I haven't been writing for a while. Life is seriously sucking arse - my sons aren’t well, I’m ill, we struggle on, and I consider it a good day if we are all breathing at the end of it. So, no space for writing, though in my head sentences form and jostle for attention. I tell ‘em they have to wait. On Sunday, however, I was given the opportunity to go and play with words for a day.
James Burt is running a series of writing workshops with Ellen de Vries under the umbrella of The Brighton Creative Writing Series and he invited me along to a session. Luckily, although they are usually held on a Saturday, this was on a Sunday (as a Saturday bookseller I can never do any of the fun writerly things that happen in Brighton at the weekend, sulk).
The header for the session was “Wabi Sabi” - a term I was unfamiliar with but which is defined on their website thus: “Wabi Sabi is a Japanese tradition which celebrates broken and fragmented things, things coming into life and dying things. It lends itself well to writing from landscape; it’s a new way of looking into the cracks in the world around you. “Just lean into the crack / and it will tremble ever so nicely. Notice how it sparkles down there”. Bjork.”
I was a little hesitant - I’m not so great at joining in and sharing work face to face and when Ellen Di Vries started by asking us to select a bean sprout and imagine we were the bean, and to write how that felt, I’ll be honest, I cringed. That’s the kind of stuff I hate to do. I tried. Then we read, and you know, it was fine. All the other participants were...nice (rubbish forbidden word, but fitting). No massive ego driven loud voice trying to take charge, no mememe attitude, no hierarchy.
The whole event took place in an artist’s studio (the artist being Jake Spicer, who made a brief appearance at the beginning and impressed us with a tale of chasing off would be thieves with a mallet). Ellen led the session and she is likable, engaging and enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge. They had arranged a table with suitably Wabi Sabi items which we selected an item from to write about. (I chose a petal.)
One exercise was to write about something ugly, read it out and then rewrite it making the ugly beautiful. I find it way easier to write ugly than pretty. We were sent out into the corridors of New England House to look for suitably Wabi Sabi places to add post it note messages to. (A smell in a corridor that brings back memories, a face formed by screws, tiny port holes that reveal metered numbers, an origami person.) And again out at lunch to collect detritus that we used to create beautiful little booklets of fragmented prose and juxtaposed objects (stones, leaves, sticks, an iced gem that had lost its ice!)
We watched videos and listened to music. We discussed lost things and wrote about them. Wabi Sabi is about impermanence, insubstantiality, fragility, broken things, cracks, and the shine that can be found there. It's a melancholy beauty I think, and ultimately it is death (maybe?).
The session lasted 6 hours but the time didn’t drag or fly, it gently passed in pleasant reflection, knowledge and wordiness, and I came home with some new words, a hand made booklet, a cool new story idea, and a few new writing chums. Win!
I think there are only two sessions left but there will be more. Contact details and stuff is here.
And here's the table of inspiration complete with our wee booklets: