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A Coaching book looking for a title

I have a few different manuscripts on the go at the same time. I’ve written here about the book “The Journey to Wonder” which is half finished. This book is all about the people who have inspired my thinking and how they came to influence me. It’s a fun book to write as I write about musicians, artists, writers and many other people who have had an impact on me. It is also a great way to say thank you and acknowledge people.

That book is in the background at the moment as I press on with my other non-fiction venture, a book about coaching. I have been coaching for 12 years now, and wanted to write about the recurrent themes in my coaching practise and some of the key leadership issues that I often work with clients to resolve. I have many times opened a coaching session with a new client by telling them that every session is different, that there are no set formulae, and that the agenda is theirs and not mine.

There are plenty of tools that I use, both ones that I have learnt or read about, as well as ones that have been developed in real time in coaching sessions in response to a particular challenge. Each session has its unique characteristic.

And yet, after over 750 hours of coaching practise there are some clear themes that keep emerging. It is these themes that I will be writing about. In its first stages this book has had the utterly uninspiring working title of “Coaching Topics”. Earlier this afternoon I pulled together a list of 20 new ideas for a title. None of them leapt out at me, so the search for a great title continues.

The structure is sorted and the writing is about a tenth of the way there.

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When the phone rings it’s no fun anymore

I used to love getting phone calls. It was a regular occurrence and one filled with expectation. Whoever was calling me would have something interesting to discuss with me, after all.

Then the world changed. Like many people around me, I haven’t had a landline for nearly a decade now. There’s just the mobile phone number to contact me on.

Offices went quiet a while back. People use email to communicate because it’s less intrusive and can be dealt with at a time to suit the receiver. Now that’s fine, unless you want something and you don’t want to have to wait. That’s when a text followed up with a phone call comes in useful. But too often we hit send on the email and then forget to track back and chase things. The phone call can be really helpful at these times.

But for a while now, most of the calls I get are from people I don’t know about something I don’t want and didn’t ask them for. The blight of call centres cold calling means that I have stopped answering phone numbers that I don’t recognise. If they really want to speak to me they will leave a message. And of course, if they want to speak to me about Payment Protection or some industrial / car accident I didn’t realise that I had been involved in but where I could claim compensation – well then they don’t leave a message do they!

It used to be such fun answering the phone – but now it’s just annoying when it rings and I see that I have a call from Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds or even Gambia, Canada and the USA. It’s never as exciting as I think it might be. And the conversation always ends with a “sorry, but I’m not interested. Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense to you, but I really am not interested.”

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Experimental VI – a memory box

Sculpture from Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, Whistler, British Columbia

In the early 1980s I worked for a couple of years as a Community Artist. I was part of a team of artists from different disciplines. We worked with a diverse range of people from 8 to 80 years old, most of them with some sort of special need. Sometimes we worked on our own, and at other times we worked in pairs. It was great fun and hugely rewarding. I learnt so much about life and about myself. It was a great opportunity to combine work on creative projects with teaching. Thus, often we would be developing a new idea, and sharing it with a group as it emerged.

My own disciplines were photography and writing. The writing was something I had developed over the previous 10 years, from my mid teens. The photography was something I learnt as a went along. I don’t think ever really got the hang of using a dark room, but learning how to compose an image from the world around me, and to look, really look at the world around me – that was something that I developed from the skills of those who taught me.

I worked with fine artists, potters, photographers and fabric makers. One project which I still remember really well – partly because I still have my own output from it – was a project where a visual artist and I worked on a memory box idea. We constructed a small box from card, painted it and then filled it with memories. These could be things we had kept that we wanted to put inside the box, or things that we made that evoked a memory. Some of the ingredients in these boxes included mini booklets, scrolls, bits of material and tiny paintings. The box itself was about 10 centimetres across so everything had to be made in miniature. It was a great project to work on. I think the idea for it came from the artist, Lucy. She had done something similar in her degree studies I think. Each version of the basic idea was distinctly different.

From this “maker” project, I developed the idea of memories in a box, bought an old jewellery box from a second-hand shop on Lark Lane in Liverpool (the same shop where I bought a wind up gramophone to play old 78 records! That’s another story) Inside the box I kept hand written notes, cards, postcards, feathers, shells and stones. Each thing bears a memory.

I was looking at this box recently, and wondering how these ideas could be extended into a digital space. I use a lot of online spaces to store things – photos, video, words and ideas – sometimes in Facebook, sometimes Twitter, Google Plus and Evernote. Some of these memories are stored in a  public space where others can see what I have saved. And sometimes they are private. My own space to store things in a virtual, online digital box. Combining the virtual and the real would make a really exciting concept for a memory box.

 

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The Will to Write

A month passes. Two weeks in Canada – Vancouver and the Rockies (the photo is of Lake Louise). Hosting a conference – “Let’s Talk Research 4: Building Community”. Developing a new team-to-team approach called “Looking for the Common Ground”. Hosting a weekend of buddhist teachings with Venerable Mary Reavey looking at “Own your own death”. Setting up a Rapid Review of a piece of our work and implementing the recommendations. So much to do, so busy…

Heaps of things that take energy and focus. As these have slid past, I have wondered whether being away from writing was one of the reasons for feeling  lacklustre. Sometimes I go for long spells without writing (I don’t include work papers and the like, they are written for a different purpose). It leaves me feeling dull. Writing is part of who I am. If I go for months without writing anything, I feel like an athlete does when they don’t get to train.

Finding my way back to the page is critical. And so, this week, I have some time and increasing levels of energy again to produce something new.

I’m going to continue with the latest book, “The Journey to Wonder”. I will post updates here as that starts to grow again.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching slow and steady sales for “Values Count”, the book about values based approaches to work. I launched the kindle version during the summer. All interesting learning curves – figuring out how to turn a book for each of these platforms. Usually some aspect of nightmarish editing like page numbers or tables rears its head and becomes a huge time sink.

Another set of publications from BlueWater Books will be published within the next couple of months. Look out for updates on that before too long.

And with this final paragraph, I am back in the saddle again – blogging is always the hardest when we try to too hard to produce something amazing, which creates massive inner struggle. Often useful posts just come from the flow of thoughts and the things that are going on around us. I’m back. Thanks for reading.

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Values Count – digital edition available

Imagine the scenario, you’ve seen that I have published a book “Values Count”. You realised that it came out back in February of this year. You would love to read it – but you don’t want to buy it in paperback. Either you live outside the UK or you just love reading books in digital form.

Well, it has been a while coming. But finally, Values Count has been released on Kindle. This doesn’t mean that you must have a Kindle reader to be able to get hold of a copy. There are Kindle apps for your mobile phone, your tablet and even your laptop or desktop.

So… finally, there is no excuse anymore! What are you waiting for – go get yourself a copy. Go on, click here.

If you are waiting for the iBooks copy or for Kobo and a host of other formats, I’m in the middle of working out how to use Smashwords to publish in those formats. There’s a whole new learning curve to climb for that. I’m going to need another month.

Thanks for reading – apologies if this reads like an advert. Normal service resumes in the next post!

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Slow Music

Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire

Why do I love abstract and weird? Well… to be honest, why not? Sometimes it’s so important for the music we listen to or the things that we read to challenge us. If all we listen to is the sweet and obvious sounds then we miss a whole sound palette. Being open to adventures in sound can bring us new ideas, new thoughts and concepts.

I’ve been working on writing projects today and whilst in the zone I was listening to the Slow Music project. This was a really fascinating project developed by Bill Rieflin with the help of Robert Fripp, Peter Buck and others. The concert I was listening to also included the late great (please excuse the cliché) Hector Zazou. At times it was ambient, at times it was abstract, improvisational and always spacious.

I hadn’t heard it for a long time. It’s even more beautiful than I remember. The concert took place 11 years ago in Los Angeles.

Sometimes we can find beauty in the gentle and slowly evolving. It’s a fast paced world. We need time in the 7 minute morning mediation, or in the moments of pause whilst sitting on the train, or the hour spent listening to music like this. We are brought back to the present and reminded that there is no other time but now.

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alice reimagined

Back in 2004 I wrote a booklet of poems called “the alice conversations“. 13 poems in a short booklet, it was a set of dialogues and conversations with Alice. When I first began working with Carl Jung’s theories of archetypes and active imagination, I developed a set of characters that would reappear frequently in my written work. The character of Alice was my anima, the inner feminine within the man. She appears in a lot of my written work. Other characters include Peter, Lou Meera and Aslan (yes, I know that name has been used before!)

The set of poems that I wrote back in 2004 were fun to write, had plenty of insight into the personality of this character, and were produced at a time when I was looking to make sense of archetypes and find ways to work with them.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through this booklet again. That prompted a new idea – to take each poem of the original 13 and use that as source material for a new section with 5 or so poems. I’m aiming for a complete manuscript of up to 100 poems.

Each poem in the original sequence is the beginning place for the reimagination…

I am aiming to get into the mode and mind of Alice – take a poem, break it up. Print it out and cut it up – look for narratives and threads that are there but not used in the original.

Use the conversation idea in much more depth! Dialogues – exploring the original material and adding in a lot of new material.

alice reimagined 2017

I will write in many different styles – Ferlinghetti, Eliot, Auden, Hughes, Heaney. I am going to draw on other approaches too. This will be an opportunity to stretch and expand my techniques. Sometimes we just become somewhat stuck in a rut of writing. The other collection I am working on at the moment “Hang Fire” has become stuck – diving into “alice reimagined” is my way of unblocking, creating a free space to write and open out the creative approach.

What about visuals? I have been looking for 13 black and white photos from the many pictures I have taken in the last few months, to place these at the beginning of each section. I have 6 already – photos that evoke the mood that I am aiming for in the poems. More posts will appear here as the book develops.

#workingoutloud

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Learning for Learning’s Sake

Short post this one. Feeling like having a quick rant today! Am I in a minority for thinking that learning should be an end in itself and not the means to something else?

I am thinking in particular of the distinction between vocational education and non-vocational education. My first degree was probably as close to being non-vocational as you can get – I studied English Literature and Philosophy. Did these subjects “train” me for a job? Of course they didn’t. Although many years later when I was given a project to set up a regional ethics committee for health research, there is no doubt that the Ethics part of my degree was helpful. There is also no doubt that the logical mind training of Philosophy was really useful in teaching me how to think. English Literature meanwhile taught me so much about the human condition, about life’s challenges and about how we think. It also made sure that I was widely read – you read a shed load of books when studying English! These subjects are called “Humanities” because they teach us about humanity.

And both subjects gave me a passion (some would say obsession) for learning, a limitless curiosity.

There’s a world of difference, in some ways, between subjects like English Literature and Philosophy, and subjects that train you to do a job.

One type of education is no better or worse than the other. And the world would be a much poorer place if we only saw education as a route to earning money as an adult. What an uncivilised and impoverished world that would be!

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Experimental V – music with or without an audience

I have mentioned before on this blog that I am a huge fan of the work of David Sylvian and Richard Skelton. An initial google might lead you to think that these two have very little in common. Sylvian began his career in the last 70s and early 80s with Japan, a band that trod the New Romantic route even if that isn’t what they wanted to be called. He broke the band up just as they were becoming popular – and then set off on an eclectic solo career working with an incredibly wide range of musicians from the worlds of jazz, ambient, classical, avant-garde and modern music. His recent albums have been either entirely instrumental musical pieces for art installations or spoken word pieces with found sound backgrounds. All very obscure and truly beautiful (if you like that kind of thing, of course!)

Richard Skelton – Limnology

Meanwhile, Richard Skelton’s music uses drones and found sounds – hence, the connection with the work of Sylvian. In contrast, Skelton’s work has a singular vision – it is incredibly distinctive. His early work was in very limited editions, often with leaves of pieces of bark included to make the work unique. Skelton is a writer as well as a musician. His writing is also very focused – often drawing on the landscape around him – often poetic. His work is impressive for its purity of vision.

Another similarity between these two artists is the way in which they create music – or art – with a singular vision. One has the clear sense that they are creating what they want to because they are driven by a purpose from within. They are not playing to an audience at all. This driving sense of the need to create is at the heart of the experimental. It’s what often makes the product of experimenters hard to understand at first. Their outputs require effort, patience and a willingness on the part of the audience to suspend judgement whilst trying to understand what is going on.

And sometimes the work of the experimenter goes beyond rational understanding. Thus, Sylvian’s albums “When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima” which seems to be set in a stark and bleak landscape with strange falsetto voices (Arve Henriksen) and weather creaking and howling – is at times harrowing and at others beautiful. A more recent album, “there’s a light that enters houses with no other house in sight” takes the poetry of Franz Wright read by the poet, and drops it into a bleak soundscape that jars and resonates with the words.

It’s all powerful stuff – both musicians have created their own experimental worlds and developed them outwards to create their own musical vocabulary.

There is so much to inspire in what they do. At once I am inspired by their drive to experiment, and by the stripping away of anything familiar in a quest for the new and surprising. As often happens for me, this creates ideas in my head that jump out of music and into other media. And that is when experimental music is at its richest, its deepest and its most profound. Ah, wonderful!

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Neil Young – the journey to wonder

For the past few months I have been writing the first draft of my next book. It’s called “The Journey to Wonder”. It’s about the people who have been a huge influence on my life, on how I think, how I work and what I produce. Here is the chapter about Neil Young:

The wild and curmudgeonly man that is Neil Young. This is the man who produces at least one album a year as he heads into his 70s. His music never rests – one minute he is championing high fidelity sound with a new streaming service, the next he is releasing an album recorded in an antique sound booth from the 1950s. Every turn is an exploration, everything he produces is another aspect of the creative flow of this unique talent.

Neil Young – I first heard him in the 1970s when a school friend brought in the double album gatefold sleeve compilation album “Decades”. I took it home and listened. At first I wasn’t sure about the voice, barely reaching the note and so fragile. It took me a while to see the uncompromising nature of his work. Songs of protest and songs of love. But when I did fathom it out, I became a massive fan. Over the years he has travelled the musical sound world. You always know it’s Neil Young because of that voice, but no two albums are the same. He also assembles and dissolves bands as he goes. It’s as though he gets a huge stimulation from working with others, but needs to keep control so he will switch from group to group, looking for something different in each space. Crazy Horse is one of the most famous bands he has put together, and yet still none of these groups transcend what Young brings himself. Going way back, his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) was a step beyond the band with just the other three members. It was as though Young’s input brought a disruption to the harmony and created a tension that made for remarkable work. Neil Young really does understand, perhaps intuitively, the role of tension or disruption in creating great work. The challenge is always to maintain the tension so that it doesn’t destroy what is being created. That wasn’t always achieved with CSNY.

As well as releasing 37 studio albums at the last count, he has also released vast amounts of archive material and also produced a number of films, using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey. He has an obsessive interest in model trains and in cars. There is a childlike quality to Young that is both endearing and also perhaps the reason he is able to be so creative and restless in all that he does.

I also really love the way that he releases material. There are always really high standards in his work, but this is someone who has figured out how to keep the inner critic at bay. He gets on with it and produces material at a fearsome rate. And he has the ability to still write songs that sound like they should have been written long ago – they are so natural that I can’t believe that they didn’t exist before now. Perfect tunes and wonderful guitar work. It all fits together into someone who isn’t perfect, someone who is still so inspiring and thoroughly entertaining.

That work rate shows someone who does see the whole creative process as a discipline, something that requires us to settle to the work and get on with it. Each day, being productive – and pushing the work forwards. It’s now such an overstated thing, but still worth repeating: the muse doesn’t visit us so that we can sit down and write. It’s the other way round. We sit down to write regularly and the muse finds us because we are ready and in the process.

The passion in Neil Young comes from truly believing in the things he writes about. Whether it’s a love song, or a song of loss for the band member who died of heroin, there is a part of him in each song. When he chooses politics he may not sit on the correct side of the political fence all of the time as far as the fans are concerned, but he cares deeply about what he writes songs on. From an early song like “Ohio” about the Kent State Massacre, through to the deeply political later albums like “Living with War” and “The Monsanto Years” – Young makes it patently clear what he thinks. This passion shines through in his work.

On top of all this, the man has struggled throughout his life with epilepsy – and has three children, two sons with cerebral palsy and a daughter with epilepsy herself. He helped to found the Bridge School project for children with severe physical and verbal difficulties and supports an annual concert to raise funds for it.

It’s not difficult to see why Neil Young would be a source of inspiration. He has strongly held beliefs, works from a place of passion to create an ever evolving and expanding body of work.