"What is all this juice and all this joy?"

"Nothing is so beautiful as Spring..."  says Gerard Manley Hopkins, opening the poem I quote in my title. I agree; spring is definitely my favourite season, and always has been. An American friend of mine experiencing her first English spring said the other day that it was "magical."  In Pennsylvania Spring can be wonderful too, especially after the brutal winter; but there it changes so quickly into summer. There isn't (it seemed to me) the same tentativeness, the same delicacy, the same limpid light that is outside right this moment, as the morning's showers clear—perhaps only for a while—and the sunshine breaks through. And then comes the song of the blackbird, which I used to miss so much....

Every spring as a child, and then as a teenager and college student, I felt the same delicious frisson, a shiver of promise, and I still do. As intensely as when I was young? Perhaps not quite. But I feel it, a sensation that can't be described—not that this has stopped people, including myself, from trying. The challenge is to try and say something fresh about spring's very freshness, and it seems impossible. (I have been lucky, a couple of my spring poem attempts have been published; perhaps I'll post them on the Poetry page).

It's always and miraculously true that the season brings renewal to the green and growing things, and I find myself seeking renewal too. Wanting a fresh start in writing, in relationships, in my (currently dormant) spiritual life.  There ensues the usual struggle between this desire and my simple human laziness. 

This year something very simple and—apparently—unspiritual is helping with a tentative rebirth of creativity; how much, only time will tell. It's a new planner. Just as the mundane chore of cleaning and organising one's desk can make space for fresh ideas to blow in, so finding a planner that seems to allow room for creative projects as well as daily chores can help one (or help me—best drop this pretence that everyone's as hopeless as I am) manage time a trifle better.

 I carry no brief for this company, with which I have no connections whatsoever, but I am liking my new "Passion Planner." My sister discovered this American enterprise, and when I was last in the States I ordered and brought back two planners, on sale because we're almost half-way through the year. The company was originally and successfully crowd-sourced as so many people responded to the idea of the young founder, Angelia Trinidad.

Her planner notebook allows space for mind maps, prompts you to write down good things that happened as well as things "to do," helps you to formulate clear goals for both work and personal life, gives you space to write your hopes at the start of each month and a reflection at the end, and provides nice big sections named "Space of Infinite Possibility." There are also inspiring quotes scattered throughout: this week's is from Abraham Lincoln: "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading today."  There are helpful tips which you may or may not like, but can ignore if you want, such as "Avoid the unnecessary stress that comes with procrastination" followed by an idea of how to use the planner to actually do this.  In short, it's an unusual mix of the guided and the open-ended. A combination journal, agenda, and sketchbook. As Trinidad says on the introductory page, "I wanted to create the planner I wish someone had give me when I was feeling lost, so I decided to make it myself." 

I'm currently enthusiastic, though of course, like so many new starts, it may fizzle out. But perhaps the breezy energy of spring will buoy me towards a new phase...

"Birds build — but not I build," said Gerard Manley Hopkins, in another, very different, poem.  That's how I've been feeling for a while, but now I hope there's a change in the air, for me and for anyone who longs to build or to make something this spring.

Here's wishing everyone creative juice and joy.






A Blank Page

Spring is in the air; there are greening leaf-buds on the trees. Crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils are at their peak or even beyond, and the next wave of new growth and flowering is almost ready. The days are longer; and there's a subtle excitement, a sense of potential for something new.

I'm sitting looking out of the window at the morning sun beginning to break through cloud cover and I'm thinking about my idea for a new book. It's still very much unshaped...like a water-colour artist's paper covered only in a hint of wash, with faint forms beginning to appear, but still undefined. I have become fascinated by the mid-Victorian era, 1840s and 1850s, and I know the book will involve that time frame somehow. I know some of the themes, am formulating an idea of character, a sense of place; but it is all happening so slowly.

Spring comes quickly; soon the bluebells will be here, azure mist on the woodland slopes ; and one spring follows another faster and faster for me now. This book idea has been simmering for a few years already, though I find that hard to believe. It was the same with Inscription; and even once the idea took shape, my perfectionist way of making draft after draft, of rewriting over and over, meant the book took still more years to create and complete.

Time's wingèd chariot is snapping at my heels, to ruin Marvell's metaphor; and I berate myself for being such a slow writer. Months to write a poem? Years to write a book? Why? Why am I so ridiculously glacial in pace, when my bones know, every day more deeply, how brief this life is?

I can change some of my habits, I can exert more self-discipline. I can remind myself of what it felt like to write journalism, with no leeway.  I can give myself deadlines. And with the new impetus of spring, I'm determining today to do just that.  But I don't think I'll ever be a speedy, prolific writer, turning out a book a year, as some authors do, or a finished poem a day.

And I realise that, as usual, I have to find a balance; once again, it's that tightrope we writers walk. I must indeed get a move on, if I want to finish another book. But I shouldn't panic about it, as that leads to paralysis. I need to forgive myself for being slow and perfectionist. It can be modified, but it probably can't be fundamentally changed. I need to accept that it's just the way I am.

Yet I am an impatient person, at the same time. I have to remind myself that it's not a race; remind myself to relax; to rediscover the play of making something, the enjoyable puzzle.

Here's a bit from a book that is moving so many readers now, When Breath becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, a writer and doctor who died a year ago at 37: when he held his newborn baby, her weight in one arm, gripping his wife's hand with the other, "..the possibilities of life emanated before us. The cancer cells in my body would still be dying, or they'd start growing again. Looking out over the expanse ahead I saw not an empty wasteland but something simpler: a blank page on which I would go on."