New Podcast at last – ‘Daring to Write’

Yes, the summer is over, but you won’t find me complaining. As the nights draw in and it’s time to fire up the heating, it’s the perfect start to a new ‘term’of creativity. With that in mind, the Squatting Toad podcast is firmly back on the cultural and creative map.

In this inspiring episode, I meet author Angela Thirlwell, who give us some insight into her writing career and plenty of helpful advice for aspiring writers.

Listening to the episode again, I realise that I thanked Angela for her time, but not for her wisdom. I’ll correct that right now. Thank you, Angela, for wise words and inspiration.

Enjoy the episode and do take a look at Angela’s website here.

Soon available on iTunes, but for your delight and delectation on Podomatic, first of all, you can find it here.

And not forgetting our old friend, Soundcloud:

Happy listening and Happy Creating.

Mel

 

Making Virtual Music, but Really

I massively enjoyed tonight’s Last Night of the Proms. Some have accused it of jingoism  in the past with all that flag-waving, but, let’s be honest, it’s all about the music, of course it is. With fine tunes from Borodin, Donizetti and Rossini, to name but three, and tenor, Juan Diego Flores, dressed as Manco Capac, founder of the Inca civilisation, it’s hardly a rousing celebration of Britishness. Even Padington Bear, who made a surprise appearance, is from Peru.

Yet I do feel that this kind of life-affirming, ‘let’s-all-join-in-the-songs-even-if-we-don’t-know-the-words’ kind of event is something we Brits do so well. We’ve always loved a good party and a good sing song, and the Last Night is just one of the most public.  Even the the daily concerts that lead up to this grand finale have a warmth and informality about them that I can’t imagine being replicated elsewhere. Heavens, when a symphony is played, people applaud BETWEEN the movements! Simply not done under normal circumstances, dear boy.

The Proms are sponsored by the BBC which has done a brilliant job of drawing in the viewing and listening public. This year’s ‘Virtual Orchestra’ is a great initiative to encourage people, who may well have hidden the instruments they once loved at the back of the attic, to dust them off and play a tune. Any instrument will do, almost. Have a look a  the list.

Bravo to all of you who take part.It’s so easy to bundle our creative talents away at the back of the attic of our mind, and sometimes all we need is a little encouragement to rip back the dustsheets and get cracking again. We all mean to, when we have the time. One day, we say, we’ll get our metaphorical ladder out and have a good rummage and maybe take up playing, painting, writing again. When we have the time. Come on, if we wait for ‘enough’ time, it will never come. We need to make time and not be scared of that. Maybe just ten minutes to start with. And, this is the important bit -it doesn’t need to be great, or even good, what you do then create. We’ll have no truck with ‘I’m no good at this any more.’. Who said you weren’t, apart from you? Who made you Ruler of the Kingdom of Good?

But, seriously, I say this because I go through it too. I have to tell myself, ‘Just a little bit of writing, every day’. No judgements, no critiques. Just doing. I want to and because, to be my best self, I need to. Can’t say fairer than that.

Now, hand me my air banjo.

Happy creating to you all.

Mel

 

Beyond the Comfort Zone.

Last week, my husband, you know him as Mr Toad, asked me to film his comedy gig. Well, even I can manage to hold my phone in the air for ten minutes, so request duly granted. There are a few wobbles, but nothing I’m ashamed of.

This week, Mr T asks if I might be in a position to edit said video into something shorter for his Facebook page. Heck. Not sure. Never edited video before. But I am willing to give it a try. A year ago, I couldn’t edit sound for a podcast, now look at me! Better yet, listen to me. Ok, I don’t always get it right, sometimes I get it good and properly wrong, sound-quality-wise, but I carry on. I have zero technical skills, usually, but I was, and remain, determined to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Creatively, and in life, I recommend it. Learning doesn’t stop when we leave school, and development doesn’t begin when our companies decide to splash some training budget on an Excel course. The English comic actor, Kenneth Williams,  was famous for learning one new word a day straight from the dictionary, with the result that he had a vast and varied vocabulary. If you ever heard him on Just a Minute, you’ll know that he used it. We need to keep learning and doing things we might not think we can, or we will stagnate and maybe die out as a race. Honest.

The Comfort Zone is called that because it is just like sitting on a heap of fluffy cushions, eating warm chocolate fudge cake whilst listening to The Lark Ascending. It’s comfortable and it’s safe. It’s amazing the number of things that make us feel anxious and unsafe: learning something new,  change at work, exams. I learnt only this week that our response to this kind of threat, fear of change or fear of failure, comes from the same part of our brain that tells us to be scared when we are in a life or death situation.

A bit over the top? After all, I’ve only had to learn how to press some buttons, but my brain doesn’t know that. At least not that bit of it. So, it’s important to push through. There is no such thing as failure. As Thomas Edison said: ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ Now, there was a man who had no time for comfort zones, and the fact that I’m writing this by the light of a bulb is testament to that.

So, let’s live a life beyond the Comfort Zone and try something new and a tiny bit scary. Ready? Now, editing software, you can run, but you can’t hide.

Mel.

Bloody Work!

According to my strapline, Squatting Toad provides inspiration and podcasts for people who create in their spare time. And it does. But what if you don’t have spare time? What if your work is so stressful, you’re too worn out at the end of the day even to watch rubbish telly, let alone create anything? As far too many of us know, this happens.

In my last podcast, my interviewee Angharad, made reference to having to put her love of amateur theatre to one side when she had a stressful job. Of all the things we talked about, this haunted me the most. It was just a single comment, almost an aside, but I keep coming back to it in my head. It is why, after all, I started Squatting Toad. I had a stressful job until recently (happily I don’t now and neither does Angharad) and felt bereft as I watched people around me pursue hobbies and make things and do things, whilst I was Googling ‘funny cat videos’ and eating cake.

Now, ‘stress’, when it comes to work, can mean different things. Maybe you work in the kind of profession where any hint of weakness or inadequacy can mean a fast track to car park with a cardboard box full of your desk knick knacks.( Actually, I doubt many City bankers are reading this, but let’s suppose.) Maybe your work is so boring and repetitive and that very lack of stimulation is causing anxiety. Chronic boredom can close down your brain to new and fun ideas, as well as leaving plenty of space for full-on guilt about earning money for, well, nothing.

Mostly, let’s be frank, what causes work stress is other people. Bullying and/ or incompetent bosses head the list. Lord knows, I’ve been there and it hurts. I mean, really hurts to the point where you start to believe you have even no right to enjoy the very things outside of the working day that make life a bit more tolerable. The ‘Sunday Dread’ you feel before the start of each working work kicks in earlier and earlier to the point where Saturday’s breakfast is a depression-riddled write-off. Oh, yes.

I find now that I don’t suffer from the dread, anxiety and misery and I can look back on these times a tad more dispassionately, what is welling up now is anger. I’m angry that I still know people going to work, living the misery, and just about keeping their heads above water. And it needs to stop. Now!

Much has been written about how organisations can improve and make their workers happier and more engaged. Not a lot of what’s written, at least nothing I’ve read yet (and I’m reading a lot about this), tackles the most basic of human needs. By that I mean, respect and kindness. Why does your horrible boss think it’s remiss of him to show these basic courtesies that we are all entitled to? In most cases, it’s because he’s afraid of looking weak. And yes, sorry, I do mostly mean ‘him’, not ‘her’. This need to be ‘in charge’ and be ‘the boss of you’ and make you unhappy in the process conjures up the schoolyard of old and the bullies who nicked your sweets and made you cry. In no other field of adult life, except work, is such behaviour tolerated on such a huge scale.

Nobody, but nobody, neither the CEO or the receptionist, has the right to tote their own emotional baggage into the workplace and use it to corrode the well-being of others.

So, what can we do? Well, I, for one, am going to write about it. It’s a small contribution, but this needs to be out in the open. Why? Because we all need to feel respected and valuable for one thing, and because I want my experience to count for something. Write what you know, they say. I know that work isn’t working like it should, because I’ve lived it. It’s not just me. If you are happy in your job, living without stress, just ask around. You’ll soon see it’s not just me.

All these years in the workplace, all this reading and research I’m doing. It’s opening up something fascinating and, I hope, redemptive, for me and others.

Come on, if we’re not happy, how can we create? And that brings me full circle to what Squatting Toad is here for.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Watch out for posts and podcasts on this very topic, always with an eye to creativity, but also a meditation on work, which takes up so much of our lives and our energy.

In the meantime, do have a listen to my last podcast, if you haven’t already. Why not take up amateur theatre, if you need an outlet? Or listen to previous episodes about all kinds of creative endeavours from music to crafting.

PODCASTS HERE.

Enjoy.

Mel X

Making Creativity Happen (Part 3)

What a deceptive, cheating person I am. I reel you in with a promise of more inspiration and all you get is my latest podcast. Shame on me.

Well, fret not, it is inspirational. It’s a bit of a summary of things I’ve written here before, and things I’ve discovered on my journey. Good stuff and, I truly believe, worth some repetition. There’s new stuff here too, and a plug for previous podcasts. I know, no shame. Enjoy on Soundcloud and do tell your friends. And tell me how you are getting on.

Happy Creating.

Mel

Latest podcast – and a poem to enjoy

Hello friends

It’s another lovely weekend, if a bit cold, so you might want to spend a bit of time indoors and you might be looking for some entertainment. I know of few people more entertaining than Performance Poet, Cynthia Hamilton. (Yes, Capital P’s.)

So here’s my latest podcast, with her and me chewing the fat. And at the end of this post, a lovely poem from Cynthia to cheer your day, or make you feel a bit queasy!

Enjoy the programme…and tell your friends.

http://imasquattingtoad.podomatic.com/swf/joe_multiplayer_v112.swf

Or here on Soundcloud.

https://soundcloud.com/user-301095364/squatting-toad-episode-12-cynthia-hamilton-performance-poet-and-good-egg

Let me know if you have trouble getting it to work and here goes with Cynthia’s poem. (Non-British people – spotted dick is a British dessert!)

Cannabalism: A Five Course Poem

Cannibals from far and wide
have tried to hide their fleshy wants
of spleen and kidneys on the side
and eyeballs for their vol-au-vents.

Here come the guests 
so nicely dressed
they help themselves to soup and rolls
with happiness they will digest the fingers 
in the finger bowl.

I see the maid has been and laid
the table for our carnivores
if only she were well-behaved
she made a lovely plat du jour.

“It’s nice to see variety 
I can’t decide what I like most!
the stir-fried Aborigine
or then again the jam on host.”

Another feast it seems has ceased
they’re quite replete and almost sick
dessert was shunned to say the least
a funny-looking spotted dick…

 

Everything Flows – Making creativity happen (Part 1)

There’s a beautiful little bookshop in Madrid called Panta Rhei. It’s run by a lovely lady called Ingrid and I recommend a visit next time you’re that way.

I have a scant knowledge of Spanish, but even I can spot some imported words when I see them,as you may have done. The phrase panta rhei means ‘everything flows’ in ancient Greek. I’ve also seen it translated as ‘everything changes’ and it was coined by philospher Heraclitus, who lived in Ephesus in the 6th century BC. Now, I know once I stray into the area of Greek philosophy, I’m going to get a headache, especially with Heraclitus, who seems to contradict himself all over the place. Underpinning his philosophy, though, is this idea of nothing being as constant as change. That’s quite unsettling, isn’t it?

Constancy is comforting, even when what is constant isn’t very pleasant. If you hate your job, it’s easy to convince yourself to stick it out anyway, on the basis of ‘better the devil you know’. Some people even argue themselves into staying in unhappy relationships for the same reason.

What has all this to do with creativity? Maybe nothing, if you and I interpret Heraclitus differently. Surely, though, if change is happening anyway, we should all be part of that change,taking control, innovating and improving. Otherwise, won’t we be left standing whilst change pushed forward by others swirls around, and past, us?  Once again, that leads us to our old friends, fear and self-doubt.

If these two beasts are ever-present, we are going to have to make our changes in spite of them. We are going to have to start something, be it a novel, poem, painting or song, in spite of our doubts. If you think I say this, because I have the magic formula to overcome all doubt, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. I’ve been banging on for ages about how I’m going to do a sewing course. Have I done one yet? No, I haven’t. Why? Because it’s maybe a bit scary. Even going to the craft fair was scary (see previous post) and all I did was buy things! Those things are still in a carrier bag in a corner, by the way. I can see them looking at me, mocking.

TIME FOR AN EXERCISE:

I’ve talked before about making a ‘To Do’ list of things you want to achieve, but now it’s time to make another list, a sort of ‘Why I can’t’ list. What are the reasons that hold you back? Here are some of mine, and if you think some look ridiculous, well, they do. That’s the point. When you actually look at your fears and self-doubts in the cold light of day, it’s easier to apply a bit of logic as to why and how you can overcome them. I truly believe that they won’t ever fully go away, but we can learn to live with them. We can even, if we want, shout at them and tell them to politely take a hike because we’re busy creating.

Here goes:

  • I might be deluded about my own ability.
  • Everyone will laugh at me. (Rich coming from someone who once harboured comedic ambitions!)
  • I won’t have time until the weekend.
  • I’m having a busy weekend.
  • I bet someone’s already thought of this.
  • I bet someone’s already done this better than I can.

Well, that’s enough about me.

Now, you have a go. Make the list as long or as short as you want, just make it honest. Read it, then put it away. Next time you feel doubt or fear about your creativity, look at the list again. Recognise what’s in it and carry on creating.

Don’t forget, if you put something you’ve created out there, somebody won’t like it. It’s not personal, it’s just statistics. We can’t all like everything. I find Mozart a bore. (Don’t write in, I know he’s a genius.)

And get yourself to Madrid some time, soak up the culture and go and see Ingrid in her shop.

Happy creating.

Mel

 

‘Books Still Accomplish Miracles’

 

I know I shouldn’t be buying more books. My ‘to be read’ pile is getting high enough to rival a Middle Eastern skyscraper, in addition to which, you’ll remember, I am committed to supporting my local library. In truth, I hadn’t intended to buy any more books, but, on Friday, my wanderings took me by one of my favourite London bookshops, Judd Books. (www.juddbooks.com)

Tucked away in Bloomsbury, the two floors of Judd Books contain treasure after treasure, not to be found on any bestseller list. The shop specialises in secondhand and remaindered items, and you never know what you will find there. Such joy. It’s like entering a sweetshop and finding whole brands of chocolate you’ve never heard of, that are better than any you know, but cost half the price.

Most of the books are modern and you don’t find many truly old books, which is why the 1902 Dictionary of Quotations by the Revd. James Wood immediately caught my eye. And at only £3.95, it was a swift addition to my collection of books for the aspiring creative. After all, what could presage the creative flow more than wise words from artists and thinkers of times gone by? Plus, it’s a lovely old book, and I love to post a good quote on Twitter.

Immediately I turned to ‘C’ for ‘Creativity’. I found nothing. Perhaps the good reverend lived too austere a life to think of more artistic pursuits as anything but frivolous. Certainly he was kept busy by his linguistic studies,as there are quotes in English, French, German, Dutch and Latin. People say our educational level has not been ‘dumbed-down’, but when was the last time you quoted Cicero – in the original?

So, on I searched, Cicero appearing, as I far as I could see, to have nothing to add to my musings at this stage.

Success is the child of audacity – Benjamin Disraeli

That one really chimed with me. In my last podcast, I mention Wil Gompertz’s Masterclass that I attended earlier this month. He talked about artists being ‘disruptors’. A new word for it, maybe, but not a new concept. Disraeli was already wise to it.

Anxiety is the poison of life – Blair

This being 1902, I am ruling out former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a man, who, anyway, showed little anxiety in wreaking some international havoc. The internet actually ascribes the quote to American theologian, Tryon Edwards, so we are none the wiser as to ‘who’ Blair. But, again, this rings so true for me and I’ve talked about it often, how we sabotage ourselves by fear. And calling that anxiety a ‘poison’ rightly sums it up. It can seep through every part of you, until you just give up, and what’s the point of that?

I’ll leave you with one more gem.

Genius is mainly an affair of energy – Matthew Arnold

In other words, it takes graft. We all have the capacity in us to create something great, we just need to work at it. That’s what I’m trying to do with my time right now. Create, enjoy and put aside the anxiety.

I wish the same for you, too.

If you are looking for inspiration, then tune in to the podcast:

 https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/squatting-toad/id1065341757?mt=2

Follow me on Twitter @squatting_toad

Leave a comment, or email me at imasquattingtoad@gmail.com

Oh, and by the way, the title is a quote from Thomas Carlyle, 19th century Scottish philosopher.

Good luck.

Mel