write this draft, you will read it in less than a tenth of that time.

Three and a half minutes seems to be all anyone can spare to read anything these days. I know in my life, three and a half minutes is about as long as I get alone before a child is at my knee ordering more juice, or to be read a book.

I love words. I love reading. I love writing. I always have. I always will. I love the smell of a new book, and don’t see myself ever being attached to a Kindle. But the truth is, with the encroachment of Twitter, Facebook, even texting into our lives, it seems that most people just want to read the shortest possible way home.

In the process, I fear our language is being macerated and that we are losing the very essence of a life filled with beautiful words. Instead we try to say it all in less than 140 characters. Get to the point and get on with it.

What if my favorite poet Pablo Neruda had adhered to the less is more word economy of today?? The opening line of Ode to a Beautiful Nude, “With a chaste heart, with pure eyes I celebrate your beauty…” would become “UR a QT”

A friend last week shared enthusiastically how much she liked reading my writing. But, she said, she found herself scanning quickly through rather than reading them properly and we discussed how trained we are now to expect bullet points and our information mainlined.

The Web has certainly been a catalyst for succinctness, but it would be narrow minded to suggest that all writing for the Web be stripped to its essence for the sake of brevity. In this context the Web is simply a vehicle for publishing articles, one of many publishing destinations.

[new-p]I cannot compromise pleasurable writing for word economy. Victor Nell author of Lost in a Book, talks about ludic reading (reading for pleasure) and how the Web environment works against such writing. “Read a nice sentence, get dinged by IM, never return,” he says, and there is truth in that.

Lets not get too caught up in brevity at the expense of beauty. Lets slow down as we read and savour the selection of words. Lets slow down and savour life.

Writing is a wonderful and creative process.

Reading wonderful writing is a simple pleasure worth lingering over.

Time’s up.

A woman’s song

Deep in the womb of every woman is her sacred song. Not necessarily of words as she knows them, it may transcend any melody or rhythm that she has ever heard. Tinged with blood and dust, this song lives its longing from the caverns of her sacred womb. Candid, juicy, sometimes impatient, her song reverberates with the beat of her own heart, sending its roots into river stones and whispers.

A womans own song is born into her through the experiences of her unique life and over all of time immemorial. When she hears it for the first time she knows it as if she has already heard it countless times before.

Her song rests quietly inside her waiting for her to bear it, like a child, into beingness. It awaits her while she is absorbed by the ‘stuff’ of life, until a time when her ears are present and her heart primed with pain or glee or glory, her soul in perfect harmony.

No-one call tell a woman how she might find her own song, for only in the folds of her intimate sacred life can she glimpse its presence and, just as it is in life, it is the journey she undertakes to find her song that will reveal it.

So she dances with abandon, sobs until she is parched, holds her children with a tenderness untethered to reason, and shakes in her ecstasy, not even realising that she is the author of her own sacred song in each of those moments.

And when she knows her song it serves her in the morning light, spilling forth from the darkness that precedes dawn, a child at her breast. She carries it with her always and when she can think of no other way, her song rescues her from despair and reminds her of her glory and grace. She fortifies her very existence with its words, and finds ways for it to carry her home to her place of rest and solitude.

When my song came to greet me I could barely utter its words, for it felt too brazen, too raw. I felt the words and the words danced me. The melody more like a spiral than a tune, I could hear the underscore of nature, a symphony of color naked in my ears.

How my song knew me. It was a time in my life where I yearned for my unborn children, ached for truth in the depths of my soul, and desperately needed to embrace my feminine instincts. My song was poignantly and lovingly direct, like an archetypal mother.

My song was, and will eternally be, a measure of my beauty. A virtue that I deeply need to acknowledge within myself and to this life. For as I stand here today and enquire of my heart what it is that I leave behind as a mark on this world, my song plays over again.

The fire in my belly,
Her voice that soothes my soul.
My sacred heart, my woman’s song
Beloved journey to my home.

Goddess in my darkened womb
A mirror in which I see,
The nature of my beauty,
The power inside of me.

A woman of true substance
A woman to behold
I am all I ever need
My story must be told.

See me wild and untamed
See me lost in ecstasy
See me open, full of peace and life
Dancing in the flames,
See me.