Storytelling with Heart

Camille DePutter

Camille DePutter. Storytelling with heart.

7 ways to keep your creative spark alive in the winter.

Do you feel kind of... bleh... in the wintertime? A little down? Creatively sparse?

It can be difficult to keep the spark alive when it’s dark and just so… dreary out.

Sometimes spring can feel impossible; like a dream we had once, long ago. It can be easy to put our focus on the future -- waiting out the winter with agonizing, ill-fitting patience.

But I’m more interested in what we can gain from the present, even when it’s difficult, rather than waiting or wishing for the future. Whatever I’m doing, I try to enjoy the process rather than putting all my bets on the outcome.

And when it comes to creativity, I don’t really believe much in “the muse”. I believe inspiration is something you feed, not something you find. (Or, if you do find inspiration, you find it, rather than it finding you.)

So, how do we make winter feel brighter, happier and more creative -- right here, right now?

I’ve done some research by way of travelling to a bunch of places that tend get a lot of grey skies and dark days, and watching how the people there survive the winter.

In the winter months of the past year, I visited Amsterdam (which typically gets 300 days of grey skies per year), Copenhagen (Denmark can get up to 17 hours of darkness a day in the winter), Helsinki and Glasgow.

After exploring these cities I compiled a list of winter practices, many of which I have incorporated into my own life here in Toronto, Ontario. So now I'm going to share my favourites with you.

Here’s a list of ideas to help you feel happier, energized and keep that creative spark burning:

1. Embrace the candle factor.

Amazingly, impossibly cozy: Denmark is known for hygge (a sentiment that implies coziness combined with the relaxed gathering of family and friends.) Hygge is much more than candles but you can’t deny the Danes love to a light a flame. They go a little crazy with the candles there (cafes, bars, restaurants, stores, homes, everywhere) and I love it.

Of course, it’s not just candles. It’s the extra effort to make things feel all comfy and cozy.

So go ahead: light some candles. Pile some blankets on the couch. Have a favourite mug at the ready and stock your cupboards with good coffee, tea, hot chocolate.

At the same time, try a little tidying. Instead of waiting for spring, I do a wintertime clean-out. I find that January is an amazing time to clean out closets and cupboards. Removing the clutter and creating a simpler, tidier space opens things up for a friendly, cozy feel.

As we walked around and around on the damp December nights in Amsterdam, we saw light. Light installations lit up the canals, candles beckoned to us from fogged-up pub windows, and the glow from cozy apartments made us feel a little less chilly.

As we walked around and around on the damp December nights in Amsterdam, we saw light. Light installations lit up the canals, candles beckoned to us from fogged-up pub windows, and the glow from cozy apartments made us feel a little less chilly.

Piles of wood stacked in a Copenhagen bar. Something about firewood indoors makes me very happy. I don't have a fireplace, but I do have a wood smoke candle that makes me house feel and smell super cozy. 

Piles of wood stacked in a Copenhagen bar. Something about firewood indoors makes me very happy. I don't have a fireplace, but I do have a wood smoke candle that makes me house feel and smell super cozy. 

2. Establish a cozy creativity routine

Most mornings, there are two things I do right away. 1) Put on the kettle for coffee, and 2) Light a candle. I waste no time making the house feel cozy. (See tip number 1.)

This is also part of my creativity routine: a ritual that helps me embrace not only the darkness, but also the morning. Once I have my coffee, I sit on a rocking chair that has a sheepskin rug tossed over it. I write in my journal and I read something thoughtful or inspirational.

This sets a lovely tone for the day and actually helps me relish the dark, cold mornings.

What's your creativity routine?

3. Come together

The Danish word hygge doesn’t just mean cozy; nuances of the word also imply a sense of community, of easy gathering with family and friends.

Unlike the holidays that can invoke a sense of almost manic celebration, the following months offer a chance to simply chill with friends.

Entertaining doesn’t have to be “entertaining”. It can simply be inviting a few friends over for a pot of chili and a beer. Or hosting a games night. Or, taking a page out of Scottish pub culture, meeting friends at your ‘local’ can have a similar effect. Find a cozy spot and settle in together.

It’s easy to fall into hibernation so make sure you’ve got a friend or two around. Maybe even use the winter months to re-connect with people you’ve fallen out of touch with. 

Loving the cozy factor in an intimate coffee shop in Glasgow, Scotland. Even if you go alone, it's easy to make new friends in a wee cafe like this.

Loving the cozy factor in an intimate coffee shop in Glasgow, Scotland. Even if you go alone, it's easy to make new friends in a wee cafe like this.

Of course, Glasgow's local beer shops make a good case for staying in with a few friends. 

Of course, Glasgow's local beer shops make a good case for staying in with a few friends. 

4. Look closer

Instead of just grumbling about the weather, take a closer look.

Here’s a journaling practice for you: go for a walk and task yourself with writing about what you see.

Go beyond first glance and get closer. Do you see buds on the trees? Snowflakes? Puddles? Mud? Impossibly fat squirrels? 

Lean in. Look for the details. When you get up close and observant, things tend to be less boring, less dreary and a little more exciting.

Colourful bird houses enliven the barren trees nearby.

Colourful bird houses enliven the barren trees nearby.

5. Get the gear

I like camping, and inevitably camping -- even in the summer - can come with some unwelcome weather. So when we go, we are always prepared.

I have waterproof boots, rain pants, a rain jacket, a waterproof bag for my backpack. Basically head to toe in waterproof. Now when it rains, I think -- it’s only a problem if I don’t have my rain gear.

I think this is a great lesson for life in general -- including surviving winter. 

Sometimes the problem is that we're simply missing a tool, a system, or a little preparation. Instead of resisting, plan.

So, if the winter is cold: what will make it warm?

Given the wet and windy weather, every Scot will have a pair of Wellies (big rubber boots), a wool sweater, and a Mackintosh (trench coat) in their closet. And I say, when in Scotland...

Given the wet and windy weather, every Scot will have a pair of Wellies (big rubber boots), a wool sweater, and a Mackintosh (trench coat) in their closet. And I say, when in Scotland...

In Helsinki, I found the cold crisp weather was much more tolerable with some help from wood-burning fires, wool blankets, hot drinks and pastries, and Reindeer pelts to sit on. Just look how cozy!

In Helsinki, I found the cold crisp weather was much more tolerable with some help from wood-burning fires, wool blankets, hot drinks and pastries, and Reindeer pelts to sit on. Just look how cozy!

Blankets, sausages cooked over an open fire, and Reindeer pelts on an icy cold day: exactly what the Finnish doctor ordered.

Blankets, sausages cooked over an open fire, and Reindeer pelts on an icy cold day: exactly what the Finnish doctor ordered.

6. Create your curriculum and/or commit to a project

I like to think of winter as a time to go inwards. In the summer, I absolutely hate being indoors as I want to appreciate and enjoy every day of sun.

So, the upside of winter is getting to enjoy and make use of the indoors. I ask myself: as long as not much is happening outside, what can happen inside?

Can this be a time to buckle down and write the book, or focus on another project?

Here’s another question to consider: If this were a time of creative focus -- a time to learn, make or do -- what would be on your curriculum?

Take a stack of books out of the library. Join or start a book club. Take on a new art project or write that book. Take advantage of the time and use it to go make your thing.

7. Go out into it

Of course, winter doesn’t mean you have to stay inside all the time. If you’re a winter sports fan, this might just be your favourite season.

But if not, you might consider trying something new. 

Strap on some snow shoes. Give cross-country skiing a try if you're not a downhill fan. Go for a walk in the snowy woods. 

(I've personally found that exercise and nature have helped me during times of depression. So even if the weather seems foreboding, an outdoor activity can give me a much-needed boost.)

I was thrilled to try dog sledding a few years ago (and I’ve got another session booked this year). Mush!

I was thrilled to try dog sledding a few years ago (and I’ve got another session booked this year). Mush!

Looking out into the ocean and breathing the cold sea-salt air surrounding Suomenlinna in Helsinki was one of the most beautiful things I experienced last year.

Looking out into the ocean and breathing the cold sea-salt air surrounding Suomenlinna in Helsinki was one of the most beautiful things I experienced last year.

Now I’m home, back in Canada.

The morning is dark and cold and at first it feels dreary. And then I light the candle.

I take out my notebook. And I write.


Bonus: Three journaling prompts to help you make the most of winter

  • Journaling prompt: If winter was your favourite season, what would you love about it?
  • Journaling prompt: When the winter is over, what story will you tell about these past few months? 
  • Journaling prompt: Imagine the winter was a season dedicated to your personal creativity. What kinds of things would you do in a day? What might you create? 

 

 

The Greatest Storyteller: what you can learn about your own story from Muhammed Ali

The following is part of an introduction to a workshop I gave titled The Creative Power of Personal Storytelling. The workshop was delivered at the Muhammed Ali Center as part of  the MidWest UX 2016 conference.

Photo taken at the Muhammed Ali Center

Photo taken at the Muhammed Ali Center


Muhammed Ali was a boxer but he was also a storyteller.

The person we know of Ali was really a story he conceived himself, first.

Cassius Clay, born 1942, was the grandson of a slave. He was born into racism. He was told he could never be rich or successful because of the colour of his skin.

He struggled with reading; he finished ranked near the bottom of his class in high school.

It might surprise you to know that Ali was not a natural at boxing. He didn’t have the strength, the build or measurement, the classic moves...  the things that were expected of a boxer of the time. His fighting style was weird and awkward, including a cardinal sin in boxing: he kept his hands low.

In 1964, when Ali went into the famous Sonny Liston fight, at the time as Cassius Clay, he was a 7:1 underdog. He was fighting for the title Heavyweight Championship of the World; this was a huge event, at a time when boxing was a much more popular sport than it is today. But seats weren’t filled because people thought it was a waste of time. It was assumed that Liston would knock out Clay and everyone would just go home.

Yet, the night before the fight, Clay had the media broadcasters read a poem he’d written. It described exactly how he expected the fight to go down.

Here’s the poem that Ali wrote:

"Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat, 
If Liston goes back an inch farther he'll end up in a ringside seat. 
Clay swings with a left, Clay swings with a right, 
Just look at young Cassius carry the fight. 
Liston keeps backing but there's not enough room, 
It's a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom. 
Then Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing, 
And the punch raised the bear clear out of the ring. 
Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown, 
But he can't start counting until Sonny comes down. 
Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic. 
Who on Earth thought, when they came to the fight, 
That they would witness the launching of a human satellite. 
Hence the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money, 
That they would see a total eclipse of Sonny."

Photo taken at the Muhammed Ali Center

Photo taken at the Muhammed Ali Center

To the surprise of everyone except Clay himself, Clay won the fight. He was declared the winner by TKO.

After winning, Clay ran around the ring, yelling out, "Eat your words!". He exclaimed, "I shook up the world,” and his most famous phrase, “I am the greatest!”

Shortly after this, Clay changed his name to Muhammed Ali.

Ali called changing his name “one of the most important things to happen in my life... It freed me.”

Ali used his words to shape his story, his life, and his legacy.

He changed his identity and created a sense of freedom for himself by changing his name. He used storytelling to create a vision for his own success. He gave himself purpose and meaning by defining for himself who he was, and what his legacy would be.

Ali knew his story was his own. No matter the events of his life, or the things outside his control, he refused to let anyone take it from him.

It is because of the power of story that we have the Ali we remember, and are inspired by, and who is honoured in the Muhammed Ali Center.

And this is what personal storytelling is all about: being willing to reimagine ourselves and rewrite our stories, and discovering the freedom that happens next.


For more inspiration, storytelling tips, and some darn good stories, sign up the Storytelling with Heart newsletter! Sign up (and get your free workbook!) here: www.camilledeputter.com/free-stuff

Or, to learn more about Camille's workshops and speeches, email: camille@camilledeputter.com

 


For further reading

http://www.alicenter.org

http://mindsetonline.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_vs._Sonny_Liston

 

A hidden journal, and the trail back home.

Photo by Barry Silver

Photo by Barry Silver

What happens to your old journals or writings? Where do they go?

People who are new to journaling are sometimes nervous about judging their own work. They're afraid of hating what they write. I remind them that you never have to read what you have written. You never have to play critic. You can simply turn the page and move on. 

But I keep every single one of my journals. Some of them have been lost along the way, but I have the last 15 years or so sitting in a closet.

Some of them I think of with great affection. The journal I kept when I was 20 years old served as a place for my internal debate about whether or not I should take the doctor’s advice and get a pacemaker. It was a big, spiral bound book with large, blank pages that I filled with loose, thoughtful scrawlings. I love to return to it now and then; I see that young girl’s bravery and thoughtfulness and I am reminded of how far she’s come. I went back to this book when I wrote “Waiting to see someone like me”. 

For the past several years I have had journals I’ve been afraid to look at.

This is because they covered an exceptionally dark period of my life. A personal trauma. The start of recovery. 

We recently did some re-organizing at home and I knew I had to go through the drawer that contained these journals. It freaked me out, and I procrastinated. 

Then one day, I sat down. I opened the drawer. I took a big garbage bag with me. 

I went for the scariest stuff first. I grabbed and tossed those couple books immediately. They were the kind of things that you only want to look at out of the corner of your eye, not too closely, let they release their triggers on you.

These contained writing that was necessary for healing, but would not be productive for me to review again. It’s really rare for me to let go of any personal writing, but for just these items, it was necessary. 

As I was going through the drawer, I paused for a moment. 

I took a look -- a little cautious, a little curious -- at a journal I started around that time, but after a little bit more healing had taken place. 

It was a journal that was more of a call to action for myself. In it I imagined the kind of life I wanted to live. In it started dreaming about ‘what’s next’, rather than re-living the trauma. 

I comforted myself in that book. When I look back now, I see self-compassion.

I am someone for whom the word ‘self-compassion’ does not feel comfortable. But in that book, I wrote kindly to myself.

I can see, in flipping through the pages and re-reading passages, that at that particularly tenuous, tender time, I dug into self-kindness. I leaned into compassion, and gentleness, and self-celebration. I took tiny little steps forward, and encouraged myself. I championed myself; staying alive, moving forward. It was beautiful.

The book also contained something I had forgotten about.

Poems.

Brief, sweet, rhyming things. Little miniature love-poems to myself. 

Kindness, kindness, kindness. Kindness in a four sentence, rhyming poem.

There weren’t too many. Maybe six.

Looking at them with fresh eyes, I thought: I love these.

Really, I love them. I love them!

And I knew when I read them that I had my next writing project. That I would pick up where I left off and finish the book of poetry. It will be a book of kind little poems to read to yourself when you need a dose of kindness.

They will be little memorable mantras.

And, in fact, they are memorable: I had not forgotten about them after all! In fact, there are one or two that I still repeat to myself now and then. I just hadn’t given thought to where they came from. But they are the kind of thing I might repeat to myself while feeling anxious, without even realizing it.  

This is absurd and delightful and wonderful for me to uncover because I had mostly abandoned writing poetry. 

I used to write poetry as a kid and a teenager. Rarely I may write something privately, occasionally post one on this blog, sometimes write one as a gift. But for work? For my next book?

Completely unanticipated. Not at all planned. But wonderful, wonderful.

While that younger version of me was struggling, just trying to get through, writing her way through the darkness, she was leaving me a gift.

A trail of breadcrumbs left behind.

A trail to poetry, and gentleness and truth. A trail back to myself.

It was there, just waiting for me to find it. 

Waiting for me to follow it home. 

 


Do you have a story to tell?

Storytelling is for everyone: even if you're scared of writing or don't know where to start!  My book can help.  Express who YOU are with more confidence, clarity and courage. My digital workbook, Share Your Story, will guide you through the storytelling process. 

Learn more here: www.camilledeputter.com/shareyourstory

 

camille@camilledeputter.com