One of my chosen three words for 2020 is ‘waiting’.  

From here, a quarter of the way through the year, the time of its choosing feels like a different world.  ‘Waiting’ brought with it a promise of expectancy and fullness, of calm.  Waiting is not something I’ve practised much; it’s not something I’m good at (I wasn’t great at stillness, which was one of my words for 2019, either). My partner challenged me to begin a new practice, a ‘just waiting’ meditation, which involved simply that: waiting, in any one given moment.  

Photo: Sandro Figliozzi

Then we were tipped into the chaos of a global pandemic.

Waiting, now, takes on a whole new import for all of us. There’s a collective holding of breath. We wait in queues for the pharmacy and the supermarket.  Life is on pause while we wait for the lockdown to be over, for the peak of the disease to pass. And we wait to see what emerges in the wake of this new coronavirus: perhaps a different way of relating to each other, a greater sense of kindness, a renewed sense of community. But we will also come out of this — as individuals and as a society — with a bruised kind of vulnerability, with first-hand and painful experience of grief, loss and fear. 

Writing in this moment, I must acknowledge my own good fortune and privilege. I still (for the moment, at least) have an income; I have a safe, warm place to live and enough food. I am tearfully, immensely grateful for these things.  These past weeks have renewed my relationship with gratitude, again and again, for small things that —just a month ago —I might scarcely have noticed.  

I have seen that there can be a grace in this waiting; that ‘being good at it’ is inconsequential.  The slowing down has enabled me to turn inwards.  In this time of in-between, there is an extension backwards and forwards, into past and future.  This waiting dredges up memories of happy times; it forces me to sit uncomfortably with things I fear.  At the same time, I am wrenched into the present, where things are distilled into essence, where there is joy in a new experience of stillness, more time to read, to cook and simply to be.  And where there is also fear of losing those I love, the acute ache of longing to see them again.  To hold and be held.  

Photo: Victor M Gamero

My prayer is that I can embrace what this in-between can teach me.  I sense I will learn things I can’t yet imagine.  Then there are the things we will all need: acceptance and courage. Acceptance of loss – of those I know, love and live alongside; and a loss of the way things have been in my lifetime.  Courage to face uncertainty, to step into the future with determination and a renewed sense of the spirit of creativity that illuminates the dark times, and allow us to make sense of them. 

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For several years now, I’ve embraced the habit of choosing three words for the year, to help me shape and define how that year might unfold.  And this year? One of those words is stillness.  I have felt it gathering, that need to be still, for the past few months. This year is a time to make that need more explicit, and the practice of it more conscious.

Finding stillness has always been a big challenge for me.  In a busy life that involves juggling writing with an academic career and the things I’m passionate about – creative cooking, dancing, deep connections with those I love – across three different towns and cities, there isn’t much time to be still. I know I need it. It’s a crucial component of the Five Rhythms dance practice that I’ve loved for so long. Yet it remains a challenge.

At this point in the calendar, I associate stillness with darkness. I’ve just returned from rural Scotland, where I celebrated the turning of the year.  Transitioning from 2018 to 2019 involved not just stillness but darkness, in a place away from the glare of too much artificial light, a place where the dark has its own illumination – that of the soul.  Over that holiday, in which I slept in a beautiful, beamed barn in total blackness and where the silence was punctuated only by the call of the owls, I read Clark Strand’s Waking Up to The Dark.  His book is a beautiful meditation on the significance of darkness on our lives and our consciousness as a planet.  I’d urge you to read it, if you want to make space for contemplation in your life. Strand says this:

I have not described how darkness feels against the skin. Everyone has felt it, but in an age where consciousness itself is no longer consciousness, but only a by-product of watt-age, most people have forgotten the feeling of the dark.

The darkness fits the body so well that we might as well be entering the water when we wear it.  It flows everywhere the light is not – across every bone and sinew, surrounding every hair. It hugs the shadow within a shadow and, when we are ready, lets down a milky richness white with stars. 

We come from the dark, and we return to the dark.  We are not merely in it but of it.  The darkness does our thinking when we let it, and it is in the darkness in which we move.

Here’s to allowing stillness – and moving in the darkness – to nurture our thinking and creativity in 2019.


Words for busy and creative people: clarity

January 16, 2017

My last post was about setting intentions for the new year, inspired by my recent reading, and the practice of choosing three words to help focus those intentions. Here, I reflect on the first word in the list of three: clarity. What role does it play in creativity, and how do we achieve it in […]

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Three little words: suggested reading for 2017

January 4, 2017

I love January, don’t you?  Crisp, sharp mornings and cosy nights by the fire.  I realise I’m in a minority as a fan of winter. But, at this time of year, I relish that feeling of emerging, mole-like, blinking in the dark.  It’s a time when we can reclaim and rediscover ourselves.  Everything can feel […]

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3 words for 2016

January 17, 2016

There’s something special for me about winter: the stillness; the turning inward and time for reflection.  At the turn of the year I always try to reflect on the twelve months just gone and the ones still to come. I’ve never really been big on goal-orientated new year’s resolutions.  But recently, inspired by Chris Brogan, […]

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‘I Have a Dream….’

January 14, 2015

What do these words mean to you?  Tweet

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Effortless Writing

November 12, 2014

Earlier this year I moved house.  Five months later, most of my books are stashed away in storage but I did keep my creative writing books to hand – and have finally managed to unpack them and get them onto the bookshelves by my desk.  I couldn’t resist stopping to flick through them, my eye […]

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Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity and the myth of genius

October 29, 2014   ‘Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your […]

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Glasgow Women’s Library: 21 Revolutions, Jackie Kay

October 22, 2014

Over the past year, Glasgow Women’s Library have been running a brilliant project to celebrate women’s lives – by having contemporary Scottish women writers respond to pieces in the library as inspiration for their work.  Here’s a podcast from the fabulous Jackie Kay, reading the pieces inspired by the collection (scroll down the page a bit […]

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Welcome to my website

October 21, 2014

Welcome to my website.  I’m a novelist, dramatist and prize-winning short story writer.  My novel Sisterwives is published by Crocus Books and also available on Kindle.  My debut radio drama The Cloistered Soul was broadcast by BBC Radio 4  as part of the ‘Original British Dramatists’ series.  You can read my prize-winning short story (winner of the […]

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