Snowdrops in London

shutterstock_559243444I’ve been waiting for February, snowdrop season, so I could write about my first visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden almost three years ago. That day, in spite of a blustery London rainstorm, I was determined to find the garden on Swan Walk.

I rode the tube to Sloane Square and marched the length of Chelsea Bridge Road, leaning into the wind, no umbrella, just a scarf on my head. I was about to give up when a young man came along with an umbrella and asked if I needed help. We were just a few meters from Swan Walk, that hidden alleyway with stone walls, and he guessed, “You must be going to the snowdrop event. We’re a bit late, but it’s still on.” He offered his arm and a place under his umbrella. Snowdrops? I was hoping to see the medicinal herb beds, even if they were dormant.

Robert, a member of the garden society, kindly offered to bring me in as his guest, waiving the fee. A tour was about to begin and we joined the others at the statue of Hans Sloane. After a visit to the greenhouse, we walked the garden pathways to see the sweet, small white snowdrops. Nestled in the grass, their numbers created an impression lovelier than the individual flowers. Along the way were carts, like puppet theatres, each with three tiers that held small pots of the drops so we could examine their tiny faces closely and see that the blossoms wore a variety of “faces” — smiling, grumpy, shy, coquettish.

The guide, in her woodsy tan and leather jacket and thick boots, pointed us to a white tent where hundreds of small pots were set out:  snowdrops, tiny violets both purple and yellow. The aroma in the tent was a lightly pungent perfume mixed with wet soil, an aphorodisiac after the winter months. The rain let up. Robert and I went to the tea house and shared a large pot. We talked of our love of gardens. My dream of a large medicinal garden like the Chelsea; his dream to work at the Chelsea.

As we left, we inquired about volunteering to work in the gardens. I live much too far away, but Robert lives closer and he is a professional gardener. I like to think he works there now. Each February I think of that splendid garden visit. It inspires me that such a place exists in the heart of such a great city: the oldest botanical garden in London, founded in 1673, by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries that allows us to walk amongst medicinal plants, exotic trees, and snowdrops.

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Running and Balance

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Over the past few months I’ve written about slowing down, being mindful and the value in taking a pause. I write about these things because my inclination is to rush about. I thought I was doing well, had balanced the rushing and the slowing down, but then I was upended, literally. I fell and badly sprained my ankle. It was an accident and the details aren’t important, but the aftermath is. One morning I was running outside with a puppy, seconds later I was unable to walk on my own. Humbling.

It’s been three weeks now and I’ve had a lot of time to think about things like: what’s important, how to stay focused, and how quickly the events of my life can change. The days that followed centered on reducing pain, reclining, ice (lots of ice), a doctor’s appointment, and physiotherapy appointments, x-ray, ultrasound, crutches, cancelled holiday plans, and worry. How long will this take to heal?

I’m lucky. I work at home. I have very good care. I can get to my physio appointments. I am (mostly) able to sleep through the night, which is the key to healing. And I want to accept this as a time to rest, to collect my thoughts, to make plans for the coming year. But I feel that pulsing, that sense of time passing, that call to action. It is so seductive, a siren call to be out in the world. I remind myself that my muse lives in the quieter moments, the moments I am living now. So I rest and dream and write trusting that a delicious inspiration will surface.

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Pregnant Pause

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The pause is a suspension of activity often used in speech with little forethought or consideration. For example, the awkward pause that occurs when someone says something so utterly absurd or confounding you are left speechless. Then, there is the pregnant pause, fertile with meaning but not a word is uttered to explain and an extended silence drops down over the conversation. For the uninitiated, it is difficult to distinguish the awkward from the pregnant in almost all situations.

Then there is the comedic pause, part of the timing of a joke or comic skit. A few masters have passed along the secret of generating laughter by artfully using the pause. Think Johnny Carson, if you’re old enough, or Jerry Seinfeld who held a peculiar expression while he paused, as if to underline the hilarity of the situation or what someone had just said, often having to do with awkwardness or pregnancy.

Last in my list is the pause that refreshes. You know, Coca-Cola, although I think they’ve moved on from that tagline. When it was new, it felt good: take a pause while you drink it, enjoy it, don’t drink absentmindedly or just to douse your thirst.

All told, I like my pauses plain, straight up. Take a break, sit back, look out the window and smile as if you just thought of the loveliest thing. Don’t worry if someone’s looking. Strike a pose and hold it while gazing up into the sky. Put down your pen and look out the window. Start to tell a story and then stop midway. See if anyone asks you to continue. This could be awkward or elegant.

Give the pause a new moniker and see what happens. If asked, say you are contacting your muse, or practicing a trance state. Try that and see how it goes. Who knows, you might develop an appetite for the suspension of activity, a moment that some call “being in the moment.” This just might result in a new way of seeing things, open up the imagination, precipitate a rush of new ideas and, if you are lucky, result in pages of new prose.

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Falling

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The photograph of flowers that sits at the head of my blogpost belies the actual weather outside my window. It has turned cold, the leaves have fallen, and a light sprinkle of snow hugs the edges of the fence. In Chinese medicine, this is a time to follow the natural inclination to turn inward, to study, take quiet walks and allow time for more rest. All to keep ourselves in balance as we sweep toward winter.

In yoga practice, this is a season to emphasize calming poses — forward bends and shoulder stands — and adopt a practice of restorative poses. This can be remarkably soothing, better than a massage or a nap, as it is deeply restful for the body, mind and emotions. I am fortunate that our local studio offers several restorative classes each week, but anyone can learn a basic pose, take it with additional props (bolsters, blankets and an eyebag), and rest for fifteen minutes or longer. The effect is renewed energy that is smooth and peaceful.

I don’t know if there is a season for writing. It seems all the workshops are in the summer, yet I write more in the dark months, as if my creative energy is shy of too much sunlight. I continue to follow my private writing schedule and, as often as possible, I attend a “Free Fall” writing group. A dozen or so of us meet on Friday mornings and follow W. O Mitchell’s approach to writing freely — pen to paper, no editing, no apologies — then we read aloud and marvel at what we’ve produced. The non-judgmental atmosphere suits my shy muse and has led to any number of charming short pieces.

In this season and beyond, I hope you find a practice or routine that feeds your creative energy and draws out your muse. The smooth energy from yoga poses and the kind spirits of fellow writers is the best recipe I’ve found so far to smooth a path that helps me fall away to the edges where I find the most interesting notions.

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Lyrical Composition       

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Along with the urge to write comes the desire to tell a story, share a vision, or create a world. When I write, I also aim for literary composition and hope to achieve lyricism and beauty. This can be as elusive as the goal of balance and poise in a yoga pose. My ability to produce a story that has these qualities is influenced, in the most basic sense, by my mastery of the art and craft, but also by my frame of mind, a chance encounter, or a song I overheard.

According to Stephen Spender, one of the five qualities of literary composition is Song. He defines it this way: “Song is the expert use of language, not merely in the sense of correct usage, but in the sense that language is the means by which a certain music is created, a sound in the ears as well as logic for the mind. It is meter, it is rhythm, it is emphasis, it is even gesture.”   (From: The Art of Writing Fiction, by Ray B. West)

Using language in this way to tell a story can be challenging. For most of us, it takes practice, but it is a worthy goal. Determining whether I’ve achieved it is so subjective, it’s difficult to measure. One way I know I’ve gotten close is when someone reads what I’ve written and sighs, or says “aha,” or cries, or calls out in delight. That is the reason I write.

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