Settling into 2016 with a three word mantra

I slept nearly 12 hours on Friday night. And for the first morning in over three weeks I knew where I was when I awoke. I both love and hate that feeling when you are traveling and on first awaking you have absolutely no idea where you are, what day it is and what that very important thing is that you have to do.

I have been on a journey. Both physically and emotionally, and only Friday evening did I come to a halt. I realised that my journey has covered many miles. An astonishing 13,000 or more miles or over 20,000 kilometres by air and road, and including a wonderful 2,200 miles by train. There is another very long story in there, but that is not for now.

Although I returned to Myanmar earlier this week, I was travelling again within 48 hours of my arrival and was inordinately glad to return home and allow my mind and body to rest and recalibrate.

It is not coincidental that my three words for 2016 have not formed until the past few days. My being needs need to come to rest and be still for the words to settle. It is hard to reflect and explore the world of words when there is a great deal happening, people to spend time with and new experiences to embrace. So the words are late.

It turned out that 2015 was a complex and painful year. I leaned heavily on my words “Breathe, stargaze and realise” and brought in three more (to my surprise) to see me through the most difficult times – “Dignity, contemplation and beacon”. I cannot share any details of those times in the public domain, other people are affected and it is not appropriate or correct to speak out. The word “dignity” was critical in reminding me that the most appropriate action was to remain silent, and that has been unbelievably hard.

dignityAs usual, since adopting the practice of adopting the three word mantra in 2010, I started thinking of the approaching new year in the final weeks of 2015. My process is to reflect back on the previous year, look at my priorities and then look ahead at what I want to be the key focus of the coming year. The three words enable a balance across different areas of life, and usually pick up health, family, wellbeing, practical and professional direction areas and the creative side. A balanced mantra encourages a balanced approach in the year. I enjoy the process of crafting my mantra as satisfying as the final selection itself.

Finally, my words are in place – and the three word mantra for my 2016 are:

“Reorient, nurture and crystalize.”

Reorient

The first word came easily. The coming year has to focus on healing and finding my true north again. All that I had believed to be sure turned out to be fragile and turned to dust under my feet last year. The foundations crumbled under my feet and I found myself directionless. The greatest priority for the coming year is to “reorient” myself and move forward purposefully.

Reorient will be at the heart of much of next year. I need not only to re-think my future, but also to set steps in place to ensure that my physical and emotional compasses have been truly re-set.

Over the past months, I have feared that my inner compass had been smashed beyond repair. Gradually, though, I have come to realise that while the exterior casing had indeed been decimated, somehow deep inside the inner workings could be coaxed back into action. If the inner workings can be repaired and recalibrated minute part by minute part, the casing can surely be repaired. The key part of repairing my inner compass is to find my true north and ensure that my path ahead navigates in this direction and keeps me on the right path.

Change runs deep, and this inner reorientation accompanies physical transformation too. Already I have made changes in my living situation and been adjusting to new practical arrangements. I need to think very carefully about the longer term future. I have no idea where I will be this time next year, nor a clear sense of my direction. I need to place trust and energy into the process of reorientation.

Nurture

Alongside the need to reorient, is the importance of healing, replenishing and investing time and energy especially in my creative activities once more. Nurture is a word which suggests growth and nourishment through love and careful attention. My health is good right now, notwithstanding the weight of side and after effects, but I know that I need to pay attention to my wellbeing and focus on gaining strength. I especially need to devote time and energy to creativity and particularly writing. The blog has been very quiet, and my commitment and writing goals had to be put to the side while the bigger stuff was worked through. I want to get back on track, nurture my creativity and produce more writing. I still have the goal of completing the first draft of the memoir of my first year in Myanmar. I need to tend to these areas and see new life and regrowth appear.

secret garden

Crystalize

My third word was, as often happens, most elusive. I played with a number of words but none was “quite right”. I had a little imaginary pot with many words in it, such as “reach, deliver, embark, embrace, pause, revise, stretch” along with many others. I wanted to convey the idea of committing to the new path and orientation once I had clarity. And then, in Singapore airport of all places, my third word appeared. “Crystalize”. My perfect third word.

Crystalize has a number of meanings, including its scientific term which is the process of forming solid crystals from either a solution, melt or more rarely from a gas. It is also regularly used with the meaning of making something definite and clear. Crystalize is the right third word for many reasons. After reorientation and with nurturing it is important to achieve some stability and clarity. I do not yet know what that will look like but I do know that this will appear through this process of crystallization. From a situation of flux and change, stability will surely appear. Tiny crystals of hope, which will settle and grow into a formation and foundation for me to move forward.

Crystals are complex and beautiful. Crystals absorb and reflect light and colour. Crystals are one of nature’s brilliant treasures. Quite simply, crystals are exquisite. A future which forms through crystallization will surely be beautiful.

blue crystal

Now that my words are in place, I have a sense of both peace and purpose for the year ahead.

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Preview

I am sorry about the silence here – there has been a lot going on.  There is nothing worrisome (that I am aware of ) but rather a sustained push on all things gecko over the past weeks and months.

But I am catching up.  Slowly, but surely.  And so here is a preview…………

Inspiration

Inspiration

This is the kind of space which I have been yearning for. Set in a natural, quiet and inspiration setting.  Over the coming days there will be updates and more images than you would wish for. to make up for the silence over the past couple of weeks.

I promise 🙂

Jumping Dragonfruit!

I have been somewhat under the radar the past couple of weeks.  A combo deluxe of lurgey (a bronchial bleurgh), intense work schedule and travel.  This evening I am peeking out of the void gently and gingerly.

Last Friday evening I arrived home, shook my sleeping travel bag and hastily threw in the essentials I would need to be away for 11 days. I am becoming so blasé about travel, I really do fear that I will land in Bangkok one of these days without the essentials.  Particularly bank cards which I do not use in Yangon.  I have even had nightmares about this, and have no idea how on earth I was deal with the situation if it did arise, so I send myself text messages and emails to remind me!

Early Saturday morning, I again sipped my departure cup of tea, zipped and closed the travel bag, checked ticket, passport and those essential bank cards, and waved goodbye to hubby and doglets.  This time I was to transit Bangkok and travel onwards to Vientiane, Laos. The distance is not great, but connections are not great either so it takes the best part of a day to get to Vientiane, so I was very glad to reach safely and without any interference in the form of storm clouds this time.

This is the first time I have been back to Vientiane since my first visit 12 years ago so I have been looking forward to the trip.  Unfortunately, some reprise or new lurgey descended not long after I arrived and all of my energy has gone into the day work and I have not yet had the strength or energy to visit the city and see how much it has changed.  So the photo below is not one of mine! It is a Lao tourism pic, just to give a flavour while I regroup enough to venture out and about.

Vientiane, Lao

While I have been ploughing on and trying to banish feeling rough, I have received something very exciting.  Something which made me squeal with excitement and not quite jump, but at least animate me!  The Dragonfruit Anthology is getting more real!  Our editor, Shannon Young, has received a REAL copy of the book, with REAL PAPER PAGES.  How exciting is that?! Our contributor copies will arrive soon, and then be sent on to us and then I will be able to hold the book in my own hands!

This is what it looks like!

The BOOK! Dragonfruit Angthology

The BOOK!
Dragonfruit Anthology

It is now only 11 days until 10 June, when our Dragonfruit Anthology (as we affectionately call our book) will be published!

I am not sure how many images I will be able to take of Vientiane, but I can guarantee one thing – I will be unbearable when I have my own copy in my hands and there will be MANY images of Dragonfruit!

Between Saturn and an iceberg – there be dragon (fruit) and dreams

Many years ago, I returned from a visit to Poland, clutching a chubby china pot which closed with its own little lid. Painted on its exterior were some stars and a cat. It was too cute to resist and it did not trouble me that I did not understand the meaning of the words beside the artwork. Later, however, I learned that the words described the little pot as “a place to keep my dreams”. How perfect. I have been thinking of this little pot recently, when reflecting about my “wish bucket”, that imaginary receptacle where I keep my dreams and wishes. Maybe in my mind I see it as less of a bucket and more like that little pot, designed especially for me to keep those dreams in. A little like a glass storage jar, but without the airtight lid. No, I don’t want my dreams to be confined. They must be able to seep out, or fly into the air. Perhaps my dreams are being nurtured in a wide-necked glass jar, amongst a pot pourri of treasured thoughts and memories. Easily accessible and ready to be drawn out or added to.

Recently I wrote about some of the dreams and wishes in this wish jar, as think I will now call it. There are a number of weird and wonderful dreams in there, jostling against each other as time and circumstance gently shake the contents:

  • Meet a blogging friend in a new place (repeat as often as possible)
  • Buy a picture/piece of artwork at a gallery opening and watch them put the red sticker on it.
  • Book into the Oriental Bangkok for a weekend.  Or maybe a night.  Or maybe just have afternoon tea there given the price!
  • See a kangaroo in the wild.
  • Visit a country with the letter ‘Z’ in it.
  • See the Aurora Borealis (northern lights)
  • Get funky, colourful nail art on my finger and toenails just for fun, just for once.
  • See the rings on Saturn through an astronomy telescope
  • See some of my writing in print.  In a book, with real paper pages!
  • See an iceberg
  • See a starfish in the sea
  • Sail through the Norwegian Fiords

There are (and always will be) many dreams to realise, but one is shifting and moving to the surface, peeping over the glass rim, ready to be taken in my hands and released into the air. If you look carefully there is one dream which for me is a Particularly Big Dream. It is nestled just after my wish to see the rings on Saturn through a telescope and just before the desire to see an iceberg. That wish is to see some of my writing in print, in a real book with paper pages. This was clear also when I took up the baton in the recent Blog Tour and I wrote (at length) about my writing process.

Last year I saw a call for submissions for an Anthology, seeking narrative non-fiction and memoir from women writers who are, or have been expats in East Asia. How perfect was that? To cut a long story short, and one which the Editor tells here, my tale was selected for inclusion in the Anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. This is a collection of stories exploring the struggles and triumphs of expat life in East Asia by 26 female writers, edited by Shannon Young.  It will be available in paperback and e-book formats on 10 June 2014.You can follow the Facebook page here and read the Editor’s introduction to the book and contributors here.

Soon, I will be able to meet the other women writers through their stories and perhaps in person when the book is launched, as well as the Editor who I have worked with through the fine tuning process. Soon I will be able to pick up that book, leaf through its pages and read my own words. I can’t quite imagine how that will feel.

There will be many more details to share in the coming weeks, with reviews and the cover image, and perhaps my own experience of dragonfruit surprises!

Dragonfruit surprise!

Dragonfruit surprise!

And then I need to nurture the related dream, to produce a book which is all my own work. Something else which is being kept alive in the wish jar.

wishjar

How does one dress to be a writer, I wonder?

Breathless

I slipped out of the room, near the end of a discussion on writing inspiration, straining my ears as the voice of Louis de Bernieres faded gradually.   In no time I was on my way to Mandalay airport. I could scarcely breathe. My heart was fluttering and my pulse racing. And for once this was not a medical problem!

On my flight to Bangkok, I found myself in a strange middle space still airborne from the inspirational weekend, yet on the brink of an intense week of work and travel.  I closed my eyes, clasping the memories of the weekend, and those cherished moments, the very ones you keep safely in a little imaginary memory jar, in the mind’s eye.

ILF 2014 4

I was leaving Mandalay, where the Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival was coming to a close and I was fired with enthusiasm and inspiration strangely edged with disbelief.  Crammed into just over two days, I had gathered many magical conversations to be treasured and precious moments to immortalise, dialogues with like minds and unexpected connections in the organised sessions as well as impromptu exchanges.

Moments such as:

Joe Woods chatting with Polly Devlin

Joe Woods chatting with Polly Devlin

  • Chatting with Jung Chang, her beckoning me over to sit with her when she saw me sitting apart, her kindness and thoughtfulness warming me.
Sitting next to Jung Chang

Sitting next to Jung Chang

Jung Chang author of Wild Swans

Jung Chang author of Wild Swans

  • Discovering that not only am I sitting next to Jung Chang, I am also sitting very close to Louis de Bernieres!
Sitting very close to Louis de Bernieres in the audience

Sitting very close to Louis de Bernieres in the audience

  • Listening to Karen Connelly read her extract from The Lizard’s Cage and compelling me to read it as soon as I can.
  • Polly Devlin gifting me her memoir because I told her how much her session had moved me.
  • Hearing the wisdom of great and revered writers on writing.  “If you are “stuck” as Louis de Bernieres said, “just go shopping”, anything rather than sit there and look at a blank screen, or piece of paper.  Keep thinking, jot down ideas and use your dreams”.
  • Sitting at the table next to Thant Myint U, listening to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in conversation with Joan Bakewell (and avoiding being well baked in the room where it was held)
Audience with the Lady - watching from outside

Audience with the Lady – watching from outside

  • Saying “Good morning” to the Lady as she swept past after her talk.
The Lady sweeps past me in the hotel lobby

The Lady sweeps past me in the hotel lobby

  • Meeting a Yangon friend and learning that he is an acclaimed Irish Poet.
  • Pausing on the staircase to chat with Ko Ko Thett and share a love of poetry.
  • Spending time in the passageway for a conversation with Pascal Khoo Thwe and being able to tell him that his “From the Land of Green Ghosts” is one of the few books I have read twice.
  • Admiring the beautiful handwriting of Lous de Bernieres as he signed my copies of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and we chatted about education in Nepal following the conflict.
  • Being able to talk with Karen Connelly and sharing contact details in the hope that we can meet for coffee and writerly chat in Yangon.

Similarly to my experience of the Literary Festival last year, I found the authors and speakers incredibly approachable and unassuming. I still struggle a little to believe that I was able to talk with and listen to such esteemed figures. This year the Festival had been itself the subject of some discussions and changes but I remained largely oblivious to that as I was swept along by the tide of creativity.

Sitting listening to Polly Devlin in the company of Louis de Bernieres and Jung Chang

Sitting listening to Polly Devlin in the company of Louis de Bernieres and Jung Chang

I am now back in Yangon, my case is unpacked and a number of new books are trying to find a space to squeeze in to the bookcase. Ideas are flowing and a breeze of new energy is breathing fresh life into my writing projects.

Clare and Claire – and the Adventures of Claire Never-Ending. A Guest Post by Catherine Brunelle of Bumpyboobs

As promised, and introduced – here is …………………………….

Clare and Claire – and the Adventures of Claire Never-Ending. 

A Guest Post by Catherine Brunelle of Bumpyboobs

It’s hard to remember exactly when I started to read the Feisty Blue Gecko – with treatments, blogging, and stepping into social media, when did this world of #bcsm support erupt all around? At what point did it move beyond ‘curiosity’ and become ‘community’? While I cannot remember exactly when I started reading this blog that Philippa shares, I can remember how I felt (and still feel) when encountering her story.

Philippa was enchanting. Somewhere in a world so far away from mine, she was writing about the rainy season and explosions of flowers. She was writing about her bicycle, and her camera, and the tiny frogs that seemed to hop into her life along with the geckos. There were pictures from her travels . . . I remember one post where she rode a train around her town and took photographs of  people sitting cross-legged on the benches, blurs of villages being passed, the vendors taking their goods to market.

There is a story in the Feisty Blue Gecko that goes so far beyond breast cancer.  For me that engagement with the wonderfully simple yet exotic pictures of her life was the starting point of our connection. Sure, we’ve both had breast cancer – but life is so much more than cancer.

I really believe that when we engage in each other’s stories, commonalities open up in unexpected ways. And this past August, as I announced the launch of my novel Adventures of Claire Never-Ending, I learned that not only do we have a love for travel, for writing, for stories and photographs – and not only are we part of a community that pushes back against the cancer and its many, many challenges – but we also share the same middle name:

Clare and Claire. 🙂

What an unexpected and yet totally perfect surprise.  The cherry on the connection ice-cream Sundae.

Claire never-ending

Adventures of Claire Never-Ending is really, deeply about connection. Through the telling of individual stories, you are taken on a journey across time featuring a line of women spanning eight generations, where all of the women share the middle name of Claire. The book starts in 2011 with Amelia Claire, then the next story features Elizabeth Claire (Amelia’s mother) as a young women in 1980, then the following story is about Dorothy Claire (Elizabeth’s mother) in 1957 . . . and so we go back nine generations. They share the middle name of Claire so that as each women marries and takes her husband’s name, she can pass forward a ripple of identity that connects them together across time.

So who know, Philippa, maybe we’re soul sisters split across many generations? I do have some family that originates from Scotland!

I reckon everyone reading this post would resonate with the idea that we define ourselves when faced with challenges. (The challenge of living abroad, selling a book, losing loved ones, raising awareness, having a family, dealing with cancer, etc.) It’s such a common thread. It’s also a theme within my novel where the characters face down challenges, make big decisions, and move toward motherhood as well. This book isn’t the typical story of girl meets boy – it’s more like a woman meet herself as she decides how to lead her life. Less romantic, but still wonderful. 🙂

It’s being sold right now online at this Kickstarter project page. We’ve exceeded our goal of $3,000 – but I will never exceed my goal of getting it into the hands of every curious reader all over the world. If you would like a copy, please do consider ordering within the campaign. Suggest it to  your book clubs. Maybe pick up a copy for your friend?

To me, sharing our stories is a powerful way to build connection. Whether we’re connecting with women we’ve never met because they live across the world (hello!), or because they lived 100 years before we were even born, the storytelling brings us together. It’s almost magical that way.

And that also happens to be how I feel about the stories we share in the #bcsm community. From the weddings, gardening, family outings, and travels . . . the rants, frustrations, and ridiculousness . . . the heartbreaks and the losses . . . the triumphs and the breaking news . . . it’s the storytelling that holds us like a glue.

Thank you so much, Philippa, for letting me share about the Adventures of Claire Never-Ending. To imagine it reaching all corners of the earth is a dream come true. This Kickstarter campaign has been outstanding, and a lot of that support has come from within our #bcsm community. So I’m just full of thanks. And if you’d like your own copy of my book, please do pop over to the campaign and order one. If everything goes right, they’ll be shipped out come December.

~Catherine

The BIg Project HUG

Escapism

Frangipani blossom, just landedI knew that this break needed to be a healing and restful one, so with that in mind, stocked up on electronic reading.  Keeps the luggage light and the mind very light too. With this in mind, I loaded up my Kindle with some “light” reading. I am not a reading snob, but my choices for holiday reading might veer towards the “trashy” side.  Nothing like a bit of escape reading when you when you really mean and need  to have a break.

I have mentioned before that I am more of a paper person than electronic in many senses.  I love funky little notebooks, the smell of a new book, the feel of good old-fashioned writing paper (gosh I had so many kinds back in the day), all manner of pens and pencils and the luxury of an old hardback book. I have little libraries of books all over the place.  Many in the loft back in Scotland, a hoard in India and a large overflowing book case with many more stashed all over our home in Yangon.

Wherever I go, I have to have books with me.  And an extra emergency stock, just in case I have a book emergency.  You never know when these things might happen, and must be prepared.

So Kindles are, in theory, a great thing.  I never cease to be amazed at how many books the thing can carry.  And it does not weigh any more and takes up just the same amount of space. Some kind of electronic black magic, I guess.  The best thing about the Kindle however, is that it hides just how many books I have bought, and how “light” some of them might be.  I also particularly love being able to buy books while lounging at home.  More magic.  But I still love real books.  And for Book Club and books I love and cherish, I always have to have a real copy and not an electronic version.  For one thing, the Kindle looks weird with stickies to mark a page, and bookmarks fall out 😉

So here I am, in the jungle, with a great stock of electronic reading and what do you know?  I am still ploughing through book number one.  After more than a week?  This is almost unheard of! I go through at least one book most weeks, when I am working full time and devour book after book at times of leisure.  It is true that this particular “light” book I am working my way through slowly is not a completely engaging read.  I guess it does not help that I have just finished reading “On Writing” by Stephen King so I am picking up on all sorts of distracting flaws in the writing of my holiday read.  As if I have a right to critique – it is always easier to criticise than to create, after all)

No, that is not the main reason for this slow down.  I realise that it is all about escape.  Usually one reason for, or certainly effect of, reading is to escape.  To disengage from the everyday.  To visit different places and experience new things.  As well as following a story, in most cases.

However, I find that the Kindle keeps nodding off, as it realises no virtual pages have been turned. My attention has been taken by a sound from the jungle undergrowth, a different birdsong, the crashing of branches telling that something is on the move nearby, perhaps the langur monkeys or maybe those cheeky wild boars foraging. A leaf tumbling from the tree catches my eye as it is held on some wisp of air and dances to the ground.  Little birds playing above the pool, dipping in as they buzz past again and again.  I am surrounded by such exquisite micro events in a jungle which is teeming with life and activity.  How could I possibly miss any of this by disappearing into a book? SighI am living my own escape at the moment.  It does not mean that I love reading or books any the less, but just that I realise that I have come to this place and must cherish these moments.  I must soak in every tiny detail and hold it tight. I  need to be in the here and now to get the most from this.

Jungle walk from room to brekkie

Jungle walk to breakfastThe books will wait.  I can read these words any time. (Thank heavens Kindles do not go off or perish!)

For now though, my mind will remain focused, yet distracted, here and now in this perfect escape.

Frangipani blossoms floating in the pool

Frangipani blossoms floating in the pool