“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.
Imagine a roadside inn in the Middle Ages. People dying here on their journey while the innkeeper plays host. This letter’s focus is on this Hospice journey, this graduation, this crossing over, or as a friend calls it, this translation.
For some 25 years I have connected to Hospices – facilitating storyshops for volunteers who in turn elicit stories from the dying to leave as gifts, presenting Oom Schalk story evenings with Henk Serfontein and his concertina and MC-ing ‘Voices for Hospice’ as fundraisers. I’ve also mentored friend Peter Fox’s book (co-authored). He, a former spiritual director at a Hospice.
Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it. (Machado)
I refer to writing prompts as lit matches. In this letter are two recent lit matches emerging fresh during a recent retreat. I’ve dubbed them ‘ETHNE’ and ‘Porous Window’. They arrive from a voice hidden somewhere within/without – who knows? I recall two lines from a hymn sung as a child “speak through the earthquake. wind and fire / oh still small voice.” I have learned to respond to that voice. My Brisbane granddaughter, Mia, serves as model and inspiration for the ETHNE I envisage. (she’s a capital girl)
Imagine a young girl. (she arrives as inspiration between living and dreaming – thank you Machado). I ask retreatants to venture into the garden in search of ETHNE. They will find her everywhere – in the
wind and water, in the roots and leaves.
Healing the Family Tree
My grand-niece is researching family history as part of her journey.
She asks me about my parents and grandparents. So the story involves
five generations, with me in the middle like the two-headed Roman god,
Janus, looking both ways. While able to share some of my parent’s
stories, most of my grandparents’ stories have slipped into the mist.
This is a double death – the demise of the person and their story –
Many million year ago. Bones amid stones. Ankle bone of a frog? Tooth of a shrew?. Recently I facilitated a Zen Pen retreat at the West Coast Fossil Park writing in the presence of ancient bones. Pippa Haarhoff, our host, can identify the frog or shrew from the cluster in her hand. As we age perhaps, we begin to place our story in a greater frame, linking us to those who have a gone before and those who are yet to
come. Going back back.
Then en route home visiting the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre near Yzerfontein where Margaret Courtney-Clarke’s (When Tears don’t matter ) photographic exhibition is current (advise you to visit). Here too are our ancestors, the First People of our African home. A San art work at the Centre.
I believe in the healing power of listening to these ancient tales of origins then telling our story and leaving it as a gift. I also believe that our relationship to our ancestors is bi-directional. They influence us as they are present in our genes, in our DNA. Yet might it be possible that when we heal, resolve a family curse, poor parenting, addictions, our ancestors who could be stuck in some limbo, begin to heal too?
- On the retreat radar
ZenPen: Writing Being and Meditation (detailed flyers on request)
We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to
see their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps
even with a fiercer life because of our silence. (Yeats)
In these retreats, surrounded by and part of nature, we explore our
connection to writing and meditation.
Zen (Chinese chán ‘quietude’) be present. live and write simply.
Pen (Latin penna ‘feather’) the art of writing and the implements
- Buddhist Retreat Ixopo 23-26
Sept (bookings via BRC site)
The Rough Writing Road: Keeping a
journal Sun 26 – Tue 28 Sep
A Writer’s Voice, a Writer’s Presence
Sun 3 Oct and Sun 14 Nov 15.00 – 17.45ish R320 pp (R600 both) (12 max)
- These wordshops are for those who wish to:
- find their voice
- be present
- open to their creativity and imagination
- be entranced by the energy of words
- learn, practice and enjoy the craft of writing
Folks respond positively to these zoom wordshops. They connect, enjoy the company and experience and in no time are writing away. Happily.
This month I read Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American. In the novel the young girl, Eglantine, struggling to hold her life together, winds a ball of
string in the room around objects including the psychiatrist narrator (Erik) who is bound up in the web of her connections. Erik says: “I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always
cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy”
So how do we hold all together? Connect? What are our balls of twine? This letter suggests a few paths including news of 3 retreats that connect writing to meditation (see below). One way is re-member as opposed to dismember. Putting together what belongs together.
Driving through Rough Writing Country in your Metaphor by 4
On how we can create images in our writing and what happens when we do
Sun 25 July and Sun 15 Aug 15.00 – 17.45ish R320 pp (R600 both) (12 max)
I love metaphor. It provides two loaves where there seems to be one.
Sometimes it throws in a load of fish. (Bernard Malamud)
These zoom sessions consider how we can enliven and enrich our writing though imagery and imagination. Metaphors are everywhere, open to the eyes that seek them. Especially in nature. Stories are extended metaphors too.
Playing with metaphor is an opportunity to become curious again, free fall with words, and ignite creativity (LIzbe Vos, therapist)
This wordshop is for those who wish to: find their voice open to their creativity and imagination be entranced by the energy of words
learn, practice and enjoy the craft of writing Folks respond positively to these zoom wordshops. They connect, enjoy the company and experience and in no time are writing away. Happily.
In Child Mode
There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top
problems in physics because they have modes of sensory perception that I
have lost long ago. (Robert Oppenheimer)
This month these two books arrived in my life via a charity (in Oz an opportunity or op) shop. Bringing a zany joy, a gust of air, an energy an
innovativeness. Lauren Child’s life story too is rich and strange. For her
books see https://www.thriftbooks.com/a/lauren-child/234795/0
This letter is not so much about writing for children, rather bringing this
child voice into our adult texts. Many writers testify to how tapping into
childhood memory revitalises our writing. “A writer who has had a childhood has enough to write about for the rest of their lives”.(Flannery O’Connor) “Children have more real voice. They talk poetically more easily…. Children have the gift of whole-heartedness, complete intentionality” (Peter Elbow.) “A child is “a natural existentialist” (Sam Keen)
Here’s one of my favourite cartoons. Apart from energy and detail, and the sense of “being there” as children, we were astonished by, absorbed in and sensually in our world. We lived in present tense. Entered a trance over a spider, a wheel chair woman, the wart on an uncle’s nose. Crying and laughing within one minute.
Bouncing off Basho
The temple bell stops
but the sound keeps on coming
out of the flowers (Matsuo Basho)
One of the writing prompts – what I call ‘lit matches’ – that I enjoy involves responding to lines from another poet, entering the conversation implicit in the images. Such as a haiku (3 line poem with a 17 syllable count arranged 5 -7 -5) as in the one above. A talking into the silence. Like bouncing off a trampoline. Yet seeking simplicity. Minimalist. A brief moment, often juxtaposing two images, and creating a sudden insight similar to William Blake’s “to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower.”
Wherever you are in the world… join a ‘virtual’ group or enjoy one-onone
mentoring…talk to me about choices. I create a space that is safe, supportive and encouraging
- Running round the Writer’s Block: 2 Zoom sessions
Sun 27 June and Sun 11 July SA Time 15.00-18.00 R320 each (R600 for both)
“It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing” (William
Stafford) We relax we give ourselves permission to write out of our poverty. Tomorrow might bring riches. Join the sessions to find ways of jumping off the bridge into the river flow.
- Sedegefield 30 July – 1 Aug 2021
Zen Pen: A Writing, Being & Meditation Retreat
Cost: between R780 – R680 pp. You decide (50% deposit secures)
We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to see their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our silence. (Yeats)
Zen (Chinese chán ‘quietude’) invites us to be present, to live and write simply. Pen (Latin penna ‘feather’) refers to both practicing the art of writing and to the implement we use. It also invites us to play in a safe place – as in playpen.
We explore the connection between writing and meditation. Both these states of grace slow us down so we can live in the moment. They increase our awareness and wake us up. We consider how creativity steadies the boat and how writing helps us dip the oars into dark water so we may navigate the river safely. Beginners are welcome. I encourage beginners’ mind.