Sun, Sea, And Fear…

Beautiful Newquay!

After several months, maybe more, of various sorts of stress it was wonderful to spend last week in Newquay (Cornwall, UK, for international readers), and get outside in that marvellous coastal fresh air! I’ve wanted (needed?) some sea air for a LONG time, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

There’s something about being near the sea that’s very different from other outdoor environments: even in a coastal town with traffic the air is somehow cleaner, fresher; the light is clearer by the coast, no wonder so many creatives and artists feel drawn to places like Newquay in order to paint/draw/write/make; and being so close to the sea itself is truly awesome, in the proper use of the word. Renoir, Monet, Hokusai, Turner, and so many others depict raging seas, catastrophic storms, or heroic sea battles, whilst Turner and Monet, plus artists such as Beryl Cook, have also immortalised more ‘seaside’ images of our fantastic coastlines.

Many a poem has been written about the sea, from Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner‘, to John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever‘ (one of my favourites!), and Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest‘. As with artists, there’s something that pulls writers and poets again and again towards the coast, that digs deep into the heart of island people who have a love and healthy respect for the beauty and power to be found at the edge where land and water meet.

Almost tropical!

I have the sea in my blood, as do many Brits I suspect: my dad and his father were both Merchant Navy men through and through, spending all their working lives on the sea, and both grew up near the sea; and my other grandad spent time in the Royal Navy during WW2. Some of my best days out/holidays as a child were spent by the sea – although we went many places, the sea definitely had me even then. However, as a poor swimmer and a fearful child in general, the sea has also always held a tiny dread for me: what if I get taken by the current? what happens if the ship sinks? and all the other nightmares we tell ourselves as scared little children, when we can’t swim, or we’re far away from home.

Part of that fear is totally normal and healthy, of course. It makes us cautious of getting too far out of our depth when we’re paddling at the seaside or taking our first sea swim. We wouldn’t last long if we disregarded the lifeguards’ or RNLI advice on how to be safe on the beach or out at sea. But that fear also grows disproportionately, and stops us from enjoying ourselves in this best of environments, can result in us being terrified of exploring even safe areas of the coast, frightened to have a dip in the sea (although in our often-cold seas that’s sensible!), or taking a boat trip.

Last week, during our trip to beautiful Cornwall, I was very brave (for me) and did things I’m usually fearful of doing. We went to Go Ape one day (a tree-top climbing adventure setting) and I clambered about on rickety rope and wood paths between the trees, 20 feet in the air. I was terrified at some points, and came close to panic at going further along the worst stretches, but had to continue so that my 14 year old (who’s also rather nervous of similar activities!) wouldn’t see just how scared I was. It was an important lesson for me. Firstly, that logically I knew I was safe, being tethered by a harness and strong ropes, and secondly that I could manage long enough to show my son that we CAN do hard or scary things, at least for a short while!

Eek…!

Second Big Thing was going out early one morning, alone, to sit and paint in Newquay harbour. I’m getting better at calling myself an artist, but perfectionism still gets the better of me and insists that I’m not really, and that I have to do the work over and over, to practice before doing the ‘real’ piece. I’ve also had a lifelong fear of being alone, so just leaving the guest house and walking to the harbour, even in daylight, was a Big Deal! Well, I sat there in the cool air, drew a few basic lines in pencil, and then PAINTED STRAIGHT AWAY!! I know it’s a normal thing, but sitting there, drawing straight from life, no second chances, trying to capture the changing light and the way the sea was gently rolling in and out, drew me in and I forgot that I’d gone out alone, no one was holding my hand and telling me it was ok.

The view…

…and my version

My third Big Thing last week was actually going INTO the sea to swim around a bit with a lovely friend who moved down to Newquay several years ago. She’s a big advocate of stepping out of your comfort zone, of trying something different, and of sticking two fingers up at fear. On more than one occasion, she said to me, “What would you do if you weren’t scared?” Spot on, my friend! I’ve spent large parts of my life so far being too scared to try: in case it goes wrong; in case no one likes it (or me); what if I don’t like it, and all the rest.

Glennon Doyle speaks about doing Hard Things, whatever that looks like for each of us. In a similar way to my friend’s comment, she encourages us to try a little bit more, to face that uncertainty, and to accept that, yes, it may well go wrong. So what? Didn’t kill you, did it?! Most importantly, did/do YOU like it, and do you now have the confidence to try again, to push a little further?

That’s what this week has taught me, or rather opened my eyes to – that the things I’ve always feared aren’t as bad in the doing as in the imagining of them. I know I’ll slide backwards – progress isn’t linear, after all, but I’m choosing to believe that I am moving forward much more than I’m moving in reverse. My week of sun, sea, and a tiny dose of fear has been just what I needed to re-awaken my creativity, and inspire me to write, make, draw, and paint.

To this end, I’ve appropriated part of our garage as my dedicated art/creative space. Hubby’s stuff and cluttered shelves have been sorted/tidied/swept as needed, I have a couple of re-purposed filing cabinets to store a lot of my art materials, and have moved in an old table to work on, and even got brave enough to put fairy lights on hubby’s motorbike to soften mechanical look of the garage! It’s a work in progress, and I’ll post some more, updated photos next time, but starting the work is the Big Thing. I felt a little fearful in taking up space – literally and metaphorically – as I’ve absorbed a decades-old message of women being small and quiet, but that little voice in my heart is speaking a bit louder, boosted by the lovely Juliet and the others at WOW (see Juliet’s site for more info if you fancy joining us!)

New art space taking shape…

…means glamourising the stuff I can’t move!

What is YOUR summer gifting you this year? I wish you the courage to face your little fears like I’m trying to do – and I think succeeding a bit, too! – and the excitement and realisation that it IS worth facing them, because on the other side are wonderful things!!

Let me know via the comments – I’d love to know what you all think!

You can join me over on Instagram, too! Find me at yorkshire_wellies.

Balance

Drinking in the beautiful autumn sunshine

After a shaky start to last week (being rear-ended by another car, insurance ‘phone calls, sorting my car to the garage, trip to A&E to record whiplash etc…), things just had to get better, and so they did. The 13 year old finally re-started school, the weather continued to be glorious, I had happy post from Karen (beautiful earrings that I’d bought) and Andrea (surprise book in the post), and managed to get out for TWO decent walks this weekend!! Oh, and said 13 year old’s football team won their match on Sunday! Now, I’m aware this week may go totally pear-shaped to compensate, but I’m hanging on to these blessings for now, in case I need to remember them to balance out any lesser days.

Beautiful hand made ceramic earrings by Karen Howarth

Maybe balance is what we could be striving for, instead of aiming for heady highs and dreading valley-deep low times, especially when our lives are subject to such uncertainty at the moment. Gentle ups and downs in life may be easier to flow with, and certainly they’re gentler on the mind and body than ecstatic lifts and catastrophic dips in my experience. I cope much better with moderate waves, rather than tsunamis of emotion and experience, definitely much better for my mental health which has been very rocky at times, to say the least! That said, the sort of natural ecstasy you sometimes experience in nature just can’t be beaten: that overwhelming bliss you feel in your special place, be it woodland, a wide open field, up a mountain, or at the coast. I find that if I take the time to drink in that experience, to breathe in (literally and metaphorically) the sights, sounds and smells, rather than rushing the day, then it’s easier for me to ‘come down’ from the experience, and not crash and feel down or saddened that’s it’s at an end. Laura, a mindful yoga teacher and passionate advocate for getting outside as often as possible, started a new class today, incorporating a short walk and some mindful time in one of our many local woodland areas. The rain didn’t detract from the pleasure of consciously walking through the woods, I think it even added an extra element – the pattering of raindrops through the leaves is incredibly soothing on a very deep level. For once, I didn’t take photographs (which I always do outside), but took the opportunity to simply be, to feel and hear my surroundings – highly recommend it, especially if you’re feeling out of sorts or unbalanced in some way.

A riot of brambles framing Castle Hill

As I was looking through previous photographs, and deciding which to publish here, I noticed how many of my shots are balanced in different ways. There might be balance in the amount of sky versus greenery, trees versus fields, coastline versus sea, colour versus shade. There’s often a bit of variation – I seldom plan the ‘perfect’ shot – but there’s something about a shot with even amounts of light and dark, or using the ‘rule of thirds’, that feels and looks ‘right’ to me. Sometimes it’s not obvious why a shot works, I’m unsure quite where the balance is, but you just have a gut feeling that it’s ‘right’.

WW2 anti-aircraft artillery gun posts near Castle Hill

Balance is also part of my yoga classes with Laura, and pilates with Jana: literally balancing on one leg, doing exercises on each side of the body to work muscles equally, and breathing deeply to balance your mind. And we all know about balanced eating, of course, even if we don’t always choose to do it! How about balanced working? That work/life balance that’s been the talk of recent years? Maybe you got yours to the right level for you and your family, and then Covid has blown it all out of the water. Has working from home blurred the lines between work and family too much, have you found yourself working until silly o’clock for your paid job because you had to help your children with online schooling, or become drawn into domestic tasks instead of the paid work you really needed to do? It’s become much harder for some of us to balance all these demands, because we’re at home so much, there are few demarcation lines between what’s paid work, and what’s home and family time. And just as we saw those compartments becoming clearer again our part of Yorkshire has had a tighter lockdown imposed, and now government tells us we need to return to working from home again – talk about becoming unbalanced!

Maybe these occasions are opportunities to breathe deeply and practise standing on one leg (literally if you fancy it!) before we get to that panicked stage where our minds and bodies have gone past the point of balance. There’s a distinct imbalance in our social connections right now, due to the restrictions we’re living under, leading many people to experience prolonged and severe loneliness for the first time in their lives. My friend Wendy, a respected psychotherapist, social worker, and wellness expert, talks about loneliness on her blog, even going so far as to describe it as “one of the least understood consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic.” Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club, very aptly describes these momentous times as a roller coaster in her current blog post, and talks about how to keep connected in different ways, as we can’t currently do things the same way as we were doing six months ago. She encourages us to look for other means of connectivity: Zoom calls, WhatsApp or Messenger chat groups, various social media groups and pages. I feel that this goes some way to address the imbalances we’re currently experiencing due to Covid, the lack of real, face-to-face contact with anyone: from the doctor (telephone appointments only) to my part-time job (internal exams being done differently, therefore no invigilation work), friends’ soirĂ©es cancelled (can’t go to someone’s house at the moment) to WOW meetings via Zoom (closed venue and some members shielding). As many of us are struggling with various aspects of our unbalanced lives, and we’re living with a high degree of uncertainty regarding the future, maybe we could also see this moment as a rebalancing in itself. Perhaps we’d become so used to rushing around every day, to filling every minute to the brim and seldom being still, that this sudden pause is the swing of the pendulum, and instead of feeling panic we could accept some of the space to steady our personal see-saws.

I wonder what weights you could identify and shift from one side of your scales to the other? Could you step outside into your garden for 10 minutes to have a break from your computer screen every hour or so, to balance all that artificial light with some natural daylight? Or maybe tweak some of your work hours so that you can have half an hour with your children when they come home from school? Perhaps you feel like getting up from the kitchen table-cum-desk at lunchtime, and having a kitchen disco to bring some feeling back into your legs?! We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be part of something natural, to balance being inside a modern ‘cave’ with getting outside and letting our inner caveman or woman feel the sun and rain on our skin, to re-set our systems and feel refreshed.

So my first ever challenge to anyone reading is to note where you feel your life may not be balanced for you (ignore that pesky comparisonitis!), and try one or two tiny ways of addressing that deficit. I’d love to know how you get on!

Vibrant purples at the coast

Summer Breeze

Hello again, welcome to August and belated happy Yorkshire Day from my little corner of it! August weather is different from July; it feels fuller, somehow, like it’s breathing more deeply whilst there are still long days filled with light. The days can be warm and close, nights not much different unless there’s a breeze. These days instantly bring to mind Seals’ and Crofts’ song, ‘Summer Breeze‘; even if we don’t grow jasmine in Yorkshire you can close your eyes and almost smell it.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors this week with those summer breezes, which has been wonderful despite the raging hayfever that’s the payoff! A group of us from our WOW Wednesday accountability group met up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the day it re-opened (Wednesday, very apt!), and it was so good to see them in real life, instead of via a computer screen. I even managed to get to my 10,000 daily steps in well before tea time! I’ve really let that daily target slip a lot during lockdown, and felt quite anxious about not meeting it for a while (all the “shoulds” trying to bubble up to the surface!). I let go of that sooner than expected, a sign to me that I’m realising that some of these things that we beat ourselves up about don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

WOW Wednesday on tour!

I spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon in the garden, pruning the apple tree back and other tidying jobs. I know, I know, winter’s the time for pruning fruit trees, but it had become a real liability to itself and that part of the garden, so the deed was done. We filled a large shopping bag with the apples that were worth saving (big enough and not eaten or bruised), so some good has come out of the ruthless cut. There are also some bigger twiggy branches saved for kindling next winter. I feel there’s a parallel here with the way you might choose to cut stuff out of your life that’s not serving you well, in order to make your life healthier for you; the pruning may hurt, and makes things look and feel worse for a time, but you come back stronger, bearing more fruit, and having deeper roots to weather storms, just like my apple tree. Have you noticed anything like this if you’ve made what a drastic change somewhere in your life? Let me know how it felt, and whether it led to permanent changes for you.

Before the chop…
…and after!

I’m currently reading ‘The Source’ by Dr Tara Swart as part of my ongoing revamp of my life; it’s an excellent read that sits half way between a scientific book on how the brain works and a coaching/self improvement book. As a psychologist, I find the neuroscience totally fascinating, and it’s well-blended with examples from her practice, and ways to put this knowledge into action in your own life. She talks about brain plasticity, how your brain is still capable of change at any age, it’s not just the province of babies and children. Dr Swart suggests ways to practise stretching your brain in order to effect positive change amongst its neurons which, in turn, can affect your life as a whole, thus enabling you to change any areas in which you feel you are lacking. I’m aware that I’ve previously mentioned books I’ve read and courses I’m following, and it might come across as all theory and no action. My friend, Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club, once told me it was time to do less reading and more ‘doing’ (think I’ve said that before, too, memory of a goldfish!), and I am ‘doing’ as much as I’m reading, it just takes time and I’m daring greatly in little ways for now. I’d love to hear about any books you’ve read that you found profound, meaningful, or plain helpful in any way; I’m always looking out for my next good read!

I’ve got a few hours a week delivering for a local florist (another way of being outdoors), which means I have to talk to complete strangers when I deliver their flowers, which is a big thing for me. Maybe showing up needn’t be the grand things you see your friends doing; maybe, for now, it’s getting comfortable talking to strangers, going to unfamiliar places, doing things just outside your comfort zone instead of miles outside of it, until you’re ready to up the ante. Michelle Cowan, a fellow WOW Wednesday-er and sales/growth expert, has introduced me to an up-and-coming graphic designer (another ‘stranger’ for me to talk to!) to work with on a logo for Yorkshire Wellies. This enterprise will be more than a blog before long, so I’d like a new identity for it all, and it’s exciting and scary in equal measures!

As part of improving/changing parts of my life, I had blood tests done yesterday for coeliac disease and iron deficiency – prompted by my suspicion of problems tolerating wheat-based foods and other issues. Coeliac disease runs in my family, so it’s worth doing. I’ve felt quite poorly over the last few weeks because of eating so much bread and pasta, it’s such a relief to cut it out again – roll on plenty of ‘real’ food! Summer’s a good time for me to get into the habit of eating well, when I fancy salad, fish, veg, and loads of water. I feel so much better when I eat this way – more alert, less lethargic, and generally better all round. Consequently, I feel more positive mentally, more creative, and much more open to change and new ventures. I’m also taking advice from another WOW member, Sue Salmon, a medical herbalist, on how to improve my gut health, which brings me neatly back to Tara Swart who speaks about gut instinct or that inner voice, as does Juliet in her recent blog post. I’m ready to listen to my inner whispers again, and get out my paints, find a book to write in, or finally get going with my sewing machine again – can’t wait!

What are you going to do with your August? Have you managed to book a little holiday somewhere, are you taking a break from working from home, or maybe you’re going to do a bit of life stocktaking and look ahead just into the autumn? Do let me know!!

Blue Yorkshire skies!