My ‘great complaining notebooks’…some background on ‘Write to the Centre’ …

My whole adult life I have kept journals, capturing bits of my life in words and images. I’ve also taught journal writing classes from time to time. Journal writing is a key part of my creative process as a writer and my self-care regime as a human. Journals get some bad press – sometimes seen as self-indulgent, angsty or just plain pointless. I can only share my own experience with keeping a journal, which has been positive, helpful and life-affirming.

I assumed all writers keep journals of one sort or another, but then I read all of the Mansfield Questionnaire interviews on Booknotes Unbound because there is a great question: ‘Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?‘ I was surprised to discover it is about 50/50, in terms of writerly journal-keeping habits.

Earlier this year I was part of a literary panel and a member of the audience asked us the question ‘If you were the only person left on the planet, would you still write?’ I had the microphone in my hand, so I answered first: ‘Of course!’ I said ‘I love writing, it wouldn’t bother me if no one else was going to read it.’ I anticipated my fellow panelists would agree with me, but instead the other three writers were looking at me incredulously and answered with variations of ‘Hell no! Why bother?’ and talked about how they write with an audience in mind.

This could be a factor in the journal or no journal divide, perhaps? Keeping a journal is essentially writing to/for yourself. You either find intrinsic value in this, or find it as interesting as watching paint dry.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about journal writing for a few years but was wrestling with whether other people would find it interesting, or horribly self-indulgent? I decided to leave it to fate (aka, a panel of board members) by applying for a grant, figuring if the panel granted my proposal, it would be signal enough that there was some value in the idea. They liked it and I received a grant to create the book!

A condition of the grant was that the project had to be completed in 2016, so it has been a bit of a race! If all I did was write, a year would seem like a good amount of time…but I’ve been doing it on top of the usual full-load of work, family, etc. Plus I don’t really do fast. If I were a creature, I’d be a snail, for sure.

The book is nearly done, though, all going well with the printing process it will be released on October 15th, & today I got a message from my publishers that they have set up pre-orders on the Haunui website! (We are being optimistic…) Wheee!

Here’s the cover:


I have gone through some real ups and downs during the making of this book – I will write a little bit more about the process in another post… it is a very personal, vulnerable, possibly somewhat naive book…it is not the New Zealand way to be so ‘out there’ with emotions and sometimes ugly private stuff. I feel a little like I am about to walk onto a stage in a crowded auditorium, flash my undies and then cry….or something. And yet….and yet…there is enough of me which believes there is value in sharing this stuff that I am persisting!

My journals aren’t ‘beautiful’, the visual parts are usually pretty haphazard, hastily daubed, scrawled or slapped together and the writing is not profound or intellectual…it is unfettered, raw expression…and is offered as such. Now all I can do is wait for the publication process to unfold and hope that the book is met with open hearts, just as it was created with one.




help me find things


…like courage, certainty, a sense of purpose…motivation!

I have been on-again/off-again working on a book about keeping journals, featuring my journal pages (the above is an example) for about four years now, possibly even longer.

It’s not about ‘art’ it’s about vulnerability, honesty, my heart to your heart, the depth of a daily life….I imagine a  vulnerable book with my homely, shabby journal pages and my take on the creative life and why keeping a journal is such an essential practice for creative people…or well, just people, actually.

However, I veer wildly with this project from deep immersion, drive, fun, certainty ‘Write the book you would love to READ, Helen’, write to your friends and loved ones, write to all the people struggling to find purpose or to hold it or to white-knuckle-it through the hard stuff…

… a stultifying self-doubt, agonising inertia, FEAR FEAR FEAR – – ‘why would you do this? WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? no one wants to read this self-indulgent drivel…people will make fun of it…you’re a child…this is beyond pathetic…what are you, eleven? … this will be the kiss of death to your writing life….’  Y’know, that really helpful internal looping/mental torture that we are capable of inflicting on ourselves…

I would NEVER talk to another person like that….but I can squash myself into the ground without a second thought.

There is no middle-ground with this project….no days of ‘It’s fine, I’m not totally sure but I’ll keep on trucking…see what happens….’ It’s either HELL YES! or omigod-no-never-what-was-i-thinking-i’m-going-to-go-and-live-in-a-cave-and-learn-to-live-without-people-and-derive-nutrition-by-sucking-rocks….

Here is what I have so far:

20+ years of my journals

Four long essays to sit alongside the journal pages, about keeping a journal, life, creativity and self-care practices…

A scanner (I have scanned about 1/20th of what I need to scan – it’s a huge job…)


All that is stopping this book happen now is me and my own ‘stuff’. 

I SO need to get out of my own way…..which is easier said than done.

I don’t have a publisher (I haven’t looked for one). I am thinking I would probably self-publish this, using some kind of crowd-sourcing thing whereby people basically pay for the book up-front, before it has gone to production.

So yeah, ….your thoughts, advice, courage, opinions, boots-up-bum, prayers, links, love, advice, frank and open discussion are all very welcome right now.

Can someone please give me a shove?


shameless 2014: proud maker of bad art

After a couple of creatively dry years where I have only been writing in my journals and sticking the occasional thing in…I have re-found my zeal for art-journaling.

Yup. I make rough-and-ready bad art in my journals. It is so soothing and therapeutic and fun to me. It’s more about process than product.

I started a fresh journal for 2014 and made this page with my WORD OF THE YEAR. 


I was going to scan it so the details would show better, but then I couldn’t be blathered and I just took a photo because I am SHAMELESS — ha ha!

Glitter, flowers, obnoxious colour. Vomit of my brain. Vitamins for my eyes.




Hullo, you fullas.



(Because I can no longer buy fabulous coloured Roman Sandals due to the sad closure of the Douglas Sandals factory in Auckland, I buy black ones when I see them about and customise them. These ones I painted with silver glitter nailpolish for that ‘night sky on your feet’ feeling…)

A week and a bit of the school hols to go. So much is lovely about the hols and so much isn’t.

Lovely = unstructured time, time with the kids, summery goodness.

Unlovely = unstructured time, too much time with the kids, trying to work AND do full-time childcare.

I have already have a lot of my plate for 2014 and heaps of it is good, rich creative stuff. I have a very good feeling about this year.

We didn’t stray far this summer – just one week a little bit south. The weather has been unremittingly shit wherever we are, but ah well, it gives the summer that element of endurance which is always enlivening, right? It doesn’t stop us roaming outdoors, either. To be honest, F and I love the outdoors in wind, rain and cold. Fraser loves climbing mountains in sleet and snow. On Sunday I tool a long walk along the river in the sheeting rain. It was most stirring – even if I couldn’t see through my glasses because of the wet onslaught…..this tendency towards liking the wild weather must be the Danish/Scottish/German/Russian/Northern England residue in our respective bloods…

Here’s some stuff I have enjoyed around the internet lately:

Megan Scent-of-Water wrote a thoughtful post about what love means HERE

I just discovered the blog and vimeo channel of photographer Xanthe Berkeley – great if you need a bit of cheering up; colourful and celebratory HERE

There’s an excellent long interview with Penny Rimbaud of Crass HERE – revisiting Crass always takes me back to my punk roots and makes me feel all fired-up, like anything is possible…theirs is the best type of anarchism. Anarchism of creativity, collectivity and positive action.

If you like doing yoga at home, but can’t afford one of the subscriber-sites – yoga teacher David Procyshyn most generously posts excellent-quality full yoga classes for *free* on his vimeo channel. I use it a lot and can really recommend it HERE

I like this Brainpickings article about Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ for creativity and now I want to write my own….HERE

After a couple of years of having to push myself to keep my journal writing going, I have refound my zeal and inspiration (yay for post-burn-out life!) and am busily writing, painting, collaging, scribbling away….I’ve started a Pinterest board for journal inspiration HERE

I’m very excited about new Warpaint HERE ; new TV on the Radio HERE ; & new Ebony Bones HERE

Culture Unplugged is a great FREE documentary site – there’s all sorts of stuff about environmentalism, spirituality, left-politics & much more. I have watched a tonne of stuff on here. I especially love this film about a Zen cook ‘How to cook your life‘ – it’s a nice mix of food, spirituality, humour, emotional honesty…well worth a watch… HERE


Gosh, I have so much to talk/write about. Brain is brimming! But for today, hullo!

Happy not-so-new year. x x x

the creativity muscle

I’ve spent so little time in my studio this year that I’ve been jokingly calling it “the cave of forgotten craft”.

What with the new day-job and the intensity of the yoga-instructor training I’m doing, plus my general feeling of knackeredness which I’ve written about lately…the time and inclination to make stuff kind of ebbed away over the year.

I can feel the desire to get back into it rising in me, which is a relief, because I was wondering if the yen had gone altogether.

The other day I went into the cave of forgotten craft and it was a scene frozen in time of a busy and yes, untidy, person making several different things at once with a happy mess strewn around.

I went in there, opened the window, pottered around tidying and remembering long forgotten projects and just kind of steeped in this abandoned part of of myself.

Creativity is like a muscle, if you don’t use it…it withers and you have to build it up again. It used to be that I could step in the door of my studio and get right to it, just leap in!  I felt the other day a tentativeness, almost a bit of fear that is foreign to my nature.

I was glad to feel it, because it reminds me of how a lot of people feel about their creativity, which enables me to be compassionate. When I teach journaling workshops, people often arrive like this – the desire for creativity is there, but there is a whole lot of ‘stuff’ in the way of their leaping in – fear, uncertainty, self-consciousness. The way through that is gentle baby-step exercises or as my friend Johanna calls it “throat-clearing”.

Anyway, it was good to hang out in there. I’ve aired it out. I’ve tidied it. I’ve mooched. I emptied the rubbish bins and dusted the surfaces.

Next time I go in there I might even…..make something.


get away from her, you *****

Yay, September!

I’m happy to see September, because August has been mean to me.

In fact, in the weirdness that is my head – I imagine Sigourney Weaver coming in in a giant robot-suit and saying to August THIS

Ha ha!

September = official spring (even though the daffodils have been springing up and lambs appearing for weeks now) and my birthday in a few weeks.

I’m turning 40. Woo! Bring it on!

My late thirties have been very challenging in many ways, so I’m excited to start a new decade. However illusory ‘clean slates’ are, why not embrace them?

I heard a quotation by a Christian monk yesterday:

‘Sometimes the cure for exhaustion is not rest but wholeheartedness.’

This resonated with me, as for the last couple of years I have felt soooo tired. Not just ‘need a good sleep’ tired, but bone-weary, lacking in inspiration, I’ve lost my usual curiousity and sense of play in my creativity….. I thought I just needed more rest so I have scaled back and back and back what I do (although life is still full to the brim – how does that work??)….it doesn’t seem to have helped. I recognise this as ‘burn out’. However, mothers with young children don’t really get to have burn out, in that children still need caring for, housework still needs doing, meals need cooking. There must be ‘burned out’ mothers all over the globe who just keep on going. What choice do we have?

Hearing that quotation yesterday was like a bell ringing out in my chest…..waaaaaah, yes, too much scattered attention….too much compromise….just too much….

Something has to change.

All the time I am seeing more clearly what the changes are that I need to make!

If this all sounds a bit melancholy, it isn’t. I’m feeling pretty good.

Funny how if you won’t listen to your intuition, your body will often pack up in some way to send you the message more strongly…

Last week I hurt my back, badly enough that I couldn’t stand up straight and had to take a day off work to go to the doctor and osteopath…and a full week later it is still very painful…


Okay! Okay! I get it.

Turns out I am not very good at not doing anything….even in pain and not much able to walk I went to work, made dinner, did the school-run…(on the other hand, nobody was telling me not to!)

Anyway, this was meant to just be a yay! I got through winter, almost intact!

Bring on the spring flowers, bring on paying attention, bring on my forties.

I’m ready.