I spent the day in Edinburgh on Tuesday discussing the future of Dark Angels with Stuart and John at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Round one of our AGM, at Heathrow Terminal Five, three weeks ago, had proved insufficient for such weighty deliberation, so we reinstated the traditional arrangements and this week John took a day trip north for round two.
Now in our eleventh year there’s still, whenever we get together, a kind of pinch-me undercurrent of wonder at where such a crazy notion has taken us. Gather a group of copywriters and other business communicators, stick them in a remote farmhouse in Devon, get them to write poetry for a week and see what happens. Well, I exaggerate a little, but that was the essential thought behind the first course. Talk about an experiment…
Since then we’ve gone on to establish regular courses in places from the north of Scotland to the south of Spain, spawned several creative projects including Keeping Mum, our collective novel, and built a sizeable community of like-minded souls, 70 of whom turned out to celebrate our 10th anniversary with us in London last year. Now we’re dipping a toe into the cloudy waters of the NHS – about which more anon…
Yet it all seems almost accidental. We knew when we started out that we three felt very strongly about the need for a more imaginative, more human language at work, one that would counter the deadening, often alienating effects of business speak. What we didn’t know was that the journey to discover that language would teach us, and the people who have been on it with us, so much about ourselves. What’s more, it’s a journey that continues to unfold. Our conversation on Tuesday was all about new directions and new connections; and the deep pull to these new paths and new companions continues to be one of greater self-knowledge for all of us.
A parallel journey has been unfolding over the last couple of years with The Stories We Tell, an idea that was born of the conviction that Sarah as a therapist and I as a writer had something to offer together; though again we weren’t entirely sure what. By odd coincidence, I was granted an insight into this on the way home after meeting with John and Stuart on Tuesday. I got on the train, which was packed, and further down the carriage spotted someone who had been on one of Sarah’s and my early courses, but we were both seated and the aisle was jammed.
So, it turned out, were the points, a short distance out of Haymarket. We waited and waited and eventually, an hour later, got going properly. The passengers thinned out after a couple more stops and I got the chance to talk to this person. We’d had some contact immediately following the workshop but I hadn’t spoken to her for probably a year.
‘How’s it been going?’ I asked. Her eyes shone. ‘Amazing. My life has changed completely since that weekend.’ She went on to explain that she has made a studio at home in which she is doing exciting new creative work, and begun running a guesthouse which brings her visitors from all over the world.
I asked what had made the difference. She replied that it was being able to reframe the story she was telling herself about a particular time of her life; and that the reframing gave her license to include what had been good about it, as well as not so good. This had been liberating on several levels, not least in unlocking a torrent of creative energy.
It’s so easy to dismiss the wilder ideas one sometimes has. But taking a chance, believing in a hunch and, perhaps hardest of all, being prepared to fall flat on one’s face, can make the journey so very much richer. In our case the wild idea was to start the workshops; in hers to come on one. I emailed to ask her permission to relate our encounter here and she responded with a poem by online poet Tyler Knott Gregson, the last verse of which goes:
Do not fear the fall
when it is the leaping
that will set you
This is very similar to the sentiment of a favourite poem of mine by Christopher Logue:
Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew