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.