Helga’s Post # 81 (Apologies to Mr. Gershwin)
The best time of year has arrived – not just for Porgy and Bess – but for those of us who live north, or thereabouts, of the 49th parallel. And we deserve every splendid week, day and hour after months of lesser conditions. Time to dust off picnic baskets and check if we still fit into last year’s swimsuit.
For me, summer started when my mom put me on the train from Vienna to a small town in Bavaria to stay with my grandparents. Every year from Grade One to Ten. I looked forward to that trek the entire school year. My mom did too. Getting rid of me for two months must have been a treat. I loved my grandparents. They spoiled me with all sorts of things, like making ice cream the old-fashioned way for my birthday in early August, or letting me ride my grandpa’s bike on the town’s cobble-stoned streets and nearby fields. What a treat for a kid growing up in grimy post-war Vienna.
Incidentally, this was also the place and time of year I did most of my writing. Little stories with few words and lots of pictures in my early years, and later essays about the river Danube, making up stories of fairies who saved drowning children. Then, in my early teens I wrote short stories about the history of the town and my memories of the final horrific weeks of the war.
Thinking back, my writing was raw, unpolished. But it was also fearless and unreserved. I recall writing short stories about rushing to the bomb shelter with my mom, doll in hand, some old ladies wetting themselves from fear, far down in the dark, damp cellar, when the sirens sounded and the building rocked moments later from a bomb exploding next door. Emerging to stare at a pile of rubble, dust rising from where a building stood minutes earlier.
I was never short of topics. Writers’ block didn’t exist in my dictionary.
So what makes it possible to write with abandon, to produce story after story, even if the writing is not quite sophisticated?
Youth. Not having been browbeaten yet by life’s challenges. Before we were trained to be cautious, to ‘fit in’. Before we learned to behave and only say what’s prudent.
What does it take to unlock what’s inside us trying to get out? There is a theory that at a certain time of year our energy is at its peak, our creativity most pronounced. Supposedly, that time is around Summer Solstice. Fact or fiction?
Summer Solstice is 14 days away. People, especially those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, have always been fascinated by that special time when days are longer than nights. Since the beginning of time, our ancestors have marked this day with ritual and celebration to honor our connection to the Sun as the source of our light. The world is peppered with sites that welcome the rising solstice sun, both winter and summer.
Perhaps the most famous of these is Stonehenge, the grouping of megaliths that point toward the rising solstice sun. Every June 21, the summer solstice sunrise aligns with the avenue off the circle around Stonehenge. At sunrise the sun shines down the avenue, between the two heel stones, exactly into the center of the stone circle – a phenomenon that attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the globe every year.
Not surprisingly, Solstice has inspired the writing community too, and in a big way. A host of retreats and workshops for writers have sprung up in recent years in different countries, sometimes combining writing and yoga. Here is how one such retreat, held in Wisconsin around Solstice, describes it:
‘Leap over the edge of doubt, where new things come from and crack open a space for the unexpected. You will be challenged and inspired while becoming a vessel for creativity. Get ready … something magic is about to unfold!’
It goes into detail about how writers are constantly challenged by thoughts of the past and how to overcome them.
‘Break Open Your Fierce, Original Voice
Unfortunately, 95% of the 65,000 thoughts you had today are the same ones you had yesterday. We constantly reinterpret our memories and experiences in the exact same ways, telling ourselves the exact same stories. Breaking free from those old stories while learning to tell new ones is one of the most powerful ways to transform our writing (and our lives). To be truly creative, we need to free ourselves of what is already known and enter the vast space of the yet-to-be discovered.’
Another retreat, this one in the U.K. explains it this way (from the U.K. website ‘Writing from your Heart’):
‘Most of us when we’re children have no problem with creativity do we? Games of let’s pretend, imagining worlds unlike what we’re told is ‘real’ and playing comes naturally to us. The problem often is that as we grow the creativity is squeezed out of us. Life feels like a production line forcing us into molds that other people think will be useful and practical. I know that happened to me and all the story telling I did as a child disappeared as I bought into the beliefs of others that only special people were artistic or creative.’
Sounds perfectly logical and perhaps explains why my writing was so prolific at a young age during the longest days of the year.
So it’s all in there, buried inside our gray matter. The challenge is to unlock it, to tease it out like a shy animal and grant it permission to see the light.
Happy Summer Writing!