Thursday, 17 December 2009

Poetry and Yoga

It occurred to me after my last post that I haven't shared any of my poetry for a while, or written about my yoga practice. So, here's a short update on both.

At last I've been getting some more yoga work my way; I have a private client who's been having sessions with me for the past three weeks, and I had the opportunity to cover three weeks of group classes recently too. It's interesting how being in the Kundalini Yoga teacher role pushes me to excel to my capacity, and encourages me to walk my talk and have more integrity. Yogi Bhajan's emphasis on creating teachers rather than disciples was one way of helping us all to develop ourselves. When you stand in front of someone as a teacher, you are a representative of their higher consciousness, and that should not be betrayed.

So I've been working on speaking my truth, and getting more in touch with what that is, lately. A fascinating part of this process has been studying Yogi Bhajan's book 'The Mind', as part of a self-study for my Continuous Professional Development (a requirement to continue to be registered with my yoga governing body). One key teaching from this book is to only speak or act when the positive and negative minds have been balanced and you are in touch with your Neutral Mind. The Neutral Mind is the way that your soul speaks to you: the truth uncluttered by fear, prejudice and past actions. It's simply the truth of this moment.

Last night my friend Lou-Ice and I were talking about being in the moment and how that often means letting other things fall away; things you might have planned to do, but just aren't right when the particular moment comes. There is of course a balance between this and observing one's commitments!

And finally, a poem that I've been working on.It was inspired by a beautiful photograph (see below) by Lydia Panas of teenage girls that I saw at a recent gallery exhibition on an 'artist's date'. It's a bit 'dark' but I hope it makes you might even remind you of your teenage years!


Their faces are set:
chins jutting against the sharp
of what they cannot reach.

At night they go out,
take pills to line the longing
of their empty stomachs.

When they were five and their
bellies were round and soft
they did somersaults on the grass

before they sat on the toilet crying
"Daddy, I'm fat."

Hip-hop lyrics dazzle
off their pierced tongues,
their tongues so traitorous,

new revolutions spilt
like guilt pennies in the gutter of Monday.
How can they trust you

when behind their eyelids
there are a million worlds
without you in them?

Their eyes don't look at you:
they look into their own minds,
bore into their own bodies.

Their silence is weighted
with the words they don't know
to ask for what they want.

Tight-covered thighs
wait for the touch
of hard hands.

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Constant Environment

I've spent this evening singing Christmas carols for charity with the Roundhill Choir, the neighbourhood of a friend I'm staying with. It's another example of the way I've changed since becoming a mother.

It's almost as if entering parenthood has bridged the gap between me and other adults; somehow, I'm more part of my local community and less embarrassed about doing things like standing in the freezing cold singing 'Jingle Bells'. Maybe it's the way being with children so much takes down one's barriers around silliness and spontaneity, returning some of the magical playfulness we adults forget once we take up our mantle of breadwinning. Or maybe it's just that I've learned the value of being part of something bigger than myself, in ways I never knew about before, as a rather solitary child and lonely youngster.

I had a lovely morning relaxing around my friend's house with our children, who were having a sort of tea party on their little stools while we had our own chats and cups of tea. My needs are in many ways simpler, now: real (albeit interrupted) conversation with like-minded people, spending time with my son, and time in nature.

I don't need that much wild stimulation and excitement (well, occasionally, I admit), as evidenced by my recent clubbing excursion which failed to deliver as much promise as I had hoped for; and I can really see the value of my friend's idea that mothers (or fathers, if they're doing the childcare) get together and having 'mother's creches' at each other's houses, as my friend suggested. This is a very 'Continuum Concept' idea: we do what we do as adults, and all around us the children do what they do as children, and we connect and interweave.

In contrast to, perhaps, organised activities such as playgroups that parents often feel compelled to take their children to. On Sunday I took a departure from my usual 'no plastic' attitude and spent most of the day at Funplex: an indoor soft play centre for children. But it was fun, because I fulfilled both my adult needs by talking to the friends I went with, and my child's needs (and my 'inner child' need for play) by exploring a maze with him and letting him call the shots in some games with me, running up and down a ramp repeatedly - "Mummy, run! Mummy, lie down! Mummy, sing the rabbit sleeping song!"

I came home having reminded myself that parenting really can be, well, enjoyable, an aspect I often forget in the day to day focus on survival. My life, as some of you know, is in considerable tumult again as far as domestic arrangements go. One of my biggest concerns is of course how this all affects my son. But people keep telling me: I am his constant environment. As long as he's got me, he'll feel safe.

I'd like to believe that entirely, but I remember how unsettled he was the first few weeks after we last moved house. Still, I have been so grateful recently that I am still breastfeeding him, even though there have been so many times I've felt like quitting.

It's been such a continuous source of comfort and connection, and since reading Pam Leo's brilliant 'Connection Parenting', which I'd highly recommend to anyone who wants to parent in a heart-ful and connected, rather than coercive, disconnected way, (or is sceptical of the idea and wants to find out how it's possible!), I've started to value it even more.

Basically Pam Leo's idea (based on decades of family therapy experience and her own parenting experience) is that building and maintaining a connection with one's child, moment to moment, is the basis of their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, and the degree to which they cooperate with you as a parent.

The more you try to coerce, the more you break the connection. So coercion (punishment, rewards, shouting, hitting etc) might achieve short-term results, but in the long term it causes your children to want to cooperate with you less because they do not feel connected to you and loved by you. Sounds simple, but of course it isn't that simple to practice!

Focusing on bringing my connection with J back to the forefront has been helping me so much during this uncertain period of our lives. I feel like our bond has become stronger, and the battles between us are few and far between - and mostly occur when I am rushed and stressed and out of connection with my own source.

Breastfeeding in particular seems to meet his needs in so many different situations, from coping with transitions, to dealing with unfamiliar or overwhelming environments, to helping him wind down from a tantrum (or even heading one off). It's a tool I wouldn't be without, yet if you had said to me I'd still be nursing him at 2 years and 2 months, I would have been incredulous. That's what I love about parenting: being open to revising your ideas, and learning to adapt to what your child needs rather than what anyone says they should need.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Back to Inspiration

Hello everyone! I've been silent for a while again, but it's not surprising with all the events of the past two months. I'm going through a very motivated phase at the moment and writing more than usual - working on two short stories, writing more poems, and getting feedback on my 'best 16 poems' with a view towards getting a pamphlet out eventually. My mothers' writing group continues to go strong and we will soon start gathering material for our own collection.

Fuel for writerly inspiration came from attending a poetry event at popular coffee shop The Red Roaster on Friday night, where my friend and excellent poet Bernadette Cremin was reading from her new book "Miming Silence", along with poet George Szirtes. I helped Bernie put together the shortened pamphlet form of the book for her recent Ireland tour, so had had a sneak preview of some of the poems. As every time I witness her perform, I was captivated by her voice, her unique choice of words, and the way she is, well, just so 'at one' with her poems, it's as if she lives them out on the stage for us. Bern is one of the few poets I know whose work is just as good performed as live. George Szirtes' poetry struck me as very deep and existential, exquisitely beautiful in the style of a classic painting, and requiring multiple readings to penetrate, but I enjoyed the glimpse into a different world and will certainly check out his work on the page.

It all inspired me to go to more poetry events again: my goal will be one a month; and to start performing in the open mike slots again, frightening as it can be. I have sent my best 16 poems to a poet friend for some critiques and am hoping to be able to eventually interest one of the smaller, independent publishers who welcome new writers. But first I have to get out there and be heard again - my poet friend Lou-Ice was 'scouted' on Friday night when she performed in the open mike slot, so who knows!

In October I moved into a houseshare with some friendly folk but have decided to go for my dream of the community that I shared with you all before. I've realised that living with people who are on a similar path and who can support each other to live at our highest potential, is more important than living with other parents. In fact, I've found that living with other parents and children can be, well, a little complicated! As I've often discussed on here, parenting styles differ so much, and when different families are under the same roof it can be a challenge. So, currently I am meeting with people who are interested in forming a yogic, ecological community with me, and am hoping (with a good dose of surrender) to manifest this in late December or early January. It seems a pity to uproot J again when he took about a month to get settled into our new place, but I know he will benefit so much from being around people who are all dedicated to a spiritual path and to being conscious and compassionate to each other,and hearing lots of yoga mantra's into the bargain!

J turned two on the 1st of October, which felt like a big milestone for me too. It was a bittersweet day as it was also the day he and I officially moved out (although my relationship with his dad ended in August). Still, the change has all been positive, and J has adapted so well. He is using 4 and 5 word sentences now, and I can hardly believe the insights and combinations he comes up with. He tells me about people being 'upset' and 'trying' to do things, which is amazing at the age of only 25 months (I reckon!). It's wonderful being able to get an insight into the workings of his minds through his increased capacity to express himself. After settling in well at his nursery initially, he has been getting more and more upset recently, and really not wanting me to leave him - which in turn, of course, makes me feel upset. So I'm looking at other options. The nursery he attends is lovely and I don't think there's anything wrong with it; but I think J just is at the stage of development (and in his particular personality) where he needs one consistent person to bond to, as has been shown by the way he's been following one nursery staff member around and crying when she leaves. I hate to think of him being sad, especially because he is such a happy boy in most of his life.

Speaking of which, I need to go and fetch him from nursery now. I still don't have broadband at home so my opportunities to blog are limited, so be patient with me! Once I've got feedback on a new poem I plan to post it on here very soon...

Saturday, 26 September 2009

'The FIre Dancers' Poem, and an Update

This poem emerged out of a homework exercise for my mothers' writing group, which was to write from all five senses about a scene or place you haven't been to before. I cheated a little, because I wrote about a festival I attended last year too, and about fire dancing, which I've often seen - but I certainly got in contact with my senses in a way I hadn't before. Here it is:

The Fire Dancers

©Morgan Nichols

Their ropey muscles entwine with man’s oldest force of nature:

Dancing their fear out

Under the empty smell of stars

We, watching, taste the burning oil on the air,

Hear the crack and whir as chains spin,

Their hard metal a safe distance from my

Boy’s soft yielding skin.

The wine fills my pores as my eyes trace the

Fire dancers’ fluid motions,

Hear the swell and hush of voices

And the expectant


Punctuated by a baby’s cry.

Feedback welcome! And now for a little update. J is doing well in nursery so far - his settling in sessions and the first two proper sessions have been absolutely fine, with no tears at all. And apparently he didn't even ask for me until the end of the session at the last one! I'm still looking for another job, and went for an interview on Thursday that seemed to go well, for a company whose ethos I really resonate fingers crossed...I should hear soon. I'm also waiting to hear if I've got an interview for two other jobs, and I'm able to do some work-from-home freelancing for the company I currently work for, to tide me over. So I have hope that things will work out.

My living arrangement plans have changed a few times since I last wrote. The community plan didn't come through for various reasons, but mainly because I decided I didn't want to be the only person with a small child in a house full of childless people. Much as they might love children, everyone wants a little peace at the end of the day (or in the middle of the night, or on a Saturday morning) and I would feel too self-conscious and apologetic if my son was the only cause of disturbance.

I then decided to look for a place on my own, but looking at studio's, more in my budget, was rather disturbing, and one-bedroom flats far too expensive when you factor in agency fees and deposits. I will be staying at friends' houses for two weeks until I move in somewhere in the middle of October. This might be a houseshare with a single father, an acquaintance I've known since I moved to Brighton who is also into yoga and meditation; his daughter, and two others, which feels like something that could work. Plus the house has a garden, always a bonus!But my final decision will wait until I see the house - it's about to be painted and have some repair jobs done on it first.

I was astonished to see that I now have 108 complete typed pages of my novel, when I was splicing bits together last night! Somehow I hadn't realised it was that much. I'm going to get my good friend and fellow writer Lou-Ice to have a look at some of it soon (no, I won't lumber her with the whole thing!) and tell me what she thinks. I finally feel ready to let my 'baby' see the light of day.

I've been reading two fantastic books, 'Broken Open' by Elizabeth Lesser, co-creator of the famous Omega Institute, and 'The Value in the Valley' by Iyanla Vanzant. Both are 'strong women' books about how to tough out difficult times in your life and find the lessons therein. They are powering me up as I continue to face uncertainty and challenges with a steadfastness and patience that I never knew I had. Either motherhood has increased my stamina or my long-term practice of yoga and meditation is bearing fruit in a faith that I actually feel grateful to be able to manifest; grateful for this opportunity of broken dreams and new beginnings to access my warrior heart. Bring it on!

Monday, 31 August 2009

Making Friends With Uncertainty, and Never Saying Never

It seems that uncertainty is to be my friend for a little longer. At this point I don't know where I will be working or living in a month's time. Something that probably wouldn't have unduly disturbed me in my pre-motherhood life, but is now requiring a lot of concentration on 'letting go and letting God'.

The company where I started a job just over a week ago, can only offer me a month's contract due to needing someone to work full-time. 'Discrimination', says a little voice in my head - after all, I'm a mother of a pre-schooler, I'm not on an even playing field here - but I'm trying to see it more as a sign that there's somewhere else more suited to me. search begins again. Exciting things are happening on the living situation front, though: together with a friend, I am looking at creating a 'conscious community' of like-minded people to live together in Brighton or Hove, from October. At the moment fliers are circulating on the web, and soon to be distributed in real life too. I feel positive about finally creating a living environment that reflects my values, and sharing it with people who feel the same about the planet and about spirituality.

A big 'letting go' is coming in the area of childcare with so much about parenting, I've discovered once again the truth of 'never say never'. Never say you won't do something, because you probably will, whether it's shout at your child, give them sweets or...put them in nursery.

After reading Oliver James' Affluenza and Steve Biddulph's Raising Babies: Why Your Love is Best - Should Under 3's Go to Nursery, I was dead set against the idea of J ever going to a group care situation before the age of three. There are lots of reasons which I won't go into here (I've probably discussed it on another post anyway), but basically I'm now finding that a nursery for 4 hours a week is the best way to meet my childcare need. A good friend whose little boy went to nursery at 10 months and has thrived, (to the point where he doesn't want to come home sometimes!), has reassured me a lot, but even so, I feel sad about letting go of one of my 'big ideals' in parenting. J starts his first 'settling in' sessions at a small private nursery next week.

The funny thing is, everything seems to be coming together at the right time. Even two months ago I would never have imagined J being ready for this amount of separation from me, and not being left with people he knew well. He has always been incredibly 'attached'. But just recently, he's taken great strides forward in his 'independence' (I hate using that word in relation to such dependent beings as babies and toddlers, but you know what I mean) and ability to withstand separation. He is genuinely enjoying the company of other children and seeking them out. Just a few days ago I watched him run around the park, with complete confidence, initiating games with children older than him and not looking back to me once. I felt proud - and, yes, a little sad. But more relieved than anything else.

After investigating child-minding options and finding that they're basically the same as a nursery but with less staff, I decided a nursery would provide more safety and peace of mind for me - and having seen the staff from this nursery out and about with children several times, and being impressed with their warm, natural and 'non-hovering' interactions, I decided to try this particular one. My other childcare hours will be taken up by a very kind friend who's doing a 'swop' with me, and by J's dad who has a day off.'s not that bad really.

J has, so far, adapted remarkably well to all the changes, but at the moment he has a cold and his need for 'mummy' has come out a bit more. I'm finding an unexpected side-effect of working part-time is that I appreciate my time with him more, and am more able to focus on him when necessary (except when I'm stressed!) We spent a week at a friend' s house and he loved playing with her children, barely noticing that we were outside of our usual environment.

What's been getting me through all of the uncertainty and change is a very simple, yet amazingly effective breathing exercise from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which I got from his book 'Be Free Where You Are'. Doing it twice a day, and whenever I feel tense or need a 'pick-me-up', is helping me to stay calm and be in the present moment. I highly recommend it! Prior to that, I was doing a Kundalini Yoga meditation called 'Creating Self Love' daily for a couple of weeks, and I'm now also doing the Buddhist metta bhavana (loving-kindness) meditation - on myself. As a mother, continually giving, I'm finding I need to give some of this energy to myself.

And it's coming out in unexpected ways, with more energy and inspiration for my creativity. My novel has sprung back into my consciousness again this past week, and I've been scribbling away, really enjoying the characters and feeling them come alive. Who knows when I'll ever finish it, but for now it's great to be inspired to write.

Well, I think that's enough from me for now! Next time I hope to update you on the developments with the budding 'conscious community', and on how J does with nursery.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The end of Stay-at-Home Mom-hood - and control vs authenticity

Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? I've been running around like a whirling dervish, applying for jobs and going for interviews. It's been both nerve-wracking and exhilirating. I'm sad at having to let go of my Stay at Home mom role, but necessity calls now that I am officially a single mom. Big transitions all round. I'm doing a trial first day at a new part-time job next week - nothing creative or particularly inspiring, alas, but in a way I like to save my creative energies for my writing and parenting. The main considerations right now are, of course, money, and using as little childcare as possible - so, this audio transcription job having flexible hours appealed to me.

Being faced with the prospect of less time with J has brought me more into the present moment with him: I'm appreciating our time together more, almost soaking up his every smile and joke - and even enjoying the truly boring moments of watching him move his little cars around. Part of letting go of SAHM-hood is letting go of the notion that I can control every aspect of my son's experience. The reality is that he will now be spending fairly significant amounts of time with other care-givers than me (although I'm not doing group care, I believe he is too young for that), and this can feel scary! But a book I've read recently, 'Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves' by Naomi Aldort (listed on my recent post about my top 13 inspiring books) has helped me to feel more confident that I can ride the wave with my son, whatever happens, and stay connnected to him and myself in the process.

This is a really mind-blowing book - beware! It is all about letting go of control, in favour of authenticity. I think if everyone parented this way, we'd have a hell of a lot less neuroticism and fascism in the world. It's all about treating your child with the same respect you would any adult. Letting go of the notion that you can control any other human being. All you can do is gently guide and show them through your own behaviour, how to treat other people, and help them to deal with their emotions lovingly.

It's more than a little radical! Most of us have been brought up with rewards and punishment and other forms of manipulation to get us to 'behave'. And I think most of us struggle at least a little with self-esteem and figuring out what WE really want to do. Although there's no way to bring up a child that guarantees they will be secure, Aldort describes a formula called 'SALVE' that allows us to parent more authentically, and thus help our children to keep their own authenticity.

The SALVE formula involves first of all, separating yourself from your child's behaviour and emotions with a silent self-talk. When our child does something, an automatic tape starts to play in our head: for example 'He is naughty. He shouldn't do that. If I don't stop it, he'll be an out of control brat' - sound familiar? When you can work through that in your own head, realise that it is only old beliefs and not 'the truth' in this moment, you are able to resist reacting automatically, and give yourself space to respond authentically and lovingly. You are then able to apply the 'A' of the formula: 'Attention on your child'.

'L' stands for 'Listen to your child's words and non-verbal communication'. This will help you understand where he/she is coming from, and what he/she may need. 'V' is for 'Validate your child's feelings and the needs he expresses'. So, for example: 'You feel angry because you really wanted that toy. It's hard to share sometimes' instead of 'You must share. Give that toy back right now!' which only disempowers the child and causes resentment, not a genuine desire to share.

Finally, 'E' stands for 'Empower your child to resolve his own upset by getting out of his way and trusting him'. This means not rushing to fix everything, and trusting that children can come up with their own solutions when they feel trusted, safe and free of parents' expectations. Aldort gives many practical examples of how this works, and how important it is for a child to genuinely make a free choice to do something, rather than be forced to. It's no use if someone is being kind only to earn brownie points - we want to give space for the inherent kindness of children to develop, and that involves not being unkind to them with manipulation.

Aldort's book gave me the practical understanding and tools to apply the concepts I first read about in Alfie Kohn's 'Unconditional Parenting', which I've also written about previously on here. In applying the 'SALVE' formula, and trying to understand J through the different needs that Aldort describes - love, freedom of expression, emotional safety, autonomy and power, self-confidence - I have found a huge difference in our relationship. Mostly, I'm simply enjoying it more, because it takes the struggle out of parenting. So much of our struggle comes from these old tapes that play in our head, and not being in the moment. When we can let go of those, it's hugely liberating. Still, it takes a lot of faith and trust to let go of old control models! I'm reassured by comments from other mothers who practice this kind of parenting, who say that others often remark on how well-adjusted and kind their children are - and of adults who were brought up in this way, saying how much self-confidence and security they've always had.

I'll end with a quote from the book: 'At each tough moment with your child, you have a choice: to stop the child's way of being so you can stay devoted to your old ways or to grow into the greater person you can become by flowing with your child's journey. She is your teacher. Self-directed and self-realized people grow in families where parents are growing up side by side with their children.' (Aldort, 2005, xvi).

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Change - and Getting Unstuck

Every month I create a list of writing goals, many of which I end up 'carrying over' to the next month. But at the end of July, I was surprised to see that without thinking about it too much, I've achieved all but three of my nine goals. One of the goals I enjoyed reaching the most, was my first 'reunion' poetry performance in a long while, with the Writing Sisters Collective at the Brighton Poetry Society evening. Not too bad, considering the amount of personal upheaval in my life at the moment.

Yes, I am going through big changes in my domestic situation, which I don't yet feel ready to write about on here. But an unexpected direction in my writing this month has been starting a new children's story, called 'Petra the Pixie'.

I wrote a children's book called 'Journey Through The Elements' a few years ago, inspired by walking through a beautiful woods near Kirstenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa. I literally 'spoke the story aloud' to myself as I walked, and then came home and wrote it down. It took a couple of years to finish, and then a while later I developed an alternative, much shorter version for younger readers called 'The Lonely Oak'. One of my incomplete goals for July was to rework this story. However, I've been inspired by Ruby and the Star, a beautiful story written by one of the moms at my mothers' writing group, and am now thinking about different directions that I could go in trying to reach an audience with 'The Lonely Oak'. Right now I'm looking for an illustrator - any takers?

'Petra the Pixie' was birthed out of a writing exercise, adapted from one by Julia Cameron (author of 'The Artist's Way' and 'The Right to Write' among other amazing books): Imagine you're sitting against a tree. A storyteller is sitting on the other side - what do they look like? What kind of story is he or she going to tell you?'ve guessed it...simply write the story.

In fact I started writing the story during one of J's naps, sitting against - yes, a tree - in Hove Park, after attending an NCT summer picnic. It's about faery dust and the wishes of children, and it's a lovely bit of escapism from the rather raw reality of my life at the moment.

In trawling the web for writing exercises for my group, I've come across some lovely work by others. I'll leave you with these questions from The Writing Nag, a rather useful blog I discovered recently. It's about how to fine-tune your creativity by getting blocks out the way; becoming more organised and just getting on with it (never my strong point).

1. What one thing could you do this week to feel more organized? feel less stressed? help your finances?

2. What have you been procrastinating? Why? Can you schedule this task or ask for help in getting it done?

3. What are you missing in your creative life?

4. When I think about ____________________, I feel overwhelmed.

5. I'd like to call/email/write _________________.

6. If I was my boss, I would have fired myself for _____________.

7. One habit that I could change that would positively impact my writing (or whatever form of creativity is your bag) goals is __________.

Sunday, 26 July 2009


Inspiration seems to be the theme of the past week. At my Breastfeeding Counselling Course tutorial yesterday, we were asked to share with each other what is currently inspiring us about breastfeeding. What came up were people, and for me, as s chronic 'book worm', books. But I've also been thinking about what inspires me generally, as a writer and human being.

I've assigned 'homework' to the Mothers Writing Group, of writing down some of the books that have inspired us most over the years. By sharing our inspiration, I hope that we can open new doors for each other into areas we might not have gone before, as well as discover our common ground.

So without further ado, here are my top ten inspiring books. I would love to hear from others, what some of your inspiring books are. Please use the comment function to share.

1) The Women's Room - Marilyn French (novel). I think I was still in school when I read this, though it could have been my gap year before university. It was the first book to awaken me to feminism, not as a dry theoretical concept, but as living, breathing reality - how it could transform everyday women's lives. I read it about three times and carried the characters with me, drawing from their strength and courage and learning to allow my own confusion at times.

2) The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron (non-fiction). I did this twelve-week course in uncovering and re-covering your creativity, in my early twenties when I'd just finished university. It was a year full of life-changing indulgence: doing drawing, 'free painting' and dance courses as well as a course on the 'feminine divine', as my brain was finally freed up from academic concerns and allowed to roam once again. My creativity had suffered hugely from years of academic essay writing and a discouraging poetry course at university, and this book was what got me writing regularly again - and never stopping in the seven years since! And it's not just for writers - it's for anyone who wants to be more creative, in any field.

3) Katharine Kerr - All the books in the Deverry series (fiction: fantasy). Katharine Kerr has succeeded in creating, in my opinion, one of those fantasy worlds that you never want to leave, with characters you really care about, as well as effortlessly weaving deep spiritual concepts like reincarnation into the story. Ever since I was a child, I loved magic, and these books have inspired me both to write and to keep my connection with the Celtic world (a key influence in my novel).

4) The Power of Now - Eckart Tolle (non-fiction). This is one I go back to again and again. Its wisdom is simple but profound: the present moment is the only moment there ever is - all else is illusion. Taking this concept deep into one's being is a way out of suffering and into joy and peace.

5) Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg (non-fiction). Natalie Goldberg, a Buddhist, novelist and creative writing 'guru', explains how to generate the creative process and get past your blocks, with simple exercises and inspiring examples from real life. It is more her own style than anything else that just makes me ache to write, and I love the way she incorporates Buddhist ideas into writing practice without even mentioning them.

6) The Whole Story and Other Stories - Ali Smith (fiction). I've read this twice - it's a phenomenal collection of short stories, where the writer uses the very concept of story to investigate what we tell ourselves. It got me into the short story form, when previously I'd mainly read novels.

7) Written on the Body - Jeanette Winterson (fiction). I first came across this when I was 19 and worked in a CD shop. I remember reading it at work (even with my ogre boss) because I couldn't put it down. It explores love from the point of view of a person of indeterminate gender (in true Jeanette Winterson style), and the language is so poetically beautiful and apt that the pages almost breathe. I've read it again since then, and it had lost none of its impact. If I could write like this...

8) Emmanuel's Book: A Manual for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos - Ram Dass (non-fiction). This is a precious book on my shelf. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass's channelled messages from Emmanuel, on many different areas of life from creation to illness to karma to duality, are what I like to read in the bath when treating myself to some uplifting 'me time'.

9) Anne Michaels - Poems: The Weight of Oranges, and Miner's Pond and Skin Divers (poetry). This compilation of three of Anne Michael's poetry collections, made a huge impact on me as a budding poet several years ago. I still have quotes from her poems written in my little 'inspiration notebook' that I've been writing in since I was 17! Here is a quote: "Everything we touch burns away, whether we give ourselves or not, the same April day spreads to thinness, the same winter afternoon thickens to dark" (The Second Search). Wow!

10) Succulent Wild Woman - Sark (non-fiction). It's a near tie between this and Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves. Sark, a creative living mentor, is so bare with the truth about what it is to allow yourself to be fully human, that it just makes you want to run out and eat mangoes naked immediately (one of her pet metaphors). I remember reading this in Newlands Forest in Cape Town and feeling inspired to create and dance and simply be in a way I never had before.

11) The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing (fiction). This seminal author explores issues of the alienation of our times and the rather close-to-home topic of artist's block. The book is brilliantly written and left a lasting impression on me. Here is a quote from it: "I tell you, there are a great line of women stretching out behind you into the past, and you have to seek them out and find them in yourself and be conscious of them".

12) Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale (fiction). This feminist dystopian novel left me reeling. Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers (poetry and fiction) and a huge inspiration to me. You really need to read it yourself!

13) Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy - Naomi Aldort (non-fiction). I've been hearing about this book for a while,and finally got a copy myself. I'm reading it at the moment, and it totally delivers on its promise. I'm already enjoying motherhood a lot more since delving into it, and my connection with J is reaching a new level. I will share more about it in a future blog!

There are probably loads more, but I could go on all night. I look forward to being inspired by your inspiration!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

A Time for Every Season

I'm often amazed by the effect of uplifting company on my mood. Yesterday I was feeling a bit down and bored with the whole Stay-at-Home Mom routine. Morning time felt like wading through quicksand as I tried to eat my breakfast, read to J, and deal with his frustration when he couldn't get Eeyore to fit on top of the microwave.

Meeting up with a good friend and fellow mother later that afternoon, in the lovely Royal Pavilion Gardens, I caught some unexpected sunshine - both in the sky and in my mood. The key, for me, is honesty. I've met with fellow mom friends where that plain-speaking connection was absent, and gone away feeling even more alone. Susan Maushart's book The Mask of Motherhood discusses the phenomenon of mothers pretending everything is OK to each other, and therefore robbing themselves of the true support they could offer each other.

I'm not having any truck with that anymore. The ambivalence of motherhood, as well as tips and tricks on how to handle toddler tantrums, are the bread and butter of my conversations with my peers. Being a stay-at-home mom but feeling guilty for wishing you could get away sometimes. Or being a work-ouside-the-home mom and feeling guilty for being away so much.

One of the less-talked about things my friend and I discussed was the successive 'stages' of motherhood. How, now that we've got past the first year (and I'm nearly done with the second), it's hard to look back to that symbiotic, all-consuming early motherhood stage. Like once you are a teenager, you dissociate yourself from the things of childhood, not wanting to be reminded of that painful dependence.

Similarly, I find I'm gravitating more towards mothers of older children, those my son's age or older. Those who can show me the progression a little further down the line, and who are not still completely wrapped up in the newborn stage, where you live, eat, breathe and sleep baby. I'm also starting to do things such as plan poetry gigs, like my upcoming ones with my Writing Sisters Collective at Brighton Poetry Society on the 27th July, and the Out of The Ordinary Festival in September. You can listen to some of my performance poetry on my My Space page.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the 'submersion' stage, and it's entirely appropriate at that stage. I was like that too. But now I'm starting to spread my wings and take moves towards re-establishing my own life. Today I visited the Brighton Buddhist Centre, had a chat about their programme of study and meditation and sat in their shrine room in much-needed silence; sat on the seafront and meditated looking at the sea; read a short story; went to the library; and now I'm procrastinating before getting down to some work on my short stories! All of these things rejuvenate me and bring me back to a sense of who I am, in parallel to J's increasing independence.

(Image courtesy of Brighton Buddhist Centre website)

Friday, 10 July 2009

Dreams...and New Poems

Do you ever wake up with a thread of a thought on your mind, and then lose it as soon as you get out of bed? Or do you have dreams that stick with you throughout the day, even though they seem so removed from your everyday life? These 'first thoughts', or dream thoughts, can prove very fruitful in the creative process.

The theme of my Mothers' Writing Group homework from last week, was 'Following the Golden String'. I got the idea from Jacaranda Press, and basically it involves writing down your first thought(s) on waking, then later in the day sitting down and doing some free writing, stream of consciousness style, emerging out of that word or phrase.

Frequently my first thought on waking is merely an incoherent 'Aargh', as I wonder how I can possibly get some more sleep, and my toddler, J, is climbing all over me. So after a few days of being unable to recall a first thought, I decided to write about a strange dream I had instead. Often I remember my dreams quite vividly, and in the past have kept dream journals.

So here is my dream poem, followed by another poem I write quite 'on the spot', while sitting in the beautiful Woodvale Cemetery, where I often do my writing.

America: A Dream

When I got off the plane,

I didn’t recognise the place.

But I knew, somehow, it was

America. Land of vast plains

I could travel with an eye,

Of motels & striplights & cowboy rodeo –

Things I don’t know, but could imagine,

Mainly from books.

They say America’s the land of the greedy

But I’m thinking about Ralph Waldo Emerson

And Walt Whitman and TS Eliot’s

‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’

And I think what they all had in common

Was emptiness,

The emptiness and openness of the land.

I walk, and my steps are as big as this place,

As big as the moon,

And it’s limitless what I can do.

©Morgan Nichols, July 2009.


Crow struts,


Like a chief inspector

Eyes appraise me

White butterfly darts across

- he’s gone

©Morgan Nichols, July 2009.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


As you will know if you follow my blog, one of my endeavours on this journey that is motherhood, is to let go of being overly attached to goals, results and reaching the end of any process. This is essential in order to cope with a situation where even washing the dishes looks something like this:

J: Chair!
Me: (taking off rubber gloves, put him in his chair). There you go. (resume washing up.)
J: Down!
Me: (taking off gloves again, take him out of chair). Do you want to play with your cook-cook?(set him up with his cooking toys).
J: Water! Water!
Me: (pass him closed beaker of water)
J: WATER! (I realise he means he wants water to pour in a pot).
Me: No, sorry, you can't pour water. It makes a mess.
J: WATER! (starts to scream and thrash about)
Me: (take off gloves a third time, kneel down next to him and try to distract and soothe)...
and so on. Meanwhile fifteen minutes have passed and I've washed about three forks.

But even this ideal of non-attachment to the goal, is itself subject to imperfection. I have to admit, this evening I feel distinctly more satisfied with my day, knowing that I actually achieved 2 hours of solid work on a project.

It was the re-working (including adding in lots of bits) of my first essay for the Breastfeeding Counselling Course, and the only way I achieved it was to directly ask my partner to take J out for a couple of hours, even though he would be tired from his sleep-in at work the night before.

I had been looking after J without a break for 5 1/2 days, and starting to wear a bit at the edges. It was a tough negotiation, but I have realised that the months are slipping by and I have yet to hand in an essay, although I started the course in March. If I am to keep to my goal of finishing the course in (more or less) 2 years, then I need to get cracking!

Being able to sit down and focus on something is so wonderful for me. When G and J returned from the park and the shops, I felt ready to take up the mantle of mother again, quite willingly.

And it's given me motivation to keep on with other projects this evening, even though I've already been interrupted once by an 'evening waking'. I'm writing an article for my new complementary therapies column on the NHS 247 website, to be launched soon - this one about Naturopathic Nutrition, and doing some much-needed filing for my various writing projects. Tomorrow I look forward to a few hours of working on my short stories as it's my 'Thursday off'.

I've been inspired by reconnecting with the Gentle Discipline movement in the past few days, largely through the very helpful forums of natural parenting website Mothering Dot Commune. I realised that in dealing with J's needs (on a bad day, demands!) I had been turning into a pretty grumpy parent, on a sort of default setting of 'Stop it! No!'.

I had lost touch with my parenting ideals out of an anxiety about having an 'out of control' child, and worrying too much about what others think. For me, it's a delicate balance between setting appropriate boundaries and listening to and empathising with J, rather than having a 'one size fits all' autocratic approach.

Unfortunately, I tend to swing between being too giving and being too strict, although luckily the balance often rights itself - and that's when I have a day where I'm really proud of my parenting.

Being reminded of the principles of Unconditional Parenting, as Alfie Kohn writes about so eloquently, has put me back on the right track. I feel inspired now to focus on being the best parent I can be, imperfect as that may be, and to remember that all my other projects are side-projects to the most important one of all: supporting another human being to learn, grow and love.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Writing Through the Heat

We're in the middle of a heatwave! Funnily enough people seem to expect me to handle it well because of my South African roots, but after five years of living on this island, I've lost all ability to tolerate heat. In fact, the weather has brought home to me (as if I needed reminding) just how different life is once you're a mom.

Pre-baby life, heat like this would have meant, yes, perhaps a bit of grumping around at work wishing I was on Brighton beach instead - but my every spare moment would have been spent relaxing with friends or a book and allowing my body to go limp with sun pleasure. Now - well, it involves pushing some thirty pounds up a very steep hill at least once a day - except on the weekend when I 'hid' at home - sweating like a pig, and making sure that a small being completely dependent on me doesn't develop heat stroke.

Relaxing on the beach? Forget it. J wants to walk everywhere and is absolutely impervious to the blazing sunshine on his head. I'll be wilting while he stands quite happily throwing pebbles into the sea, or runs around chasing seagulls in the park. I seem to have been reduced to a bottom line of However, this weekend I'm looking forward to Hanover Day, the biggest street celebration in Brighton, and a good friend's birthday party in the park, all of which will allow me to include J in the summer social life.

I've decided to take the plunge and start posting poems on my blog. Here is one I wrote as part of my homework for the Mom's Writing Group I started a few weeks ago. It's called 'I write because':

I write because I am alive

I write to calm the inner fiery girl who wants it all,

now. I write because it’s the first thing I loved:

holding a pen, letting it drift over the page,

waking up these people who never existed


I write because I cannot draw.

I write to clear out the old

To make way for the new

I write because I don’t want to be a boring mom

and talk about hovering.

I write because my home is on the page

I write because the words were born in me,

no visceral experience can

replace the feeling of a word

cutting right through to my core

I write because I’m 29 and I don’t have time to play around anymore.

I write to sift through my pain and bring it into the light

and see that it gleams like crystal.

I write because I could never catch a ball

or ride a bike or kiss a boy or be wanted

when I was thirteen.

I write because I can reach your mind and know my own.

I write because it saves my life.

I write because I am alive.

And I write because acid trips are

not enough, sex is not enough,

a warm day on a blanket on the grass is

not enough. I am enough

in the moment I write.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Seagulls and Other Things

This was written at Queens Park recently.

Seagulls and Other Things

Seagulls crouch in puddles of white and grey,
dotting the green and sometimes
stealing children's food -

but now they are like statues,
not vultures,
one preening with his scalloped yellow beak
another with a grey beak,
balancing on one webbed foot

this is where he belongs,
no question

He eyes me but I have no food.
In the distance the screech and whir
of the children's playground
and the descending circles of muck
on the pond.

the seagull walks off,
unimpressed, and I remember coming
here when Jude was too young to run
and experienced the green and the seagull
and the pond through his passive senses only

and how my loneliness has dimmed since then
now that he accompanies me
in speech as well as body,

and seems to say he loves me
when he looks up at me,
breast in mouth,
and says 'baby'.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Summer At Last

The summer is finally here, and I finally have time to update this blog! It's been sadly neglected, what with being computer-less for 2 months, then being in South Africa with my son J for a month, and recently simply spending more time in my lovely garden enjoying the sunshine. Our time in S.A. visiting family and friends was a quiet, reflective space from which I returned full of enthusiasm and motivation to tackle some projects that have long been on the back burner - sorting out my filing, for example, but other more exciting things too.

A year ago I ran a couple of writing workshops for mothers, working around themes of motherhood. My intention to start an ongoing group for moms has now finally flourished, and the first group meeting took place yesterday at my house. There were three of us and we hope more will join us soon...although space is limited due to the little ones! We used colours in the room to jump-start a writing exercise, and explored the topic 'I am/I am not', which I've often used myself, as inspired by one of my creative writing guru's, Natalie Goldberg.

It felt good to be part of a living, evolving writing space again, as it's been so long since I attended the Poets Cornered group in Hove, which had been my writing inspiration and support for 3 years. I like the fact that we're all women, and all mothers, as this creates a sense of community and unity, and an appreciation of the issues we all face. Of course it's challenging trying to write amongst the noise and movement of babies and toddlers, but I hope that we can forge our way through.

For now my main writing project is my short story collection, - I say 'main' tentatively, since it is receiving far less time and attention than I'd like - which I began during the First Steps in Fiction course I did a few months ago. Its theme being motherhood, I do sometimes long to escape the very topic and do something completely different. Like return to my sprawling novel about witches, druids and forests...but somehow the huge head space I need to do that work is not there. If it's snatched moments I get, then short stories are more doable for me right now, although it's a form that I'm still learning. I'm writing an article a week on complementary therapies for a website called NHS247, due to be re-launched in July. I'm aching to write poetry again, especially after digging out my old copies of 'Mslexia' (magazine for women writers) and reading some of the prize-winning poets in there. Reading a 2004 interview with poet and novelist Anne Michaels inspired me: mother of two small children, she apparently wrote in the wee hours of the morning, every night - dedication or what!

Unfortunately, I am far less dedicated to my writing, and I do need sleep. Especially as J continues to wake in a similar pattern to a newborn. His talking has come on a long way; his development really spiked while we were in South Africa and everyone saw a big difference on our return. He's now saying short simple sentences like 'Look, there ball' and 'Ball box in', 'helping' with the gardening, and walking around the streets of Brighton pointing at, and naming, absolutely everything.

My yoga teaching has evolved into doing one-to-one sessions rather than classes, which feels right for now. I've been hard at work getting the word out, doing yet more fliers, etc etc. As ever, time for my own practice is scanty, but I'm getting a lot out of meeting with my Kundalini Yoga sangat fortnightly. J now says 'yog, yog' when he sees my mat, and 'joins in' by copying the exercises - he's particularly proficient at spinal twists and life nerve stretch!

My Breastfeeding Counsellor Training, begun in March, is now taking on more speed as I have drafted my first two essays and been busy 'interviewing' mothers at the Hanover Breastfeeding Drop-in about their experiences. I'm very excited and motivated about this path, and find my voluntary work at the Drop-In so worthwhile and moving. To talk to a mother who is struggling to breastfeed and full of the emotion of that, and be able to move with her through the pain and somehow help to contain it, is one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I have done.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Catching Up

It's been ages since I've written on this blog, and I miss it! Life has been moving at a terrific pace, and I've been busy writing another blog (it's my more 'commercial one'), doing a fiction-writing course with all the attendant homework, and of course, mothering my now very vocal as well as mobile toddler, J!

At 17 months J is now saying more new words than I can count, able to conduct rudimentary 'conversations', and has an ever-increasing capacity to make his needs and wants known. He has been positively obsessed with 'cook-cook' for months now, not only in our cooking, but doing his own pretend preparation of meals, improvising with whatever is available (but usually insisting on having real pots and pans). I feel more confident as a mother and am enjoying it a lot more, though as always there are exasperating and exhausting moments. I'm also just recovering from a bout of mastitis, which, fortunately, is the first time I've experienced any sort of breastfeeding problem - but this left me wiped out for a good few days.

I've been touched by the comments people have left on my blog after reading my article in Juno magazine about surrendering to motherhood. It's wonderful to hear that other mothers and mother-writers feel the same as I do about motherhood as a spiritual journey.

I recently read Buddhism for Mothers which takes some of these ideas further, and gives us real illumination on how to live in a more peaceful, centred way as a mother. One of the most useful concepts in this book was how to witness the many different passing moods and emotions of parenting, without getting caught up in them and giving them too much power. My meditation practice is always an effort to develop this ability, but I've been inspired by this practice to make all my mothering acts a moving, living meditation, and indeed my whole life.

The last few months have seen more emphasis on the non-fiction side of my writing career. I've been continuing to write for Suite 101 and seen a gradual increase in traffic to my articles; writing an almost daily, paid blog; and doing all the research that goes with those endeavours.

My computer breaking down a couple of weeks ago, however, has facilitated a shift in focus back to my fiction. As soon as I had to step off the treadmill of real and self-imposed deadlines, I realised that fiction is really what my writing soul yearns for, and that I need to give it some space to flourish. The 10-week course I'm doing, 'First Steps in Fiction', has given me impetus to write every week, and to start a short story collection, and I wrote a couple of exactly-70-word paragraphs for Paragraph Planet which are both appearing on the site. and now that I have to fall back on mostly handwritten work, I'm able to slow down and allow ideas to percolate. It's good to be back in a more creative writing mood. It's all very well being 'productive' all the time, but then I can start to forget why I am a writer in the first place.

Inspired by Paulo Coelho's The Witch of Portobello, a fantastic book a friend gave me for my birthday (my 29th) on 22nd February, I have started to think about my 'witch' novel again - which I'd put on the 'back burner' since last year. The ideas Coelho explores are very similar to what I intend in my novel, and his book helped me to realise that there is a way of expressing these concepts - of the power of nature, the Goddess, the feminine energy - through story. Coelho has a disarmingly simple way of conveying the most complex ideas, and a very unique writing style. I also felt moved by his book's message of living one's truth, regardless of how it may inconvenience those around you.