Intensity and rest

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Tulip, tulip and tray, 2017

I feel like I wish there was some neat little story to tell you about the week, but really it’s been a whole woosh of intensities everywhere.

There’s been intense client work and intense thinking thoughts and intense preparation.  I gave an ‘Artists Talk’ today and I have been preparing and getting ready for it.

I’ve been more in the inner world than the outer world, just popping up occasionally to breathe and think ‘Hooray! snow!’

But while it’s maybe looked a bit chaotic and unknown, there have been beautiful moments punctuating the mysterious bits.  There have been cosy lunches at the Blåhus cafe with other artists.  There have been quiet moments pondering in the cafe in the botanical gardens.  There have been street-lit walks between dinners and home.  There have been silences over breakfast, and running in forests, and walking between buildings at Konstepidemin to do my washing, or to recycle or to throw rubbish away.

All the in-between times…

It is very easy to notice thing-time and to miss in-between time.  Perhaps one  of the very greatest pleasures of my time here in my residency is the quality of the in-between time.  There is a richness to the cosy artist community lunches between morning work and afternoon work.  I love my red bike so much that every single transition from place to place is a source of joy.  The lack of private laundry facilities means that every time I go back and forward to the washing machine or tumble dryer I pass artists studios too many to count, and every time I am a little bit more filled with wonder.  Even the walk (or bike) up and down the hill to my studio requires a kind of slowness and concentration which separates home and city life.

Architect Christopher Alexander says that one deep pattern of buildings conducive to human flourishing is that as well as ‘strong centres’ they have ‘thick boundaries’ (think walls, hedges, doors) which themselves become features, albeit unobtrusive, in their own right.  Somehow the patterns of life for me here create these strong boundaries, and I can feel some kind of extra settledness in myself as a result.

Today in my artists talk, my favourite part was the questions and answers.  I enjoyed speaking too, but it’s so magical to be part of an exchange.  This too is a kind of boundary place – the space between my ideas and your ideas, my feelings and your feelings, my vulnerability and your vulnerability; the place of interchange and connection.

There are a lot of in-between times in life.  It’s easy overlook them, rushing between the last thing and the next thing.  This is something for me to ponder more.

 

A week and a visitor

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It’s been such a diverse week…

One day I was hard at work at my desk, working on my client work and thinking thoughts about people and transformation.

The next day I was strolling around the city with my mother, talking nineteen to the dozen and taking fika in a variety of cafés across the city (especially my new favourite cafe and of course my beloved library)

So many different things in the week – people, chores, socialising, work, administration, writing a novel, people near and people far, technical thoughts and creative thoughts, all in a soup of a life and that life is me.

I had a few moments of peace at the airport as I met my mother’s plane, and guess what I found?  A painted wooden tree in the corner of the airport, to prepare for Gothenburg’s 400 year anniversary in 2021.  People were invited to share their dreams for this particular year.  What did they hope to be, or become, or have, or be doing?  What did they care about, and who did they want to be part of their lives?  It was very touching to see all the little notes, some in Swedish and some in English, telling of dreams and desires and longings… And especially in these days when so many words are being used for other purposes.  All expression is a form of hope, and we need this hope.

And then this small postcard, from who knows where, clipped to the tree and featuring little falu red Swedish houses and a mountain and a sky.

“Life is about creating yourself”, it called to us.  Not about defending yourself, or protecting yourself, or puffing yourself up or abandoning yourself.  It’s about creating.

I loved it.

I loved it as it was, and I also felt an urgent need to add to it.  As I looked at the whole tree, the little notes all together felt so important and so nice.  I felt like I wanted to say ‘life is about co-creating ourselves’, recognising that it is both an individual and a joint adventure, we’re all in it together and we are all alone.

My mother’s visit was one of co-creation.  We are close and our conversations were wide-ranging.  As we talked, we undid some areas of our relationships through chatting, looking at things, discussing our perceptions, agreeing on things, talking more to understand, challenging, seeing how we were feeling, reworking and reuniting.  And all of this interspersed with visits to this and that, teas, pizzas, walking, seeing the settings for scenes of my novel.  Talk, fun, talk, look, talk, be, talk, shop, talk, read, talk, eat; that’s how it was.  And now I think about it, at the end of the weekend we were a little bit more co-created than we were at the start.  Maybe we have left loose ends for another day or another conversation or another person, yes, we probably have, and we have also woven some things more beautiful and complex and deep in our own lives and each others lives, and that has made this weekend very special.

We went out for breakfast together today, feasting on bacon and eggs, fresh bread and strawberry jam, waffles and cream, and fresh fruit and yoghurt, juices, tea, coffee. And at the end of our delicious morning, the hotel staff wouldn’t let us pay the bill.  ‘There’s nothing to pay’, announced the waitress.

Sheer love reigned on our day, at the end of a lovely weekend together, and it touched all our co-creating with deep delight.

 

 

Away and home

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Where are you?  I hear you wonder… well I’ve been away for work and therefore not been writing anywhere.  But I have caught glimpses of beauty along the way reminding me that not everything is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound…

Taking time for moments of beauty is something I have been taught, by the writers I love, and by the world itself revealing its wonders to me.  Stopping still enough to really take in that Brussels was covered with snow, to spend time talking to a robin near the path on my run, to have breakfast overlooking the forest as the sun rose.  All these things could have been missed. I could have been absorbed in my emails, distracted by an iPod, feeling obliged to rush through breakfast in the crowded restaurant.

Even in work days that started at 7:30 and finished at 11, I snuck out to use a few short minutes of my lunch break to roll back the dust covers of the hotel’s grand piano and to play for a few minutes.  When I first did this I was so nervous I would be shaking, but I have eased in to playing a little and now I am more relaxed.  Dipping in to Mozart or Einaudi is transformative and those few brief minutes transport me so far from busy-ness that when I close the piano lid I feel like I have been on a mini holiday.  And people sometimes stop by and, even though there are mistakes, I can tell that my playing has touched them.  Over time I have come to see my playing with all mistakes included as part of my performance.  This has made it much easier to be brave.

Even on a rather long journey involving two taxis, two trains and a plane (and a detour to a cash machine), I found pockets of wonder.  Resting my eyes on the green fields and puffy white clouds of English countryside, a picnic on the train with my favourite plastic spoon (yes really, there is such a thing – you should see it), taking a moment to try something new in a favourite airport clothes store.

Of course at the weekend it is easier, although today I was a little under the weather, both actual and metaphorical.  But despite this, I still could savour my Kinfolk homes book (yes, out of the library again), a bracing but gentle ride into the city centre on my bike, quietly eating blueberries with vanilla yoghurt (one of my favourite deserts).

I’m glad to be back in my studio.  I’m glad to be drinking tea from my ‘studio mug’.  I’m glad to be writing a blog post.  I’m glad to be back in a city which is tuning me up for creativity this week.

Events and things crowd in on us.  There is much chaos.  Beauty can easily get hidden or a little lost.  It is for us to magnify it and draw it out of the shadows by the quality of our attention.  Beauty exists because we exist to notice it.  Let’s make it exist more.

 

Sunset on a beautiful week

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Can you believe it?  It’s the end of my second week here.  Part of me can’t believe it but part of me feels like I have lived several years since I arrived.

The reorientation of spirit that is the nature of arriving as an artist-in-residence after three months almost entirely operating as a consultant is quite something to behold.

I arrived having just closed my year-end accounts and still to file my tax return.  I encountered poets and painters and potters.  I arrived with a mindful of spreadsheets and numbers and facts and data, with things to do and people to mail.  I encountered plants and peace.  I arrived humming with the speed of Anglo-Saxon business culture.  I encountered the considered pace of Scandinavian communal life.   I didn’t know who I was anymore.  Who I was wasn’t needed and who I needed I wasn’t yet.

It is messy to let part of yourself go and welcome another part.  The old part is your security and the new part feels baby-like and vulnerable and untested.  While I am used to writing days and thinking thoughts, the deeper rhythms of growing my own artistry and understanding are new, fledging life that feels a little flimsy and easily disturbed and fluttering away out of reach.  I have to unhook my fingers from what is known and stable and trust that I can dance my steps in the unknown.

And it’s rather beautiful then, and free, and airy and light.

This week I have enjoyed:

* Well I’m not sure the word is enjoyed, exactly, but I have been doing a lot of inner growing, waking up early and writing my journal for hours in bed;

* Writing my story in my lovely cafe eating Kanelbulle with tea;

* Sitting with the other artists at lunch and hearing more Swedish and wondering if I will ever be able to speak it properly?

* Watching a fellow guest-artist read their poetry in Arabic; the music of the language is quite exquisite;

* Sailing down the hill on beloved bike, cycling in rain, cold, drizzle, dark, and today, really really beautiful sunshine.

Trevlig helg*!

(* It means ‘nice weekend!’)

 

 

 

It’s sunny on the inside!

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Dawn Ranunculi

While I was in Gothenburg last summer, one of the things that people mentioned from time to time in a tone of dread was ‘the winter’.  ‘Oh, you should be glad you’re not here in the winter!’ they intoned and ‘Yes, it’s good to make the most of it before the winter’.  The general impression conveyed was one of dark, grey, unrelenting cold, fog, drizzle (if not snow and ice), people miserably tramping along, head down against the terrible weather if not the despair.

Hello!  I am here in the winter and it is perfectly nice!

Of course if your mood is dependent on blue skies, sun and temperatures at least in double digits then you may not be at your happiest.  If however, you are well accustomed to west coastal climates, possessed of cosy clothes, a bike, and an enjoyer of fresh damp air, you turn out to be perfectly content.

Not only this, but due to the long experience with coldish wet-ish winters, Swedes, along with other Scandinavians, have taken care to create a culture of happiness indoors.  Without a single mention of the h-word, they have furnished apartments with tea lights, flowers, pretty things and warming accessories.  It’s always sunny indoors.  Fortunately this is where Sweden and I are perfectly at one.  As you know I consider flowers an essential purchase, alongside a scented candle, and so as I write to you, music is playing, the candle-fire is burning, the dinner is cooking and I am awaiting the arrival of a friend.  It may be rainy and dark and misty outside, but indoors sun is shining…

 

 

Winter running: a story

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In the snow I witnessed a phenomenon that really I can only believe is true in Scandinavia.

In the snow, the freezing cold, the dark, and the ice, in numbers that I am sure were almost the same as the summer, were runners.  Hither and thither they ran, into the park, past my studio window (despite the treacherous hill), down cycle lanes if the pavements were hazardous, along the path if they weren’t.

Now, perhaps those who are, let’s say, ‘running-averse’ might not have given these crazy exercisers a second glance.  But as a running fan, I was fascinated.  At first I looked out in amazement.  I studied their apparel – gloves, hats, jackets, socks, muffler (is that the word?).  I marvelled at their ability to run along ice without slipping.  I longed to be out there too, on the ice, running free, and not cooped up in the slow, deliberate pace of a walker (even one in snowboots).

I had brought with me from England my barefoot running shoes.  I run in them in winter in the UK, but I now they seemed woefully inadequate to the task.  Even in non-icy weather, I had a niggling feeling that my increasingly freezing cold feet became susceptible to injury.  I had not really reckoned with the fact that in the most horrible weather, I would still be really desperate to run outside.  ‘Drink tea indoors’, was good advice, but I was so restless.  Despite my reluctance to embrace what now feel like a concrete-boot style of shoe, I was ready to be properly equipped.

I searched online ‘running in Sweden in winter’.  How did those runners stay upright on the icy paths?  The secret, it turned out, was metal studs on the bottoms of their shoes.  Armed with this knowledge, I was poised to purchase.

And lo and behold, as I was walking home from my newest favourite cafe, a specialist running shoe shop appeared on my route!  I stopped by and was astonished to find that the very studded icy road running shoes I had seen in photos and on Scandinavian running blogs were stocked in this very store!  I promptly made a note to return when it was less busy, and so the next day, I strolled in and started my investigation.

Now, I have to report that it was a little disappointing.  On interrogating the native Gothenburg running store assistant, I found that really the studded shoes were a little beyond what I would need.  Would I really be running down semi-vertical icy slopes, most of the time?  No.  Would I really be happy with running shoes that were only really functional in icy conditions?  Sadly not.

Reconciling myself to being a little bit less of a cool winter runner, I turned my attention to the running shoes suitable for streets and trails.  Even these, being much warmer, thicker and with much better traction, were going to be a far more suitable shoe than my barefoot shoes.  I pounced on the perfect pair immediately, willing my feet to fit the style of shoe, giving myself a stern talk that comfort was much more important than look, willing myself to be convinced.

But, joy of joys, the shoe that fit the best was the prettiest, and almost the cheapest in the entire store!  I purchased immediately my already beloved asics running shoes, and before you could say ‘Runners World’ I had popped them on and was back running around my nearby park, in the wild weather, the sleet and wet and gloom, and I could not have been happier.

I have officially joined the ranks of the crazy Swedish winter runners.

The End.

Notes on snow

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The beginning of the residency started in the snow.  I was delighted.  At first I could not process that the snow at the airport was continuing into the city and instead of a haphazard dusting, it was actually properly snow-covered everywhere.  Imagine my further delight then, when the next day I woke to see an even more convincing blanket of white.  And to realise that my snow boots, purchased by sheer force of will in a mild, even warm Exeter winter, would in fact be an essential part of my day.

Snow has always held a kind of magical delight for me.  I am not the type to bemoan snowy weather, although I respect that it is inconvenient for many and even dangerous for vulnerable people.  But I cannot help it, I love snow in some deep, visceral part of myself.  I love the beauty of a snow-white landscape, the air of mystery, its grace in covering up the ugliness of winter, the miraculousness of its intricate composition and the uniqueness of each flake.

Snow to welcome me felt like a benediction.  Each outing was an adventure requiring thermal top, cashmere jumper, thick winter tights, explorer socks, woollen scarf, snow boots, black ski-jacket (over ten years old, but still perfect and by some chance it had recently escaped the charity shop) and topped off with grey wooden gloves and my orange bobble hat.  The slope outside my studio, formerly a testing point of biking perseverance, now represented a hazard every time I left my studio, with its treacherous ice often hidden beneath innocent looking white powder.  I trod tentatively at every juncture.

Snow makes liminal space.  Nothing can be done as usual and it throws us into a kind of limbo of wonder.  Our senses are more alive.  Our bodies are on high alert. We clothe ourselves with extra diligence.   We pick our steps with the kind of care usually reserved for operating theatres.  My welcome into my studio in the snow therefore awoke these qualities within me, and now, with the snow an imprint in my memory rather than the view from my window, those qualities linger in the way I choose and plan my days.

 

 

 

Welcome back!

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Hello!

Well dust down your memories and perk up your curiosity, it’s time for another instalment in the adventure that is very much more than twomonthsingothenburg.

Firstly, please admire the incredible card found by my sister-in-law.  What a beautiful image to have with me as I arrive in the cold and dark winter for some more exploring of the unknown…

Well, if you cast back your minds four months, I was leaving my little beautiful studio (home sweet home IV) at the end of my beautiful summer.  I said goodbye to all my newly-favourite haunts, stored my bike, packed my bags and departed.

But already, the thoughts of returning were stirring and I had begun to realise that Gothenburg adventure I (although it was actually II, but that is another story), was only a beginning… Before you could say ‘en kop te och en kanelbulle’*, I had applied for another two month residency for the winter.

Now, all this was a bit giddy and uncertain.  I was not really sure if I was ready for more time; I was not sure that it was a good idea to spend the winter in a place known for being rainy, cold and dark.  But something deeper than uncertainty, something more persistent and more fierce was poking at my heart and so, when the residency was granted, I gathered up my courage and spirit of adventure and here I am.

What will it be like, I wonder, to spend two months here, devoted to creativity, to writing, to exploring and to wonder?

Well!  First of all, snowy!  Yippee!  I am one of the world’s biggest fans of snow.  Despite Gothenburg being really not that much colder than the UK (due to the Gulf Stream), a flurry of snow had descended just in time to cover everything in white for my arrival and to make it seem more than ever like a magical land.  Fortunately my expeditionary preparations had included things like checking the weather forecast, a stern talk to myself that I would need thermals, the first time ever purchase of snow boots and the sacrificial packing of mostly practical warm things (boots, coats, bike helmet) to the detriment of more beautiful things (like another pair of trousers, my favourite cardigan, my ballet shoes and most painfully, enough books – although I did manage to fit in my white sequinned tea cosy).  Straight away it’s been so beautiful to walk in the snowy landscape, looking at cosily lit homes and spectral trees silhouetted against the winter light.

But what, I hear you ask, will I be doing here?

Well the simplest answer is that I am planning to continue writing my novel and to see where my writing takes me.  Alongside that I want to soak up all the richness of spending time with a wide variety of incredible artists from nearby in Sweden and a steady stream of visiting artists from across the world.  As someone who feels like a beginner in the creative world, every small conversation and fleeting insight feels profound and full of wonder.  It is an incredible privilege to be here and an important counterpoint to my more intense schedule of business and academic work.

However, on the note of academic work, I also want to explore a conference paper for a forthcoming conference on creativity.  This feels like the perfect place to consider the proposal.

And as usual, I want to allow myself to unfold and be a deeper version of myself.  This was an incredible experience in my summer residency and I have a feeling that the winter too contains its own kind of unfolding.

So the bike is back, and I hope like this picture suggests to also increase in love and in the experience of love while I am here, and to spread some of that via this blog to enrich and encourage your own creative journeys wherever you are…  I hope you enjoy it and feel free to send your comments!

Before I go though, top five moments so far:

* Realising that the snow near the airport was actually continuing into the city and in fact it really was properly snowy!  Delightful!

* Meeting Mona for the key and feeling immediately and wonderfully welcome;

* Stepping my foot inside the studio to find that really, nothing had changed – it was beautiful, spacious, peaceful, clean and (very important…) warm;

* Seeing my beautiful bike again!  Hooray for my beautiful bike!

* Finding a new café en route to pick up my bike with perfect tea and kanelbulle and sitting outside with it for a few moments of snowy wonder.

So happy evening wherever you are and I hope you enjoy some more adventures from Gothenburg…

x

goodbye

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So!

It is my last afternoon of my last week in my last month in my now much-loved studio in the now windy, a bit rainy and leaf-strewn city.

All good things come to an end.

This week has been a week of storing away, completing and finishing.  As I cycled to the botanical gardens this week, I found that the dahlia border that has heralded my arrival at the café each day, had been unceremoniously dug up and all the dahlia flowers and plants sold to new homes.  The shrubs on the next path had been dug up so that they could be divided and they did not get too entangled with each other.

When I went to my beloved hotel this afternoon to say goodbye, a shock awaited me; the summer terrace had been totally dismantled and the hotel frontage was back to its plain walls and windows.  The olive tree beside which I have eaten so many delicious pizzas this summer had vanished.

And would you believe it, on my last visit to the botanical gardens yesterday, I wrote the last line (or what at least felt like a last line) of my novel (or story, or whatever it turns out to be…)!  The story itself is not finished yet, but how amazing to have a sense of completion like that.

Amidst all the endings, though, there have been openings to even more wonder and grace. I have been totally astonished about what has opened up for me within myself this summer, a new woosh of creativity, of artistry even, of confidence, of hope and joy.  This ending therefore seems very much less final.  I have so many new aspects of potential to explore and I really had no comprehension when I arrived that this might be the case.  I cannot really believe it.

But there is a place for order so here are a few highlights of my last weeks.  As my favourite postcard of the summer says, ‘until further notice, celebrate everything’.  Even endings need their own rejoicing:

* Sunshine every single day, like some cosmic reward for not complaining when it rained nearly my whole first month here.

* Breakfast outside on my balcony with my flowering pink mårbacke pelargonium by my side.

* Red bike adventures to castles, to art places, further afield as well as the familiar haunts.

* Sitting on the city library terrace in the sun reading Kinfolk magazine, or Kinfolk homes book, or Kinfolk entertaining book, or Kinfolk cooking book  – such beautiful images and inspiration.

* Cosy lunches in the Blå Hus café with other artists, old and new.

* Cosy dinners with friends in my studio, fikas at the seaside, and my leaving party (I tried to channel the party queen of my previous residency, but I failed on the drinking songs booklet and on the actual drinking front).

So thank you for reading of my adventures and your encouragements just by being there.  I will leave you with a little postcard (in the photo!) which I hope will enable you to share the joy of the summer.

 

 

 

 

the art of an ordinary day V

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Rose in my studio, 2016

Eek!  It’s nearing the end of my time here in Gothenburg…  I am full of mixed feelings.

I am noticing that people who love me are keeping an eye on me a little bit extra, in case I turn out to be very sad about leaving after my wonderful summer.  I have peeked at my inner self a few times too, just to check.  But it turns out that I am a little bit protected from feeling too sad by my seemingly now very refined skills of living in the present. Perhaps more than anything else, this summer has been about savouring the moment, feeling my way along and not making too many speculations and plans about what could / should / must / will lie ahead.  This is all proving a great blessing as I approach the week of ‘last this’, ‘last that’.

Of course what is making this much easier is that – hooray! – I will be seeing all my beloved home friends and – hooray! – the city is not going to disappear just because I leave it.  If I want to visit another day, I will.

Perhaps the other reason for not feeling too sad is that the summer has left me so very very full.  Full of wonder, full of new learning, full of stories, full of memories, full of small joys to reflect on and to treasure, full of new, better habits, full of amazement.  When you are so very very full of lovely things, it turns out that there is not so much room left for sadness.

Another reason is that I have somehow been living almost in eternal time these last weeks.  Every single day has been so expansive with time seemingly stretching out and out and out.  I don’t know how I have been on the receiving end of quite so much grace.  Work, writing, thinking, having fun, all these things have found their places in a very harmonious way and even harder things have been turned into new goodness and new wisdom.

As I write, I am looking forward to my last weekend here.  There are no plans, and as usual, I will follow wherever the currents of the weekend seem to flow.  I will expect to see a library, a rose garden, a favourite hotel, but who knows what else awaits me?