Janus: looking back, looking forward……..
January seems to be a time for looking back to last year, and looking forward into this one. Janus, the Roman god depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, symbolises this as we move through his namesake month. He’s also the god of transitions and links past with future. In fact there’s much more to him than I’d realised, but for now I’m looking at his ability to look back and forwards as we transition from one year to another.
One of the fascinating projects I was involved with in 2014 was working with Carry Gorney on her memoir, Send me a parcel with 100 lovely things (to read more about this book click here). This book interweaves her parents’ journey from Germany to Yorkshire (including her father’s letters from the Isle of Man internment camp) with her own journey from Yorkshire into a wider world. I was her writing coach and editor throughout the process and was thrilled to receive a copy of the real, physical book in early January. It’s satisfying to see something through from the tentative start to completion.
Journal Prompt: Look back over 2014, notice your activities, the projects that you were engaged in. Did some come to completion? How do you feel about them? Are there some which you wish to leave in 2014? Which ones are you bringing forward into 2015?
It’s conventional to make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of January for the coming year. But why not do this at other times? I now invite you to make Re-commitments to unfinished, abandoned or forgotten practices or projects. Do this without guilt or sense of failure for having let things lapse, but rather with pleasure and satisfaction at being able to bring them into focus again. What do you want to continue or bring to completion this year?
Journal prompt: Imagine that the year is already half over. It’s the end of June and you are looking back at the activities and projects of the year to date. Have some come to completion? What do you want to continue to develop? Which ones are still waiting?
LEAVE A COMMENTby KATE THOMPSON on JANUARY 17, 2015 • PERMALINK • EDIT
Posted in ALL POSTS, BOOKS, MEMOIR, PUBLICATIONS
Tagged CARRY GORNEY, JANUS, JOURNAL PROMPT, MEMOIR
I’m just back from speaking at theCenter for Journal Therapy symposium,Passion to Profit, and the National Association of Poetry Therapy annual conference in Arizona. The temperatures contrasted (96°F in Arizona, 33°F in Colorado), as did the landscapes. It’s always wonderful to connect with your community and these meetings were particularly stimulating and full of creative energy.
Mary Reynolds Thompson (no relation!) and I facilitated our workshop called Literature, Landscape and Imagination at the NAPT meeting. Reading literature and inhabiting landscapes are both acts of imagination, framed by our perspectives and our perceptions. In her book Reading Middlemarch Rebecca Mead says:
..”when I read her [George Eliot’s] books I am restored anew to that place of childhood. She shows me that the remembrance of a childhood landscape is not mere nostalgia for what is lost and beyond my reach. It does not consist of longing to be back there, in the present; or of longing to be a child once more; or of wishing the world would not change. Rather it is an opportunity to be in touch again with the intensity and imagination of beginnings. It is a discovery, later in life, of what remains with me.” p253
Think about the spring landscapes of your childhood. Choose one which has a particular resonance for you right now. Think about how old you were when you inhabited it (however briefly – perhaps a holiday place, perhaps your home). Who else was there?
Write about it in the 1st person, present tense, use the language of the senses to evoke your experience of it.
Read it through and write a few sentences of feedback (e.g. When I read this I notice…..When I read this I feel….. )
What does that place have in common with where you are now?
I’ve just finished writing a piece for the journal of The Society of Existential Analysis. Formally it was a review of two books about what books or literature can tell us about the stages of life. In practice it made me think about the wider questions:
Why Read? Why do we read?
Jean-Paul Sartre entitled his autobiography Pourquoi Ecrire? (Why Write?). And we may ask Pourquoi Lire? (Why read?) We may ask why, in the age of the internet, should we read books at all? and I do mean books – though these days you can read them on an electronic device.
Or even more precisely, we may ask, as Italo Calvino (a novelist as existential as Camus) once did: ‘Pourquoi lire les classiques?’ Why (should we) read the classics?
Journal Prompt: Why do you read?
The stages of life, in this context are:
You might want to delete some and add others to make your own list – would bereavement count as a stage of life? As surely as love perhaps. Separation can take many forms too.
But of course the question is:
Journal prompt: Which seven novels would you choose to tell you about the stages of Life?
Or perhaps the stages of your life?
Or even which are the books which have taught you most about your own life stages to date?
Please share something about your list here.
The paradox of February is perhaps that the extreme weather we get (2 feet of snow here after a dry winter, for example) is in contrast with the lengthening days, the increased energy and outward focus. The hibernation instinct releases its grip.
The desire to spend more time outside, being more physically active in daylight is often frustrated by snow and rain………Margaret Atwood’s poem February depicts it as a transitional month.
Many people battle depression or experience a lowering of the spirits & energy in winter. People who suffer from SAD start to feel better as days noticeably lengthen. Up in the Arctic the sun has returned and people are becoming happy again. Next month many countries will put their clocks forward and suddenly the evenings are restored.
Journal prompt: What do you notice in yourself as the days get longer? Think about your physical, mental and emotional energy.
Do you notice any annual patterns or rhythms?
Is there anything in February which lifts your spirits? A ritual? An annual event? If not, what could you introduce?
Taos is very beautiful, infused with an ancient Indian heritage and the spirits of 20th century writers & artists. In an Anglo-centric literary fashion it was always DH Lawrence who drew me there. On my recent visit I was therefore staying at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House……….
Mabel Dodge Luhan committed huge amounts of time to persuading Lawrence (and other writers, artists and thinkers) to go to Taos; when he did they had a very stormy relationship. The house is now an inn and hosts writers and writing workshops (which gives me an idea for next year…..).
I was also appropriately reading Joseph Foster’s D.H.Lawrence in Taos which gives an interesting perspective from someone who knew, observed and admired him but was not blind to his peculiarities.
It was a library book which, as with second hand books, sometimes brings you more than just the author’s words, more often an added bonus than an irritation, wouldn’t you say?
On page 57 the occasional pencil underlinings suddenly become personal, become words, develop character. I reproduce here the underlining and the pencil margin notes which make a great Journal Prompt.
What does one expect of a great man, such as Lawrence in one’s life?
Perhaps only contact. Reassurance that because of him life is worthwhile. Lawrence was a presence in our lives even before we met him. Someone who stirred the highest things in us. (p57)
Someone underlined the last sentence above and wrote in the margin:
Who stirs the highest things in you? what?
I would describe this as “A Found Journal Prompt”.
Do you like to read geographically relevant books? What combinations of place & book have you found?
My next trip is to Alaska – any reading suggestions?
These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects:
King Lear , Act 1, Scene 1
The Elizabethans may have thought that eclipses foretold chaos and the overturning of the natural order of things but to me they are an experience of ethereal beauty and anticipation.
The anticipation at the prospect of seeing one from your own backyard is immense (and not a little anxiety provoking when people and telescopes are also involved). Cloudy skies in Colorado are ‘unusual’ but of course they happen at inopportune moments, like last Sunday. But the clouds parted to give glimpses of the eclipse and the watchers felt rewarded (even the most hardened scientists let out spontaneous gasps of wonder).
Is it my imagination or were there more opportunities in childhood to be overcome with awe and wonder at the heavenly bodies, carpets of stars across the dark, constellations suddenly becoming identifiable? Is it one of those rites of passage, the first time you notice something immense and wonderful that makes you feel minute and insignificant?
Dark skies seem increasingly unusual in today’s world so the opportunities to be transported by the sight of a star-filled night can be rare – perhaps it makes it all the more stunning when we see it.
Journal Prompt: Write about times when you have really noticed the night sky. Was there a ‘first time’? A particular time?
Have you ever seen an eclipse or other astronomical event? What was it like? How did you respond?
And finally: Poets, from Shelley to Hughes, love the night skies, especially the moon (moon poems here) – have you got a favourite poem or quotation on this subject?
This week I went to see the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Jiro is an 85 year old Tokyo sushi chef who has devoted his life to sushi (practically since leaving home at the age of 9) and to improving his skills, to seeking the perfect sushi. He works every day, from sunrise to late in the evening, has done for many decades. This commitment, this focus, this dedication is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. There are no relationships in this world except through the work – his sons work for him or near him (there are apparently no women in this world).
He advocates doing the same thing over and over again; it’s sushi-making almost as a spiritual practice or ‘walking a path’.
Write about something you do over and over again. Is it an action? A ritual? A habit?
What are you commited to? What do you ‘practice’?
Explore your own practices – do these include journal writing?
For further exploration of journal writing as a spiritual practice see Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest which offers a lot of ideas and exercises for developing your journal as a practice. Or recommend your favourite books on this topic here.
May 1st always feels like the beginning of summer, of many colours green, of music and sunlight and magic. As I drove down the mountain this morning I saw a marmot running up the rocks by the side of the road. I switched on KGNU, the local radio station, and found myself in the middle of passionate and intense music. It was viscerally familiar but unidentifiable (this I so often find to be the case). I got as far as “it’s a piano trio, 19th century”….but no further before the announcer relieved me:
This immediately made me think of my father who, although his sympathies lay more with the 18th Century than with the excesses of the 19th, had been utterly entranced by this piece when he heard it at a concert. He gave me a vinyl record (remember those?) of it for Christmas that year.
There is a profound sense in which music opens a secret door in time and reaches in to the eternal.
Music can also stir memories, good or bad, and transport you back in time.
Music embraces the whole person. It entrances the mind and the heart and its vibrations reach and touch the entire physical body.
Think of a piece of music that could catch you by surprise when you turn on the radio.
What memories does it evoke?
Who does it remind you of?
What time in your life does it transport you back to?
Tell us what pieces of music would you choose for:
a) May Day
b) the 1st day of summer
c)International Workers’ Day
d) all of the above
At the weekend Mary Reynolds Thompson and I facilitated our Wild Places Lost & Found writing workshops.
On Saturday the participants came up the winding road to the top of Flagstaff, to the views of the Continental Divide, to sit and write in forest and mountain.
On Sunday, people found places under trees, in sunshine, on grass.
They were seeking the wild places outside and inside themselves and came together to write and to share.
Saturday began with a visit from 3 coyotes. As we drove to Lakewood on Sunday for the second workshop a coyote crossed the road in front of us.
In Native American lore, a coyote is a trickster, a creature of duality and paradox, a creative figure, a creator of culture and a breaker of taboos.
Their appearance seemed to invite us into the wild.
Writing took people into their wild imagination.
We looked at archetypal landscapes: Mountain, Forest, Water, Grassland, Desert. Mary brought us images from her Reclaiming the Wild Soul work to look at, to choose from, to enter, to write about.
What is that landscape in you?
One participant said she had always found writing outside too distracting, she preferred to have a ceiling – but on this occasion her written words belied her spoken words.
How is writing outside in nature, in a garden, different from writing inside, in a coffee shop?
What do you experience when you write outside?
What are your favourite places to write?
This I will Remember
This I will remember,
The courage it sometimes takes to read out loud.
This I will remember:
How a child touches your soul,
The distance and closeness of stories.
This I will remember:
Beautiful are the hearts of the people
Who shared this workshop,
And the profound beauty of this place.