The Orgasm Tree

Finca Buenvino, deep in the sweet chestnut woods. Photo by Jenni Bradbury.

Very often, we begin a conversation with a friend on one subject and progress rapidly to something completely different, discovering on the way the most illuminating information.

This happened to me last week. I was describing the climate at Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, where we run our writing holidays. I explained that whatever the temperature in the summer months, we can always walk because of the shade of the cork oaks and sweet chestnut trees that cover the dehesa - the wooded landscape of the Sierra de Aracena National Park.

‘Oh!’ my friend exclaimed, ‘That’s why the atmosphere is so beneficial for writing and meditation up there! That’s why your writers find it so empowering to stay there. Sweet chestnut’s a well known Bach flower remedy for encouraging new beginnings, transformation into a new and much better life. It’s a treatment for the “dark night of the soul,” the despair of those who feel they have reached the limit of their endurance, it’s for a time when old beliefs and patterns break apart and make room for new levels of consciousness. It is the perfect treatment for when you are ready to open up to the light at the end of the tunnel, the light before the new dawn.’ Buenvino certainly has a magical aire, everyone remarks upon this. When I told her that the flowers of the sweet chestnut purportedly smelt like semen, she laughed. ‘Ah yes, it’s known as the orgasm tree because it produces such a surge of transformative emotions!’

The trees blossom in June, we’re there from the 16 -23…do join us and experience the benefits for yourself.

More info about the writing holidays here: http://write-it-down.co.uk/spain/

Book now: http://write-it-down.co.uk/booking-form

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Why Spending Time And Money On Yourself Is Essential

Often,  the responses I get from writers on my workshops or retreats are, ‘This feels such a treat, such an indulgence, having time to myself, being given permission to write.’

In these frantic, challenging and guilt-inducing times when we can feel powerless to affect the bigger picture, nurturing our bodies and feeding our minds is even more important. And writing it down, bearing witness, leaving a written record on paper is a duty. Not an indulgence; far, far from it. This is a piece that I wrote recently  for Alyson Walsh’s blog That’s Not My Age, for older women with style. Hope to see a lot of you on my writing retreats in Spain at Finca Buenvino this summer, writing down your lives and enjoying the indulgence! We now have extra spaces on all weeks. Write It Down! Spain.

I’m at my favourite hairdresser’s, in charity-shop top and jeans, spending a ridiculous amount on a cut and colour.  The guaranteed boost to my fragile self-confidence will be well worth it. Tomorrow I will pay to have my toe nails painted, even though my bathroom needs re-grouting and the tap has a terrible drip. My saloneyebrow maintenance ritual is a non-negotiable expense, I love the therapist’s gentle attention. Last night I booked a three-week runaway to Crete in August, after weeping buckets at the Charmed Life in Greece free exhibition at the British Museum about the friendships between writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and artists John Craxton and Niko Ghika. God knows how I’ll pay for the care home now. What I once believed were indulgences have become essential mental maintenance.

My kitchen blind is held up with drawing pins and I really must paint my bedroom walls but tell me to invest in a new kitchen bin and I glaze over and buy another novel. I’ve been to the cinema more times in the past month than in the past year and my addiction to Eventbrite is causing concern. My membership of the Tate costs a bomb but visits are intellectually invigorating. So many places to go, people to see, lessons to learn.

Is it my age that is causing me to fast-track through life, sucking up sensual experiences, ignoring practical concerns? Is it the global political uncertainties? Fear of impending climate melt-down? Or is it the realisation, at 68, that it is not selfish to nurture myself? That feeding my brain, my creativity and my self-esteem may pay dividends in the fight against dementia, helps me in my work and in my relationships? Yes, I must attend to the mundane, pay the direct debits and remember to eat more fruit and veg but worrying about the what-ifs in five, 10 or 15 years hence seems a pointless exercise if I don’t cherish myself today.

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Spain -Summer Solstice Writing Week-June 16-23

Welcome to a week where you will discover how keeping a notebook and writing down your life, sharing your stories and reflecting on your past can unleash your creativity and help you make sense of your existence. A week discovering the life-changing benefits of  mindfulness meditation and surrendering to the healing powers of the natural environment. A week walking daily in the Sierra De Aracena National Park, swimming in the salt water, infinity pool, bathing in the hammam, sleeping soundly in the peace and quiet of Finca Buenvino, a private, family-owned hotel on a 150 acre estate, voted one of Andalucia’s Top 20 Hotels. A week to enjoy fabulous, world renowned, Andalucian farmhouse food and good wine, sharing lazy mealtimes around a long table in the shady, lunchtime courtyard or candlelit, under the most magnificent starlit evening skies.

A week to relax, to take time to dream and to listen to your heart. A week when we will join together, using the power of the Solstice, to begin to let go of the negative elements of our past, find our true selves again, learn new skills and welcome a gentler, more fulfilling future full of love, friendship and creativity.

No writing experience necessary, all writing is by hand in notebooks. A certain level of physical ability is needed for the walks and hikes over uneven ground, on unmade paths.

For more information: http://write-it-down.co.uk/spain/

To book: http://write-it-down.co.uk/booking-form/

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Swallow Your Pride

 

Photo: Ingrid Sofrin

I’ve never had a bucket list but I’m 70 next year and that concentrates the mind wonderfully, as Samuel Johnson reputedly said. All those ‘regrets of the dying as told to nurses’ lists that pop-up on Facebook have been creeping into my head. Regrets, I’ve had a few but none I can do very much about these days and my mindfulness training reassures me that the Living In The Now approach is the best recommendation for mental health.

But…

I’m writing this in Cornwall, a place I’ve avoided for seven years after a long-term, live-in relationship with a local dissolved into dust. A place I avoided, despite the fact that I have family and friends here – some going back nearly 60 years. I just could not bring myself to return. Crazily, I held a whole geographical area of the UK responsible for my misery.

But…

Now, as my idols drop around me at a rate of knots, I see that what is most important to me is you. Not me; not how I feel or my fears of the salt spray raking open my old wounds. Children have been born, friends died, there are marriages and professional achievements to celebrate with shared laughter, reminiscences and sometimes, tears. Before it’s too late, I’ve swallowed my pride and come home.

Elaine Kingett runs creative writing holidays in Spain and workshops in London; for more information check out Write It Down. 

This post was originally shared on That’s Not My Age  - The Grownup Guide To Great Style

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The Power of Writing It Down

Because I’m far too often attached to social media, because I sometimes have a rubbish diet, drink too much and exercise too little, because I live too much indoors on my own and not enough outdoors – especially at this time of year – my brain is often a muddled mess of incoherence with an inability to prioritise. But, writing it down is the only way I know how to sort it all out…

I don’t need a room of my own, the ‘right’ chair, desk, notebook, pen or  scented candle to achieve this.  I need room in my head; not in a house or flat or hotel. Years ago, I came to the blindingly obvious conclusion that I write best when I finally get ‘round to actually WRITING – on paper with a pen. Usually, I don’t evaluate my own writing, any attempt is good enough for me. I am like a hungry child chomping up white bread jam sandwiches, when I write down what’s inside my head.

The metaphor that sits most appropriately with me is, that when I write best I am like a wave surging over the horizon, crashing onto the shore, tossing forth pebbles, seaweed and dead fish. I am a wave that pulls you under but then, spits you out. I am the cold, angry seas of Cornwall that scare me rigid. I am the massive surf of Costa Rica that astounds, delights and entices. I am the clear waters of Greece that relax and revive. I see the birds that travel with me, dipping their wings in my dancing reflections. I see the birds that feed gratefully at my feet, the oystercatchers and curlews racing in my shallows. I am so much more powerful that I thought, so sure of who I am and why I’m here. When I have written it down.

But before I reach this place my stomach sinks, my eyes widen and my pen quickens, sliding and leaping across the page. It comes from my subconscious. From the feelings I had as a child on a beach in Hampshire, alone at the end of a day-trip, willing my parents to stay a little longer. All my life I have run away to the coast, maybe I should live there again – in Cadiz? In Palma? In Falmouth? In Hastings? Immediately I click on Skyscanner, on Rightmove. Is it possible? Can I do this in January? Can I do this alone?

Stop running, Elaine. It’s not the sea I need but more actual writing.  When I write I can conquer anyone, anything. I’m Boudicca, Cleopatra and Oprah rolled into one. I need to listen to my own advice, my own teaching that has empowered others on my workshops, holidays and retreats in Mallorca, Wales, Andalucia and London for over six years…for more info on those: http://write-it-down.co.uk/

Here’s some advice on how to start…

Brain dumping: The importance of free writing, the spill-out onto the page that relaxes you, frees your head, clears your brain. No worries about spelling, punctuation or grammar. As Anne Lamott describes in Bird By Bird, ‘The Shitty First Draft.’

Give yourself permission to write: In a notebook, any old notebook, on the bus, on the train, waiting for the Doc, the Dentist, kids to come out of school. Put that phone away and get out that pen. Even a one-liner is helpful.

The unpredictability of writing: Surprise yourself with what turns up on the page. Shock yourself now and then! You can always tear out that page and therapeutically burn it!

Personal writing is not being indulgent: We need creativity, imagination, flights of fancy, day dreaming in our lives and a rant on the page is far more constructive than a rant on Facebook.

 

 

 

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How To Survive

 

Morning meditation on Write It Down! writing holiday at Finca Buenvino in Spain: time to breathe, time to relax, time to dream…

New Year’s Day is meant to be a time for celebration and resolution, forward into the  Brave New World of whenever. But the BNW of 2018 looks a bit damn scary to me and I bet my last slice of [homemade, Delia Smith] Christmas cake that I’m not the only one. So, here’s the practises that worked last year for me and kept me off the Citalopram, Tinder, hard liquor and digital diatribes.

1] One Day At a Time

Like a dismissive pat on the head by a well-meaning but rather unbothered friend, who’s just caught the eye of someone rather less needy over your shoulder at a party, this phrase can stick in the craw but three years of living with a terminally ill husband initially taught me the value of this one. As my mother used to say, ‘You’ll never get this day again, Elaine. Don’t wish your life away.’

2] Live In The Now

That’s another that jangles uncomfortably against all the forward planning we feel we should be doing today. What about what we didn’t do last year? What about what we’re meant to do tomorrow?  But take a moment and be grateful for what and who you have. Right now.

3] Concentrate on Your Breathing

Oh yeah, like I forget to breathe? Well yes, forget to slow it down. Forget to count for four breathing in, six out. Forget to relax my shoulders and relax my jaw. This exercise sorted out my years of panic attacks.

Repeat as required. Happy 2018 everyone, there will be good times!

NB: You know all that stuff around ay the moment about, ‘New year, new you’? Pshaw! Just how you are, is perfect right now. Believe it.

 

 

 

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The Importance of Good Eating for Good Writing


Ever since my school home economics lessons when, to my utter amazement, I got an A for cookery in my senior school exams, I have felt strangely empowered in the kitchen. Now, in the hectic run up to Christmas, I indulge myself. I love the mechanics of baking; mince pies, spicy cakes and fruity puddings are hidden away in sealed containers, all over my apartment ready for the festive gatherings. The days have grown shorter, the nights colder and soup bubbles on the stove, lasagne tans in the oven and a wholemeal crust, spinach and goat’s cheese quiche sits cooling quietly on the work surface. All ready for the home coming of my family.

When I started my writing workshops and holidays for Write It Down! six years ago, I immediately decided that providing nourishment and delight for the ‘corpo umano’ – by treating my writers to the very best food and drink – would be as important as feeding their hearts, souls and brains with creative and therapeutic writing  exercises.

Cooking has always been my form of therapy – whether it is for myself or for others. As soon as I put on my striped blue and white cotton apron, with numerous stains and one string  ‘temporarily’ pinned on with a safety-pin, my blood pressure normalises, my shoulders relax and I am back in my childhood kitchen in Basingstoke. Despite a less than perfect relationship with my mother, I fondly remember her home cooked dinners [had at lunch time] of vegetables from our garden and meat from my grandfather’s shop. With gravy, always with gravy. Good food, cooked with care and attention and served with pride is a silent expression of love.

In London, I make cakes every week for my Mums, Babies and Bumps Creative WritingWorkshops. In Spain, at Finca Buenvino for my writing, meditation and walking holidays, Jeannie Chesterton and her son Charlie cook up a storm in their Andalucian farmhouse kitchen. They also run cookery courses there and have published a fantastic cookbook filled with their own recipes – beautifully illustrated with photographs by my friend Tim Clinch – so we are privileged indeed to share their table.  And share we do, all of our meals, eating outside in the spring and summer, under the wisteria in the kitchen courtyard watching nut hatches, tree creepers and geckos or in the candle-lit Moroccan courtyard where, as we eat, we hear owls calling, watch the small, black bats flying high between the cork oaks and see the sun dipping over the Sierra De Aracena, flooding the sky with an astounding pink and purple hue which I have never witnessed anywhere else in the world.

Sharing food, taking time to taste and relish what we’re eating, talk about what we’re eating, listening to each others life stories and not having to worry about the washing up when we leave the table is bliss and it bonds us closer together as writers, sharing our journey, planning fresh adventures, forging new friendships and discovering new strengths and directions in our work.

It has been so important to me to find somewhere to run my retreats that has the same ethos about eating and enjoying food and cooking that I have, and that I try to bring to my own home and family. When we write, we must use all of our senses. We note the scents, the sounds, the touch, the sights, the tastes – in a setting, in a dramatic episode imagined or in a memory retrieved from our past.

Holidays should be a time to embrace the good things in life – in summer and in winter. We give ourselves a hard time enough during the year, juggling so many aspects of our lives. Snacks and meals are snatched hurriedly between work and other fundamental obligations. We stand, we perch, we rush from A to B. We grab the Pepto Bismol and always mean to write, to meditate, to go for a walk in the countryside and learn how to breathe again.

My aim with Write It Down! workshops and holidays is to give you that space, to give you that time and to feed you well. Only then, can you relax and truly write down your life…

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The Benefits of Silence


Recently, I spent two weeks on my own in Mallorca. I went for one short business meeting but decided to stay on for a bit, to get my head together on an island I love and first visited 45 years ago.

Every day I would take myself off up the hills or down to the sea, armed only with a notebook, pen and factor 20. On rugged, well-marked paths I would pass earnest hikers in top of the range, performance sportswear and there was me in my old black kaftan, a bum-bag and open-toed Tevas.

I pride myself in my minimalist packing but my head was stuffed with confusion, worries and unresolved life-changing decisions. Walking on your own for hours, without the distraction of a partner, means that your subconscious is free to crawl out and stare you in the face. You can’t ignore it. Especially if you have no phone reception…

Far too nervous to eat out on my own in the evening – fearing that I either looked like Billy No-Mates or like I was waiting for some ‘action’ – every night I retired to my room to read everything I could find in my Airbnb and then when that quickly ran out, to write down what was inside my head. In silence.

By the end of the first week I was staring at Skyscanner, desperately searching for an early flight home. But I stuck it out. And my God, it did me good.

Alone in the Tramontana Mountains, away from my comfort zone of work-work-work and with no kids popping in or neighbours to bump into, I eventually found clarity. I use periods of silence, for an hour or so, on my writing retreats and I know by experience how they help us all to slow down and become aware of our place in the natural world, but this was the first time I had forced myself to listen to what I was thinking for an extended period of time.

There’s a pink neon sign in my favourite bar in Mallorca – ‘Silence Is Sexy.’ But it is also scary. I didn’t want to know what was in my head. Silence can be used as a weapon, too: being ‘sent to Coventry’, the silent sulk in a relationship that can kill love. But by unplugging our distractors – phone, computer, radio, TV – by spending time in an unfamiliar location, away from friends and family, we give ourselves space. Space to reconsider, to re-create. And we can return to our noisy, everyday lives a little stronger, a little more confident in our own abilities and a little more determined to try again.

For more information on my writing retreats in Spain, click here: http://write-it-down.co.uk/spain/

This article was originally published on That’s Not My Age.

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Creative Writing Retreat? Creative Writing Holiday?

Writing holiday? Writing retreat?

Oh, it’s such a conundrum, what do we call our writing weeks?

I worry that writing holiday sounds too lightweight, too much fun, not enough sweat, grind and concentration on difficult stuff. Doubts might linger that maybe you won’t be pushed, won’t learn enough about developing yourself as a writer, won’t grow enough to justify the expense. And you probably already feel guilty about taking such a seemingly, self-indulgent holiday. Holiday has connotations of relaxation and enjoyment, of lazing in the sun, of laughter and of pampering. Of indulgence. Surely not on a writing course?

But ours are different.

Writing retreat can sound arty-farty and joyless. Visions of being marooned in a chilly mansion with un-comfy beds, chewing on mediocre vegetarian food with a group of humourless, well-read intellectuals, all totally convinced of their own brilliance. But tell your friends you’re going on a writing retreat and you sound serious. But will it be like school? And you were crap at English, Miss Boring told you so. And you can’t spell, your handwritings horrendous and you’ve never had anything published. Apart from that ranting email to the Guardian about Brexit.

But ours are different.

And if I add creative in the title – are you creative enough? Last time you tried to use your imagination, you couldn’t find it.

And if I add therapeutic- Good Lord, is it going to be like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or The Dead Poet’s Society?

Rest assured, my friends – our weeks are unique. They combine everything that is best about a holiday – relaxation, escape from reality, gorgeous location, lovingly and expertly prepared food from best locally-sourced ingredients, freshly cooked three times a day by someone else and no washing up, with everything that is best about a retreat – peaceful surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of normal life, time and space to be alone, mindfulness meditation to learn how to live in now and value every day, permission and encouragement to daydream, an opportunity  to celebrate your past life, acknowledge your present  and inspiration to imagine a new future.

And whether we call it a retreat or a holiday, you will blossom and grow. Nurtured and encouraged, you will experience the joy that your writing gives to others and the enormous physical and psychological benefits that you give to yourself, simply and honestly by writing it down. You will be a writer. Because I truly believe you already are.

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Sex And The Single 67–Year–Old Woman

 

I hate my vibrator, it makes me feel an absolute fool. It’s a big, fondant pink Rabbit, presented to me two weeks into a new relationship, a couple of years ago. Make of that what you will. An acknowledgement of diminutive stature, of unaddressed erectile dysfunction or an obsession with filling two holes at the same time? I know Mr G was 70 but I expected a little more romance and a little less practical instruction. Anyway, I find I need Bunny’s abilities while at the same time hating his inabilities. I feel guilty but elated every time I use him, in equal measure.

What’s a 67-year-old widow with a lust for life, and a rediscovered self-respect, to do? When I drag Bunny out of his hiding place in my bedroom chest of drawers in the afternoon – not the evening, because one of my children lives at home and I’m still getting over the time my son heard it throbbing away on automatic among my socks and pants – I reassure myself that it’s good exercise for my pelvic floor and my mechanical heart, if not my emotional heart. If I read one more article in the dailies extolling the myriad physical benefits of regular sex, and especially orgasms, in later life, I may very well self-combust. Because they’re always illustrated with the stock photo of a smiling, grey haired, Caucasian heterosexual couple. Luckily, I’m good at doing things on my own.

Trouble is, I’m no longer willing to offer up my body for half a bottle of red and a nice dinner, whether via Tinder or  Guardian Soulmates. And if I’m honest about my age I get no punters anyway. The last person a 67-year-old man wants to have a bit of rumpy-pumpy with is a 67-year-old woman, it seems. All I get from app dating is young flibbertigibbets who think I’m gagging for them to teach me a thing or two. I’m not and they couldn’t. When first widowed, many years ago, I was amazed at the rampant reality of the ‘Mrs Robinson’ phenomenon and I didn’t always turn them down. Now, stuck up here on my pedestal of propriety and higher moral boundaries, I look out on a desert peopled only by internet dating geriatrics whose sole friend is a webcam and who have a very dodg y taste in interior decoration.

‘You think I’d want to have sex with you? With those curtains?’

 A friend discovered her 80-year-mother on her knees one summer afternoon, in the throes of giving her 85-year-old father a blowjob. How long is this yearning going to bloody last? I’ve had the menopause, shouldn’t I be bored by now ? Or failing that, fall in love with a woman who loves gardening ? Another single friend was pleased when, in her 50s, she stopped getting quivers of sexual excitement down below. ‘It was a relief not to be worried about that anymore,’ she explained. I wonder if married friends envy my single state, my freedom to sleep how and when I want in my own bed, to turn the light on and off at will. I can even fill the sheets with digestive biscuit or toast crumbs in the winter and, heaven forbid, sand in the summer when I’m by the beach. 

Shamefully, I’m rapidly in danger of becoming a perv. I mentally undress men in the park, fantasising about what lies beneath those Boden cords or Gap jeans. I stare at their packets as I sit opposite them on the tube. I don’t drool, twitch or rub my thighs à la Vic and Bob, but my imagination could get me arrested.

I miss a man’s warm body in my bed with an ache that not even Pepto Bismol could shift and I’m not prepared to accept second best out of sheer desperation. I want to be made love to, I want to be stroked and tickled with gentleness and respect. Not just to be fancied and ravished but also talked to intelligently afterwards, preferably about politics or food.

My children think I should be grateful that I had more than 30 years with their father and leave it at that. But we never went longer than a couple of weeks without sex, even when he was having chemo. After he died, I spent too long throwing myself at any man who could satisfy my urge for a healthy, male body. It was years before I understood that this behaviour was primarily about my urge to feel loved and protected again. The tender memories of my marriage have left me feeling incomplete without a man. So I’m sorry, sisters, if you think I don’t sound much like the feminist I purport to be, but the truth is I like sex, I like it regularly and with the right person, it’s fun. I also like gossiping about our friends at the end of the day, in bed with the dog and Radio 4. But better the high ground than the swamp. So in the meantime, thanks for the Rabbit, Mr G.

This article first appeared in the launch issue of The Amorist.

Elaine runs writing, meditation and walking holidays in Spain & Wales. Visit: http://write-it-down.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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