re-imagine and re-story your life and work

Creative Writing Newsletter May 2023

Pat Grayson invites you to a launch
1.Pringle Bay Sat 6 May @ Menucha 16.00-17.30
2.Somerset West Fri 12 May @ The Playhouse 15.00- 16.30
3.Zoom Sun 21 May 12.00-13.00 SA time
wine and snacks (not on Zoom alas)
RSVP Dorian 27 82 873 6802

The Anatomy of a Story
This letter arrives fresh from a ZenPen retreat at Temenos in McGregor
with its Garden of the Beloved. Participants created a 7 bead bracelet, each
bead representing a stage in the writing process. Each begins with the
letter R. (adapted from Henriette Klauser, a writing teacher’s 5 R’s.) I
thought to go for 7.
People often ask where I get stories so I’m sharing my approach – the way a
story builds in the hope that this might clarify your story process. Creating
then Crafting. Here is the story that arrived via these seven beads:

Creative Writing Newsletter April 2023

Stop Press- Zen Pen: A Writing, Being & Meditation Retreat
@ Temenos McGregor 31 March – 3 April 2023 (see end of letter)

The World is made of Stories

The universe is made up of stories, not atoms (Muriel Rukeyser, poet)
“Of course it is made of atoms. That’s one of our important stories… What other stories make our world?” (Loy) This month I wish to pay tribute to David Loy, a Zen teacher, author of The Great Awakening, The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons and this book (2010), my Story Bible bought six years ago.

Many of us know the story of two small fish swimming along encountering the big fish, who asks Are you enjoying the water? When he
passes, one whispers to the other what is water? We, immersed in stories, confuse our chosen story for reality. Here is Loy on this all-
encompassing world:“ The limits of my stories are the limits of my world. Like the fish that cannot see the water they swim in. We do not notice the medium we dwell within, unaware that… we experience them as the world, but we can change the water. When our accounts of the world become different, the world becomes different.

Creative Writing Wordshops Newsletter Feburary 2023

I have woven a parachute out of everything broken, my scars are my shield: and I jump, daylight or dark into any country (William Stafford)

Bread Crumb words
This month this book fell of the shelf insisting  ‘Read me now.’ One of the analogies Wolynn evokes is the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. They leave a trail of breadcrumbs so they can find their way home from the witch’s cottage.

He echoes my core belief:

“In many ways healing from trauma is akin to creating a poem. Both
require the right timing, the right words, and the right image. When
these elements align something meaningful is set into motion that can
be felt in the body. To heal, our pacing must be in tune. If we arrive
too quickly at an image, it might not take root. If the words that
comfort us arrive too early, we might not be ready to take them in. If
the words aren’t precise, we might not hear them or resonate with
them at all.

Over the course of my practice as a teacher and workshop leader, I’ve combined the insights and methods gained from my training in inherited family trauma, with my knowledge of the crucial role of language. I call this the core language approach. Using specific questions, I help people discover the root cause behind the physical and emotional symptoms that keep them mired. And uncovering the right language not only exposes the trauma it also unveils the tools and images needed for healing.”

Creative Writing Wordshops November Newsletter 2022

The Quest in Questions ???

What are the essential questions we need to ask? How would we answer the woman in the cartoon? What of Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s ‘I said to myself “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”’ (I love the Spanish ¿ at the beginning of a question or exclamation).

Or Mary Oliver:
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do.” with your one wild and precious life? And Isiah’s vision “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

Creative Writing Wordshops Newsletter December 2022

From Acorn to Oak Leaves

one of 4000 oaks at Oak Valley Elgin
For the past few months on Zoom, and in person, I have been working with writers around the theme of expanding a text – a line, image or phrase (the acorn) from another writer. We open this into our personal story, a memory or a current writing project. (oak leaves) So this is writing as a response.
The idea comes from the Maverick Jungian, James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code (1997). We hold the potential for unique possibilities inside us as an acorn holds the pattern of an oak.

Creative Wordshops Newsletter September 2022

The art of Ageing

an aged man (woman) is but a paltry thing,
a tattered coat upon a stick, unless
soul clap his hands and sing and louder sing
for every tatter in its mortal dress. (Yeats)

Recently a good friend, Gerald, needing to leave their home in Pringle Bay, gifted some of his books. The Art of Aging. came my way. I wonder what art means in this context, the art of anything? Creativity, imagination, focus, balance, perspective, awareness, selection, proportion, passion, framing – all of these?
Here is a Chinese proverb about books. So here is gold dust from this book so you can believe or offer Coleridge’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ to the book:
‘When the 93 year old cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice his instrument for three hours a day, he wryly responded, ‘I’m beginning to notice some improvement.’
‘… As I grow older, thinking about death through all my melancholy there arises a profound sense of acceptance. A recognition of the fragility and impermanence … as Montaigne observed, death is only a few bad moments at the end of life…. ‘
‘My relationship with the world is shifting from outer to inner concerns. Joy, silence, stillness, and contemplation are becoming more important… My attention now has an inward thrust….I find a growing satisfaction in the observation of small things. How the wind is moving through the boughs of a tree, how the tide advances at the water’s edge… Years ago, I took delight in traveling….. Now a few yards of an autumnal hedge row is enough looking at the color of the silvering branches… the flight of birds settling in the naked branches of a tree and the shining lacquered surface of a puddle of water. ‘

Creative Wordshops Newsletter August 2022

Shells, Stones, Spirals and Symbols

I live my life in ever widening circles,
each superseding all the previous ones.
Perhaps I never shall succeed
in reaching the final circle, but attempt I will. (Rilke)

A flotilla of Nautilus shells sail along a bookshelf in our lounge. On the coffee table, an island of shells rises in the shape of the spiral – in a spiral signed bowl. Here’s a whorl, a 360° revolution or turn in the spiral growth of a mollusc shell.

These shells and a book from a recent holistic fair offer the theme for this

“We can read the geometry of the circle, as a
symbol of the repeating cycle or length of time. A
line that curves around on itself so that its
beginning and its end coincide at the onset of a new
cycle, whether it be a day, a week, a month, year or
lifespan.“ (Aidan Meeham)

I created the Saturday morning weekly story (3 July) about the triskele, one of the oldest Irish Celtic Pagan symbols of three interlocked spirals. It links to the sun, moon, earth, to the triadic gods, to the three domains of land, sea, and sky. The triple spiral also represents the cycles of birth, death, rebirth as well as the Triple Goddess, maiden, mother, and wise woman. For the Celtic Christians, the symbol was used to represent the Holy Trinity. It also represents the three worlds; the celestial, physical, and spiritual.

Creative Wordshops Newsletter July 2022

A Fork in the Road

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost 1874- 1960)

How is it that some texts date, culturally bound to time and place while
others cycle through seasons and centuries, speaking anew to each
generation? Take Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken for example (1915).
This poem has been quoted, misquoted, referenced and anthologised for more than a century . In many surveys the poem tops the popularity pops. So many of us can quote the mantra of the last three lines. It has even been used (misused?) for a New Zealand ad for Ford (2008). The road is a universal symbol. Is it that we are intrigued by the theme of individual choice and the risk of unknown and unexpected paths?

Creative Wordshops Newsletter June 2022

One of the Big Five
Finding an old photo taken more than a quarter of a century ago brought forth this Letter. If I were to select the big five in my poetry game park, Billy Collins would be one of them – a quirky, depth poet and Laureate of USA: as in Forgetfullness: The name of the author is the first to go Followed obediently by the title, the plot, The heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel Which suddenly becomes one you have never read…

Creative Wordshops Newsletter May 2022

Stop press: ZenPenYen poetry collection

Orders R150 plus postage R40 – e book will be available plus voiced text


Two Birds
Two birds, inseparable friends, take refuge in the same tree. One eats the sweet fig, the other watches without eating. (the Upanishads)

This letter considers how these bird symbols can enrich, ground and nuance our writing and story-telling. Rumi says, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’ There are also hundreds of ways to interpret the connection between the two birds.
During a recent Temenos retreat, ‘Hundreds of Ways: Writing your Spiritual Journey’, I asked the ‘pilgrims’ present what this Vedic text meant to them. Here are some responses:

The two hemispheres of the brain… the doer and the being one in us.  The silent inner witness to our outer speech… A mother breast feeding her baby…  how to live in a world not of either–or, but of both-and… perhaps the two birds interchange roles…