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What I’ve been learning, reading & writing

Sunday, August 9, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

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It’s been a long time since I wrote here. Not because I haven’t had anything to say, but because I’ve been utterly consumed by the work of launching, nurturing and getting ActionStation through something known in the start-up world as the ‘Valley of Death’.

Over the past month I really feel that we’ve emerged from that difficult phase in the life of our baby organisation, and I can find the space and time to read, talk and think about things other than campaigning to change the world. And – hallelujah – I have time to write again.

So here are some of the things I’ve been learning, reading and writing and what I have coming up in the next few months. 

What I’ve been learning

IMG_1853The big lessons of the past year have been:

  • It’s not all up to me (I tend to take the weight of the world onto my shoulders and convince myself that if I don’t do it, nobody will. I’m learning just how wrong I am. The world is full of amazing, caring, competent people who can and will take care of the world if I need to take a nap!)
  • My joy and playfulness are of service to the world as much as my earnestness, care and concern. (If my heart’s desire is to inspire people to care for themselves, care for the world, make their art, tell their stories, speak truth to power, lead change and stand up for a kinder, fairer world, I’m much more likely to be successful if I’m having fun while doing it.)
  • When I don’t try to do it all myself, and let myself have fun along the way, I’m getting closer to the point…

What I’ve been reading

As usual, I’ve been reading a lot – and the best way to get my latest book recommendations is to follow my reviews on Goodreads – but here are a few highlights.

New Life. No Instructions, by Gail Caldwell

A beautiful example of memoir, Caldwell writes about life, love, loss and death with a light hand, and a wonderful ear for language and a good story.  

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

I’ve just finished The Passage, and I miss the world, the characters and the adventure we were on together. Yes, it is long. But that’s a beautiful thing when a story is epic, characters are compelling and a book is well-written. Yes, it’s melancholic, but that’s not an inappropriate tone for an apocalyptic tale. It’s not for everyone (there is mass violence, death and destruction) but I loved it. 

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

Book one of my favourite new detective series, in which a small division of the London Metropolitan Police is tasked with policing the supernatural life of the city. ‘The Folly’ as it is known, is staffed by a small, eclectic and very likeable team of oddballs whose adventures in supernatural policing have kept me sane through one of the most stressful years of my life. Need something delightful and diverting to read? Look no further.

Shorter reads

I highly recommend this poetic and passionate speech by Irish President Michael D Higgins, which I was lucky enough to hear live at the opening of the Amnesty International Council Meeting which I’m currently attending in Dublin. Here’s a snippet:

In the face of these challenges, we must remember that the international system of human rights, founded at one of the darkest moments in human history, has proven to be the most complete and coherent expression of a richer view of existence and of mankind’s aspiration and impulse towards the good – towards the values of dignity, equality, freedom, solidarity, and tolerance.”

Finally – this piece from Quinn Norton on applying the practice of ahimsa to her online engagement is worth a read.

We live mainly in a world of gaudy plenty, yet fight bitterly as if everything were scarce. Often if we can get to that nugget of need, and find a way to satisfy that pain together, we can transcend seemingly insurmountable differences and do so much more than we could alone.”

What I’ve been writing

IMG_1930I recently spent a week in Taos, New Mexico with my friend Jen Louden at her annual writing retreat – my fifth year in Taos with Jen. My job at the retreat is to offer yoga classes every afternoon, to teach a workshop on writing memoir, and to support my friend Jen in the amazing work she does to create a space that enables writers to do what they come to do: write

And I also get to write. This year, for the first time in years I did what I needed to do to ensure I could take a break from my other work, and really give myself space to write. I trusted my colleagues, accepted that I am not indispensable and went offline for three hours every morning so that I could write. And by the end of the week I had 10,000 words of new writing on a project that has been languishing in my ‘never-have-time-to-get-to-it’ pile for several years. 

The lesson? Firstly – incredible, but true – I am not indispensable, which means if I really want to, I can make time and space for writing. And when I do make that time and space, I can write.

What I’ve been listening to

Diving back into this writing project saw me returning, mentally, to a period of my life during which I listened compulsively to Garbage, so I reloaded their albums onto my iPhone and I’ve been listening to them all over again and, quite frankly, remembering just how tortured I was back then!

What I’ve been watching

This music video in which an Indian rapper partners with grassroots campaigning movement Jhatkaa to tell the story of pollution by Unilever in an Indian town. Watch it, and then if you feel inspired to act, add your name to the Jhatkaa petition.

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One Response to "What I’ve been learning, reading & writing"

  1. Sara says:

    Hi Marianne,
    It’s lovely to see you back writing here. I write a similar kind of weekly post: Living, Loving, Learning, and it is so useful for me to make sense of my week, to understand the lessons and move on, hopefully wiser :). That lesson about not being indispensable is, well, indispensable :). Either something can cope without you or it can’t, and that is illuminating in itself…but either way, nothing sustainable can ride on the back of one person and still be sustainable. As for having fun while pursuing your passion…yes!

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