Monday, 8 January 2018

Making Opportunities for Laughing

"Ducks in Ponchos" - see story below

When I was studying how to facilitate writing groups and group dynamics,  I remember one of the tutors saying it was good to bring laughter into a group.

I've always enjoyed laughing. At the time with little experience of running groups I thought it might be necessary to manufacture these opportunities or even pretend. This is definitely an aspect especially in groups where laughter may not come easily to participants. And it's the basis of Laughter Therapy where, put simply, you pretend it's funny until it really is.

But it's also about being open to the opportunity for laughter, seeing the lightness in things, encouraging laughter that's within to find an outlet in the group.

I began to practice this in the groups I led in schools, holding space for students to write creatively and expressively over 6 - 12 weeks. In today's school system this is a rare and valuable opportunity, giving time for connection and storying in a safely held environment. 

Humour was a useful tool in settling students into an unusual activity. Sometimes they seemed surprised by my attempts at humour - I can't say they were jokes - I hadn't rehearsed them! They were of the moment quips about inconsequential day to day stuff. Often I made light of something I'd done or thought. And then I'd laugh. And  after a while the students joined in. Gradually over the weeks they became more relaxed, were eager to attend and able to share in and appreciate the humour of each others' stories. 

And it was never about laughing at anyone. It was about laughter that connects, not divides, through good humour and fun.

This is not to forget the sadness that can be present in a group too. Writing releases emotion. Laughter and tears are both bodily responses to finding and sharing words. Holding a space that's safe enough to find the words and allow the connection with a bodily felt response is key to the work involved in facilitating a writing group for health and wellbeing. 

Recently in a long running group for a London mental health charity, the photo above of three ducks in the snow provoked hilarious laughter after a theme of coats emerged during the session. Ideas were bouncing around culminating in one participant suggesting the ducks wore ponchos. Her infectious enjoyment set the group off laughing.  We were all involved, there in the present moment laughing together about the juxtaposition of words, ideas, sounds and images and the funniness of ducks and us finding it all so funny. You needed to have been there! The feeling was great.

Laughter is a big connecter. It dissolves awkwardness and barriers between people. It's democratising. It's also good for our health. Isn't it a lovely feeling to have a really good laugh?

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Finding Words for Feelings

I sometimes ask participants to write down how they're feeling at the start of the session. 

They do this anonymously on pieces of paper which are collected in a container, shaken up and then shared by writing them onto the board. This reduces anxiety for group members around sharing how they're feeling. It may also increase openness.

People may find they've used the same word or feeling as someone else.  

The exercise encourages connection and understanding.It also acknowledges, validates and allows expression of the feelings in the room.  

It makes me aware of the range of emotions which can be present in a workshop at any moment. 

These were the feelings at the start of a creative writing workshop for parents of children with disabilities earlier this year.


Monday, 18 September 2017

The Power of Stories

Writing in Response to Others' Stories 

This post relates to the first of several I've written over the summer inspired by current news topics
 Weymouth Harbour Bridge
The inspiration was the release of the film Dunkirk and it's link to Weymouth. It brought to mind a story my cousin Keith told me about his Mum. 

Keith messaged me recently. He'd been in Dublin staying with his friend Padriac. He said, "I told him the story of my Mum's golden rose necklace from the Dunkirk evacuation.  He wrote this poem for me after seeing a picture of it and I think it's wonderful!

Thanks for sharing your story Keith and Mum, Betty. And thanks to Padraic for writing and sharing your poem: 

A French Rose for an English Girl  

He kissed the ground 
he kissed the air.
He waved to strangers on the shore 
there greeting him, as he arrived 
in Weymouth from Dunkirk.

The French arrived without their boots 
from bloody fields in Normandy,
grateful to be saved 
from death, by tiny boats. 

My mother stood above the rail 
and saw survivors climb to land 
from baby ships that risked their lives,
to pluck the French from German hands. 

But a girl of fourteen years 
she still recalls as if last week,
the soldier who threw this gift 
a bracelet that she holds today. 

A dainty silver rose
his precious chain - who knows?
To an English girl in a Weymouth crowd 
a Dorset rose today. 

Why do we kill those we do not know? 
Why to stranger do we throw 
our dearest charm in life?  -
To the young English girl who 
became my father's wife.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Keeping A Diary

Each week during the Summer I'll be taking a topical news item as writing inspiration and going with the flow...

Week 5
Inspiration: May Morris's diary

The childhood diary of May Morris has been discovered, together with letters she wrote to her mother Jane, in an unlabelled box at The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. 

May was the youngest of two daughter's of William Morris. Her diary throws light onto a privileged and unusual Victorian childhood. 

Last year I led creative writing workshops as part of a Heritage Lottery project linking William Morris and Emery Walker. Through the project I learnt about the lives of these men, their families, friends, passions and disputes. They were great friends and lived near to each other overlooking the Thames close to Hammersmith Bridge. 

Eight year old May Morris was writing her diary in 1870 - a turbulent time in the marriage of her parents. Her mother Jane was a great beauty and the muse and lover of the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William's friend. Morris knew about the situation but it seemed did nothing to prevent it rather he appeared to facilitate it by removing himself and going on holiday.

In the diary May describes herself as, "very untidy and always very dirty and sometimes I am ashamed to say very naughty." Keeping a diary is a great way to express yourself on the page as May freely did, noting her opinions and feelings. She described returning to London after a holiday away as arriving, "at this most detestable city under the sun."   

May went on to develop a career in arts and crafts primarily as an embroiderer and textile artist. She also employed other women in the sewing and production of her designs. 

The exhibition May Morris: Art and Life is at the William Morris Gallery from 7 October 2017 - 28 January 2018

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Take Up Space

Each week during the Summer I'll be taking a topical news item as writing inspiration and going with the flow...

Week 4
Inspiration: The 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana

Where were you when you heard Princess Diana had died?
I was in Dieppe. On the ferry back a couple of days later we were at the news stand looking at the front pages covered in photos of her. A man walked up and asked, "What - has she died?" I replied, "Yes she's died." I was still in shock and he wandered away stunned not having heard the news while he was on holiday.  

The documentary 7 Days screened on BBC1 this week was a moving account of the period after Diana‘s death. I remember that week in London, the atmosphere was heavy as though the sky all grey and cloudfilled wouldn't let the grief evaporate.

The programme also looked at her life and the pressures she experienced. I hadn't fully realised the attempts to sideline her during her life but was aware of a quietness about her since her death, as though to downplay or negate her power.  

I see her retrospectively more fully as a woman challenging the establishment. She took on a huge task - whether it was completely conscious or not - and could not have foreseen all the ramifications it would have for her. 

Diana was obviously angry but she was also strong in the things she believed in and what she felt to be right:

  •     Being a loving and good enough parent to her children
  •     Her public charitable works
  •     Her determination to be seen and to individualise herself through her choice of dress, men and relationship to those who were suffering
  •     Being real 

When I hear establishment figures talk of Diana as complex and complicated I feel this is an attempt to dismiss her and the things she believed in. Because aren’t we all complex? Calling others complex as though it’s a bad thing not only reduces their humanity but all of ours. 

How Diana was treated in her marriage and after her divorce are feminist issues which resonate around the world today in other women’s experiences when they challenge the dominant culture and do not conform. 

I really like this poem by Vanessa Kissuule Take Up Space  - it's empowering and speaks especially to women to take up space to be themselves.