Free Creative Writing sessions for Edinburgh Disability Charities

I am offering an 8 week course of expressive writing sessions (1-2hrs per week), tailored to your clients’ needs.  

I am an Expressive Writing Practitioner, specialising in services for people with disabilities.  At the moment, I work with people with acquired brain injuries, delivering adapted writing sessions to suit a variety of support needs.

The sessions provide inclusive opportunities for members to connect and share with each other, boost their confidence and enjoy creative expression.  The emphasis is on increasing well-being – not writing a best-selling novel!

There is a different theme each week, with warm-up writing exercises which often incorporate audio, visual and tactile resources, memory prompts, and group work.  The group members are then given the opportunity to produce their own poem – sometimes this is meaningful, sometimes funny and light-hearted.  Although the main benefits come from the process of writing, members often go away a piece of work that they can be proud of.

This would be free to your organisation – I would just ask that I am allowed to use your organisation’s name in my upcoming Crowdfunder campaign.

If you think that this could benefit your clients, please get in touch – I would love to talk to you further about working together. I am also very happy to answer any questions that you may have – the best way to reach me is via email (louise@trueleaves.org) but you can also contact me on 07766861404.

Polytunnel

Mother, Mum. I am with you in the polytunnel,
where everything fades.
I am with you in the polytunnel,
where you work and nurture.
I am with you in the polytunnel,
where the only element is the sun.
I am with you,
in the dirt beneath your fingernails,
in the sweat on your brow.
Mother, Mum. I am with you in the polytunnel,
where you slide the world away.
I am with you in the polytunnel,
where you shelter,
where you can see, but not feel
the driving West coast rain.
Mother, Mum. I am with you.
I am with you, in the polytunnel.
I am the tiny plant, in a tiny pot
that you gently pinch at its base
and ease loose,
ready for a new home.
I am with you, Mum.
I am with you in the polytunnel
where no-one else is allowed.
I am with you in the polytunnel,
where you control the rain.
I am with you, growing
although, or perhaps because, you refuse to read the rules
but simply plant seeds and hope.
Mother, Mum. I am with you in the polytunnel,
where my wine is the perfect temperature.
I am with you in the polytunnel
where our voices and our thoughts
are sealed under a giant, plastic shell.
I am with you in the polytunnel,
whenever I can be.
I am with you when you harvest.
I am with you when you delight in your success,
despite the days when you walked by,
tired.
I am with you, Mum.
Even when we have to be elsewhere.

“Anyone can write!”

In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of choosing a poem with a tangible subject matter.  This is particularly important for the Edinburgh Headway Group, many of whom, as a result of their brain injury, find abstract concepts inaccessible.  Poetry – relied upon by many non-disabled writers as a vehicle for ideas and emotions which prose cannot express – loses its power when the reader/writer is no longer able to endow it.

As an Expressive Writing Practitioner, part of my job is to find new pathways to creativity and enjoyment.  This includes selecting the right poems as prompts (such as McCabe’s “Seagull“), but it also involves taking the participants’ physical needs into account. Most group members write with the support of a carer, staff member or volunteer, who may simply act as a scribe, or may provide additional prompting throughout the writing time.  This support is a very important part of the group at Headway; it engenders beneficial relationships and opportunities for staff and volunteers to make connections with members of the group. However, in order to feel ownership of their writing, and an associated sense of achievement, it is also important that the group members write as autonomously as possible.

This week – with both tangibility and autonomy in mind – I introduced the ‘building blocks’ for the members’ poems in the form of pebbles, collected from a local beach.

pebbel1

Each member was given around 10 stones, each with a word on either side – a selection which felt wide enough for variety and originality, but bounded enough to be approachable.  In a literal sense, the pebbles made words tangible – not sounds, or marks on a page, but objects which could be held, turned over and moved around.  Creativity came with choice, which the group members embraced; selecting, rejecting and rearranging the stones into poetic lines.

This exercise also gave the group members complete control; those who are unable to speak, those who do not have the dexterity to write with a pen, and those who struggle with concentration, were able to take part independently.  For some, who began the session with apprehension and unease, this provided a significant confidence boost.

pebble2

As an Expressive Writing Practitioner, I can often be heard declaring that “anyone can write”.  I do believe that this is true, but I think it should be said with care.  If poetry is for everyone, then we must take on the responsibility to expand the means, and the meaning, of writing a poem.

Choosing a poem

Most of my Expressive Writing workshops begin with a poem.  On one hand, it’s a tool – it helps to get the group settled, announce the beginning of the session, and – if a group member volunteers to read it – a chance to get the group engaged and listening to each other from the start. This is particularly important at Headway, where the group gathers in a large hall, immediately after (and sometimes during) a sociable lunchtime.

A well-chosen poem is also the ideal platform around which to build a session plan – it provides structure, a theme and inspiration.  However, choosing a poem is without doubt the most time consuming part of my planning process – I have been known to spend hours leafing through my poetry books, losing myself in wonderful but not-right-for-this poetry. This week, however, I got lucky.

A while ago, I happened to pick up a copy of Brian McCabe’s Body Parts.  As a writer and Pilates teacher, the slim volume immediately raised a wry smile, when the pages fell open at ‘Scapula’ (“Give up literature, my friend – your shoulder blade will thank you for it”).  However, it was the better-known ‘Seagull’ that I chose to present to the Edinburgh Headway Group.  ‘Seagull’ is a rowdy, rousing poem which describes an “invasion” of gulls, picking over “a murdered fish supper” and “bungee-jumping on the wind“.  It is energetic, its subject matter is familiar, and above all it is fun.

After reading the poem to the group for a first time, I am met with silence. Then, a question; “what is a ‘marauder‘?”.  Another group member answers, “a tea leaf! A thief!!” – yes- a pirate, a bandit – who hasn’t seen a gull swoop down and steal from an innocent beach-goer?  I read the poem again – this time, the stories began to flow. A carer, sitting on the peripheries, begins to tell stories of her grandchildren at the seaside.  Another member – new to the group – likens the gulls’ “hooligan yells” to a football crowd.  He may not know much about poetry, but he knows about football, thus the poem is unlocked.  Later in the session that same, member – transformed into a poet – writes about swallows, “tattooed on a sailor’s hands / proof of faithfulness stronger than a wedding band”.

So – what made ‘Seagull’ as successful choice for this group, and – the real question – how can this be repeated?  These are the factors that I’ll be looking for in my next poem-hunt:

1. It is rooted in activity

A poem may have many dimensions, may evoke emotional responses or use its ostensible subject matter to generate imagery.  However, this doesn’t mean that the narrative of the poem is without value – quite the opposite.  For some members of this group, abstract concepts can be inaccessible, so the real-world activity of the gulls at the seaside provide essential tangibility to the poem.

2. It is familiar

I had deliberately chosen Brian McCabe as a local poet, who uses language and subject matter familiar to the group.  The inclusion of every-day objects such as a “fish-supper” ensures that this poem does not alienate its audience. Perhaps more importantly, it gives permission for group members to include the everyday in their own writing. 

3. It is inclusive

McCabe’s poem used the word “we”, throughout the poem.  This lends itself particularly well to group poetry, and provided an excellent platform for the group to collaborate and connect.

Of course, looking out for these elements does not necessarily make them easier to find, and different elements will take precedence depending upon the needs and aims of the group.  However, there is joy in the looking too! Enjoy!

 

 

Expressive writing and the F word

As I write, I am still on a high from my first Expressive Writing session with the Edinburgh Headway Group.  Thanks to an unexpected record attendance, there was a genuine buzz and a fantastic energy which the group channelled into their poetry.  Lots of laughter and sharing – plus a good choice of poem – allowed the creativity to flow.  More on that soon… for now, I thought I’d bring myself back down to Earth by talking about the darker, grittier side of my profession…

Yes, that’s right… Funding.

I certainly didn’t take the most direct route to securing funding for this post – quite the opposite – I provided my services for free for 7 months.  However, those 7 months allowed me to draw out some of the benefits of Expressive Writing – ideal fodder for a robust funding application.  Here are my top 5:

  1. Self-expression

For those who have undergone a serious and unwanted life event, such as a brain-injury, there can be a strong sense of lost identity.  Creative writing allows individuals to define themselves in whichever way they choose; whether this is as they live now, or in terms of their past careers and experiences. 

Group members are encouraged to write in their own voices, which is often an escape from the language of medicine and disability.  This is not only empowering, but also validating, as their stories are acknowledged and accepted by the group.

  1. Positivity and mindfulness

Many of the creative writing exercises offered to the group were designed to emphasise positive or enjoyable aspects of day-to-day life, from good food to hot showers.  This is a means of shifting focus from the more negative challenges of day-to-day life, and offering an alternative perspective.

This often involved engaging with all of the senses, to encourage a connection with the surrounding world and focus on the present moment.  For some group members, this was a welcome relief from ongoing concerns and difficulties.

  1. Connecting and sharing

The group-work aspect of writing sessions was perhaps the most beneficial to members’ wellbeing.  Members and staff alike were able to find out more about each other, through writing together and sharing stories.  Writing exercises generated topics of conversation which may not otherwise have been explored, and connections made which may otherwise have remained unknown. This is useful not only for forging social ties, but also for staff to learn more about members and how best to support them.  Poems or stories written as a group also generated a sense of belonging and shared achievement.

  1. Inclusivity

Creative writing provides an important outlet for members who are naturally more reticent and may not easily engage with other activities. Writing allows time for members to process their thoughts, and importantly it is each individual’s choice whether they share their writing with the group.

Creative writing is also inclusive in terms of ability. Many members who are physically unable to write contributed to the group vocally, and worked with a carer or staff member.  Indeed – these collaborations were often enjoyable and productive for both.

  1. Confidence boosting

The process of writing a poem or short story can bring a valuable sense of achievement, which is enhanced by reading to the group or hearing it read out loud.  Many group members produced inventive, witty and interesting pieces of writing in a very short space of time.  Part of the facilitator’s role was to encourage and praise this work, but the group members also supported each other with appropriate responses such as laughter and even applause.

Ultimately, the funding was assigned by the centre staff, who witnessed and recognised the value of the writing group – as a sole-trader, it would have been extremely difficult for me to secure the funding myself.  I’d strongly advise anyone starting out as an Expressive Writing Practitioner to forge these kinds of partnerships, even if it means working for free in the short-term.  Find out what the organisation’s priorities are, and take good notes on how your services support these. That way, when the time comes to assign funding pots, you’ll be able to prove that you’re a good investment.

Good luck!

 

 

Expressive Writing with Edinburgh Headway

Spring is nearly here and, at long last, I am about to begin a new series of Expressive Writing sessions with the Edinburgh Headway Group – a charity for people with acquired brain injuries.

This project has been a long time in the making – I first began volunteering with Edinburgh Headway this time last year, when they advertised for a Creative Writing Volunteer.  For me, an Expressive Writing practitioner in a new city, looking to gain experience and make an impression, this was too good to miss.  For around 7 months I planned and delivered weekly writing sessions for the group who – despite many obstacles – embraced the creativity. I loved running the group and spending time at the centre but – as anyone who works in this field will know – there is a huge time investment outside of the allotted hour.  As a newly self-employed person, I simply couldn’t keep giving so much of my time, and it was with a very heavy heart that I made the decision to leave as a volunteer.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear from the centre manager a few weeks later, telling me that she hoped to find funding to keep the writing group going.  This – along with feedback I had received from staff and group members – was so hugely encouraging.  The work that I had been doing as a volunteer had proved its value.  I sent some information to support the funding application, and waited.

Now I sit, surrounded by papers, poetry, old session plans (and coffee!), ready to embark on a year-long project with Edinburgh Headway.  Over the course of the year, I intended to explore some of the decisions, challenges and joys of tailoring a writing group to people with acquired brain injuries.  You can watch this space to read along, or choose from the subject headings here as I add them.

It ain’t what you do…

 

may 14thBefore I begin waxing lyrical about my typewriter, let me first say that I am all for technology – it would be hypocritical to say otherwise from the behind my laptop screen.  I am as dependent as anybody on my smart phone to keep me constantly updated on the world around me; to allow me to orchestrate my life quickly and efficiently; to deliver information within moments of a need arising.  I’m not about to suggest that we all go back to doing things in “the good old fashioned way”. 

However, it is precisely because we live our lives at such high speed that we lack the time for processing.  The space between the beginning and end of each task becomes smaller and smaller so that we can barely see how we got from one to the other.  “Old fashioned” ways of doing things often force us to slow down, and in doing so, we can re-find time to pay attention to our journeys.

I discovered this for myself when I was recently able to spend a wonderful afternoon writing for the first time in weeks. I was a little rusty – writing, like any discipline, requires practice and warm-ups – so I managed only a few lines.

Back at my desk, I decided to type these lines out on my typewriter.  I am a novice, and had to spend quite some time with the instruction manual before I began.  When I eventually began typing, I found myself making mistakes which could not be corrected.  There is no “delete” on a typewriter – no denial of process.  The paper in front of me became a map of errors; stopping at dead ends and starting again in a slightly different direction; repeatedly tripping up.

But there was something congruent about it.

The page that I was left with is hesitant, inarticulate, flawed, but almost poetic in its own right.  The visible struggle to write was a reflection of my human experience – it says much more than the three lines that I had intended to present.  The final line – cut out and taped to the page – is both a confident, tactile gesture, and a surrender to the form.  My long, frustrating process is clear for all to see.

So why does it matter?

It’s long been known that “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”.   In my case, the process of typing slowly, and with difficulty, opened up new questions and choices – does it matter that this letter is misaligned?  What difference does it make?  It also presented new dimensions to my words – what could it mean to “bask in not needing to know me”?  My experience of writing became broader, more enquiring, and altogether fuller.  The same could be said of many aspects of our lives.

If we slow down our journeys, we are able gain more from our surroundings.  We have time to gather non-essential details which nourish us – they inform our opinions, our wisdom, our pleasures.  We learn more about what we are doing and why we are doing it, and we are able to grow from that information before pursuing the next task.

Writing on the mat, day 7

This is the final day of my short project, “Writing on the mat”.  Each day, I’ve been writing for 10 minutes either side of my Pilates practice at home.  These are my notes and observations -you can find out more about the project here.

Day 7, Before Pilates

I started today feeling weary and reluctant to begin, and I began to question whether I ought to proceed when I feel this way.  Is it better to give in to the temptation to nap, or to ‘power through’?

Do I tell my body what it needs, or does it tell me?  I suppose the key is to open the paths of communication.  I need to be in touch with my body in order to know what it needs.

It’s interesting, reading back, to note the total disconnect between “me” and “my body” – I seem to conceive of them as two separate entities that can enter into discourse, rather than one and the same. We are conditioned to think this way – to see our body as a tool, a vehicle for our ‘self’, which we are often at odds with.  Perhaps this is part of the problem when it comes to knowing how far it can be pushed.

I began thinking about when, or why, I might override what my body is telling me:

Superficial goals

Being slimmer, more toned – these are goals that I impose on my body – not the other way around.  This is probably the most common reason for pushing the body in a way that is not conducive with wellbeing.

Cravings

We all get cravings – they may be associated with an addiction (to sugar, for example!) in which case the body’s sense of what it needs has been warped in some way.  We might be right to override these strong desires.  Sometimes, though, the body craves what it lacks – since I have become vegan, I often get cravings for marmite, which provides the vitamin B that my diet otherwise lacks.

Tiredness/laziness

These are two separate things, I think.  If the body is tired, it needs to rest, but often it is the mind that is tired, and if we really listen to our bodies, they want to move.

The more I have learned to listen to my body, the more I have found that it makes healthy choices. So often we ‘treat’ ourselves to fat, sugar, tv, lie-ins, but these ‘treats’ are imposed by our social, cultural and emotional view of what we want.

We drown out the sound of what our bodies our trying to say, forcing them to “shoutor “cry for help” through pain, injury and illness..

Even if our bodies are just vehicles, we should surely treat them with care. You wouldn’t “treat” your car to a few years on the driveway, then expect it to run right.  Pilates is about changing the oil regularly and learning to listen for engine splutters.

After Pilates

My final entry for the project speaks for itself:

Today felt sooooo good!  I feel more energised, more positive and generally more alive than I did before the session. So, on day 7, have I finally found the right balance? Choosing the movements that feel good – stretching and treating my body nicely? Well, for at-home Pilates for well-being, yes. Perhaps in class I will be pushed more, and I could push myself more every so often. But honestly, feeling good after a session does so much more for my wellbeing than feeling frustrated or exhausted. I am more likely to eat well, concentrate well, and make good choices – unlike when I just feel like flopping on the sofa.

I’m not saying I should be lazy, but that I should be attentive, and push only a little at a time. As for the writing, has it helped? Well, it certainly would have been difficult to make all these observations in my head. Writing, too, has helped me to pay attention. It has helped me to think things through at the speed I can write, rather than racing through a thousand thoughts a second.

Thank you for reading along with me on my “Writing on the mat” journey.  I’ll will be collating my notes into some more concise conclusions soon.  In the meantime, pay attention to yourself and be kind.  You deserve it.

Writing on the mat, day 6

My notes from day 6 of my “Writing on the Mat” project – combining journalling with Pilates.  Find out more by clicking here.

Before Pilates

Well, I’m amazed to have reached day 6 without writing about that dreaded phrase “body image”, but here we are.  I suppose it’s impossible to write about any kind of exercise without addressing changes to the body.  For me, it’s not about weight loss – in fact, it’s not about any physical goals as much as it’s about emotional and holistic well-being. However, I have found that Pilates makes me feel more confident, and makes me take more pride in my body.  I found myself questioning whether this effect is mental or physical, or whether the two can really be separated:

I suppose personal pride should come from within, but that’s easier said than done.  In a way, writing turns saying into doing. I might think something, but writing turns it into a physical action. It puts it into the real world.

Both Pilates and writing have this effect for me – connecting the internal and the external.  It can make problems like pain and weakness more noticeable, but it can also make goals less abstract.

After Pilates

Perhaps also because it is day 6, today’s session felt like a chore:

I was looking for improvements, and things that could be improved… The session wasn’t bad but I had no strategy and was keen to finish, as I am now keen to finish writing.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, neither my journalling nor my Pilates are effective if I do not give them due time and space.  Though I had started by thinking and writing about goals, I had not paid enough attention to process, which led to an impatient and frustrated feeling throughout the session.

For me, a successful writing session and a successful Pilates session both depend upon being absorbed in the present moment, and the in the process.  Goals may work well for weight loss or a career change, but for me they are not conducive with over all well-being.

Writing on the mat, day 5

Each day, I’m writing for 10 minutes before and after my Pilates session, then recording my observations here.  Scroll down to read from the beginning, or click here to find out more about the project.

Day 5 – Before Pilates

My writing before Pilates expressed my feeling of ‘instability’ in more ways than one.  First, my emotional state – I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been going through a difficult time lately – and this has resulted in my moods bouncing around,

Like one of those demonstrations of chaos theory that you see on science programmes

I also noticed that, although I felt good after exercise, the effect didn’t take long to wear off.  And here’s a confession:  I’ve started doing a fitness DVD alongside my Pilates.  It’s pretty intense, and whilst it’s all well and good to have somebody barking at you from the TV screen (Kick yourself in the arse! Knee yourself in the nose!), it doesn’t exactly promote a sense of inner balance and well being.  My Pilates, I decided, would be restorative.

After Pilates

For once, I’m pleased to say that my predictions were correct; after Pilates I wrote:

I have been trying to work muscles that the DVD doesn’t work, stretch muscles that the DVD works hard, and trying to make my movements vaguely symmetrical.  Unlike when I do the DVD workout, I didn’t get annoyed with my body – I felt like I was working for it, rather than against it.

And what about my emotional stability?  As I go on with this project, I notice that I am becoming more and more inclined to take messages from my body and translate my physical needs to my emotional ones:

Sometimes you put yourself through necessary difficulties but it’s important to counterbalance them in some way – not to stop their effectiveness but to stop them from taking over and causing damage. 

I do the DVD workout because I want to be fit, but I do Pilates too because I don’t want to be drained, off-balance and miserable.

Similarly, I am putting myself through some pretty huge emotional overhaul at the moment to make my life better in the long run, but I write because I know I need to pay attention and take care of those emotions.

Writing does for my mind what Pilates does for my body – connects me, slows me down, and puts me in control.