Dragon Days, Dragon Years

Chinese New Year is approaching. We will move from the Year of the Goat to the Year of the Monkey on February 8.  Neither of these is the Year of the Dragon, to state the obvious. However, the dragon has had special meaning for me these past two years.

In 2014, a major life goal of mine was realised. This was to see my writing in a book with real pages, and became a reality with the publication of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit. This is an anthology of writing in which I was a contributing writer. For me, 2014 felt to be my year of the Dragonfruit.

Dragonfruit cover and photo of Philippa Ramsden, courtesy Shannon Young. Purple dragonfruit by Mike Behnken (CC BY 2.0).

Then, it so turned out that 2015 became my Year of the Snapdragon……

However, before I tell the story of the Snapdragon, I have to tell you about “Shut up and Write!”

I have mentioned Yangon Writing Group before. We are a small group of people with writing dreams and aspirations. Some of whom have a serious writing CV and publications to their name. Some like me whose dreams are significantly grander then the reality. It is a group where we push our creative boundaries, experiment, critique each others work and provide encouragement and motivation. It is a nurturing space and one where I for one, have learned and grown a great deal.

As the years have passed, our Writing Group has morphed to suit the needs of its members in a constantly moving community. But generally, we meet, we write, we critique each others work all in a very informal setting. Recently, we have refined our process somewhat, taking advantage of new voices and ideas.  We now have a more set structure on a monthly basis, rather than meeting to meeting. On a Saturday morning we will meet, alternating venues between downtown and middle-ish town to accommodate increasing traffic. Most weeks we will “Shut up and Write” and once a month we have a Feedback Session, where we share pieces (in advance) which we would like to have critiqued. This is turning out to be a good balance, where we can write in the company of others and where we can hear feedback on our writing.

So, three Saturday mornings out of four, we gather in a nice creative spot, chat for 10 minutes or so, catching up with news and ideas and then a timer is set for 45 minutes and we literally shut up and write. We have a breather after the 45 minutes order more coffee or stretch our legs, and then quieten down for another intense write. This can be repeated as often as we want, and generally most folk are there for two bursts of writing, and some stay on a good chunk of the day, filling up on coffee and snacks and taking advantage of a physical and temporal writing space.

While 45 minutes does not sound long, it can be quite incredible how much can be produced or achieved in such a short time. There is also no directive about what we focus on in that time. We have, between us, refined previous work, worked on brand new ideas, continued existing, longer writing projects and blogged. We have also used that time on occasions to put together submissions of our work for publication.

I have found that dedicated time has become important. When you make a concerted effort, even if it is only to head to a coffee shop, then you do ensure that you use that time productively.

I have been using this time in a variety of ways. The few blog posts which have appeared, have formed mostly during “Shut up and Write” time. I have gently re-opened the memoir and taken some time to start moving forward on the long path ahead with that work. And I have also prepared a couple of small submissions.

And finally, that is where the Snapdragon connection comes in.

I discovered Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing late last year. A journal which combines creativity and healing clearly would resonate with me. This is very clear in the Journal’s description and vision:

snapdragon

Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing
We could not think of a better name for this journal other than Snapdragon! At its deepest level, the Snapdragon flower essence helps the soul to distinguish its use of creative forces — especially those which radiate from the lower energy centers, and those which are used for spoken word. The Snapdragon flower is often used as a remedy to help persons — particularly those who experience extreme tension in the jaw and mouth — to re-direct their powerful metabolic energy into its rightful channels. By harmonizing the relationship between these energy centers, the soul evolves in its use of creative power. And so, with Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, our desire is to provide a platform for your self-expression and soul’s healing!Our Mission: To engage and support persons in the process of self-discovery, expression, and healing through creative engagement with the arts.
Our Vision: Individuals and communities having a safe space and a platform to create a portrait of their experiences and hopes so that they may find the peace and healing balm authentic sharing provides that we might grow in our respect, appreciation and love of ourselves and one another.

It was approaching the end of October when submissions would close for the December edition, and I was compelled to rework and submit some of the pieces which had been part of my own creative process.

This has become a longer story than anticipated, so I shall skip a little and take you to a day in November, when I opened an email from Snapdragon. The email brought a broad smile to my face as I learned that one of my poems would be included in the December issue “The Art of Creating”.

This is an online Journal so I do not have a paper copy, and it is subscription based so I cannot share the Journal itself, but details of the subscriptions are here and (remember I am Scottish, so you can trust me on this 😉 ) are very affordable.

Another year, another writing dragon. A very happy gecko! I am especially delighted that my name features among the artists contributing to the Journal. One quite delighted gecko indeed!

But here’s the funny thing. The last Year of the Dragon (in Chinese astrology) was in 2012, ending in February 2013. The next Year of the Dragon is way ahead, starting in 2024. However, in Myanmar, it is  the day of the week in which a person is born that is fundamental to an individual and their actions. I am Saturday born. Each day of the week is associated with a particular animal and ruling planet.

Saturday born people are ruled by Saturn. And privileged to be mythical dragons.

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Happening Yangon!

So it is Sunday evening, my planned post (about my personal Irrawaddy Literary Festival experience) is nowhere near ready ……  I have been guided by my five stickies for this weekend but still I have things to cram into the final hours of the weekend.

Why is this?  I am being focused, and fairly productive.  So why am I way behind on my blogging?

I can tell you why.  Happily, there is not an underlying or upperlying cancery reason for this which is in itself worth noting.  Rather the opposite in fact. It is because life in Yangon these days is really busy – Yangon is happening!!  Combine that with current good health, and the result is that I am spoilt for choice when it comes to activities and ways to spend my leisure time.

happening Yangon

This week was particularly busy.  On Monday our Book Club met, and we talked about Ali Smith’s Book “There but for the“. On Tuesday the new Yangon Photography Club met to share images on the first month’s theme – Transport.  I tend to see things a little differently, and one of my contributions (frog on a bike 🙂 ) for the evening was discussed, despite my camera being the only point and shoot in the group. This little frog was unexpectedly clinging on to my bike as I was leaving for my my regular swim and I was able to get a very quick shot.

Yangon 2013 018c

Very helpful to get suggestions and feedback and a spur to upgrade my camera.  Scary but exciting territory.

On Wednesday evening, our Writing Group met and we spent another inspiring and interesting evening, sharing our work and giving feedback to each other.  We assigned ourselves with a task for the next meeting – a try at flash fiction with a writing prompt.  It is good to try something new.  Also a bit scary though!

Half the week had already disappeared in a flurry of activity and energy.  And it did not stop there.  Thursday evening, saw a wonderful get together to bid a wonderful couple farewell as they prepare to leave Yangon at the end of their assignment.  It was one of those evenings when you really bask in a rosy flow of contentment in the company of special people.

And then it was Friday evening and the working week already over.  In addition to the evening activities, I enjoyed my daily cycle (now up to 6.5 km every morning) and half mile swim.

There are so many options and choices in the city – have a look at the WhatsonYangon site to get a sense of the variety.  If you have a look at the “blogs from here” links on the right hand side bar of this page, you will also see that the number of blogs is growing.

The city is happening indeed!

irrawaddylitfest

And that is why I am not quite ready to share my experience of the recent Irrawaddy Literary Festival.  But it is coming very soon, I promise!

There’s more to Twang than Twang Arm!

It is another Big Landmark Day today.  On 5 October 2009, I had the surgery which would confirm the diagnosis of breast cancer which makes it three years since my mastectomy, three years of extreme lopsidery and three years since Twang Arm came into my life.

There is no love lost between Twang Arm and myself and not an ounce of respect afforded in either direction.  So I want to upstage Twang Arm in a mischievous kind of way today.

The idea came to me the other evening, when I was preparing to go to my writing group. We had set ourselves an assignment and (as too often happens) I was delving into my writing archive to find something to take along.  So often as the day of the group approaches, either I am scrawling away at the eleventh hour trying to finish it, or conceding that I have not created anything fit enough to share and digging deep to find something from past writing.  As I had been out of Yangon, in the capital the previous week and into the weekend I had had even less free time to write, and I resorted to the archive.  I went back a number of years, to my time in Nepal when I found so much inspiration around me, observing little snippets of ordinary daily life, and sharing this.  I was rapidly enveloped in nostalgia re-reading the writing and remembering those numerous moments.  Very like our recent “celebrating the ordinary” challenge which Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer laid before us.

And I found this poem below, which I had written years ago and completely forgotten about. Memories flood back of the Kathmandu streets and the calls of what I termed the Twang Man”  as monsoon retreats and the cooling temperatures of the approaching winter.

The man with the strange twanging instrument

Outside the bedroom window

along the busy path

of soft mud

swollen by endless weeks

of the season’s monsoon rain,

the morning traders pass

calling, singing, tempting

all to trade with them

Wheeling bikes

laden with fruit, vegetables, fish

to sell.

Bamboo mats, rice nanglos

small matted stools

for us to buy

empty rice sacks, bottles

to collect for a few rupees,

pressure cookers, gas stoves to mend.

A new noise

unfamiliar

competes with their calls

Twang! Twang! Twang!

Who is that man?

What does he carry

against his right shoulder?

A strange wooden object

with a music like string

which he plucks at

as he walks silently

along the lane

Twang! Twang! Twang!

Soon he is seated

in a neighbour’s yard

silently, patiently teasing

the wool filling of the winter quilts,

freeing them of their dampness

brought by the summer’s rains,

repairing them for the coming cold

readying them for their winter work

protecting young and old alike

from the penetrating night time chill.

As the rains slowly come to an end

the man who brings the twanging sound

visits so many streets, yards, homes

silently patiently

day by day

as the skies become clearer

and the cold creeps daily closer.

His work ensures that

each family will sleep

in the warmth and comfort

of the freshly repaired quilt.

In these short autumn weeks

shawls, woollen hats and socks

slowly appear on the city folk

as he readies them

for the night time cold.

In these short weeks

he must earn

enough to feed his family

for the coming months.

Outside the bedroom window

along the busy path

of dried, cold, dusty earth

cracked by daytime sun and night time chill

the morning traders pass

calling, singing, tempting

all to trade with them.

Less one familiar sound

Twang!  Twang!  Twang!

 

Coincidentally this is also Twang Man’s season in Nepal, and if I close my eyes and let my mind drift to the Kathmandu streets I can hear his call.