Writing, like so many creative arts, is a discipline that needs constant attention and a variety of stimulus.  Whatever you write, you need to consider its composition, its flow.  You need to articulate its story with prose or poetry, using words as colour to activate imagination in the mind.  There may be moments when the flow comes to a blunt stop.  I consider environment a hugely influential factor to my writing.  If I am in a building lacking inspiration or amongst too much distraction, my mind cannot create its framework.  Due to this factor, I find working in the early hours of the day (when the majority of the world is sleeping) my most productive time, taking myself away to various cafes or unoccupied spots if necessary in order to acquire head space.

As I am sure fellow Londoners will agree, you cannot always control a mood in the morning or the cleanliness of shared living space when you must co-habit with various personalities in maximum occupancy households.  This is something that in many ways is entirely out of one’s control.   As best as you may envisage your day unfolding, certain factors may manipulate how you had originally foreseen it with occupied bathrooms, external construction noise or public transportation delays warping your creativity in some way and at some point in time.  Artists seek the solace of a studio to paint, usually requesting not to be interrupted so they can ponder on their subject, to allow themselves to transpose their talent.  It is no different for writing however the tools for this trade are certainly more transportable than paint and canvas.

This is what drew me to the Free Fall Writing as Creative Therapy course, run through the Gestalt Centre and tutored on this occasion by Angelika Weinrich, who has been a guest tutor with the centre and a psychotherapist for over 25 years.  Gestalt itself is a form of psychotherapy I was not yet familiar with but attracted to by its existential approach and emphasis on personal responsibility of the individual to bring themselves back to the present moment in order to work through any problematic psychosis.  Gestalt (a German word with the closest meaning being ‘whole’) was developed in the 1940s and 50s and regards the individuality as a totality of mind, body, emotions and spirit who experience reality in a way unique to themselves.  Gestalt is radical in that it takes the perspective that we are always in relation with others and with the environment. In this way it shares a similar understanding with ecological thinking, that the way we and our world exist is a web of relationships, where change in one part affects the whole. I had no real expectation of how the course would be but I enjoyed Angela’s introduction as she stated that previous writing courses she had attended were disappointing so she decided to come up with one herself.

Day 1

My peers arrived in flourishes, curiously looking at each other, using spoken word firstly by clarifying the practical matters of the correct floor or whether there was any coffee.  I was more curious as to their reasons of being there which I later learned at introductions. Angelika beckoned us into the room where we all chose one of the chairs that formed part of a circle.  I could sense the inhibition from within some of the group, being exposed to a room full of strangers and wondering how the weekend would unfold.  Angelika immediately put us at ease by encouraging an uncensored exercise, requesting us to ‘free fall’ write whatever was in our minds onto a piece of paper.  My immediate thoughts without stopping came out as follows:

“I contemplate whether my choice of clipboard will influence my writing however the mind dwindles at such an early point of the weekend. Curious is the state of my mind though, hopeful to learn and progress my methods of writing and improve productivity.  I bubble with effects from last night’s company, old friends and new bottles of wine.    Fuzzy headed perhaps, now slightly distracted by external noise but somewhat grateful that the windows are shut.  Oh London, how busy you always are.  Coffee, yes, I need more coffee.  A large group sits before me and I hope for much interaction as this tends to feed the creativity, it seems that there are various levels of expertise in the midst too.  Fruitful company.  I feel a little unused to such mutually interested and curious company however this will be conducive.”

The exercise of freefall writing in such bursts was to be repeated over the course of the morning, with Angelika switching up our groups of 3 and influencing our mindsets with subjects to consider.  A warm and approachable creature herself, Angelika could have demonstrated a more anxious character based on her earlier announcement of an unfortunate motor accident the night before, to make us aware of any possible unsettled behaviour (none of which I noticed, more appreciative that she expressed herself so easily).  And so we continued to scribble out words, whether articulate or repetitive; the purpose was simply to WRITE.  Exercises varied throughout the morning but they were with the specific intent to take us out of our comfort zone; writing down 6 lines of truth and lies then embellishing upon one chosen by a member of the group, describing our first kiss and most interestingly describing a member of our group’s morning before arriving at the course.  A lot of the writing was fictional or imagined, encouraging self-analysis and self-awareness as we had the option of sharing our work within each group.  Feedback could be invited (if wanted) but it was entirely optional and no participant HAD to share or HAD to give feedback.  Angelika encouraged a very liberal approach; to write and not think about it before the form took place, as that would be censoring what came out of you.

I found myself thriving in these circumstances.  My blog itself has been orchestrated for that purpose; as a free and unrestricted platform to practice my art and spill out my thoughts however and whenever they manifest.  It was fascinating for me to meet so many others that found it quite challenging not having restrictions, demonstrating evidence of anxiety at this unexpected liberty and putting unnecessary judgement upon themselves as to what people would think of their writing and whether they were articulate enough.  It was a workshop full of humans with different thoughts, experiences and ways of expression which all proved very insightful.  The individuals themselves varied from practicing psychotherapists, those with an interest in counselling, social workers and simply curious on how to develop their own writing style and methodology.

Mixing up our groups meant further insight to the group, with a man reading out his visualisation of one women’s morning, a story which involved her waking up with a body under the bed, contemplating the blood dripping from the body through the ceiling into the children’s cornflakes and colouring the milk pink, whilst she sucked on a cigarette on the balcony, considering her next action for the day (some may have considered this a bizarre imagining but it is creative flow at its best and without censorship).  When he elaborated on the subject, she had interestingly been delayed that morning due to a man’s suicide on the train track.  Similarly, we had an exercise at one point to express an inward emotion, feeling or colour, anything really,  then noting down the word.  I expressed mine as Blue and Angelika immediately stated how she had sensed this word from me (I was wearing a blue dress though, which possibly influenced my state of mind however it resonated in many fixtures such as the seats, the pen caps and the sky seen through the window). As the day went on we would note down significant events, writing about these in three steps but omitting previously cited events to avoid repetition and delve deeper but still maintaining a liberal flow of pen.  I noted that one person used a laptop however I was keen to continue on paper, regardless of how illegible my writing became as the day wore on.  I felt no cramp or tiredness from writing, although many started to experience this, but I was not focused on constructing clear handwriting as the speed of my mind was trying perpetually to catch up with my pen.

The end of the first day was quite exhausting emotionally; we divulged life events that seemed to stimulate deep seated traumas from some of the groups childhood memories, all of which was as cathartic as it was educational for themselves.  My significant events in life had already been self-actualised so I felt no shame or inhibition at writing or talking about them, with the intention to assist others by their own self-reflection.  One interesting character, a psychotherapist from Lebanon observed a resilience which reaffirmed my own mindset.  All day I had not sought approval from others and was indifferent of any judgement or feedback (as it was purely opinion and I am open to interpretation as it is free thought that I encourage) however the affirmation from this individual did mean a form of approval that perhaps I did need on reflection, another nudge to say ‘You’re doing OK’.

Who knew a writing course could be so emotionally informative as well as so creatively analytical?

Day 2

The second day began much like the first, with another request to free fall write upon being seated.  The whole process was quite fascinating because consider (if you will) that we are literally writing down what is inside our heads, all of which can be influenced by physical and emotional factors such as a good (or lack of ) night’s rest, a full belly or human interactions.  My morning bout of writing went like this:

“My mind is stuck on a record, Stan Getz bossa nova ‘Quiet Night with Quiet Stars’.  It’s a soothing tune to blow away some melancholy that hangs from romantic exchanges of last night.  I remain positive but there is a loneliness that continues to hang when I am left with my thoughts in the early hours of the morning.  I do not dwell too long though, all moments of grief pass so its better for the disposition to focus on things within ones control.  The rest is superfluous.  Superfluous, I like this word.  It’s a much better sounding word for pointless or futile activities.  I am looking forward to rest my weary head, self-inflicted with knowledge and liquor.  Socialising is exhausting at times but quite rewarding. I doubt there is any other stimuli as beneficial for the health as human contact.  I once thought I was introverted but I don’t think that I am at all.  I am merely part of the chain of humanity, working together for a more fulfilling life.  The sun is so delightful today, I need more of it in me, inside me to fuel the glowing embers.  Grey clouds do nothing for anyone so the mood is reflective accordingly.  My mind is struggling today, I hope water and coffee will help”

These scribblings could be shared at any point if one chose to, the majority preferring to remain private about such citations.  As we all sat and shared our thoughts and experiences so far of the course, it became clear of the emotional impact it had had on some.  One of the group mentioned how the previous day’s exercise had unsettled her to that point she was even considering not returning.  What you get out of such a course though, is simply from what you put IN so if you do invest emotionally, the charge will effect you.  This is not a negative thing though, it was very apparent through out that the writing encouraged release; the ability to exhume internal turmoil or angst in order to progress, heal and benefit from it.

The remaining exercises of the day were to make the biggest emotional impact on me.  Angelika discussed an exercise to perform on a chosen subject.  We had to write down at least 3 ‘unresolved’ incidents/issues, that hung on our psychosis in some way.  After numbering them, the person to your right would then pick a number and you would eventually write the following pieces (free fall of course) based on the selected incident:

  1. The details from a first person perspective
  2. From the perspective and voice of the antagonist (a key person, even if it is yourself)
  3. From perspective and voice of an ‘object’ present at the time
  4. In present tense perspective, narrating how you would have liked it to end if it was happening
  5. From the perspective of a person you trust (even if they were not present at the time) and the advice they would have given you
  6. Listing sensory aspects of the experience; colours, smells, sounds, objects etc
  7. As a news story, listing the time, place, location and summary of events like a headline.

Trauma Recovery itself is an issue that can be dealt with in many ways, however, titling subject matters when writing about the specific trauma really did assist in working through the details, considering angles you may never have considered before.  For me to scribe from the perspective of the antagonist in my particular issue was quite eye-opening but also very inwardly revealing that I had accepted this trauma and moved on in more ways than I had realised. At the break shortly after, one attendee commented on how I had a glow about me, an obvious energy.  I certainly did feel an uplift from discussing such details in an alternate way.  A description of trauma itself is “You are changing the charge to your brain, reducing the capacity to function” so it is essential to work on such things in a human capacity in order to make yourself better and be able to live more fully. They say that to revisit a trauma is not beneficial; it is a negative effect on one’s health to revisit the past.  I did notice how many were effected from speaking about their unresolved issues.  In my group, some members could not even finish sharing each story as the memory was so painful, speech was stunted and tears fell.  I had the least negative effect from revisiting some past traumas and having checked with Angelika, this is a positive because it means that you have addressed it well enough to a point of good recovery.

The final part of the afternoon concentrated on the composition of poetry to construct ways to express ourselves, less about free fall but now requiring the writer to use structure to address aspects of the subject and frame it in a very creative and expressive way.  No one in the group except myself wrote poetry recently so the need to apply structure and consider what 12 lines we were encouraged to write presented more of a challenge but this was the part of the course I perhaps most enjoyed.  It in fact tapped into a creative side for poetry that I had not utilised much.  Aside from choosing 10 words that stuck in our heads relating to our own unresolved issue subject matter as well as the others we had heard, we then had to pick a card from a pack passed around the group.  This card was random and gave a visual, quite surreal image to work with.  Then the person to your right in the group had to choose another card from a wide selection on the table, varying from paintings to postcards.  This card was picked for you based on the sensation it had created in the person choosing, from the stories you had shared with them previously.  This was also quite insightful as you were effectively presented with an image that represented your resolution to the issue itself.  Mine was Venus rising from the sea.

The Chosen Cards

The poem I constructed based on all these factors went as follows:

The Goddess Rising

The desert mirage dries emotion
Turning love to sand that hardens to stone
The clawing of crow’s feet unearth rosary beads
Beads of God that tumble over aimlessly
As she holds her father’s head, she weeps and grasps his hand
Held out on demand
But it leaves abruptly, the detachment stuns me
As she joins the hostess, a substitute goddess
 
Such trauma did effect, but never would perfect
Until she bled the tears in later years
For the sea to bare its child
A fresh momentum in the wild
Of the Goddess rising, waves to frame the form
Of a body and mind once deformed

We shared our poem with the entire group, asking for specific types of feedback as we proceeded throughout the morning.  It was quite stunning to hear them all, so much inner thought was shared in such an exciting and unusual way based on the elements put upon us when formulating our poems.  Some of us sat with our eyes closed to visualise the imagery that the words created, some needed to hear the poems recited a few more times.  Some people could not read their own words based on the emotional response it incurred so we passed the poem between us to read instead, which added resonance and affirmation at varying points in the delivery.  It was very impactive because these poems were obscure, vivid and very thought-provoking.  The interpretations varied but the overall sense of the poem was always captured so well by the writer, we all thanked each other with genuine gratitude for the written masterpiece we each exhumed for all to hear.  We learnt a lot about ourselves and our own relationship to the past that made us acknowledge it and ultimately heal in one way or another.

My own detachment did not mean that I did not empathise with my fellow students though.  The emotional transparency that they demonstrated was so raw and beautiful that I felt quite humbled to be in their company as they shared very intimate and personal thoughts and experiences that still clearly effected them.  The freedom of writing unlocked the memory but reading aloud actualised the reality of the issue itself which was incredibly powerful to share between perfect strangers.  Think of all those moments that you sit across from someone in a train carriage or walk past in the street, gazing at them briefly, sensing perhaps some hurt or distance in their eyes but never quite knowing why.  The truth could be anything too, from a deep seated childhood memory they were reminiscing over to an unagreeable meal (demonstrated perfectly when our group shared their thoughts after the lunch break on the final day).  This course allowed me to get inside and hear the thoughts in their heads and relate, discuss and release the memory.  Extremely cathartic and connective.  Feedback for writing consisted of the following types:

Subjective – meaning a personal feeling response to the writing and/or images and memories which the writing evoked; this type of feedback is totally subjective and therefore outside of any idea of right or wrong, or evaluative of the quality of writing.

Analytical – this refers to thoughts and impressions the listener has with regard to the content of the writing, what it may mean, what the write might be wanting to say and also what it may convey about the writer; this kind of feedback involves interpretations which may or  may not be accurate or meaningful to the writer; it can also feel exposing and therefore requires a certain robustness on the part of the writer.  It is best only given when asked for.

Literary – This is what is most commonly given to crafted writing for the purpose of supporting further work on a piece.  It has a lot more authority than the other 2 types as there are generally accepted rules related to genre, use of narrative voice, style and language and meter and form for poetry etc.  It is useful to hear whether a poem or a short story “works”, which implies that the writer has a conscious intent and has attempted to create something within a literary frame.

Conclusion

The course itself ran from 10.30-6pm over a Saturday and Sunday and was very immersive and interactive.  There is no expectation, no judgement on the writers to perform or ‘have’ to read any of their work but you are encouraged as the benefits are obvious.  You learn more about yourself than you possibly could have imagined, as well as unblocking the necessity to have structure and write in a finite way.

I did not realise how much of an impact it had on me until now, as I finish writing this piece a week later.  Contemplating the whole event, I was able to connect with myself cognitively and emotionally on a much higher level with the addition of understanding more of my craft and how to write without inhibition.

Highly recommended to those in search of unlocking cerebral functions that will benefit your writing but also encourage more positive mental health.  Inspiring stuff and once again, another way of making sense of what it is to be human.

(1031)